Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Repurposing Retired Race Mules

by Gayle Stegmann, Gem State Mule Company, Rathdrum, Idaho

Laurice Webb on retired race mule Blue McGee, PhD, with Bernadette Bullington, age 12, in the background riding another retired race mule, Slick   Shaun Schlager Photography

I am often asked what we do with race mules when they are no longer racing. There is a misconception that racing can have negative implications to a mule. I learned this first hand. When I was struggling to locate a mule prospect for the upcoming racing season in 2017, I put my request out on Facebook to a group that has some 4000+ members. From the feedback I received, the one that stood out the most was “Why wreck a good mule by putting it on the race track, enough with this nonsense?” I was shocked as I had no idea there was this perception out there. While this article is not to convince anyone of the good that comes to these mules from racing, it is merely to educate those who are not familiar with the mule racing industry and share with you some pretty awesome stories about what happens to these mules when they are no longer racing.

Gayle Stegmann on Miss Lourella, Shaun Schlager Photography

First off, let’s answer some common questions “right out of the gates.” 
How far do they race in training and on the track? It is broadly known that mules have strong self-preservation tendencies which they come by way of from their ancestor the donkey. In training, we have to take this into account as you cannot push them as hard as a horse; they will shut down. We typically work them approximately four-five days a week, 800 yards with a combination of loping and trotting. On the track, they race a 350-440-yard sprint….much less than a horse. There is one race in Ferndale, Calif., that is 800 yards, but this is the longest.
How old does a mule have to be before it races? It is mandated that because a mule’s knees are not filled in enough until the age of three, they go onto the track a year later than a horse.
Do molly’s typically run faster than johns? It is a proven fact that molly mules are generally faster competitors than john mules. We prefer molly’s as they have far less self-preservation tendencies, something to consider when prospecting a gaming mule.
Do the mules generate a good betting handle on the track? The interest in mules vs. horses on the track in racing is phenomenal. The paddock areas are full of viewers and conversation. Mules are a novelty, and as such, garner a significant level of interest, thus a tremendous amount of money being wagered. Additionally, there is a degree of unpredictability with mules compared to horses relative to who is going to win, so the payouts can be very good.
How long have mules been racing? Mule racing with pari-mutual wagering had its first debut in July 1978. It really wasn’t until the American Mule Racing Association was formed, to promote mules at recognized distances in the sport of racing, that the industry really took shape. With Donald W. Jacklin for the past 16 years as President along with a full board and secretary beside him, the mule racing industry he really gained national recognition and great successes.  
Do you see a lot of racing related injuries to the mules through years of racing? Because they run a short sprint, there is far less wear on their legs and body through training, or otherwise. If there are injuries, it is almost always related to a gate issue, or perhaps they spooked in training and attempted to jump the rail. If there are issues with legs or tendons, they are typically directly related to an accident that occurred and not wear and tear from repetitive racing down a track. Mules are so smart and sensible, that we do not see many injuries and if we do, they are typically ‘freak accidents’ in nature, similar to what can happen in every day trail riding when a moose jumps out from the trees.
How old can mules race? Loretta Lynn was the oldest mule to race. She was still winning races at 19 years! If mules are running well and making the trainers money, an average retirement age is 11-15 years old. Most retired racing mules have come to the end of the career by way of age, or track record, not because of injury. 
Speaking of making money, can the owners make money in the racing industry? The purses are not nearly as large as they used to be, due to state funding drying up for the race tracks, and the betting handles are down across the board on the race tracks. Additionally, workman’s comp is quite expensive, and owners pay a significant amount of money just to get the mule to the gate. However, because they run by speed index, if your mule is the faster one in that speed index or happens to be the fastest on the track consistently, then yes, there is money to be made. However, most owners, including myself, do it for the love of the sport and promoting the mule breed, not the money to be made.

Gayle Stegmann riding English on retired racing mule Blinkie

So, what really happens to a mule when it’s racing career is over? It really depends on the owner and this individual being able to identify the right purpose or desired life style for this mule.  
Often times, while in the off season, owners will keep their mules in shape by going on long trail rides, or endurance racing competitions. My late race mule, Apache Ripper, went on to become a 4-time World Champion Endurance Racer.  We still hold the record to this day, finishing a 26.2-mile race in 1:32 min. Don Jacklin, of Rathdrum, Idaho, who is my father, and was the trainer at the time and Apache Ripper’s owner, was able to identify a unique ability in this mule that was different than all others. He had the ability to get his heart rate down to a certain level very quickly and thus, had a distinct advantage at the vet check, as well as his strong work ethic in daily training. Were it not for Don identifying and repurposing this mule into an area his unique genetic ability could be capitalized on, he would not have accomplished these feats. 

