RIDING THE GRAND CANYON ON A MULE

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TODAY I AM SHARING THE FIRST CHAPTERcharlie-and-me-sleepy-and-bob OF MY BOOK: MULES, MULES AND MORE MULES. IN 2006, BOB AND I TOOK AN AWESOME TRIP WEST AND ‘DID THE CANYON’ ENJOY:

 

Chapter One: “His name is Charlie”

It was a gorgeous morning. The grass was lush with spring green that only April can sport. My ride on Sunday Praise, one of my retired Tennessee Walker show mares, had been delightful, but carefully planned. The previous May I had tried to help a horse get up who was stuck down in his stall. When he lurched to his feet, he knocked my right leg, hyper-extending it. I was devastated, not only because of the excruciating pain, but it coincided with the birth of my first grandchild, a little girl. What kind of Grammy was I going to be? I could hardly hobble, let alone carry a new baby.

Over the next year, the knee slowly healed, but bending it to ride a horse was tricky. My stirrups had to be just the correct length and time in the saddle was of short duration, but to someone addicted to sitting on a horse, any time was quality time.

As I was unsaddling my horse, Bob walked into the barn with his dog Hershey.

“Hey Rose, what would you think of taking the mule trip down the Grand Canyon with me?”

I nearly dropped my saddle as I turned to look at him in consternation. I was barely able to ride my horse on flat ground, how could I possibly ride for the hours it would take to do the steep ups and downs of the Grand Canyon?

Bob, who had come to stay with our family while he completed his MBA at a local college, had never left. He was the same age as our oldest daughter, loved the farm and county life, and we all sort of adopted each other. Bob had a special love for the Grand Canyon and had hiked it three times.

Seeing my surprise, he grinned and said, “Well, you should really think about it—before you get any older!”

I was astounded he would be willing to ride a mule. He didn’t ride our horses; I never got the impression he even liked them. He preferred walking the farm trails with the dogs.

“Okay, let me sit down and we will talk about this crazy idea.”

“The thing is, we need to schedule a year in advance. The ride is very popular and has limited openings. If you can’t go when the time arrives, we can cancel.”

That made it a possibility, but what would my husband Hal think of this venture? For thirty plus years he had been extremely tolerant of all my horse activities, such as traveling miles with our daughters to horse shows and breeding and raising horses.  Now that I had retired from both endeavors, I think he was hopeful life might be quieter and he could worry less about my exploits.

As it turned out, Hal just rolled his eyes and smiled, and another phase of my equine life was about to unfold.

We decided on the two-day ride, going down to the bottom and staying at Phantom Ranch for dinner and the night, and then riding back up and out the next day.

During the succeeding year, my knees made great progress, my back stayed together and nothing else happened to make me hobble. I researched all I could find on the Internet about the rides, and read several experiences of other riders. It appeared that I could do it, if only my knees would hold together. It is very stressful on knees going downhill as we would be doing.

Late evening on May 11, 2006, we arrived at the El Tovar hotel on the south rim of the canyon. Between car and air travel we had been on the road thirteen hours and I was exhausted.

Look down there,” Bob said. “There’s the Tonto Platform with Indian Garden within it. That’s where we’re going and will have our lunch.”

I shaded my eyes against the setting sun. It looked so very tiny and far away—down. The Garden Creek area could be spotted by all the green cottonwood trees that were growing along it. It looked like an oasis in the middle of the desert. The Grand Canyon is actually two canyons: the upper one that can be seen from the rim, and the deeper inner canyon that can only be seen as a hiker, river rafter, or mule rider. We would be among a small percentage of Grand Canyon visitors who saw the inner canyon and the Colorado River.

The sun was making spectacular shadows and sunlit areas on the canyon wall. I have seen many pictures of the sun rising or setting over the Grand Canyon, but although the pictures are beautiful, they cannot create the same feeling as seeing it in person. The canyon looked painted in light mossy green horizontal strips mixed in with the red of the rocks. The color was different from the clumped darker green of bushes and trees. I asked Bob what made it look like that. Was it like the famed Painted Desert, the color coming from sand?

“No,” he answered, “it is vegetation.” That was amazing. It looked as if it had been created by an artist’s brush. I would get to see for myself soon enough.

The next morning we were to be at the mule corral by 6:45. After waiting for half an hour, Bob pointed out the mules coming back across the road from their barn and pens. There were several wranglers each leading a group of mules. The mules were tied to each other with about two and a half feet of rope between them. As the mules came across the road, traffic stopped and waited—and waited. It takes awhile for thirty mules to slowly cross a road.

I wondered how they would all fit in the small corral, but the wranglers packed them in with only inches between them. Some mules had a few disagreeable looks for their neighbor, but mostly they stood, ears flopped off the sides with a sleepy look in their eyes. They’d been here before and seen it all. The wranglers poked and pushed mule butts over and squeezed in to tie them up with their rope halters. Each mule had his bridle hanging on the saddle horn.

Next, Marilyn, the petite blond mule boss, started her speech about the rules of the trail.

“Be sure you drink plenty of water from your canteens that you have been given. Dehydration is definitely possible because today is predicted to be in the 90s.” We all hung around the corral and listened raptly, not wanting to miss anything.

“The mules have the right of way,” she continued, “hikers must stand aside and let you pass.” She paused for emphasis and swatted her leg with a riding switch. “The most important rule is that all the mules must be ridden close to each other. A tight compact group is ninety-five percent of the safety of the trip. If your mule lags behind, it will miss its buddies and will run to catch up. Then the ones behind that one will run too.”

I got the picture. Having greenhorn riders on running mules could be a disaster.

