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Dressage Mule Slate Helps Spread Awareness of Working Equines

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This is a repost from Brooke USA.

Lexington, Ky.  – November 15, 2016 – Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer Vicky Busch and her mule “Slate” continue to spread awareness of the plight of working equines in the developing world and the work of Brooke USA. Most recently Slate and his young rider, Busch’s student Isabella Rodwig won their Training Level Test 3 class at the dressage schooling show at Amen Corner Farm in Folsom, LA.

Isabella Rodwig and Slate Compete at the Amen Corner Farm Schooling Show

The pair did so in style and with a nod to Brooke USA, with a large Brooke USA heart painted on the mule’s rump. Busch uses Slate’s engaging personality and the novelty of seeing him at a dressage show to educate the crowds he draws about the mission of Brooke USA. She hopes that Slate and his young rider will continue to compete in more dressage shows this year with the goal of qualifying for the USDF Region 9 Championships sponsored by the Houston Dressage Society.

Since learning about Brooke USA, Busch and her husband Eric have been generous supporters. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of equines who work in some of the poorest communities on Earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous equine welfare challenges actively improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world.

Slate and Isabella Ready to Spread the Word About Brooke USA

Owning Slate has made the work that Brooke USA does – helping working equines including mules around the world – a cause close to Busch’s heart. She hopes that she can use the attention that Slate attracts to bring more awareness to Brooke USA, and put a personal touch on it. Busch is eager to tell Slate’s admirers at shows about the important work of Brooke USA and how they can help improve the lives of working equines around the world who are not as lucky as Slate to have such a wonderful home.

About Brooke USA

Brooke USA is a 501(c)(3) charity located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which exists solely to support the overseas work of Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare charity.  For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of horses, donkeys and mules who work in some of the poorest communities on earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous welfare challenges improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America.  Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world. To learn more, visit BrookeUSA.org.

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Laura Hermanson & “Behold the Desert” to Compete in USDF Finals

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While dressage has long-been regarded as a horse and Pony Club sport, Meredith Hodges opened the doors to mules in dressage in the United States Dressage Federation Schooling Shows in 1986. With the help of Carole Sweet and Leah Patton of the American Donkey and Mule Society in Lewisville, Texas, they were formally accepted by the United States Equestrian Federation at their convention in Los Angeles in 2004. Laura Hermanson has since taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity. In 2015, she qualified for the United States Dressage Federation Finals with her own mule, “Heart B Dyna”, that is to be the subject of an upcoming documentary. The film is titled ”Dyna Does Dressage,” and is produced by Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser, who describe it as an “Underdog story [that] follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.” Laura Hermanson is breaking through the stigma that dressage is only for horses and ponies as was previously defined by the USEF Rulebook. Much like Meredith Hodges herself, what began as a love of horses evolved into the championing of the noble MULE, an equine ambassador that truly deserves our respect. This year, Laura is competing Behold the Desert (aka Beasley) owned by Troy and Carol Delfino of Bakersfield, California and bred by Candace Shauger of Genesis Farms in Bremen, Ohio, in the upcoming U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, November 10-13. Let’s all give our support to this amazing team!

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“Sir, Reporting to the Mule in the Red Sash!”

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West Point Military Academy Press Release

“General Caslen, on behalf of all Army Rangers and the Class of 1975 and the West Point Society of South Carolina, we present you with Paladin!” said Steve Townes ’75, CEO and Founder of Ranger Aerospace LCC, who has been West Point’s “mule donor in perpetuity” for well over a decade. ( Since 2001. )

Four-year-old Paladin, whose name refers to 1 of the 12 legendary peers or knightly champions in Charlemagne’s court, began his West Point experience on March 31, 2016, reporting to Ranger III, now gray in his muzzle.

 

 

In a ceremony to welcome the Army team’s newest mule, Director of Cadet Activities COL Tom Hansbarger ’92 officially signed in Paladin, who had two green duffel bags tied on his back. Several notable guests were on hand to witness the event, including VA Secretary Bob McDonald, another member of the Class of 1975, and LTC Anne Hessinger, an Army veterinarian who served at West Point from 2003 to 2006 and is now an equine officer at Fort Bragg, NC.25902287750_8dbfc2565c_z

Paladin, small in stature, posed calmly for a round of photos after reporting to Ranger III, the mule in the red sash, before being led across the street to the barber while onlookers cheered him on with a rousing “Beat Navy!” chant. Paladin showed his spunk though when he kicked out his left hind leg toward the barber who was trying to get close tom him in order to shave a big “A” into his hind quarters. “He’s just nervous, just like every other plebe on their R-Day,” remarked an officer in the crowd who was watching the event.