Chloe Pimley, now 18, on Passum Maybelline, a retired race mule she has owned for 9 years now.

Roger Downey, Albuequerque, N.M., an accomplished mule breeder, owner and endurance competitor, competes on many of his retired, and currently in use, race mules. He has multiple mules to pick from depending on their level of training and their capabilities at a certain mileage. Again, he has been successful in identifying those unique and special qualities that are applicable and desired for that purpose. He has competed on Crystal Palace, Jodi Nelson, Ears Looking at You and Bismo in multiple Tevis Cups and 50-mile races. “Having a racing mule to compete in endurance competitions is a prequalification to his selection process,” said Roger. Generally, if a mule has had a successful racing career, it translates into athleticism, highly competitive and successful outcomes.

CANDEE COFFEE on retired race mule Mandy’s Turn competing at Man Vs. Horse    photo courtesy of Man Vs. Horse

Candee Coffee, on her mule, Mandy’s Turn, has competed in many endurance races, including one of her most notable races, Man vs. Horse. Year after year, riders and runners converge in the Eastern Sierras from all over California to compete in this uncommon opportunity for man and beast to compete shoulder to shoulder with each one gaining a new respect for the other. The race boasts an 11-mile, a Marathon, a 50K and a 50-mile distances.
One of the greatest mules of all time, Czar, owned by Jacklin and trained by Ed Burdick, was a World Champion on the race track and is now, at 26, still competing in gaming with exceptional times! He is the first mule EVER in the history to win the California State Horseman’s Association finals at Watsonville, CA in 2002. He has competed against horses and finished in top spots at National Horse Omoksee events.  

MARK MATTOX on retired race mule Lilac Lady competing at the Northwest Trail Competition in Eugene, Ore. 

Mark Mattox, Mesa, Washington, has taken his retired race mule, Lilac Lady (Leah), to National Trail Championships throughout the state of Oregon. He competes in some 20 Trail events annually. He is now “looking forward to exploring dressage and more versatile ranch horse competitions, proving that a mule can compete well in these events, through much time and effort”.
If one attends Bishop Mule Days, the majority of the top mules competing or past competitors in the gaming events are retired race mules, including Blue McGee, PhD, Pete Cooper (5x World Champion owned by Downey), Rhoda Nelson, Jethro, Becky Ann, Miss Lourella, Navajo Lady, Blinkie and many more. All of these mules are running comparable times to horses in poles, barrels and stake races. In our region, the mules stack up in 1 and 2D against horses in virtually every gaming event. So much so, that many are taking a second look at the mule as a gaming option or enhancement to their gaming animal line-up.
Trainer and accomplished competitor Matt Fournier has built a niche in his business by purchasing off the track mules. “I like how they have been exposed to all kinds of things so they tend to be a lot less reactive, which could be interpreted as gentle,” said Matt. A mule called ‘What Mule’ was sold to a man in California that uses him to wrangle cattle. Matt was able to identify the mules desire to move in and around cattle and found the right fit for him to reach his full talent and capabilities in this unique area.
The legendary Black Ruby who was inducted into the Mule Racing Hall of Fame in 2009 and has earnings in excess of $250,000, at 26 years of age, takes her new repurposed job very seriously. According to Mary McPherson, owner, “She now mentors our young mules and instills athleticism and forward motion to better prepare them for their racing career.” 
Mary also has mules, including Outa Idaho, Classy Recruit, Dash of Rust,  andRecruit’s Irish to name a few who all enjoyed successful racing and endurance racing careers and now work with Trinity Jackson, Heart to Heart Ranch, in their therapeutic riding program and compete with these same kids in endurance racing. 

Jesika Harper, Athol, Idaho, on retired racing mule Red Rooster

Not all retired racing mules end up in competition. Jesika Harper, Rathdrum, knows this firsthand. She purchased Red Rooster, a john mule who only days prior, had come off the track.  While discussing Rooster’s attributes, I told her, “He seems to take the track with him.” 
She thought that would translate well in the mountains but said, “I didn’t fully appreciate what that meant until I experienced the careful way he navigates technical areas compared to horses I have ridden. Having had success on the race track, he also learned the discipline of an athlete. With his good work ethic in tow, he’ll go all day without a complaint then walk up to you eagerly the next day to go again.  I’m thankful I didn’t listen to my initial doubts questioning how a race mule could become a great riding partner. I’ve enjoyed riding more in the last four years than all the time before.”
From world champions to pasture pets, retired racing mules have enhanced the lives of mule lovers across the globe and it has been rewarding to be a part of this unique, one of a kind pairing!

