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A professional trainer, judge and animal inspector, Crystal Ward owned the Ass Pen Ranch in Placerville, California, where she raised and trained horse, mules and donkeys. The first year she came to Bishop Mule Days was in 1979. She happened to be coming through Bishop on vacation and it really intrigued her. She thought the mules were simply outstanding. Crystal had a show career with horses, but the following year she decided she had to own a mule. She showed up the next year with a horse trailer in tow, and at that point Bishop Mule Days was still offering an auction. She swiftly bought a mule at the auction and had been coming back ever since.
Her first mule was a wild little critter that didn’t make much progress. So the following year she bought a mule named Skeeter Sea from George Chamberlain, a dealer in mules in Los Alivos, California; the mule was previously owned by Slim Pickens. When Slim Pickens showed up as Grand Marshal in the Bishop Mule Days Parade, he told Crystal, “We used to own that mule.” She showed him with 55 mules in the class and won the Western Pleasure class that year. Although he was nice in the Western Pleasure classes, she couldn’t see owning this mule for the long term due to his generally bad manners. Later, she picked up a mule in Northern Montana and brought him back and started training him…his name was Final Legacy. He was a good honest mule and she kept him for the long haul.
Back in the early ‘80s, Crystal got really interested in riding side saddle, so she joined the International Side Saddle Organization and ultimately rode in the Presidential Inaugural Parade with Final Legacy in 1993, hauling him from California to Washington, DC, in the middle of January. He was a good honest mule and she loved him. She showed him in many classes at Bishop Mule Days over the years…from Western to English, dressage, driving and side saddle.
In more recent years Crystal switched to raising and showing donkeys. She had a variety of donkeys, from miniatures to mammoths. She fully understood that you have to take a different approach when training a donkey and produced training videos with Napa, California, videographer, Video Mike. She truly appreciated a good donkey: “Donkeys are like potato chips—you can’t have just one.”
In our interview in 2009, Crystal told me: “We call them [donkeys] ‘desert canaries,’ but that goes hand-in-hand with donkeys. They do like to talk and it can be loud, but you know I’ll still take a donkey any day. I live with the noise, but then again, I’ll have peacocks, barking dogs and roosters in my backyard. Donkeys are just one more noisy farm animal that I can certainly live with.”
For Crystal, it was always a matter of learning…English, Western, Side Saddle…the whole nine yards! She always performed to the best of her and her mule’s ability and she believed a lot of it was a matter of finding just the right mule!
Crystal enjoyed her interview for my documentary series, Those Magnificent Mules; she appeared in “The Bishop All Stars” episodes. (We have all of these episodes available to watch online.) She said: “We were showing back in the early ‘80s, beating the paths to Bishop Mule Days. The one thing I know about mule and donkey people is that it’s fun competing…nice rivalry. When you come out of a class, your fellow competitors will shake your hand and offer you a bit of encouragement. It’s like family when you show at a mule or donkey show. It’s something you always look forward to until the next time.”
You are so right, Crystal! You will remain in our hearts, forever a part of our longears family… we will miss you!
So what do you do together when it’s snowing outside? Roll looked like he was wearing SNOW boots when he first came into the tack barn. So, first we had to remove all of the icicles, but I had to be very careful because they don’t exactly come off easily. Roll let me know when I tugged too hard on the shedding blade and suggested that I warm them with my hand before I pulled! Good plan!
By the time I got to the back end, they had all melted!
We then decided to mess around with halters. Roll much prefers the fit and action of his nylon halter…and, it’s comfortable to wear!
The snugger fit allows him to feel the tug on the halter almost immediately and he can then comply promptly and without fear of reprisal. His ears indicate he is concentrating on stepping back with the slightest indication.
The fit and action on a rope halter is much different and it takes Roll a minute to figure out what I am asking. Note his questioning and confused look!
The halter puts uneven pressure across Roll’s face and he doesn’t seem to be confident about what to do…” Would you like me to stretch or just take a step forward?”
Because we have worked solely in the nylon halter except for the demonstration with the rope halter, he is happy to stand quietly and wait for me…no pain, no fear!
Even when we were interrupted by a loud noise, Roll remained engaged in his stretching activity. We both just turned our heads calmly to the side to see what it was!
…and then we resumed our stretching exercise in a sea of oats!
Making our way back to the paddock, Roll happily matched me stride for stride, staying in balance with good equine posture!
“Hey, we haven’t seen you guys in a while! How have you been?! We get to go for another adventure with Meredith today!”
“What do you suppose she has in mind for us today, Spuds?”
