Monday, November 25, 2013


No Good Deed goes Unpunished...  

So, what does that mean anyway.  Well, until recently, I have never given that statement much thought.  However, I am thinking of it more and more these days.  This is why...

When we go about our lives, we all seem to follow a similar sort of moral code.  We drive carefully on the streets, stop and go when the light allows, park in one spot at the store and not the handicapped spot, pay for our groceries and don't eat them while shopping (except the grapes, that's a grey area).  We don't tell lies we can't back up, we generally don't slander or badmouth people.  We try to pay our bills, we keep our heads down and our eyes open. Sound familiar?  It does to me...  It seems that people generally do all of this and try to stay out of the line of fire.  Right?  Now, what if your faced with a situation that requires you actually do something to make things right?  To take a stand?  For example, maybe your kid is in school and they see someone being picked on.  What is your advice to them?  Just keep your head down and stay out of it?  This will guarantee your kid doesn't become the object of ridicule.  It is the safe path.  You know saying something will make them a target, right?  No one wants that, hmmm...

Ok, now assume for a minute that you are faced with a moral decision that will cost you a lot of money.  What if you know that the likelihood of hurting someone has increased tremendously over the years in your business.  However, you also know that you will make more money if you just keep your head down and your mouth shut.  What if you know that saying something to change it could cost you your business?   What if you know that the general public is not aware of the danger that has developed due to existing factors.  What do you do then?  Hmmm.... 

Now, apply all this to Winterhaven  Rides.  So, everyone seems to want to blame someone for the changes that have developed in Winterhaven.  Who is to blame?  Who did it?  Why change if there hasn't been an accident?  Why?

Well, lets look at it a little closer.  What is more lucrative, change or keeping the mules in Winterhaven?  Of course, the mules are a great draw... that is a no brainer.  Mules are definitely more lucrative than any other possibility.  The bonus is that mules are very cheap to maintain!  This is one more reason we love them.    So, financially... mules are definitely the best choice.

Ok, what about accidents?  Why change if there hasn't been accidents?   To start with, there is always a public view and an insiders view.  Who says there hasn't been any accidents?  Hmmm...  maybe we should do a little homework on that one people.  I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who know more about that.  Still, assume for a minute that it was true?  What justifies waiting until someone is hurt?  When the streets are completely full of people we look like fools trying to keep our teams in there.  Anyone educated in driving teams knows this.  We look ridiculous keeping our mules in an event that has simply outgrown them. 

Now, what has changed?  The teams have been in there forever??  Why change now?  Lets look a little at how the Festival of Lights works.  The committee in charge of this event are volunteers.  This was a little Festival years ago.   It was manageable and fun for them.  When the economy changed, funding of this event became the responsibility of the Winterhaven Neighborhood.  The City of Tucson was no longer able to fund.  In order to keep this event alive for all you guys, they used vendors and sponsors to pay for the expense of the event.  They placed Kettlecorn, Hot Cocoa, and Cupcakes in the center of Winterhaven.  They invited the Tombstone Trolley to be a vendor to help chip in.  Then, of course, us mule vendors.  Although the mule vendors had been there for many years, the new vendors were a great addition to the atmosphere of the Festival.  They are also helpful in paying for the police, barricades, and insurance for the event.   They are helping to keep your Festival returning year to year.  So, what has changed?    People are making an evening of the beautiful displays, the goodies available at the square, and the fact it is free to walk.  Therefore, the number of people inside has increased with the arrival of the vendors inside of the event. 

Ok, so... knowing what has changed over the course of the last few years... what are we to do?  We kept our heads down and played the game.  How long can we keep up the fa├žade that it is no different than years passed?  We have been kidding ourselves.   Is it fair of us to subject the visitors walking inside the event, the Winterhaven committee, and the Residents of Winterhaven to the liability of our mules inside an event that has simply outgrown them.    Well...  we tried.   Morally, we just couldn't keep the cat in the bag.  So... who is to blame?  Us for standing up and saying that driving teams through thousands of people is becoming a problem... what can we do about it?  The Winterhaven Committee, who are volunteers trying to provide an amazing and fun event for Tucson, for requiring that we go mechanized?  The mules for being mules?  The families for walking inside and enjoying the hard work of the Winterhaven Residents?  The Winterhaven Residents for having displays that are so good that they get crowds of people around their house... aka "dangerously great displays"?  The vendors in the center for being there, but actually helping to keep this festival a possibility?  I guess it's us....  because we let the cat out of the bag. 

So, this is why I am beginning to understand that no good deed goes unpunished...    

 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Why do the mules factor into the decision of Safety inside of Winterhaven?