25902285630_b400ba5c24_zAt the conclusion of the event, Ranger III and Paladin were loaded into horse trailers for a trip to Morgan Farm, where Paladin will spend his summer at his quarters. He will be officially introduced to the West Point Community and Army football fans on September 10 when Army West Point hosts Rice. The mule mascots will lead the team onto the field, carrying flags and interacting with fans.

Paladin, whose name was selected by the Corps of Cadets and approved by the Superintendent, is the third mule donated by Townes, a former mule rider and former Army officer with the 75th Ranger Regiment who has set up an endowment ensuring the Academy’s future mascots. Ranger III and his brother Stryker, Townes’s last donations, both reported for mascot duty at West Point in 2011.

 

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Mules at West Point

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Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 11.41.14 AMMules have served as the loyal mascots at the United States Military Academy at West Point since 1899, as a symbol of heartiness and durability. This great video from Army Athletics details the history of mules both as mascots to the teams, as well as in service to the army at home and abroad. The video also follows the mules that are taking their place of honor at West Point, as the previous generation of the mule corp retires.

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Buckeye the Mule!

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Photo by Jenny Majors and Pixel Pony Photography

Photo by Jenny Majors and Pixel Pony Photography

 

A recent article at the Chronicle of the Horse had us excited to share the story of Buckeye, an 8 year-old Appaloosa mule who has been showing off the versatility of mules with his skills in the arena.

When Buckeye first came to owner Christina Gregory, he was a little green under the saddle after being mostly used as a driving mule for an Amish family. After some initial work with Christina, he began training with 22 year-old Samantha (Sammi) Majors.

Sammi began him with dressage and earlier in the year he was impressing judges and scoring consistently in the high 60 and low 70 percents in recognized shows. This fall she decided to add jumping in preparation for a show.  “He loves jumping. For a long time we would work on dressage stuff and school him over cavalletti, and he always loved it. We’d be doing a 20-meter circle, and if we went anywhere near the cavalletti he would try to pull me to it,” said Majors. “As soon as we started jumping he took an immediate liking to it. That’s all he seems to want to do now is jump, jump, jump!”

Buckeye and Sammi Majors in the Hunter Hack class at the North Carolina State Fair Mule and Donkey Show. Photo by Shane Shiflett

He recently returned home from the North Carolina State Fair Mule and Donkey show with plenty of ribbons, winning Most Colorful Mule class, Hunter Hack class, Coon Jumping, Pleasure Driving-Single Mule, reserve champion Pleasure Driving, the Turnout Class and Reinsmanship.

Read the whole article here and visit Buckeye’s Facebook page.

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Flash of Wisdom: Rachel Anne Ridge

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Inspiration doesn’t always come when you’re expecting it, and Rachel Anne Ridge certainly wasn’t anticipating a life-changing experience when a homeless, injured donkey showed up in her driveway.

WN-Flash01In her new book, Flash, Rachel describes the amusing and touching journey that she and her family experience with a donkey named Flash At a time of financial and personal uncertainty, the last thing Rachel needed was to take on an equine.

Flash quickly became a part of their family. “It did not take long to fall in love with him,” she said. “There was definitely an immediate bond we felt.” There were immediate lessons as well. Rachel had never owned a donkey before, though growing up she made excuses to visit her friends who had horses. “I was your typical, horse-crazy town girl,” she recalls, “but I didn’t have any day-to-day experience with keeping either donkeys or horses.” The unique personality traits of the donkey set in motion a series of discoveries that took Rachel deep within herself and her beliefs.

Rachel’s book is filled with insights inspired by Flash’s simple and honest approach to life that often left her rethinking her own perspectives. “There’s something about their demeanor that invites a quietness and a calmness,” she says, adding, “they’re gentle souls.” And it’s not just her—she’s noticed that Flash inspires smiles and chuckles from just about everyone he meets. “With donkeys, there’s this connection of joy that happens with people.”

