Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kids and Barn Sour Buck

All equines come to life with a pre-programmed love for the barn; some more, some less. Sometimes its a good thing. A loose horse or mule that just wanders aimlessly could be a real pain. Barn-sour horses just don't care to leave the grocery store, and when my equines escape their corrals, they just stick around all day, nibling at the haystack.

When you want to ride out from the "barn," a barn-sour horse isn't such a good thing. I doubt there is an equine anywhere that doesn't exhibit the tendency, even if its just move slow away from the barn and dramatically pick up the pace as soon as their hay-fired GPS tells them they are headed back to the "barn." The degree to which a horse or mule exhibits this tendency has something to do with its own disposition, but even more to do with the disposition of the riders that have been in her saddle. Equines are very honest and they read people better than people read people. If you could ask your equine "Does this dress make me look fat?" expect the truth. Your husband, on the other hand fears sleeping on the couch and you should wonder if, "Oh MY, you look ravishing!" really means what the sum of each word in this phrase indicates.

With winter and short days settled in, some of this family have had a little less saddle-time. For them, this is how this past week went. One son who I won't name got on Goldie, our sweet tempered Quarter Horse mare to ride out with Tyler and me earlier in the week. Goldie said "no, I 'm not," which looked like this: little tiny tantrum, half hearted crow hop, and Tyler's brother bailed off. I had to get off my ass, get on Goldie and tell her "yes you are," which looked like this: little tiny tantrum, half hearted crow hop, a little bit of leg cue and directional re-alignment, then all is well. Tyler's brother got back on Goldie, I remounted my ass, and off we went for a cold, but pretty desert ride--everyone behaving perfectly.

Then, just yesterday, one of the girls in this family who I also won't name (we presume her innocent until proven guilty) bailed off Kate, our sweet tempered mustang, after Kate bluffed her way back home from a mile up the trail. All the way up the trail, Kate had been asking her rider a fundamental question. Its the question Pete asked his fellow escapees to whom he was chained in "Oh Brother, where art thou." Who's in charge of this outfit, anyway? It looked like this: wobble, wobble, how 'bout I go this way, or that way... Wow! You mean its OK if I kind of stop here and fuss for home? All right, a mile of this is enough, I'm going to be the boss now. Lets just turn around and trot on back--you can get off if you don't like it. And get off she did, bumping her head. Thank goodness Kailee's mom is OK.

I won't profess any real horse training skills here, but there is a foundational key that applies in this story and everywhere else in life. It is one piece of horse sense that I want my kids to learn, along with a few others. Horses are much like us in many ways. They don't like pressure or discomfort; and they really want to know who is in charge. In the Human/equine relationship, there has to be a boss--it goes to the core of the horses' herd instinct. The equine is hardwired to accept leadership, or give it. You can learn all kinds of techniques to communicate with your equine, some harsh, some gentle. But if you tell your equine through your bearing and body language that you aren't really in charge, then your equine will assume the role of boss. People brag about bomb-proof horses that will babysit kids, etc. Sure, there are individual variations in how tolerant each equine is, and so too in humans. But no equine sacrifices its self interest with out being led to do so by some type of pressure. Unlike Humans, they have no pure motive to act for the common good.

In preparation for our big wildnerness escape for this summer, we re-instated the "must ride at least once per week" for now rule and 2-3 days per week starting in March. Believe it or not, asking the kids to ride is a real chore. The boys prefer mucking stalls to riding. Just as the horses would rather stand around in the muck, my kids are a little barn-sour too.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ain't she PERTY? This message brought to you by Rusty, maker of fine mules.

I received a couple of pictures from Karen Miller at Sugarcreek Ranch today where they made Rusty. This is his half sister "Perty" from the same sire. She won grand champion jennet at Shelbyville, Tennessee a couple of years ago.

Look at her!! Now isn't that the nicest piece of ...Donkey (cough) you've ever seen? Wow! I'm telling you folks. Its hard to find better blood than this for your mules!!! Bring on those mares when they get horsey this spring and lets make some baby mules! Stud fees are $500 and a bargain at twice the price. Guaranteed live foal. Live cover only.