Hmmm.... that's a tricky one....  Lets start with a team of mules working happily together.  They are very strong and powerful.  Remember, they LOVE to pull.  They have all this muscle and now they have something to do with it!  When they work, we have to consider personalities and who they will work next to.  We drive either a 2 up hitch or a 3 abreast hitch.  If we put a team of mules together that have dominance issues where one is trying to be the boss, only one will pull and the other two will comply with the dominance threat and keep back a little.  This is a problem because you no longer have a "team", you have one pulling and two threatened.  Anyone who drives teams knows that you have to put together a team of mules that get along, like each other and work well together.    When they are working content, they are easy to drive, easy to catch to drive the next day, and altogether a joy to work with.  When you put them into Winterhaven and they are pulling their wagons, they love it.  They enjoy their work and everything is good.  When we add the crowds that are moderate, it isn't an issue because we can work our way around them as you have seen for many years.  Now add a stifling crowd.  This forces the driver of the teams to make a choice... they must try to negotiate safely through the crowd or they must stop in order to clear the path to travel through.  As we pass through Winterhaven, we do everything in our power to keep our teams rolling along as they should be.  Of course, we have obstacles that require our stopping.  This is a given.  When it is a minimal number of obstacles and stops, the mules let it go and don't become concerned.  If we begin to stop and go often, the mules become irritated with the interruption in what they believe is a destination they are heading for.  This irritation is exhibited in many different behaviors by the mules.  Some of them will rear up or jump when we stop too many times, communicating to us that they want to get going... they are excited to keep rolling and that they don't know why we are holding them back.  Others will start to goof around and mess up the harness, chew on the lines, hook their headstall on the hames of their neighboring mule, others will push the team from side to side simply communicating their displeasure at the hold up.  Still others will kick out to express their lack of patience.  Of course, this is normal and natural behavior.  This is their instinct and their only means of communication to their surroundings and handlers.  We, as being the people responsible for the safety of the visitors around our mules, have to accomplish a delicate balance between clearing the crowd so we can keep our stops to a minimum and stop when we have to but not too often as to maintain a good attitude in our mules.  This has been a reasonable request during all the years we have worked this event.  In December 2012, it had become clear to us that this delicate balance was becoming something that was more and more difficult to achieve.  We tried our best to ignore this problem.  We tried our best to "play the game" and say everything is fine and that this is a normal environment for driving teams.  When the season approached... we again faced the gravity of this situation.  What is the right thing to do?  Do we say something?  Do we risk losing our vendorship for the sake of asking for a better path for our teams inside the event?  Or... do we do what so many do... be quiet and grateful for the chance to drive inside again.  We decided to do the right thing and voice our concerns.  Clearly this was a difficult choice for us as we have all our teams, whom we have fed all year, ready for the event.  We have all our wagons rigged with hydrolic brakes for driving teams.  We have all our triple trees and double trees ready to hook our mules to.  We have all 21 sets of harness ready and waiting for the mules to wear.  We have trucks ready to haul our teams.  We have 2 20 foot horse trailers and one 28 ft horse trailer waiting for hauling 21 mules a night.  We have 24 diapers ready and waiting to be used.  We have all our mule shoes and borium purchased and ready to put on our mules feet.  Taking all this into consideration we asked ourselves....  what do we do? 

What would you do?

So... Why a Jeep?  What is up with that?

We have had family who lived inside of Winterhaven for years.  When I would go and pick up my kids after our 9pm ride would depart our site, I loved listening to the clip clop of the last wagons moving through Winterhaven.  It is a beautiful community, truly a Festival of Lights!  It was pure MAGIC!  We agree...  Now that we have reached these crossroads in our wagon power, I thought about that moment...  hearing that magical clip clop moving through the quiet streets.  I thought about my nephews in their rooms hearing that sound echo against the blacktop.   It had been something that was pure magic.  We have been deeply saddened by these thoughts of what the amazing residents of Winterhaven will stand to lose.  About that little extra magic of the hooves against the blacktop disappearing as all good things seem to do.  We struggled to come up with something else?  Does anything compare to the sound of hooves?  Simply put... no way.  Not for you, not for us, not at all.    Now... I knew we all had to face this reality.  If we stop using the mules, what will happen to the people who love this time honored tradition?  Is it the tradition of the mules?  Or is it the tradition of the Festival of Lights?    My feeling is that it is the Festival of Lights.  This Festival began long before the mules arrived.   All of you living inside this unique neighborhood created this Festival by continuing the tradition of C.B. Richards started in 1949.  Our hats off to you.   This is what we struggled with when faced with the reality of changing our mule power to machine power.  We wanted to not disrupt your homes.  We realize there is already the Tombstone Trolley running through which is mechanized but not loud.  We thought that a small vehicle that is no louder than the Trolley would help maintain that peace and beauty inside your neighborhood.  This is why we decided on a jeep.  It is as quiet as any neighbors car driving through, it is open so we can easily participate with our clients, and it is American Made since we are patriotic.  This is what we have come up with.  We appreciate the idea of a tractor, they rock.  However, we wanted to offer something different... something unique.  We could play music so what you hear in your homes is Christmas Carols as we pass.  Or, we can be quiet.  Or, we can put our mules bells on the wheels of our wagons to jingle along.  We realize the time has come for  change and that is heartbreaking to me.   We ask you all to help us make this a change you and your families will be able to enjoy someday. 