“I don’t know, Augie, but we’ll find out soon enough! Let’s just stand still while she gets the gate…just like we always do!”
“Going through the gate is always easier when you do it the same way every time!”
“Uh, what’s this, Spuds? I’ve seen this somewhere else before…oh, yeah, in the round pen! This should be easier to pull with more room to move!”
“It’s just as I thought, Spuds…no sweat! It’s the same as we did in the round pen, only we can pull in long straight lines now! It’ll be your turn in a few minutes…I just have to finish the hourglass pattern.”
“You were right, Augie! This is actually easier than the round pen and it’s nice to have the “elbow pull” to remind me not to lift my head too high and to pull from my hindquarters…it’s just like people have to lift with their legs and not with their backs!”
“And when you do, Augie, it’s easy to halt in perfect posture!”
“When we’re both taught exactly the same way, teamwork is a cinch!”
“When you have strength in good balance, even lateral moves, done as a team, are easy and fun…shall we dance?!!”
“Don’t be silly, Spuds, we’re working not dancing, so pull your share! She’ll tap you on your rear if you don’t keep up!”
“You boys are the very best!!!
“Aren’t we though?!”
“Confidence is a good thing, too, huh, Augie?!
“Yeah, Spuds, as long as you learn good manners with it!”
My good friend, Tennessee mule artist Bonnie Shields, recently introduced me to sculptor Dennis Page from the Rocking Horse Ranch in Riverton, Utah. Dennis is working on a hand-carved “rocking mule” that is modeled after Bonnie’s ceramic sculpture of Kathleen Conklin’s Champion Driving mule, John Henry. I am so impressed with Dennis’s work that I decided to purchase the wood-sculpted rocker. What an amazing addition it will be to the Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park here at Lucky Three Ranch!
Kathleen Conklin sent me some really nice pictures, his Championship cooler with his name on it, his driving harness and John Henry’s championship ribbons from the finest pleasure driving in the United States – Walnut Hill Farm Driving Competition in Pittsford, New York. These will be on display here at our Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park at Lucky Three Ranch. John Henry (1991-2011) and Kathleen Conklin competed at Walnut Hill for seven years in the Commercial carriage Division. They last showed there in 2010. John Henry died about three weeks before Walnut Hill. In the seven years they were there, John Henry was the only mule on the grounds and he had his own fan club of spectators who came to see him every year. He was Champion or Reserve Champion of the commercial Division six times showing under rated commercial driving judges from England! John Henry and Kathleen had a wonderful time together showing everyone just how great a mule can be…and he was TRULY A GREAT MULE!
Thousands of wild horse supporters like you have asked their representatives in Washington to sign our “Keep Wild Horses Wild Pledge.”
With the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) own managers saying the roundup program is on the verge of “financial insolvency,” the agency is getting desperate for solutions and wild horses could be running out of time.
We need our members of Congress to take a stand against slaughter and for alternatives to roundups. By signing the pledge, they will do just that.
It’s time to hold the BLM accountable for its mistreatment of our iconic wild horses and burros and the misuse of our tax dollars. Please ask your representative and Senators to sign the pledge today.
It was only a year ago that I adopted Rocky and he started serving as our ambassador at YEA! and for such a little guy, he sure has inspired a LOT of love!
The reason why we are so anxious to find adopters for all the BLM horses is because of the #MustangExodus which we began in January. We set a deadline to find adopters for all the horses and burros by April.
Since my last post we have reduced the number of adopters we want to find because many of the horses in long-term holding are not available for adoption. That means that once they go to long-term holding they have reached a “point of no return.”
There are horses dying in holding. Some of the reports are disturbing with causes of death such as “unknown” and “broken neck.” That is the urgency. I don’t want anymore horses to die in holding pens.
Last update I mentioned an organization with ranching ties (NACO) that is asking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) here in Nevada to destroy many wild horses and burros. Click here for more information on who is proposing mass destruction of horses and which advocates have filed to intervene follow.
So far we have 50 adopters; our goal is now 5,750.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Elko District is revising its Drought Management Plan and has opened a public review period. We need your help to tell the agency to protect wild horses and burros during this time of severe drought.
Despite the record-breaking drought, the BLM is not making significant reductions in livestock grazing levels on our depleted public lands, including those within wild horse and burro Herd Management Areas (HMAs). Please take a moment to urge the agency to include in its drought management plan steps to significantly reduce or eliminate livestock grazing in HMAs in order to ensure that federally-protected wild horses and burros have the forage and water they need to survive.