This is Rusty at age 3. He has grown stronger this past year and is more filled out than these pictures show. He turns 4 in April of 2008. His soft disposition combined with champion-quality conformation contribute the right qualities from the Jack side to the making of unbeatable mules.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Torture, American Style (Waterboarding)*,**,***

*The opinions of this author are not necessarily those of, its parent company, any of its subsidiaries, holdings, cousins, editorial boards, or baby mules. The opinions expressed herein are not proscribed by the children in this house either.

**No animals, including cats, were harmed in the production of this article

***No children were less than edified in the production of this article

Main Entry: cor·po·ral punishmentPronunciation: 'kor-p&-r&l-Function: noun: punishment inflicted on a person's body —see also CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT NOTE: The prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution imposes limits on the use of corporal punishment on convicted offenders and prisoners. The U.S. Supreme Court has found the Eighth Amendment to be inapplicable to the use of corporal punishment on schoolchildren.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.

Oh, how we love chore time! Really. Especially after it rains! St George is so parched we soak it up like the luckless desert wanderer whose mirage becomes the reality of a cool clear spring. Rain brings life to the desert, the smell of creosote brush, and muck to our stalls.

Frankly, I love the sound of muck squishing and schlurping underfoot--even better if its my kids feet. Houserule number 3 states: "the stalls get cleaned twice daily come rain or shine. See subsection IV for exceptions to the rule." This rule follows number one and number two which deal with feeding and watering to which there are no exceptions.

Now I know there are some out there who will agree with my kids that mucking stalls rises to the level of Cruel and Unusual punishment. According to interpretations of the 8th amendment to the Constitution, since my kids aren't convicts, and they do attend school, I'm in the clear on this one.

Photo below courtesy of Mama (ButtKick: Dramatization of possible corporal use of leg cues to disengage hind quarters and call to action. Not saying I did it, just posed for it to demonstrate the great American tradition of character alignment in childhood development)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Father Escalante, the Tagger.

Now here's a guy who made the ultimate back country mule trek. Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante wandered through the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve sometime in October 1776, just before crossing the Virgin River, then up over the Hurricane Mesa just east of the red sand dunes. In the face of fast approaching winter, he and Dominguez decided on October 4 near Cedar City to turn back toward Santa Fe after a
big argument and casting lots. Originally departing Santa Fe July 29, 1776, their ambitious goal to find a way to Monterey, California had been thwarted.
The expidition long plagued with starvation and thirst, Escalante's party of 14 explorers had already eaten their mules by the time they hit Cedar city. Six days later, and somewhere just south of here, they started eating their horses.

You might be asking yourself, as did I, why did Escalante save his horses for last? Obviously, the mules would have been better suited for the rigors of their journey across such arid country. There can only be one explanation. Mules taste better. This conclusion is based purely on deductive reasoning and not personal experience as I have eaten neither horse nor mule.

Escalante had a special trail mark he tagged in a few places along the way. A cross inside a circle and sometimes an arrow showing the direction of travel. Go back to the first picture in this blog entry and look just in front of the Mule head shadow to see the circled cross and the arrow this hardy padre carved in the sandstone. Below the directional arrow you will also note the crucifix version of the cross. (Clicking on the picture should get you a larger copy). This find is not on any maps. Its location is quite obscure and probably kept secret on purpose to protect it from vandals. Finding it without being shown would be nearly impossible.

This is part of the legacy of the RedCliffs Desert preserve which was established to protect the non-native desert Tortoise reputed to live here. We must thank the Back Country Horsemen for working so hard to preserve our access to this magnificent trail--all by donating service and making friends with the land managers. At the outset, horses were to be denied access.

The trail is called the Cottonwood Hills loop. More information about access to this trail can be found along with many of Utah's great trails at the Back Country Horsemen of Utah's web site or go to this link directly:

The horses loved the deep sand. Kate, our little Sulpher herd Mustang dropped to roll in the sand three times with Chantra today. Chantra forgot that she had spurs on, so we got a good laugh. Its what we like about Kate--sweet and gentle as they come, but perfectly comfortable in her skin...