Will it ever be the same as that magical sound of hooves echoing across the neighborhood? 
No way...   
I'm sure this is one thing we can all agree on....             

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Seriously, does anyone care about the animals working anymore?
 
We too are saddened by this required change of events. For all of you who do not quite understand why this could be safer, please read on... Our motto is "give your mule a life" We have been training mules for over 14 years. What do you suppose this means? It means that people should educate their mules and use their mules. However, is it reasonable to put a mule into a crowd of thousands of people.  Hmm... that is the question. That brings us to thinking about how the mules work. When animals pull a wagon, they are built to get the wagon rolling, which requires a lot of energy. They are then required to keep it rolling, which is easier for them using momentum. When a wagon can roll along without conflict, it is good for the mules and they enjoy their work. Now add thousands of  people in their way. This requires that we demand our mules either walk slower, which is difficult and much more work for them, or stop and go, which sores their shoulders and makes them unhappy in their work. In order to avoid them stopping and going, we place two people walking in front of the wagon to clear the road. Our employees have been required to pick up small children and baby carraiges and move them to avoid conflict with our teams. Because of these two factors, and the fact that we actually care about the wellbeing of our mules, we asked the Winterhaven Committee what they can do to make this a better and safer driving environment. They deemed that it become mechanized.    We are happy to have anyone who has information on how to better drive teams safely through huge crowds, come on down and give us some ideas. To all those naysayers, we are open to suggestions and insight. Now, the question is, why would it be safer to be mechanized? Because we can stop and go and not be concerned with the well being of the mules who are working under our care. So, we welcome all of you in the vicinity to come on over, give us some information on a better plan! Welcome! We will hook up a team and let you help us with this problem. All of you are invited! Finally, to anyone who believes it is fair and just to put mules inside of and event of this magnitude and call if fair to the animals and the people walking inside, please explain to us how. We are happy to change back if you find a way to make it safe and fair for our mules and those visiting winterhaven!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Our Winterhaven Mules...    

To all of those people who are sad to see the mules go, we agree.  Many people are wondering about the mules and what will become of them?   Our mules have done an amazing job for us, and for you.  We are proud of them.  Each one has their own personality and story of how they came to us.  Each one is an individual.  Each one is silly and comical.   Just like us, they are all unique and special in their own way.  We love them.  Because of this outpouring of concern for our amazing mules, we want to assure everyone that the mules are fine.  Of course, they are wondering why they aren't preparing for their big event.  They are wondering why they aren't driving every day.  They are wondering why they are not getting their borium shoes on.  Because of how we feel about our mules, how proud we are of them and their excellent track record working in Winterhaven, we too are wondering what this change will hold.  We feel the same way you guys have expressed at this loss.  We are devastated. However, we are responsible for the well being of each and every one of our mules.    Looking after their safety by making this difficult decision, we believe, is the best thing we can do for them.  They do not deserve to be put into the environment that Winterhaven has grown into.  They have worked too hard to be set up for failure.    Please understand that our concern is not just for the people visiting this event, but is also for the best interest of our mules.  Our training motto has been "Give your mule a life".  You can see it in our reds saddle mules website and our advertising over the course of the last 15 years.   This has been what we have stood by in training mules.  This is what we need to continue to consider as the people responsible for giving our herd a life.  We take this concern seriously.  That is why we agree with the devastating decision to change our power from mules to mechanized.  Sad? Yes...  But your support is what will make us feel that this difficult decision is correct and in the best interest of our mules.  We would like to welcome you to meet our mules in person at our Ranch in Benson Arizona.  If you are concerned or have questions, please set up a time to visit us and our amazing mules!   Don't forget the carrots!

