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?

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