Message from Don Jacklin:

American Mule Racing Association President

The luxurious life of the race mule certainly changes upon retirement. Gone are the days of twice daily super high-quality food buffets, daily baths, currying, combing, refreshing exercise, and quality human social interactions. However, the future remains bright for the retired athlete.

Race training and conditioning has developed a full potential of the fast twitch sprint muscle mass, thus opening a window full of opportunity for a bright future in all performance events, from gymkhana, trail competition, dressage, mountain and trail riding, to even competitive endurance racing.
The race track clatter, noise, and commotion has conditioned the race retiree to better accept parades, hootenannies and other public displays and celebrations.
One small alert area shows up during race transition activities: Race mules are not sensitized to the rear breeching nor crupper. The first day or two of transition training makes for interesting and exciting rides.
I can think of no better animal for a quality riding future than a retired race mule.

Remembering Ed Burdick...

Ed Burdick recently passed at the age of 79. Ed and Ruth Burdick are legends in the equine racing industry. Ed is well known for having earned the title of ‘Leading Trainer’ from Bay Meadows and throughout the state of California multiple years. In the mid 70’s, Ed trained Galverman, a quarter horse who set many track records. Ed also worked alongside Randy Bradshaw as assistant trainer in the late 90s where he trained world class race horses including Artax, a thoroughbred who went on to compete in the Kentucky Derby through R.B. Entrepreneur and Austrian born billionaire Frank Stronach saw the great potential in Ed in the early 2000s and hired him to get babies broke and ready for sales. Adena Farms is considered the ‘crown jewel’ of horse racing facilities located in Canada, Kentucky and Florida. It is considered one of the largest horse training operations in the US. Ed’s career rounded out what was a two-person training team with the love of his life, married 56 years, Ruth, and together, training for Donald W. Jacklin from 1995-2003, he trained several world champions racing mules, including Czar, his favorite mule, Taz and Chinook Pass. After retirement, Ed competed very successfully on Czar in local, regional and national competitions against horses in Omoksee. He was truly among the greatest ambassadors to the mule industry and will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Boulder Mail Trail

story and photos by Steve Westhoff
Boulder, Utah, is fairly well known, at least locally, for being the last town in America to receive their mail by mule train. Sometime around 1933 a road was finally built to the town with the help of the CCC, but prior to that it was pack mules. The trail leaves from Escalante, Utah, and goes more or less straight to Boulder, which is 16 miles away. The trail crosses three canyons, by far the deepest and steepest is Death Hollow. The old timers say in their diaries they rode between towns in five hours, but when I went across it the first time last year it took me 10 hours.
It has become a popular hiking trail but very few people I know ever ride it. Part of the reason it took me 10 hours was just finding the trail on that much slick rock was a challenge and nobody has cleared the trail through the bottom of Death Hollow for a very long time. It was very slow going.
The scenery was incredible and the historic trail was amazing to me, knowing they used to take draft horses and mule trains through these canyons.

One of the stories I’ve read was that a local pioneer farmer was leading his two draft horses through Death Hollow. The Boulder side of Death Hollow has a very narrow slick rock trail with exposure that is several hundred feet. Thinking it would be better to take his horses across the narrow trail one at a time, he stopped, tied one of the horses up, led the other one across and tied him up. He walked back down and across to get the other horse, started back up across the trail and met the one he had taken over first, half way down across the trail. He had to back the first horse up the trail while he led the second horse. None of that would be for the faint of heart.
Escalante is well known for the Hole-In-The-Rock trail where a group of Mormon pioneers spent five months building a wagon trail across the 2,000 feet deep canyon of the Colorado River. Some of the lesser known trails like the Boulder Mail Trail almost go unnoticed.

Escalante and Boulder are in Garfield County which is nearly 97 percent public land. With the Canyons of the Escalante River, side canyons of the Colorado River, and Boulder Mountain over 10,000 foot in elevation it is a mule riding paradise, which is evidenced by the pictures accompanying this story.

“We ranted and raved about the trail enough that our wives wanted to see it,” said STEVE. “So we rode in the Boulder Mail Trail until we got to the Death Hollow overlook and had a picnic. It was a long, beautiful day.” 

