Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trainee Suddenly Wakes Up Trainer: Ode to Fatherhood

"Lolly"  The first mule he got paid to train.

One of my all time favorite sayings is "When you see a man on a mountain, you can be sure he didn't fall there."

Eight years ago, when we started our life with mules, we had never been around them.  I had been on one once or twice as a teenager.  I didn't know anything about them, and the one I had been on bucked me off on a lion hunt.  But somehow, the tug I felt inside to learn the art of mule-skinning was a powerful force in 2007, so I started looking.  It turns out that all of the good finished mules that I was interested in were too expensive for my budget at the time, but I had a chance to buy a nice Jack and a couple of mares.  So I decided the 5 years it would take to produce something usable was worth the wait.

Boy...was it ever.

I hadn't quite anticipated the amount of good that learning it for ourselves would be for my kids.  Especially my youngest boy kid.

Senator, the red mule in these pictures, was Preston's first training project.  We had no formal training in mule training...I just did the only thing that felt natural.  I put the two together and let them train each other.  It was the "integrated training method."

There were lots of bumps and bruises along the way, and by the time Preston had ridden Senator for two and a half years, I had to intervene and start riding Senator myself to break some of his bad habits.  But OH!  What we learned!  And not without help.  Ty Evans at TS Mules rode with us a few times and very patiently helped us correct some of our techniques.  

The whole process was a joyful one and it often made me reflect on the joys of Fatherhood.  I knew it was paying off when I watched the boy lead a string of 4 pack mules up onto Pine Valley Mountain to outfit a youth group for a conference in a pretty valley up top.  Three of the five mules in that freight train were mules he trained himself.  The video of it is here.

One morning, we woke up, and Ty Evans was standing there on our mountain looking at Preston saying, "Hey kid... you are pretty good.  How would you like to come spend some time with me this summer helping me train?"

One morning we woke up, and a neighbor who had just bought a fresh, green broke mule named Lolly was standing on our mountain saying, "Hey kid...I need someone to keep Lolly's saddle blanket wet.  I need some help finishing her.  Can I pay you to ride her 3 days a week?"

And that morning, as I stood on that peak enjoying the grand vista, and breathing that thin air, my heart became full of emotion.   There aren't really words to express the kind of thanks bottled up inside of me...thanks to the Master of Souls that I didn't fall upon that mountain.  The strained muscles and burned lungs were more than worth what I saw around me when I reached the summit of Mt Fatherhood.

(Update: I just came across this piece today that touches on how boys learn.  We forget these things to our peril.  How our schools are miserably failing our boys.)
Della and Lolly, a matched pair
Senator, the mule that was born when the boy was 4.  He started riding Senator at age 6 when the mule turned 2.
Lullabelle, a coming 3 year old "mulestang" that he has done all of the riding and training for.


Coming 3 year old Della under saddle last summer as a 2 year old.
So well trained and such a sweet disposition, we felt comfortable putting Casey's daughter on her that first summer of her training.  It looks as if Casey will have Della's full sibling born over at his house in a month or two--his first mule.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Southern Missouri Mule

Occasionally, we run into a business that treats us so well that we can't keep it to ourselves.  In this case, I am offering an unsolicited shout-out for an online retailer who provided a level of service that one rarely sees these days.   Kenneth Levine at Southern Missouri Mule Outfitter and Equine Supply helped me get 6 mules ready for a big parade on fairly short notice.  I discovered these Rough Rider head stalls on his website and thought it would be cool to have a matched set of black ones fitted to each mule.  Previously, I had just been using a hodgepodge of bridles that I constantly had to re-fit and cannibalize depending on which mules we were using at the time.

I placed the order complete with matching tassels.  Kenneth called me right away to tell me that he only had one black bridle in stock and that it would be a few weeks before he could get any more--wondering if I wanted another color which he did have.

When I explained that they were for a parade and that the date he expected to have them was after my parade, he said, "Let me call my Amish supplier and see what I can do."

Within a few days, I had everything I needed in my hands.  Kenneth was very responsive to email and kept me informed every step of the way so I could react in time in case it couldn't be done.

