What ever happened to those high-diving mules?

In 1988, when the Florida-based Tim Rivers' High-Diving Mules performed at the Prince William County Fair, animal rights activists were outraged. Prohibited from staging formal demonstrations on the privately owned fairground, activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sneaked into the fair, protested and were escorted out by police.

Robert Tyrrell, one of the fair's founders, is still baffled by the charges of animal cruelty. "With that mule-diving act, unless they caught the mule and tied it up, it would climb up that damned diving board and jump again," he said.

"There wasn't any prodding or pushing or dragging to it. Danged thing kept jumping on its own."

"Look," explained Joe Johnson, another founder, "mules are the most intelligent member of the horse family; they don't do anything they don't want to. You say 'stubborn as a mule' for a reason."

Controversy surrounding the act, which was started in 1957 and is the only one of its kind in the country, has continued. In 1998, a Florida bill aimed at outlawing Rivers's act died in legislative committee. And so the show goes on, most recently this past week at the Genesee County Fair in Michigan, outside Detroit.

Nevertheless, Rivers' High-Diving Mules haven't made an encore performance in Prince William.

"The first question people ask about the fair is what's different this year, so we try to have different attractions," said Randy Fox, the fair's manager.

"But we keep teasing about bringing back the diving mule. I certainly wouldn't be opposed. Maybe even next year . . . you just never know."