By Meredith Hodges
With the hectic work schedule of spring and summer slowly tapering into fall, thoughts of relaxing mountain hunting and pack trips begin to ease their way into your mind: thoughts of cool, refreshing mountain streams, the sight of a massive bull elk, or the quiet majesty of the rugged mountain peaks. What better time to share with your mule or donkey? What better place for him to show you just what he is capable of doing? A relaxing mountain trail ride or pack trip is the perfect place for you to get to know your longears and strengthen the bond between you.
Mules are excellent mountain partners. They are a strong and durable animal. Due to the cupped shape of their hooves, they can cover the rough mountain terrain with much more surefootedness than their cousin, the horse. Mules’ superior intelligence and strong sense of survival helps him to negotiate careful placements of his feet, ensuring the safest possible ride. This is both important and comforting when looking for a relaxing ride in the mountains. The mule’s strength and endurance is sometimes unbelievable, and always incredible. He will take you through the rough mountain terrain for days, and then pack out that “elk of your dreams” with the greatest of ease. Around the campfire, he is a wonderful companion on lonesome mountain nights. His blatant curiosity can make for the most humorous of situations and his loving way can win your heart. But more than that, he can be relied upon when the going gets tough.
In the fall of 1984, Loveland, Colorado muleskinner Buddie Stockwell and farrier, Jerry Banks, along with a few friends, decided to make a hunting trip into the Rocky Mountains. Packing in, the weather was beautiful with warm temperatures, calm breeze and nary a hint of what was to come. After setting up camp and tending to their horses and mules, the hunters went about the business of tracking elk. Hunting was good, but after a few days, one evening brought with it an unpredictable storm of incredible severity. The hunters awoke the following morning to find their camp buried in more than four feet of snow, with no chance of the storm lifting.
Quickly, the hunters packed up what they could on the horses and mules. Tents and a lot of gear had to be left behind since time was of the essence. As they left the campsite, snow deepened and the terrain underneath was steep, rocky and treacherous. They had only gone a short distance when the snow became so deep, and the terrain so hazardous that the horses refused to go one step father. The horses would not blaze the trail out! Anxiety was high and the hunters were fearful of never making if off the mountain.
In the face of great danger, Buddie asked his trusted mule, Goliath to break trail for the others, and with slow, careful, deliberate steps, Goliathled them all safely down the mountain to their trucks and trailers, which were also buried in snow. In bitter cold, they freed the vehicles, loaded them up and made their way back to the lowlands to safety. The storms on the mountain worsened, and it was spring before Jerry and Buddie could return for the rest of their gear. But both men and their friends were grateful to Goliath for leading them down the mountain to safety.
There have been many stories such as this, where mules and donkeys have emerged the heroes in precarious situations. If you are the type who likes to take risks, it is comforting to know that your odds are better when paired with a mule. However, if you are one of those who prefer not to take such risks, there are other activities you can enjoy with your donkey or mule.
Why not take your longeared companion to the mountains for an enjoyable hike and picnic? He would thoroughly love just being able to serve you in such a beautiful surrounding. While you walk the trails enjoying the marvels of nature, your donkey or mule can carry the essentials for an elegant lunch. You can enjoy the lovely wildflowers or try your hand at fishing in the plentiful mountain streams. Your Longears would enjoy the peaceful solitude of such an excursion, and you can be confident of his ability to stay out of serious trouble.
If you question taking excursions such as these with your Longears because of a lack of training, there are Longears-lovers nearly everywhere now who can help you. All over the world, mules and donkeys are being revived in their use. With this revival comes a vast number of mule enthusiasts with varying abilities, but they all have one thing in common. They are all willing to lend a helping hand when they can. In this country, “Mule Fever” has spread like wildfire and we are now fortunate enough to have many competent mule trainers available to beginners in all sections of this country. Rocky Mountain man Curtis Imrie made his mark as a Champion pack burro racer for more than a decade and showed the very same burros at the National Western Stock Show during the winter.
Mule and donkey trainer from Bailey, Colorado, Dick Nichols’ love for burros and mules began when he found Dusty, a three-month-old wild burro caught in a blizzard. He took her home, cared for her and later entered her in the National Western Fall Classic Donkey and Mule Show, where both he and Dusty were awarded the title of Reserve Champion Donkey of the Show. Ever since, Dick has sought to help others enjoy Longears and horses in any way he can. In addition to breaking and training wild horses at his Medicine Bow Stables, Dick included in his program free clinics for burro owners to teach them how to handle and care for them. The program was simple enough that he could generally help owners get their burros ridden and driven by the end of the first day! Getting proper training for your donkey or mule can only enhance your relationship with them and in turn, they will enrich your life. So, consider taking the time to become acquainted with these remarkable animals by allowing them to share in your fall activities whether it be hiking, hunting, packing or picnicking. The life you enhance may be your own!
For more information about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive correspondence training program, Training Mules and Donkeys, please visit www.LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Also, find Meredith Hodges and Lucky Three Ranch on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t forget to check out her children’s website at www.JasperTheMule.com.
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