WN-Flash02Flash has helped inspire Rachel in a lot of ways—even in her art business. As a mural painter, she always wants to give people exactly what they want, but over the years she knows that they can sometimes have trouble articulating their true desires. Working with Flash though, she’s learned how to ask the right questions, and to get much better on picking up on cues, especially non-verbal signals like changes in body language. “Flash definitely made me a better listener,” Rachel says.

Flash has motivated Rachel to be more self-confident and assertive as a person—two qualities donkeys tend to have in spades. “Flash just is who he is. He has no pretenses. … I’ve spent a lot of time feeling insecure about who I am and doing what other people want me to do,” says Rachel, but working with Flash—and seeing his unapologetic approach to making the best of his life—has been energizing. She’s working to “let go of that need for other people’s approval, and just be okay with who I am and where I am.” There is a level of vulnerability that comes along with letting go, and as her book suggests, “we need to wear our donkey heart on our sleeve.”

Flash Book CoverMost of all, Flash’s appearance in her life awakened a fuller discovery of her faith. As a daughter of missionaries, she has always had a close relationship with God, but there was something about the deepness in Flash’s eyes, the softness of his muzzle, and the pertness of those long ears, that in challenging moments opened her heart in new ways. She notes that God can show up in people’s lives in many different ways, and to stay open to signs—don’t just wait for a perfect, clear message. “Flash came into my life at a really pivotal time,” she says. “It was exactly what I needed.”

Today, Rachel continues to write and create murals and has recently adopted a new miniature donkey companion for Flash.

Flash is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Costco and local bookstores, or visit Rachel’s website for more information.

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Steve Edwards on Insurance for the Livestock and Equine Owner

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The following post comes from Steve Edwards of Queen Valley Mule Ranch. Working with equines can be a rewarding and life-changing experience, but, as with all animal-related activities, accidents can happen. However, exorbitant insurance rates are currently threatening trainers’ ability to provide clinics for equine owners, forcing them to cancel or drastically limit these sessions due to cost. Steve is one such trainer, and below he discusses his experiences with insurance companies, coming to the conclusion that his only option moving forward may be to forgo future clinics.


I recently received a letter from the State of Arizona.  It seems that working with equine livestock and with people in a clinic setting represents the same degree of professional risk as being a police officer of a fire fighter.  In light of this, insurance through the State Insurance Fund is no longer available to me for my professional work. I am sure this is related to claims analysis and the like, but it sure puts a different spin on how I will proceed with my work!

Over the years I have been in a expert witness for cases involving equine accidents.   I will give  you overview of one of the cases to which I contributed.

A Court Case I Was an Expert Witness For

The case involved two women who had been very good friends for over 30 years . One lived in California the other in Arizona . The woman from California drove to Arizona  to a nice horse facility with corrals, RV parking lots of  trails to ride t meet up with her friend. One lady rode a mule the other rode a horse, The mule was a fine trail mule but had one problem:  the mule was very difficult to put in the trailer. After a wonderful week of riding and after enjoying each other’s company riding together as they had for over 30 years, the incident occurred.

On the morning the ladies decided to head home,   the lady with the mule started to load the mule into the trailer. Her friend chose to hide behind the truck and trailer peeking around the corner. Yes, the mule was once again giving the owner a hard time not wanting to load in the trailer.

A person watching the lady load the mule came over to help.  She started waving her arms to get the mule to go in the trailer.  So at this point, there is the person who owns the mule trying to load it, and a “helper” waving her arms to try to encourage the mule to go forward onto the trailer.  It is likely that many of us have seen this very same scenario  and we may have even participated in this task.  But long story short, the mule started pulling the lady away from the trailer pulling her backwards and despite her efforts, the mule backed over the friend who was hiding between the truck and the trailer.

Does Your State Protect You? Mine Does

In most states, there are State laws that are there to protect the equine owner in such cases.   Arizona has such a law.  Being in the business, I post signs reflecting this all over my ranch. From the gate to the corrals I have these notices and I think everyone should do the same, even if you just keep your animals for your own use.

You may be interested in rest of the story. The lady that the mule backed over went through several months in the hospital and several years of physical therapy, She did not  sued for damages but the insurance  company did, and in the lawsuit the person helping load the mule who was waving her arms, the owner of the stable, and the lady who owned the mule all had to pay portions of the award either by their insurance or by their pocketbook.

It is pretty clear that no matter what the State laws say or what insurance you might have (home owners or otherwise), suits are likely to result in damages that any participant may have to pay.   Even if you only had to pay 1% of a one million dollar claim, that still amounts to $10,000.