Many stories of this area can be found in local historian Jerry C. Roundy’s book,  Advised Them to Call the Place Escalante. Lodging for horses and mules, guests and trailers can be found at Escalante Cabins & RV Park (www.escalantepark.com) on the west edge of Escalante, which I own. I have been ranching here locally for 20 years, own five mules and a horse. I have a wealth of knowledge of trails and these parts. Feel free to contact me if you would like ride these beautiful canyons.

These photos were taken in the fall on a different trail down through the Escalante River Canyon, between town and the bridge on Highway 12

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Connection Deeper Than Words: Roman IV’s Ima Big Star’s Journey

by Lyn Ringrose-Moe

For those of us who own mules, we are never surprised at how well they can perform when up against other equines.  I am fortunate enough to be one of the founding partners of the fairly new, but highly popular discipline of Cowboy Dressage. It has been an amazing journey creating a discipline that is inclusive, not exclusive. Where a rider’s soft feel and partnership with their equine is paramount. It’s no surprise that mules excel in this discipline. The past two years at the Cowboy Dressage World Finals, mules have dominated the Top Hand Competition. In 2016, Audrey Goldsmith, Sisters, Ore., rode her mule, Heart B Porter Creek to an amazing win in Top Hand, Kellie Shields came in third on Call Me the Fireman. In 2017, Kellie came back and maintained a strong lead throughout on her mule, Fireman. In both Top Hand competitions, there were only two mules competing and several horses. Part of the Top Hand Competition is the rider switch – the riders who rode these mules as their switch ride were amazed at the level of training and rideability. Because these mules were out in the general public, folks have taken notice that there is another option for something wonderful and fun to ride – a mule!

My own personal journey with mules started when I was a small child.  My first ride was my grandmother’s pack mule.  He taught me a lot!

In 2013, my husband John and I were looking for a mule for him. Kellie contacted Kathy Rohde to see if she had a nice mule for sale. That is how we met and acquired Roman IV’s Ima Big Star. Star was five years old and 16.2 hands.  We were in love. John asked me to train her for him, so I started putting on a foundation based upon my background in dressage. We started using Star at various expositions up and down the West Coast to spread the word about Cowboy Dressage. She was a super star every time out. She amassed quite a following of admirers and fans. She also excelled in Cowboy Dressage, where she was developed slowly and carefully. This summer I needed a new goal, something for myself. John had been struggling with a bad knee for several months and it was finally surgery day, June 29. While waiting for him to get through surgery, I decided to dip my toe back in the traditional dressage court. But who to ride? I had sold my FEI level warmblood, so was searching – then I remembered! Dressage is good for any equine – what about Star? We share an unusual connection and partnership – she knows what I am thinking most of the time, I swear! She is lovely with lovely gaits. OK, Star it is…now the work begins. I travel most week-ends teaching Cowboy Dressage clinics throughout the US, Canada, and Australia, so fitting in the required number of recognized USDF/USEF sanctioned shows was no easy feat. It was amazing to me that every time out, we received a qualifying score. In two months time we were able to qualify for the California Dressage Society State Championships and the United States Dressage Federation Region 7 Championships to be held in September at Murieta Equestrian Center, Rancho Murieta, CA. I was so proud that we qualified, so of course we were going. And, go we did.

But first let me tell you that a year ago Star suffered an injury to her hock that looked to be career ending. Finally, in February 2017 my vet contacted me to say she had learned of a new procedure that might help Star and asked if I were interested? Of course! We tried the procedure and amazingly, it worked. Star was back to work, carefully. I wasn’t sure how much she could take or if she could hold up to harder work. I was careful and brought her along slowly. She was doing well, so I started asking her to go forward, paying close attention to the correct use of her back and topline, since her back is a little long. Star has always been really connected to me and tries so hard to accommodate me. I am always humbled by her heart and try. When showing her in dressage, I was surprised that judges often commented on the harmony and partnership that we demonstrated, something they don’t often mention. I know we have a special relationship, so it was no surprise at the Dressage State and Regional Championships we did very well. There were 335 spectacular horses who all had to qualify to attend, and our lovely mule (who also had to qualify)! We ended up tenth in the State of California for Open Training Level, and eighth in USDF Region 7 (Nevada, California, Hawaii). She did it all with grace and class. I was so happy to place among all the lovely horses that were competing.  It was an honor and so wonderful to be part of this very large show. We had so many people who were curious about mules and ended up really loving what they saw. The frosting on the cake was we just learned that Roman IV’S Ima Big Star has been named Open Training Level mule of the year for the USDF All-Breed Awards program. This award is sponsored by USDF and AMA together for the top scoring mules competing in dressage. I am still in shock at how well we did, not because I don’t think she is awesome, but because we were up against some truly amazing competition. In all my years of training horses, I have never shared the type of relationship I share with my mule. I have trouble explaining to people why I ride a mule. It goes deeper than words. She is my partner and my friend.

