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.

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