Marilyn continued waving her riding crop and said emphatically, “You have all been given a switch. We call it the ‘Motivator.’ You must use it to keep your mule close behind the next mule. No gentle taps will work; you need to mean it.”

That should pose no problem for me; I was, after all, a veteran horseperson.

I will remember that rule to my dying day.

I had already decided to not utter a word of my rather vast experience. I had ridden, trained, and shown horses for thirty years. I had bred mares, standing at stud seven stallions at one time or another, foaled mares, and broke young horses. At different times on our farm I had up to fifty horses for which I was responsible. Nope, I wasn’t saying a word. I thought if I did, they might give me a mule that could need some extra ability and I was on vacation. I didn’t want any kind of challenges.

There were two “day-ride” groups which would only go part way down, have a sack lunch and then return. Each group was called in to the center of the corral separately, lined up in a row, and a mule chosen especially for the individual rider. I don’t know how Marilyn decided who rode which mule, but later I would have reason to want to ask her that question. Next, we overnight riders were given our mules. There were two groups of six with their wranglers. These groups were limited in number because Phantom Ranch at the bottom could only accommodate a certain number of guests at one time.

Bob and I were in the last group of overnighters, and were the last two to be assigned a ride. First Marilyn called Bob out for his mule, and I was wondering which of the remaining mules would be mine. As I stood alone in the middle of the corral, I turned back to look at Bob, who was now seated on Sleepy, his mule. I thought I discerned a fleeting look of “What the heck am I doing up here,” on his face.

Finally, Marilyn led a mule over to me. “His name is Charlie” she said, and I was about to embark upon a splendid adventure.

 

 

 

Roy Exum: Our Sored Walkers Weep – Chattanoogan.com

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Here is the latest on the soring debate/debacle. Article by Roy Exum. The sound warriors are winning in small ways, less horses registered, sold, bred, and horse show boycotted by sound horse lovers. This battle may well be won by us common folks, those of us who love the horses rather than in congress. The public will speak. Sad that this will take more time than passing a bill, but there is progress. Please feel free to share.
Roy Exum: Our Sored Walkers Weep – Chattanoogan.com.

Conformation differences in gaited vs trotting horses by Rose Miller

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Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited breeds do possess one rather unique difference from most other horses. Stated simply. . . they have longer hind limbs than most horses that trot. I say “most” because we will see that some trotters have long hind limbs, some to their disadvantage, and some to their advantage, but not with the regularity of the gaited  horse. Because I was a Tennessee Walking Horse breeder, exhibitor, judge and pleasure horse trainer, I will be mainly speaking about this breed.

First, let’s look at the three different types of hind limbs found on horses. Type 1 is considered to be the best for most uses. When the horse is posed with his hind cannon vertical, a line dropped from his buttock to the ground should graze his hock and the hind cannon bone. Type 2 has the vertical line dropped behind the vertical cannon bone. This type is found in draft horses. Type 3 has the vertical line falling within or in front of the cannon bone. This is found in pacers and gaited horses and is an important point for “all breed” judges to keep in mind, as horses with Type 3 hind limbs will stand either “camped out” or sickle hocked. The horse with sickle hocks is also predisposed to unsoundness, unless the hock is well formed and strongly supported with proper muscles and ligaments. Fortunately, most walkers seem to have inherited strong hocks, but too much of a sickle hock is not desirable.

There are several ways to have a long hind limb, and there are variables on the length of limb. This should be taken into consideration when breeding or buying a horse. With proper “walking conformation” the horse should gait, but do you need a long-striding show horse or a more compact using-horse?

USEF UNANIMOUSLY approves NWHA as National Affiliate Association

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This is great news for those who want to show the Naturally Gaited Walking Horse. NWHA affiliated shows have zero tolerance for abuse and horses must pass tough inspections. I am a life time member of NWHA and donate a portion of all my book sales of “The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot”  ( http://www.rosemiller.net/ )

USEF UNANIMOUSLY approves NWHA as National Affiliate Association

At the August 2, 2010 Board of Directors Meeting, the United States Equestrian Federation Inc. “unanimously” approved the National Walking Horse Association’s application for “National” affiliation membership.
“National” affiliation membership is just one “category” of the different affiliation memberships offered by the Federation where equestrian-related groups or individuals have formed a national association or organization (USEF Rule GR204.1.c). Note: This should not be confused with a USEF “Recognized” Association membership where the organization’s rules have been included in the Federation’s rule book and where that affiliate’s horse shows are governed by USEF.
The Federation’s approval of the National Walking Horse Association as a National Association creates a joint business relationship and international platform for NWHA to further their mission of promoting the sound, “Naturally Gaited” Walking Horse while providing a fair and level playing field for all exhibitors.
NWHA is proud to partner with USEF which leads the industry as the National Governing Body for Equestrian Sport. Both organizations exhibit only the highest integrity, passion, dedication, and commitment to excellence with the welfare of horse and rider above all else.
This high honor sets the stage for the many and exciting upcoming NWHA events. The National Walking Horse Association’s National Championship horse show (the largest flatshod competition in the country) will be held September 27 through October 2 at Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, TN. Simultaneously, NWHA will be the sole representative of the Tennessee Walking Horse at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. Live horse demonstrations will take place Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 while our promotional booth will be on site throughout the entire length of the games. The NWHA Annual Membership Meeting and High Point Award Celebration will be held at the Cincinnati, Ohio Airport Marriott hotel November 12-14.

It is indeed an exciting time for the National Walking Horse Association! For more information, contact our office at (859) 252-6942 or visit our web site at http://www.nwha.com.

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