Why This Is My Last Clinic

Finding insurance for the equine trainer or owner is very difficult especially when you are training equines and people.  I am sad to say that my insurance just tripled in price due to the “risky occupation”.   Even though I have never been hurt, nor has anyone in any of my clinics or training sessions that have spanned 25 years or more, the rate is truly unreasonable. So to make a long story short, there is a very good possibility that this will be my last year for training mules, donkeys or people because of the expense of trying to cover my butt.

I love training. I love seeing people try my training techniques and I especially like witnessing the mule and donkey owners use these techniques that make dramatic changes in their animals.  But as the world changes we must change.  Now I’m sure that there’s always going to be people that will train without insurance.  Some have nothing to lose and some just flat don’t care. When you are looking for a trainer, there is so much more to it than just climbing on the mule and riding.  There is more to it than just putting the donkey to the cart. Finding a true professional trainer is very difficult.  I hear from many people who have had mules trained and have had nothing but problems.   I can tell you this is not always the mule and donkey at fault. When I used to take a mule with me on the circuit, I would have someone climb on the mule and ride it.  Just before this I would do the demonstrating of turn on the forehand, turn on the hindquarters side passing. Then I would ask the audience who has been riding for 25 years.   Hands would go up and I would choose someone to ride the mule that I just rode.  In a matter of minutes, it would look like the mule was not even broke!

I was talking with Dr. Robert Miller one day and we were saying how much of a joy it was to contribute to the equine community, not just the United States but all over the world.  Dr. Miller has traveled to more countries than I have, but we both enjoy seeing the equine community changed for the good.  But we both noted with sorrow that the cost of being a professional trainer and teacher is a rapidly growing concern.  It will change the future of the industry for sure and not necessarily in a good way.

Are You The Person I’m Looking For?

I would be interested in feedback from attorneys and insurance adjusters. Please give me a call (602-999-6853) or e-mail me, here.  I want to stay in business but as it goes right now my last clinic will be in Fredericksburg, Missouri and I will head back to the ranch because that is all I can afford for insurance for the year.

This has become a very litigious society for sure.  I am not sure who can do anything about the fact that some people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.  It is not always someone else’s fault that an animal exercises its own will or that the student does not do as he or she is directed.  There is inherent risk in riding an animal.  We can do a lot to try to limit our risk.  We can train well.  We can follow instructions.  And when we feel that something might not work out for us, we can just say “no”!   But ultimately, it is one’s own decision to come work with an animal.  If you are working with a professional trainer or teacher, you may be somewhat safer.  But when we hear a little inner voice saying “don’t do it”, we should probably listen.

Something You May Not Want to Hear

One other point I would make is that there are times when a professional trainer may suggest to a student that the animal that he or she has may not be the best choice for that person. When I say this, I may see tears from some.  I may hear others say, “well that is why we are here – so you can make this work”.   Still others will take the information and agree.   But know that such advice is not given lightly and is only given after I have had time to observe the animal, observe you, and observe the two of you together.  Some things can be fixed.  Others are more difficult.  A few are impossible.   The comment is never meant to be mean or ill spirited.  It is for everyone’s safety.   Any trainer worth his salt will tell a student if there is clearly a mismatch of animal and owner.  But this is just one little piece of this new and bigger puzzle.

I encourage equestrians to accept the inherent risk of their activities and to let their local and state governments know that they do acknowledge that risk.  If we cannot find a way to make professional trainers able to do their jobs while being covered reasonably with insurance for the job, we will see fewer quality trainers and have less help available to riders.  Your professional trainer is a huge resource to you and your equine.

Please visit Steve’s website for the original post.

 

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Hal Walter: Pack Burro Racer, Father and Author

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For most people, racing nearly 30 miles and climbing 13,000 feet up a mountain—and back down again—alongside a pack burro might be the most challenging experience of their life. But for world champion pack burro racer Hal Walter, raising an autistic son has brought many new unexpected trials that were much more serious than a 900-pound donkey barreling down a mountain path. Hal recognizes and explores the parallels between these two important elements of his life, pack burro racing and fatherhood, in his new book, Full Tilt Boogie.