Mules and More's 8th Annual Trail Riding Guide

For the last eight years, we have gathered our favorite trail riding spots from around the country into a handy guide to help you find the perfect place to hit the trails with your mule this summer! 

Hayes Canyon
Eddyville, Ill.
Hayes Canyon, in Eddyville, Illinois, is a family-owned campground located adjacent to the Shawnee National Forest with access to the Shawnee’s extensive trail system for hikers, equestrians, hunters, and nature lovers of all sorts. They have 30 RV campsites available for rent with electric hookups and city water, picnic table, and fire ring.  Most have sewer hookups.
Campsites have 2-4 pens for horses or mules which offers peace of mind and convenience of having your mule right there within eyesight. This is an ideal location, centrally located in the middle of the most popular trail riding area of the Shawnee, with direct access to the trails. Within a 10-mile radius of Hayes Canyon Campground there are 180 miles of Forest Service trails. (618) 672-4751, info@hayescanyon.com

Fort Valley Ranch Horse & Mule CampgroundFort Valley, VA
Whether you are looking for a guided horseback ride on one of our sure-footed trail horses or bring your own horse, Fort Valley Ranch, nestled in the Massanutten Mountains of the National Forest, has the perfect setting.  We have miles of marked trails on the Ranch as well as direct access to trails in the George Washington National forest.  Hourly, half and full-day rides, as well as multi-day Ranch Packages, are available.  Centrally located in the Shenandoah Valley, minutes from Luray Caverns in Luray, VA and only 1.5 scenic hours from Northern Virginia and Washington D.C.

Whiskey Ridge Ranch
Malvern, Arkansas
Whiskey Ridge Guest Ranch features guided and non-guided rides on scenic trails and ponds for fishing and swimming areas. Stalls and trailer hook-ups with water and electric are available. There is a 150 x 250 covered riding arena with bleachers with a full team roping set-up, barrels, poles, jumps and obstacles. Riding lessons are offered. Come ride with us!
Whiskey Ridge Guest Ranch

Turkey Creek Ranch
Newcastle, NE
Turkey Creek Ranch is a dream destination for horse riders. We offer two fully furnished cabins and a campground with electric hook-ups, picnic shelters, shower house, and horse pens. We have miles of mapped trails and an obstacle course you won't find anywhere else!
Call to reserve your spot today! Weekends fill up quickly!

Tin Top Ranch
Scott County, Arkansas
This 160-acre ranch is located in the beautiful Ouachita National Forest of southwest Scott County, Arkansas. They offer a unique opportunity to provide you with a quiet, secluded retreat where you, your mule and a few friends can get away from it all. It's not hard to do in the middle of 1.8 million acres of forest.
Tin Top Ranch’s ranch house has a complete kitchen, dining area, three bedrooms and two baths. There is also a half-basement outfitted as a bedroom. A cozy wood-burning fireplace will provide comfort on chilly evenings, after a long day hunting or trail riding. Like to star-gaze? You'll never see a night sky until you see the skies at Tin Top.
Organized trailrides are offered several times a year, or you can bring your mules and explore the wilderness on your own. During hunting season, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest within a short distance. Like to fish? Catch a mess of pan-fish in one of the stocked ponds and local creeks.
For more information or to reserve your weekend or weeklong vacation, call 1-800-436-8199 and ask for Terri or Scott, or email walls_sa@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Granny’s Adventure Continues...

