Mulerider Payton Baird has led the charge at Southern Arkansas University since 2014, an era that has seen record-breaking enrollment growth. Now Baird is preparing to hand over the reins to the newest Mulerider, Abbie Guin.
“As most people know, SAU has one of the most unique mascots in the country,” Baird said. “I find it very important because (the mascot) gives the public a chance to see what our University stands for: loyalty and support.”
She will graduate from SAU’s Nursing Department on May 5 with a BS in Nursing.
Guin, an agriculture major from Minden, La., said that as a people person, she’s looking forward to her duties as the new mascot.
“Payton told me to be myself and enjoy my time as the Mulerider because it will all go by so fast,” Guin said. “It takes commitment, but I’m very excited and I think I can do it. I’m looking forward to the next three years.”
Baird, a native of Fouke, Ark., inherited the reins from Megan Maye, who also helped SAU reach record enrollment numbers. The Mulerider represents SAU in marketing initiatives and appearances across the region. A big part of that will involve the Mulerider’s responsibilities at football games. Baird said one of her favorite memories as a Mulerider centers on football.
“It was my final home football game,” she said. “My family, friends and the Berry family were all there to escort me across the field for a special recognition. They presented me with an exceptional photograph for me to keep, along with a dozen gold roses. It was a day that I will forever cherish.”
Baird fondly remembered trying out for the Mulerider mascot in the spring of 2014.
“I had heard of the position becoming available and was encouraged to send in my application,” she said. “I received a call from (Director of Farm Operations) Rusty Hayes and went to the tryouts. My grandpa rode with me to Magnolia from our home in Fouke, and he sat in the stands at Story Arena when they announced me as the new mascot. It was such a memorable day! I knew he could never be more proud.”
She said she loved each of her experiences with Molly Ann, the SAU mascot. “It was something I loved to do and I tried my best to indulge in every activity I participated in.”
Baird said she attended many parades with Molly Ann “and the public always seemed to love that! Though holding the flag as well as the reins never allowed me to throw candy, we always tried to be crowd-pleasers with videos and photographs.”
I could not be more grateful for the opportunities SAU has offered me. I will be that proud alumni who enjoys coming back to see the University’s advancements in the years to come!
Baird attended Fouke Public Schools and said she owes her love of the outdoors to her family. “My parents and grandparents played a huge role in my life and supported me in everything,” she said. “I spent most of my free time outdoors, enjoying what I love most, riding mules with my grandpa. Whether we were home or in the mountains of northern Arkansas or Oklahoma, we traveled many miles on the back of a mule.”
“At the start of my junior year in high school, I can remember a recruiter, Whitney Hall, coming to our school and telling the students all about what SAU had to offer. At this point, I knew I had always wanted to be a nurse, but I had not made any official decision on what college I would attend,” Baird said. “I am very family-oriented, so I knew a large college, miles away, was completely out of the question. Once I learned of SAU’s nursing program – that it was one of the most affordable in the state, and only 45 minutes away – I knew SAU was the college for me! I could not be more grateful for the opportunities SAU has offered me. I will be that proud alumni who enjoys coming back to see the University’s advancements in the years to come!”
After graduating, she will go to work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Christus St. Michael in Texarkana. “I am also looking forward to my wedding this September,” she said. “I am truly thankful for my many blessings.”
“It has been a joy to work with Payton Baird as she represented our University,” Hayes said. “Her knowledge and ability to handle and care for Molly Ann was a great asset to the Mulerider heritage and program. As we say goodbye to Payton, we are excited for the next three years as Abbie Guin steps up to continue the unique tradition of serving as the Mulerider.”
“Payton Baird has served SAU so well,” said Dr. Trey Berry, president of SAU. “Her sincerity and personality fit perfectly with her role as the Mulerider. She carried on the Mulerider legacy with such dignity.”
Guin said she grew up with a love of the outdoors and credited her mother, Teri, with inspiring her.
“My mom got her animal science degree and was an extension agent for our local 4-H. She introduced me to all the livestock, and I’ve done shows since I was 8 years old,” Guin said. “I grew up around livestock, sold it, judged it, you name it. When I told my mom I wanted to major in Ag, she said, ‘I think you should do it, that’s you.’ I listened to her, and of course, she was right.”
Guin has enjoyed making new friendships at SAU, meeting people she never thought she’d meet, and that she has “never gotten homesick” because SAU “feels like home.”
Her friends encouraged her to apply for the Mulerider position when it opened in February. “They all thought it would be a really good fit. Rusty sent out the email to apply, and it took me two hours to fill out my application. I did, and the next week, he called to say I could interview with a committee. I told them I would be honored to help recruit for SAU. I rode Molly Ann again, with a flag, and the rest is history.”
She said she and Molly Ann will be available during Preview Days “to meet the incoming freshmen and to let them get to know me and as much as they can about the University.” She’ll also spend time “getting to know Molly Ann, learning how to drive the truck and trailer. Rusty told me that he will be calling me and letting me know when to get ready for events. I’ll need to have Molly Ann ready. So it will take a lot of dedication but I’m very excited about it all.”
Kids want to go to big colleges, but I have learned that we’re almost a family here, and that’s important. Everyone finds their place. Just be yourself and enjoy it.
She said she already knows that Molly Ann is smart about her job as a mascot. “She knows how and when she’s supposed to take pictures. She’s mellow, she knows her job.”
Guin said one of the things she will try to impress on recruits to SAU is the feeling of family. “I’ll tell them to have an open mind about SAU. Kids want to go to big colleges, but I have learned that we’re almost a family here, and that’s important. Everyone finds their place. Just be yourself and enjoy it.”
She said she hopes to attend veterinarian school after she graduates from SAU, or obtain a master’s degree in zoology. “I’d like to become a large equine vet,” she said.
The coming years will be a challenge, but she’s prepared. “I’ll have to keep good grades and I’m going to have to study – for the next few years, it’ll be books, boots and a mule!”
Guin said she was excited to be receiving her personalized riding chaps. “My name will be on them,” she said. “It’s gonna be so cool.”
“We are so excited that Abbie Guin will be continuing the great legacy at SAU,” said Berry. “Abbie will represent the University not only at our athletic events, but also in the community and throughout the region. As a person with true integrity and sincerity, Abbie will be a tremendous symbol for SAU and for the student body.”