by Max Harsha, Author of the Mule Skinner's Bible
Tom Curtain, Ray Hunt and Max Harsha at the benefit symposium for Tom Dorrance
I don’t know how to explain this exactly, as I am just an old country boy, but this is the best word I could come up with to explain this article. To me, it is a communication that exists between humans, humans and animals, and animals themselves. It can be by mental, sight, sound or smell that you can get these readings. First of all, you have to accept that it does exist.
Have you ever had the feeling that someone was staring at you, and you turned around and saw them? I can remember one time I was elk hunting and I was crossing this opening in the timber and felt this eerie feeling something was staring at me. I kept on going until I got across the area and into the woods again, then I concealed myself and waited and watched across the opening. It wasn’t long until I saw an elk come out from across the area and move to my upper right, from where I was located.
Another time I was sitting down and have this peculiar feeling someone was coming up behind me. I turned and there was someone right behind me, I don’t know his intentions, but he stopped immediately and turned away.
I have always gotten along well with animals and I think that has given me a way to perhaps communicate with them and understand how I can better get along with them. I relate to them in a positive manner that lets them know I am not going to hurt them, and in most cases we soon form a bond of trust.
One instance, a man, living not too far from me, called and wanted to sell me a mule. I asked him what she was like and he said they had ridden her and she seemed all right that way, but she was skittish when they could catch her, and she was hard to catch. I told him I wasn’t interested, as I only liked mules that were easy to get along with. I knew this man pretty well and he was a really nice person; he called again and asked me to come get the mule and find her a home, and that he would sell her to me at a very reasonable price. I knew an outfitter who would buy her to pack, and he was able to get along with mules of this type pretty well, and agreed to go get the mule. The man told me he had the mule in a pen and his wife could catch her. When I arrived she was still loose in the pen. I went in the pen with a halter and lead and the mule started around the pen; I blocked her and she stopped and we sized each other up for a moment, then I walked up to her and stroked her on the neck and put the halter on and led her out. I was told to be careful as she might try to jerk loose. I led her up to the back of my pickup equipped with racks. As far as we knew she had never loaded in a pickup like that. I stroked her on the neck a bit and stepped up in the pickup and she almost beat me in. I don’t know why the man didn’t get along with the mule, because she never gave me any trouble. I sold her to a lion hunter at a bargain price and told him she had been hard to catch for the previous owner. Later he said she was okay for a while, but then got hard for him to catch. To tell you how some people can exaggerate, the man I bought her from later told me he was visiting with my friend down by El Paso, and he told him about me walking up to the mule so easily and catching her and loading her in my pickup. My friend told him that man could probably have loaded her in a Volkswagen if he wanted to.
Another time a lady called and insisted I come and get a pair of mule she had that had been getting out and were running in the national forest; the forest service threatened to fine her if it happened again. I told her I wasn’t interested, but she insisted I help her out, so I finally gave in. When I got there she had the mules in a “so-so” pen and as soon as we started in I could see this Appy type mule getting very shook up. I was afraid she was going to try and jump out. I told the lady to get back and let me approach them. As soon as she got away the mules settled back down and I went ahead and took my time and they let me catch them with very little problem.
As I led the mules out the lady told me to be careful as they are liable to jerk away. I was sure they wouldn’t be a problem as they were following me like a couple of dogs. I loaded them and took them home. The next day a couple from Silver City came by and was interested in buying a mule. All I had to sell was the pair of mules, and I told the couple I hadn’t had the time to ride them, but they were supposed to be broke. They were in a large pen and the lady walked over to look at them while her husband and I went to look at my dogs. When we came back the Appy mule had come up to this lady and had her head through the fence, and the lady was scratching her ears. I asked how that happened, and was told she was just looking at the mule and after a while she came over to her and stuck her head through the wire, and they became friends. Now, don’t tell me there isn’t a mind-to-mind thing between humans and animals. I got the mule, saddled her up and rode her, then the lady got on and rode her. They bought the mule and they have been happy ever since.
Now, getting to the point of why this is important to understand. I have people call and ask about my Harsha mule bit. I tell them it will work to the point of where you will feel you are in complete control, and it will do you as much good as it does the mule. They will ask, “How is that?”, and I tell them that when you realize you are in control the vibes you put out will make the mule feel more at ease than if you were apprehensive about what your mule might do. Don’t think your mule doesn’t sense this, not only by mind, but also by the smell of anxiety your body puts out. The best example of this is, a man and his 30-year old son came to see my mules and the young man walked in the pen and the mules scattered like a bunch of quail. His dad told the son to get out that animals didn’t like him or something to that effect. Anyhow the older man walked out among the mules and they gathered around him like he was their mother.
Many of you have heard of Ray Hunt, the famous horse trainer who trained many people on how to train horses. I had the opportunity to meet one of his students Tom Curtain, who was at his father’s place at Columbus, NM. Joe Runyan had called to see if I wanted to go with him, as he was taking a mule to get shod and I did since I needed to pick up a mule in Silver City, which was one the way.
This mule I was picking up was a nice looking young mule, but wild, and had never been haltered. I finally got the mule caught and loaded and we went on to R. L. Curtains at Columbus. Tom was there and R. L. saw my mule and suggested Tom work with my mule while I shod Joe’s mule. Tom agreed, and I told him the mule was as green as they get and was about 3-years old, and maybe he didn’t want to fool with him. Tom suggested we put him in the round pen and he would see what he could do. I had put the rope in his mouth (see July 2010, page 14), so I would have control. When we got the mule in the pen Tom took the halter off. I told him I had had trouble catching him; Tom said not to worry. He started working him around and around in the pen for some time, then he blocked him and when he turned around and took off the other way Tom let him go and he repeated this until the mule would finally stop and let Tom put the halter back on. To make a long story short, Tom worked with the mule until he rode him within the hour, with a halter and lead. Ray Hunt was putting on a benefit for Tom Dorrance, who had helped Ray get started. Tom had some serious health problems and Ray was putting on this training symposium to help raise funds. R. L. made a bronze sculpture showing Ray and Tom working a colt. We drove to Lubbock, Texas to pick up some of the bronzes to be sold for the benefit. While there Ray and I were visiting and I asked him who might be one to take his place some day, and he said he would like to see Tom do it, as he had the best understanding with horses of about anyone he has trained. There was about 40 of the people there Ray had trained. There were four pens of 10 trainers each and out of all of them, Tom was the first man to have caught his assigned colt and had him saddled and ridden on the outside. Tom darn sure put on the right vibes.