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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teenage Ben Hur

My Dad, Jere Johnson, is a Natural Horsemanship Clinician in the Central Hill Country of Texas. When he was young, he did things the old way of “make” and “force“, just like everyone else he knew. Now he has a whole different way of looking at things, and the horse always comes first, with dignity and respect. This is the story(as he told it) of his mule driving days, when he was twelve years old.

When I was growing up, Sundays were always family days. On this particular Sunday all my uncles, brothers, and my dad, were talking about breaking mules to drive and pull. I sat there and listened, as that was my job. By that I mean children were expected to be seen and not heard. As I listened to them, I got to thinking, this doesn’t sound so tough, especially for a pretty salty hand of twelve.

I need to mention that my Dad was a horse trader, so we were always blessed with a variety of equine livestock. I asked my dad if I could have a go at breaking one of these mules to drive. He told me that the only mule we had wasn’t even halter broke but to go ahead.

So, the next morning right after chores, I brought the herd in and sorted the mule off. The next problem was to catch her. You sure couldn’t walk up to her, so I had the brain storm to rope her. After several rope burns on my hands, I decided that wasn’t the best idea I ever had. But, I finally got her snubbed to a post without too much trouble.

The next step was to get the harness on her, but there was one small detail. No one had shown me how to put it on. After several exciting moments, I finally got close enough to pet her and convince her she wasn’t going to die. I got the harness on her and about that time my Dad came over to see how things were going. He just laughed and said we needed to re-adjust the harness. I had all of the parts in the wrong places and none of the straps were hooked right.
I messed with her for about a week and got things going pretty good in the corral and could drive her, turn her and stop her. On a good day I could back her up. One day Dad stopped to watch me and he told me he would recommend something heavy for that mule to drag. Right then, I should have had a clue.

If youth has nothing else, it has ingenuity, so I went off to find something heavy to pull. After several hours of searching, I found the perfect thing. I found a ten foot rail road tie that must have weighed hundreds of pounds. I knew there was no way I could get it to where I needed to hook it up, so I went and got my horse and got a rope on it. Now you might think that it would have been quite a wrestling match getting that mule hooked to that tie, but surprisingly, it went off without a hitch. I spent the next 3 or 4 days dragging that tie all over that corral. If I accomplished nothing else, I did a pretty fair job of cleaning and leveling it.

Never one to let a good thing alone, I got to thinking that I needed something that I could stand on, so my little mind went to work. My dad had recently replaced a barn door. This was no little door. It must have been four foot wide and six foot long. Off to the shop I went, where I installed chains. My Dad had instilled safety in me, so I used all the proper things to make it safe. I drilled holes and ran the chain thru and found some number nine wire to fasten it all together. Now in my mind I was safe, but just to be on the safer side, I double wrapped it.

After I got it hooked to my mule I stepped on my drag (door) and off we went. This is where things got kind of western. My Dad had always told me that you could ride them as fast as they run, so I figured that ought to be true for driving. Looking back now the decision I made then was a bit rash, but at the time it sure seemed like a good idea. I opened the gate and off we went. Every thing was going smooth. I knew I needed to keep going slow. We were walking and I was standing on the back of my drag, keeping the front end up so it wouldn’t catch on the dirt. To this day I have no idea what spooked that mule, but all of the sudden, we left out of there like a shot. I soon found out I couldn’t hold her, and I couldn’t turn her much, so I just pointed her. This field I was in had irrigation ditches in it. We made the first ditch just fine and I was congratulating myself and thinking this wasn’t so bad, when the second ditch became my undoing. As we came up to it, I stepped forward to get a better hold and that was when the edge door caught the ditch. Me and the mule parted company, and I found myself going faster than the mule. I passed her like she was standing still. My only saving grace was that the sled hit the ditch and saved me some broken bones. But it still didn’t save me any road rash.

It seems like a good idea.....

The moral of this story is God watches over idiots, and fools, and teenage boys.

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