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.