Heartbroken in Benson...

ps....  We will find a way to keep the jingling of sleigh bells

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Winterhaven is getting closer and it is an all encompassing concern for me and my family about the change from mules to vehicles.   I keep getting all wrapped up in my emotional concern for our lost tradition.  I am so sad about this huge loss of our very identity. It is who we are!  I must admit, we are very proud of the fun mule rides we have provided to Tucson for many years.  ... then I stop and think...  Is it really fair for me to be so self absorbed?  Is any of this really about my pride?  Maybe it is about the fact that it is difficult facing change.  Any kind of change brings stress... animosity....  concern...   Especially when the change is not one that feels good.  Do we worry that no one will support this change?  That the Festival itself will suffer from this change?  Of course.  You guys are the reason we have been doing this all these years.  Likewise, you guys are the reason for the change...  I ask myself... is it reasonably prudent for us to take our teams in there knowing that the potential risk has increased for an accident simply due to the popularity of the event? Are we being fair as vendors to try to hang onto our tradition, simply for the tradition?  Or the popularity of the event? Or the revenue?  Or because we haven't hurt anyone? 

I suppose everything is simple... risk vs tradition.  Has the risk increased?  Yes... Why?  Simply due to the increase in foot traffic inside of the event.  Has the tradition changed?  Hmmm...  The residents are still going to decorate.  There will still be the Tucson Food Bank collecting donations and helping those in need.  There will still be wagons, trolleys, and vendors selling their cocoa, popcorn and cupcakes.  There will still be Tucsonans walking around and enjoying the lights.  There will still be memories made, relationships begun, and families strengthened through the power of sharing and spending time together.  Therefore, is it really going to ruin the festival?  I don't think so.  I sure hope everyone understands the struggle we all face in this decision.  All us mule vendors as well as the Winterhaven Committee.  We have to remember, this is a decision for YOU! Whether any of us like it or not... it is a good thing.   It will contribute to the safety and beauty of this event.  We are supportive of this decision.  We will look forward to your support!  I have faith that it is out there Tucson.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Winds of Change.... Do we embrace them?
 
We have made our living training mules all our lives. We train them to ride and drive for clients all over the country. We love it.   We understand the mules.  We admire the mules.  We want to show how amazing and great mules are!  One way we do this is by driving them at Winterhaven in Tucson Arizona.  Winterhaven is just the best with the teams and wagons. Simply beautiful. Amazing too... having teams alongside people walking the streets, enjoying the light show... Incredible!  This accomplishment is remarkable.  
 
Of course, with all good, there is risk…. Winterhaven has grown so tremendously over the last two years to a size never imagined by any of us involved.  This amazing and beautiful festival of lights has became known all over the world!  We have had  clients come and ride with us all the way from Europe, Australia, and many other places.   This has became a destination!  Unbelievable.  Sadly, because of this tremendous growth, the risk involved with having our beloved mules in winterhaven has also grown tremendously. 

Because of this growth and because of trying to live our lives honestly and morally, we have reached a crossroads in our winterhaven event.  All involved with the production of the Festival are debating on how to increase safety inside of the event?  As the wagon vendors, we ask ourselves...  How can we proceed with our wagon rides and still maintain the level of safety that we have held ourselves and our company  to year after year with the enormous work and accomplishments by us, our staff and of course…. Our mules!  Simply put, it is time we decide whether the wagons rides should continue with mules at the front or is it time to convert to vehicles out of respect for the safety of those on our wagons, people walking around in winterhaven, and our mules.  We love our mules.  We love having them in winterhaven.  We love promoting the beauty and work ethic of the mules.  We love advocating for their amazing talents by driving them in winterhaven.  However, as heartbreaking and disappointing as it is, we believe that change is inevitable.  We believe that it should be our responsibility to work hand in hand with the Festival Committee to create what is best for our passengers, families walking in winterhaven, and most of all, the reputation of our mules. 

Is this going to be fun?  Well… first off… we will miss our world famous mules pulling our wagons.  We have deliberated as to what would be fun…  Here is our plans should this change occur….   We think open topped jeeps that play Christmas music through the festival could be a blast.  We want the driver available to our passengers and that is why we want our vehicles open.   Music played during the ride might encourage singing and the Holiday Spirit!  We could decorate it with lights and make it beautiful.  We have considered the issue of exhaust and do not want our passengers subjected to this.  For this year, we would extend our exhaust pipes out away from the wagons.  We have discovered that it may be possible to convert each jeep to LP gas that burns cleaner and greener!  This would be a goal for 2014. 

So… will you guys ride with us? We hope so.  Will you guys support this effort of change towards a safer Festival of Lights?  We believe so!  We have faith in you!  The Food Bank has faith in you!  Still, the biggest question of all is will we be making the right choice?  Will we be able to sleep at night?    

I know I will…

But I’ll cry a little for the winds of change….  Julie...