Maybe one of these days I'll scratch the Flying I brand in a rock somewhere. In 200 years they will reverence the evidence of my passing. Today, they will just call me Vandal.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I thought my wings were getting clipped. After 8 years of blissful flight in my magic carpet, I faced a do-or-die deadline, Jan 31st. The FFA has changed all the rules about how we do this sport and getting compliant with the new rules is a bit complex. Its not the way we fly that they changed. It has more to do with the way the FFA has pulled us under their oversight. Now I have to hold a real pilots license (that part done), and our aircraft have to be N-numbered and certified by a "Designated Airworthiness Representative" like all other aircraft--yearly.

The January 31st deadline was as follows: get your plane N-numbered and airworthy certified by this day, or your plane can never, ever fly or be legal again. I wasn't making it. It needed overhaul anyway, so I decided a few months ago to get the engine redone and replace some of the worn components. Well, some of the parts that should have been done by today, were not done.

At the eleventh hour however (today), I got word that the FFA granted reprieve to those of us who had started the paperwork earlier. They must have seen the writing on the wall: 27,000 or so aircraft were about to become forever illegal. So I have a little more time. Whew! I hate working on my bird under duress. I left it unfinished in the garage and got on my mule and went for a much needed ride with my boys.

You're the reason our kids are ugly...

Def: MULE (Lat. mulus), a term not unfrequently applied to the produce of any two creatures of different species, and synonymous with hybrid, but in its ordinary acceptation employed to designate the offspring or "cross" between the equine and asinine species. 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition.

Who can find beauty in the mule? I mean, what mother could love the long ears, broom-tail, strange stance, and bucket shaped head on this creature? Whose fault is it? Look at the classy features of its parents. The horse-mother is powerful, muscled and refined with sculptured hips; fine, shapely legs; and a tiny, well-proportioned head. And the stately Jack? His paternal contribution is a magnificent combination of ear, bone, and brain!

Consider the sound the mule makes. It is the most undignified and confusing belch of a sound in all of creation. That has to be a genetic mistake. The Tarzan-like brilliance of the Jack's tone-clear bray is NOT additive with the horse's polished neigh. This is one example where the combined strength of each parent is not mutually beneficent. The mule's voice is more confused than an armadillo crossing a Mississippi freeway.

I've been the dad around here now for 16 plus years. Our kids exhibit the kind of hybrid vigor one might expect from our marriage--me, a Jackass country kid from Mona making babies with her, a Thoroughbred Khmer Princess from exotic Phnom Penh. Our kids are smart, talented, hard-working children that have supple neck-rein and move quite nicely off of my leg cues. Hopefully they got my pluck. They certainly got her grace. The thing is...we can't figure out who to blame for their looks. Their mother and I just glare at each other and point a BLAMING finger, "You're the reason our kids are ugly!" Even the marriage counselor can't figure out who to blame. I just know its HER fault though...but shhhhhhh. The counselor says I'm supposed to keep those thoughts to myself, be they true or not.
Oh yes..... If you want to hear the voice of the Mona/Phnom Penh mule hybrid, come around chore time. It is the most haunting rendition of Gloom, Despair, and Agony you’ll ever hear. I love the Mule project growing in my backyard!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Riding RUSTY through the ASSpuns

Having a Jack around has given license to everyone I know, kids, neighbors, me, even proper Rotarians, to make "ass" Jokes. Like "Sittin on my ass all day," "Wore my ass right out," "I'm gonna kick your ass," "I'm gonna ride your ass all the way home" "Get off your ass and get back to work." You get the picture. My good wife just rolls her eyes way back in exasperation when my kids timidly offer these phrases--not sure if its OK to use such language. I ASSure them that proper latin and biblical precedence justify the use of Mr Donkey's real name in polite company.

There are a few more words in this same category: Gay is happy, Fag is a bundle of wood, Damn means to stop progression, and hell is a place. My dad even taught me that the "S" word was the proper Latin for the rear-end product of the bovine guacamole factory-especially if the wet end of her impatient tail laid some across my mouth while I milked.

So imagine my neighbors concern who aren't schooled in Latin and biblical phraseology, over the prominent placement of my ranch sign this year. In the summer, it casts a shadow on the greenhouse that makes it 4 or 5 times larger and visible from a far greater distance. Of course, it ain't the current neighbors I'm trying to help out--its too late for them, and they say they like Rusty anyway. Its the three or four hundred new neighbors about to descend like a swarm of locusts on the 30 acres next door to me to whom I am being most considerate. Rusty's voice has a 1 mile radius. His bray is the tone-clear, soul-piercing, auditory miracle of nature that ends with a jungle-like guttural growl fit for the king of beasts. Its a great selling point, actually. I think it adds to the curb-appeal of this new development.