by Anna Arnold, Romoland, Calif. 
photos courtesy of Kelley Jo Locke
November was a very busy one for me…not that I can’t find anything to do, I am always ready for a call saying let’s go, or do something. I get my neighbor, Maggie to feed the animals and take my dog to my daughters. I don’t have to pack, as I usually have it ready to go; grab a coat and let’s go…and that is just what I did.
I had gone to lunch with a client and friend of my daughter’s and mine, Jeanette Batton. She was talking about going to the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, NV in a few days and mentioned her friend was unable to go and would either of us like to go with her. She had tickets and rooms at South Point where the rodeo would be held. Well, yes, of course I wanted to go. So plans were made, and after a few stops to pick up some adult beverages and snacks, we were on our way. Jeanette is great to travel with, as she is an ex-highway patrol gal and knows her ins and outs on the highway. We arrived and went to watch the show; this was a wonderful rodeo, with members of many tribes from the U.S. and Canada competing in all the regular events.
Along with the rodeo there was a trade show. Many tribes brought authentic rugs, clothing and jewelry for sale. I had gotten an old Choctaw necklace years ago and was told it had been made by an Indian woman in Oklahoma. Well, being part Choctaw, I bought it. Now I brought it with me and asked some of the beaders to take a look at it. They were so careful with it and said, “Yes, it was old and very well made, you must be very proud of it.” And believe me, I am. I had to buy a beautiful little string of beads to go with it. So, now I will be wearing my beads, along with my pretties Danny has given me. I am a lucky lady.
After the rodeo we returned home. I then began to get pictures and stories from Danny Locke, Firebaugh, Calif. and his daughter Kelley Jo Locke of Fresno, CA. They planned a ride down the Grand Canyon some time ago and had asked me to go along. Well, I only have a four hour butt and knew I couldn’t make the six plus hour jarring ride down the canyon, sleep and ride out the next day. So, I wished them well and asked them to send me pictures. The following is my conversation with Kelley Jo:

How did you decide to go on this trip? 
Dad’s 80th birthday was coming up and I was trying to think of a gift for him. I thought of the Grand Canyon, as I never know when they will stop allowing mules to go down, and we could never make it down and back on our own two legs! I wanted his 80th year to be something special, and this trip was!

How long in advance did you have to make plans?
I called last November 1, one year in advance. I wanted to go in the spring, but you had to call on the first of the month that you wanted to go, so I missed that opportunity.

Was there a weight limit for riders? 200 pounds.

How long was the ride down and back?
I took five to six hour, depending on the group you were with, and how many stops they needed, i.e., dropping things on the trail, taking coats off or on, and so on. There are a couple of bathroom breaks, but none of us needed them, other than the lunch break at Indian Gardens, half way down.

Where did you sleep?
The night before the trip, we slept in the Thunderbird Lodge, then we slept in a cabin in the Canyon at Phantom Ranch, the following night we stayed at the Maswik Lodge.

What did you do for meals? 
We had very little on the way there; Dad was trying to make the 200 pound weight limit, and he had several pounds to go! We had grilled veggies and fruit and yogurt. On the mule ride they supplied a box lunch, turkey sandwich, fruit and trail mix. Once at Phantom Ranch, they cooked us a great family-style steak dinner. After the ride, we ate at El Tovar, a fantastic restaurant.

How did you decide what mule you were going to ride?
Our mules were assigned to us. When the mules were brought in, they kept yelling at one mule, Cuco, so it was Cuco this and Cuco that! I was thinking, I don’t want Cuco, but guess who I got! She ended up being perfect for me. Dad got Bert.

Why did you have to face the drop-off side?
As most people know, mules have great survival instincts. If spooked, they will not jump off the cliff. It also allowed the hikers to walk behind us. If they faced the wall and spooked, they could take a deadly step back, or they could kick a passerby and knock them off the trail.

What was your experience like?
Exciting, terrifying and humbling. Oh, and exhausting! But worth it…definitely a trip of a lifetime.

Would you do it again? 
Dad can’t wait to go again. I am happy with my experience and would like to take the rim ride next time. I would like to spend more time at the top. I didn’t get to see everything.

What about the other people on the ride?
Well, they were all great sports, even though they were first timers on mules. We made long time friendships with two ladies from Australia.
On the way home Danny and Kelley Jo took a side trip to Boron in the Mojave Desert. The mine is still in operation and I’ve written about the mine’s history and the mule teams there in other articles. There is a nice museum to visit if you’re even in the area.