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Hal, Harrison, Mary, and Redbo the donkey, Christmas 2004 (Photo by Patrick O’Grady)

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people’s ability to communicate and understand certain social interactions—some people with autism may have trouble interpreting sarcasm, or understanding the facial differences between a smile and a grimace. Hal’s wife, Mary, is a nurse, and started recognizing potential signs of autism, such as sensory issues, early on in their son, Harrison. They ultimately received an official diagnosis from Denver Children’s Hospital when Harrison was almost four, which Hal describes as a “certain comfort,” despite initially resisting the necessity of the label.

In raising Harrison, Hal was able to draw on his experience as a pack burro racer, noticing the similarities between the two situations. “The real key to success with either burros or autistic children is extreme patience and allowing them to find their own way,” Hal writes in Full Tilt Boogie. “Each is a unique individual and one cannot exert command over either one with good results.” The “patience” approach has proven useful in both Harrison, who is now 10, and Hal’s career as a pack burro racer, which has spanned 30 years and multiple world championships.

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Harrison and Laredo at Dry Lake high in the Sangre de Cristo Range

Hal introduced Harrison to donkeys at a young age—his first overnight packing trip took place the summer after he turned three—and drew on the established benefits of hippotherapy (or in this case, asinotherapy). Although, like most kids, Harrison might now say he’d prefer to be playing Angry Birds on the iPad than riding burros, his parents have seen a change in him after riding. “We noticed right away that on the days when Harrison rode, and even on days following a ride, there was a marked improvement in his disposition and behavior, and fewer tantrums,” he says. Hal isn’t sure exactly what it is about the donkey riding that helps Harrison—whether it’s the soothing motion, the fresh mountain air, or a combination of several things—but the positive effect is undeniable.

According to Dr. May Dodd of the Donkey Shelter of Australia, donkeys work well as therapy animals because “their gentle and affectionate nature brings a calming effect over all those they come into contact with.” She says donkeys are particularly useful for distressed people, as their relaxed nature can balance and calm anxious, agitated emotions. Hal has noticed his donkeys’ caring nature, especially as his son was just starting out as a rider. “I think the better ones have a sense of taking care of the less capable riders,” he notes.

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Hal and Full Tilt Boogie winning the 28.6-mile World Championship in Fairply, 2013 (Photo by Bonnie Wann)

In pack burro racing, Hal attributes his multiple wins and places as being skilled—but perhaps not the best—at both the running and animal training elements. He notes that in order to get a win, “everything has to come together on that day for me,” down to the smallest variables and pieces of luck—and those can’t always be predicted, or even planned for. “The unpredictability of raising an autistic kid is a lot like burro racing,” he adds. “Only when they believe something was their own idea do they truly excel.”

Click here to find out more about Hal, Mary and Harrison on Hal’s website, and get your own copy of the ebook or paperback on Amazon. Full Tilt Boogie recently topped Competitor’s list of 13 Running Books You Should Be Reading Now.

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Help a Mule Make it to the US Dressage Final

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Can you believe it? A mule has made it to the US Dressage Finals! Laura Hermanson and her champion mule Heart B Dyna are heading to Kentucky to represent longears in the national competition—for the first time ever. But they are asking for your help to make it there. Here is their story in Laura’s own words:

WN-MuleUSDF-01lauradynausdfA MULE makes it to the US Dressage Finals in Kentucky! I am Laura Hermanson and I have been training and working with mules for over 10 years. I have enormous passion for these incredible equines and believe anything is possible with them. This has been proven true! My own dear mule Heart B Dyna competed throughout the year at 3 star sanctioned shows earning scores up to 75% and qualifying for both the CDS state and USDF regional championships. We had an incredible time at the Championships educating people about mules and being able to ride along side Olympians! I was thrilled to be living my dreams, and then my dream became even greater. The US Dressage Finals invites the top two equines at each level from every region throughout the country as well as a wildcard based on scores. It all comes together for an incredible showcase of the best Dressage horses in the US. And then the unbelievable happened, Dyna and I received an invitation!!! This is the first time in history a mule has been invited to the USDF Finals! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to expose people to mules on a huge national platform. I have put this together to ask for help making this possibility become a reality. Anyone that knows me is aware of how hard I work and how extremely dedicated I am to mules and the sport of Dressage. It is VERY hard for me to ask for help, but the expenses to travel across the country and attend this show are beyond my reach. I would GREATLY appreciate any financial help to make this pioneering journey possible!

Congratulations and best of luck to Laura and Dyna! If you would like to help them make it to Kentucky and make us proud, check out their GoFundMe page here.

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