I have to give some Kudos to a few people who really brought Rusty up properly. First, Dennis and Karen Miller at SugarCreek Ranch in Missouri got the whole package right. Rusty is the 2004 son of SugarCreek Okie, grandson of Oklahoma Diamond. If you follow the link to Sugarcreek Ranch, you will observe the fine specimen that fathered Rusty. Dennis must have put a lot of time into Rusty when he was little, because Rusty has been a gentleman to handle. The baby photos of Rusty are courtesy of the Millers. I also need to thank Travis Blackburn of Willow Creek Mule Company in Axtel Utah who took it from there. I bought Rusty from Travis, along with some great mares in March of 2007. Travis continues to share a wealth of knowledge about the care of, and Studly duties of my Jack.

After bringing Rusty home, I started riding him. This past year, he carried me over a lot of beautiful country--from desert lows to the beautiful ASSpun groves in the high country. He doesn't have power steering, but he will neck reign some. He absolutely loves to go. He doesn't EVEN know what "Lazy Ass" means. With the exception of steep hills, I never have to ask him to pick up the pace. And greatest of all, when he gets in a really tight spot, instead of scrambling or going berserk like a horse, he just sits down!

Good Mules start with Good Ass. Rusty has sired one fantastic little mule that I will feature later. He has two more babies due this spring. Its early yet, but I've booked three mares and one Jennet for his 2008 schedule. When the mares start getting randy this spring, we'll pick up a few more.

For a while there, "Wow, you have a GREAT ass" was getting to my head. Then I realized it was all about Rusty. You know...I DO have a GREAT ass. Thanks Dennis, Karen and Travis.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Darn Fine Inheritance

I wonder how many people take up the sport of longears and mournful bray from scratch. It seems like a lot of the mule skinners I know are following a rich tradition of farming, hunting, or packing that was passed to them in the old fashioned patriarchal way.

As Pater Familia I passionately hope my own progeny will have both the chance to enjoy the equine life and the desire to take it. I know the harsh reality is that they will probably end up living in a curb and guttered subdivision on a postage stamp lot someday. Unless you inherit money or land, it takes a lot of will power to make your home someplace where you can have equines. Just like I didn't inherit money or land, my kids won't either. If they carry on the tradition, they'll probably have to gut it out like I did.

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to get out of the small town where I came of age. I have now spent the rest of my life trying to get back to that magical place. "You can take the boy out of Mona, but you can't take Mona out of the boy," complained my realtor and Flying buddy Kevin Wilkenson as I held out, and held out for the acre we live on now. Here I sit, on the edge of town--not a single house between me and the grand canyon--watching a tsunami of development swallow me up. The edge is soon to be the middle, and long offered promises to keep our little valley a haven for us farmer types conveniently forgotten for whatever political and financial expedience tickles the fancy of our fearless leaders. Just two weeks ago they approved the highest density development St George has seen yet adjacent to the most agriculturally active ag zoned subdivision in town--98 low income homes in 30 acres. Maybe more on that later...

I grew up without mules. And my only exposure to the assinus brand of equines was the big stud jack my friend Johnny Wilson's grandpa owned for a short time. We mostly avoided him after he bucked Johnny off and broke his arm. He was rank. So Johnny and I stuck to riding his grandpa's calves.

I did inherit life at the foot of the most impressive of all of God's mountain creations. Its symmetrical three peaks, a living metaphor of the triune God always lifted our eyes heavenward. HE had to have carved her presidential profile on purpose! The trail to the top was its own allegorical narrative of life's climb--unbelievably difficult, but what rapture at the summit! We loved the challenge of climbing her steepled peaks. Just once, David, Gordon and I quit before the summit because we were hungry for marshmallows--running back off the mountain before obtaining the prize. Being so imprinted by her immense presence I still, 22 years after moving from her shadow, can hardly wait to see her profile from any of the vantage points we cross in our travels. Its a game for our family to see who can claim "I SEE MT NEBO!" first as we come up the interstate on our way north.