When they returned home, Danny had to get his mule ready for the ranch sorting and trail trials being held at the Slender Ranch in Sanger, Calif. I told him I would meet him there, and was once again on the road. I drove six hours to the Slender Ranch. I got there a little early and Tucker was going out to chase cattle, so I rode along. And guess who I rode? Yep, the famous Donk-a-Lena, Hall of Fame Champion. We rode around their beautiful place after I got the OK from Mary Lou to ride her mule. Like me, she is very picky about who rides their mules! Thank you for such a sweet ride. Tucker did some trick riding on his famous race mule, ShuFly, but nothing was hurt and we went on.
The event was well attended. Some of our mule buddies showed up…Jason Smith and family, along with Jennifer Jones-Lauzon and daughter, Payton. Mary Lou also lets Payton ride her mule, and she rode her in several events. Later, Payton took her saddle off and was playing games with other youngsters.
By this point, Danny was a pretty tired man; I would be too. Riding the Grand Canyon, and then the sorting and trail event takes a toll. The Slender family invited us to the house for supper and a little get together before the show. Danny had team roped in his younger years, and all kinds of stories were told.
We stayed over until Sunday, as the show was late getting over and the morning fog was heavy. Danny went back to Firebaugh, and I traveled to Winchester. Now it’s Thanksgiving and we were both about traveled out, so we stayed home and enjoyed our families.
Another hit over the holidays was that of my handyman, Scott Johnston who suffered a stroke Thanksgiving Day. Thanks to his son’s fast recognition of what was happening, he got Scott to the hospital quickly, and it was caught in time. He is home now recovering. I sure do miss his company and help.
Speaking of recovering, our friend Sandy Powell, a photographer in our area, was injured in a wagon accident earlier this year. She was thrown out of a wagon, run over and dragged quite a ways.  Somehow, through all of this, she’s kept a great sense of humor. After the wreck Sandy was strapped to a backboard for hours and had a huge pain in her tush the entire time. The ambulance ride took hours, then the emergency room visit took even longer. After seven to eight hours, when she was finally able to get up and move a bit, a huge rock came out from underneath her; the rest of the gravel in her pants came out also. What a relief for her!
Our good friend, Porch Pig Patty Rustin Christen is having some of her own problems with her dad, Harry Kim. He’s been laid up after surgery and then Patty had to put down her trusty sidekick, Hank while she was taking care of her dad. My gosh, these girls are tough.
Lots of good rides are coming up out our way. March brings up the Palm Springs Guest Ride the last weekend in March, then the wonderful desert ride at the Boyd Ranch, out of Wickenburg, Ariz, Mule Madness is the middle of March, and their ad is in this month’s Mules and More. And somewhere along the way will be an 80th birthday ride for an ole mule lady.
I want to wish all you readers and mule lovers a wonderful New Year. God got us through 2017 with a lot of ups and downs. Make the best of each day, and remember to be kind and tell your loved ones how you feel. Time slips by quickly!

Look for me on the trail or at a mule gathering. I’m the Granny wearing a big hat, cool boots and riding a fine mule.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mules and More’s 8th Annual Trail Riding Guide

We are working on our 8th annual trail riding guide for the April 2018 issue of Mules and More. Do you have a favorite place to trail ride, a destination trip or local trip, that you would like to see featured? Send your story and photos to us! Email mules@socket.net or mail to PO Box 460, Bland MO 65014. If you email photos, be sure to send them in their original file size and format, and at least 300 dpi. The deadline is March 1. Also - the last several years we have chosen our April cover from submissions to the trail guide. So this might be your chance to be on the cover of Mules and More!


Do you own a campground, trail ride or overnight campground? Let us help you start the season out on the right foot, by getting your business in front of the eyes of thousands of mule owners! Contact us for information on how to advertise in the Trail Riding Issue, which comes with a complimentary spot in our online Trail Riding Guide. This year’s deadline is March 1. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Finding the Right ‘Tool’

by Lori Darlington
In September 2017 I took my Morgan mule to a mulemanship clinic in Clare, Mich., hosted by TS Mules (Ty and Skye Evans). I was having trouble with her and everyone was talking about the ‘tools’ this guy has to work with mules. I was excited and scared at the same time; excited to gain knowledge, but scared because my little mule has a range of problems. It turns out she only had one problem, an owner who did not get her requests for security and direction.
If you can imagine everything that can go wrong at a clinic, it did the first day. As I was walking my mule Roseannah out of the barn wind caught a 10’ by 10’ white canopy and blew over us like a big kite. This set Roseannah’s frame of mind for the next two days.
The first day she bolted and bucked at everything. For example, an audience member stood up from her chair and sent ‘Zannah into a bolting tornado; this was kind of how the entire day went. Ty kept instructing me to “get to her feet,” and tried to give me the directions on how to do this. “Her attention is not on you,” Ty said.
When the clinic was over I drove home bawling my eyes out. “To what extreme do I have to go to make my directions mean something to my mule while she is in this frame of mind?” I thought. “How do I get her attention on me? What the heck is ‘get to her feet’ and what does that mean?” I didn’t need clichés, I needed answers.
The next day was even worse than the first, with freezing temperatures, 20-30 mph wind gusts and pelting rain. Before the class I was ready to give up. Zannah was just beside herself with fear. I’ve never seen her like that. I spoke with Ty a moment about not completing the clinic…trying to come up with all kinds of excuses. I don’t really recall his exact words, but it was something like, “If you don’t want to learn to help your mule, you can quit.”
“How can he say that?” I thought. “How can he possibly think I don’t want to help my beloved mule? He doesn’t know anything about us!”
My friend Charlie just happened to show up that day to watch. Charlie spoke with Ty a little about the situation, and turned to me and basically told me to saddle up and get my butt out there (in a nice way, of course). It reminded me of a John Wayne quote, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t courageous, especially in front of my friend Charlie, who is the most courageous man I know. So, I saddled up and went out.