I am very impressed with the Amish craftsmanship evident in these bridles.  I am equally impressed with Kenneth's service at SoMoMule.com

The brass name tags came from NapTags

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mule Trainer Hero: Retired Ranger Edition

Here is another installment in the Mule Trainer Hero series that I am doing with my son as he rides the two 2-year-olds that we started this year.

I enjoyed the wisdom and stories that my friend, retired Forest Ranger Fredric Ybright, shared with us as we rode together through some of the recovering burn area on Pine Valley Mountain 2 weeks ago.  He is seeing the mountain for the first time since retiring 8 years ago.  Here is a little GoPro, saddle-eye-view footage for you Fred, and for those who want to see the mountain from a mule. This is a relaxing trip through lush grass, new quaky stands, and the remnants of once giant trees on a unique part of this giant Lacolith.
The music is a song recorded by my daughter Kailee.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mule Trainer Hero: Packer Edition

Leon Gubler and I got to move a little freight last week for a youth group that had a conference up on Pine Valley Mountain. This is another GoPro style saddle-eye-view of the trail for those who grew up dreaming of driving trains.

The main song in the middle is a song written and performed by my daughters called "No Name."

This mule project that we started back in 2006 has paid great dividends for my family.  Watching my 11 year old son lead a 4-up string through a patch of rugged wilderness is a button-popper for a father--and the close relationship we have formed in the pursuit of long-ears, priceless.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mule Trainer Hero: Water Edition

A place I have written about on a few occasions, Hop Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Southern Utah.  Most of it is private property adjoining Zion National Park.  The landowner and the park have some sort of an understanding that hikers can hike the valley, and the park will give some small degree of latitude for the rancher's occasional stray cow that crosses the line.

For our mules sake, the water exposure in Hop Valley is as good as it gets.  Having a little fun with the GoPro Hero camera makes it possible for you to come along and enjoy the saddle-eye view of this magnificent place:

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Come and ride along with my 11 year old son, Preston, and me as we go out for some integrative-training.   On this trip, we are riding two and a four year-old mules who are full sisters.  Catalonian Mulestangs--both born on my brother's place to a Catalonian Jack, and a born-in-the-wild mustang mare from the Sulpher herd in SouthWest Utah.  Enjoy some POV riding among the rapidly-developing neighborhoods in our back-yard, and the bluffs around them, GoPro style.

Lulabelle, ridden by my son is the third hand-raised mule that he has started by himself.  The first was  Senator who was born at our place.  Preston rode Senator by himself for the first 2 and a half years, starting when he was six years old.  At that point, I had to intervene and help Senator unlearn some bad habits, but the experience got Preston ready to do it right the next time.  Currently, we have two 2-year-olds that he started this spring.

I cannot thank Ty Evans at TSMules enough for the gentle guidance he has offered along the way that helped solidify the things Preston had learned by experience.  If you need a good mule or a good trainer, they just DO NOT come any better!

And me?  I'm the lucky father who gets to share all of this with my mule-skinner boy!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Caanan Mountain Formations

Enjoy a little video journey through a few of the fantastic formations around Zion Nat'l Park.  Caanan Mountain is difficult to access--you have to know the way in, and you have to be willing to cover some technically difficult terrain.  But it is the prettiest of places!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Slo-Mo Mule

With agility unmatched in the world of equines, it is revealing to watch a mule jump in slow motion.

Video and photos compliments of our little outing last weekend…the last for a while for my daughter who leaves for South Korea in a few weeks.  She often complained that all we had out here was "red rocks and cactus."  I used to tell her that she better be careful not to jinx herself--she might end up living in a drab part of the world someday.  I think she is going to miss this...

Soaking up the last of the red rocks for a while.  South Korea won't be so ledgy.

One of the coming two year-olds.  This is a FAV.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Favorite Mule photos from the last few months...

Happy New Year!  Getting vertical Jan 1, 2014

Brothers.  God's gift

Hop Valley

Catalonian Mule above Zion

High Angle

Raising babies on the Haslem Trail

Historical snow and cold

Lost Global Warming

Season's Mule wishing you Merry Christmas 2013

Santa's advance crew

Ancient Graffiti

Beauty collides
Hidden places

Shadows on Canaan Mt
Veterans Day parade

The excellent staff at SouthWest Vision
Wrangler Butts
Friendship goes a long way

Brother from another mother

Greenhorn on Molly

Walking Mule

Mules in the myst