Old Ross Newton was the trail boss for an annual 3 day trail ride on Nebo that Mona's cowboys anticipated every year. Then it was Johnny's grandpa, Bob Wilson, who assumed that mantle. I got to go a couple of times as a kid which is probably part of what ruined me from ever being happy living as a horseless urbanite. We would cross her northern portal in Pole Canyon, camp at the Salamander ponds, then cross the backside via the sheep camp, and finally cross over the skyline for an exit out through Willow Creek. It was pretty heady stuff for a kid, those nights under the stars with the stock listening to a babbling brook and hearing the old men spin their yarns around the fire. It was one of the Kay boys that showed us blue darts and nearly burned his eyebrows off in the process. That same Kay boy saved Johnny and I from burning the mountain down that same night by blowing out the candles we left burning in the dry pine needles next to our sleeping bags.

I also inherited the farm ideal from my dad. He grew up on a real farm in Idaho where they grew sugar beets and potatoes. He settled our family in Mona which lies just west of Mt Nebo's footprint on an acre where we had to milk cows, goats, and tend a large garden. No longer was farming a way to make his living, but a way to raise kids. I'm sure those 5 a.m. butt kickings to get the chores done were torture, but I don't remember the pain. I just remember how tough and manly my hands were and how fresh warm milk tasted on my tongue when it was bitter cold out.

At 19 I left Mona's old fashioned charm and shelter with a belly full of ideals. It took me 20 full years to finally hand the small farm lifestyle to my up and coming kids. Ten years of education and ten years of business had to pass before things were in place for it. Sure they complain now, but I know my kids will be better equiped for any vocation life throws their way because of it. My lovely wife and I get to chuckle when we have to apply our own butt kickings for their enrichment. I didn't inherit land or money, I inherited something priceless.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Donkey Otey

Starting this blog is an interesting project. Unlike a website, this is a running dialogue, or conversation between us who participate. Its a forum which by its very nature is capable of sharing the very personal side of life with my own loved ones blended with a platform on which I intend to dedicate to my fascination with mules. On the personal side of life, I am expert. I mean REALLY expert. Aren't we all? So I make no apologies for that. I don't mean to sound smug, but I am confidently human, and one who makes mistakes and learns from the great University of Life. I hope that those who know my blemishes won't disqualify me out of hand...

On the mule side of the equation, I am infant. I will say that up front. I have ridden a few. I own a molly that I think is nearly perfectly trained; and I have babies in the pipeline. I want to state categorically that my intention is to be accurate about the mule information I post and I will show my sources where possible. The mule is the subject of much urban legend and mythical understanding. Sorting fact from fiction is part of this quest.

The mule is poorly understood for a couple of reasons in my opinion. First, for the past generation, they are a sideline in the equine world. The horse world is awash in dollars and horses can make significant money for their owners. Consider all the ways horses show from racing, to rodeo, to halter and western pleasure, to dressage and jumping and english. Mules have begun to participate in all these venues, but in a relatively small way. The world neglects them in other words. It appears to me the experts who really know mules are few, and fewer still who will teach what they know because they are too busy having fun with their mules. I'm sure its "market driven" like most things. Many owners just get by, often with stereotypical understanding of their animals.

Second, they are very unique. The hybrid cross is not uniform in many of the offsprings' phenotypical presentation. In other words, it is difficult to pin absolutes on the mule. Since I haven't seen large numbers of them, I hope to glean from some who have.

I also have high hopes that I can publish this all in a fun way thats not too clinical. And I hope to have my most excellent brother along on this journey. In fact, he is the proud new owner of Flying I Donkey Otey pictured here. Donkey Otey is out of a Mammoth gaited mother with rare Catalonian blood and a Standard sized father--born the 5th of July 2007. We were sweating it out the day he was born--it was darn hot and we were getting ready for a backcountry trip to the Uintas--hoping he would get here before we left. He is nicely built and should make a great stud. With his gait, we think he'll make some smooth mules with our naturally gaited Sulpher herd mustangs. We'll see where this leads...

Enjoy the photos. The first picture is on Donkey Otey's birthday at 2 hours old. The water pictures were taken after a good rain. We skipped something fun we had planned (I don't remember what) so we could take advantage of the opportunity to water-train our babies. It is so dry in this desert that I couldn't pass it up. My kids weren't happy at the time, but these pics are a warm memory.