Lori and Roseannah’s first TS Mules Mulemanship Clinic

It was so miserable, at one point I thought I was going to pass out. Roseannah was the queen of wild bolting. I actually dismounted for a couple of minutes to catch my breath, only to get back on a cold, wet saddle. My butt was now soaked and cold. But, Ty hung in there, so I did, too.
I felt like I was just trying to survive. I wasn’t even able to listen to the class. I felt abandoned, ignored, and sad (pathetic really). I was very sad for my mule, who I love so much, and was just beside herself with fear.
As the day ended, we were walking out the gate when my little darling took a double barrel shot at Ty with both hind feet! Oh, I thought it surely couldn’t get any worse. Ty dismounted and dealt with the situation swiftly. I thought he is really going to hate us now (that probably couldn’t have been further from the truth). But, this instantly fixed the gate issue she was having. Ty kept saying, “She feels the need to protect herself because she doesn’t have a strong leader.” Once again I thought, great, what does that mean? And, how can I fix this? I can’t seem to “get to her feet” (whatever that means) when they are stuck to the ground, ready to bolt any second.
Ty kept telling me to keep her nose tipped into the class, keep her focus on what we were doing. At first I didn’t think this was a big deal. Zannah’s attention was on everything within a mile radius, she wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to bolt. She spent the entire time looking everywhere but at the task at hand. So, I paused for a moment and put a lot of thought into this. Could this small, subtle thing be a custom ‘tool’ just for my mule?
On day three, the clouds parted and it was truly amazing. Turns out Ty actually did know more about my mule than I did (who I have owned her entire life). Perhaps he had us sized up the moment we got off the trailer? How did he do that?
Every time she looked out into the distance for Godzilla, I gently tipped her nose back into the class. As I did this I kept a handle on my patience by repeating to her, “It’s OK Zannah,” or “I got your back Zannah.” This helped me to convey my intentions to her. I had to tip her nose back to the class over and over, about 30 times a minute. It took a great deal of patience and calmness. I knew if I lost my patience with her I could permanently defeat us both, and she would lose what little faith I could build with her at this point.
Then, after about 1,000 times of this, I suddenly felt her jaw start to soften and become quiet…then I saw her eyes start to soften. Trying to contain my excitement I thought, “I can build on this.” Next, her neck softened, and her head came down a little. Then her shoulders and back softened...followed by feet! I thought, “Oh, the way to her feet was through her nose!” Ty was telling me how to fix my problem the whole time. Something so subtle was so important to my insecure mule. How did he see this? I was trying to fix the symptoms. Ty was trying to point me to the cause. I’m so glad it finally dawned on me. Overnight my fearful mule became a more trusting individual. It was so outstanding that a couple of people in the audience were teary-eyed as we walked by them, relaxed and on a loose rein. It was hard to hide my own tears, as well, but I didn’t want Ty to see me be emotional. This will change my little mule’s life forever.
This ‘tool’ that everyone talks about is not a cliché. It’s very real! Although I think it can be difficult to see something, it’s an understanding of the most subtle cues and the ability to get to the foundation of the problem. I think this is Ty’s and Skye’s super power. They know mules and it’s like they can see into their souls. It was on me to listen to what Ty kept trying to tell me. It took me two days to realize he was trying to direct me to this tool the entire time.
I can apply this tool to all my equines. That one day was worth all the trouble I went through to get there. So, I just wanted to say to anyone who might feel defeated, keep trying to find the ‘tool’. I’m pretty sure Ty will root out what your mule needs. If he could see it with us, he can see it with anyone.

God bless Ty and Skye for putting up with humans like me, which includes late night texts from a defeated (and whiney) woman who was just not getting it.