Posts Tagged ‘donkeys’

Everyone loves a parade

December 13, 2017



Doesn’t everyone kick off the holiday season by turning their autistic teen loose with an 800-pound donkey on a busy street with hundreds of Christmas revelers and dozens of prancing ponies?

A few years ago after attending Buena Vista’s Christmas Equine Parade I got the idea for something similar here in Westcliffe. Now three years later it’s become somewhat of a tradition.

That first year Harrison and I had the only four-legged animal in the Custer County Christmas Parade of Lights, along with some motorized entries, a marching band and the high-school cheer team. The idea caught on, however, and the following year several other equine entries joined us.

I love the Christmas parade. After so many years of racing on the pack-burro circuit it’s refreshing to do something non-competitive with the animals and in the spirit of the season. We decorate the burros with garlands, bells and lights for this event. One difference between our parade and the one in Buena Vista is that ours is held after nightfall.

There had been some concerns after last year about the Amish Percheron team spooking some of the other animals. The Percherons are big and really loud and imposing. They stamp in place with their bells and huge steel shoes. So it was decided prior to the parade that they would come in from a side road at the Country Store as entry No. 8. Harrison and I — as No. 9 — would stop and let them in ahead of us.

The parade began with all the entries falling in line. When we got to the Country Store I told Harrison to stop. An Amish woman was holding onto the big horses and she let them loose. But instead of going right out onto the road in front of us, they started forward, then turned to their right — behind us — around the gas pumps at the store, and around to the driveway.  This spooked Boogie and Laredo badly. I managed to keep Boogie under control but Laredo pulled the rope right out of Harrison’s hands and bolted.

He took off at a full gallop through this big field across from the store. Boogie wanted to go with him but I circled her around. The Amish wagon pulled out of the driveway and onto the road in front of us. I watched as the blue LED lights on Laredo’s saddle got smaller and smaller in the distance, and then disappeared.

Luckily right then the entire parade stopped. I quickly reviewed the options. Should I bail on the whole thing? Should I chase after Laredo, and then if I managed to catch him try to bring up the rear? Should we just continue on with Boogie, then come back for Laredo afterward? I stood there looking off into the darkness and tried to make a decision.

That’s when I saw the blue lights bouncing way off in the distance. I watched and they appeared to be getting closer. I could see Laredo returning at a canter. Soon his shape was visible in the dim street lights. By the time the parade started moving he was right there. I caught him and handed the lead rope back to Harrison and on we went!

At first there were very few spectators, and then we encountered sparse crowds. It’s difficult to recognize people because of the lighting but occasionally I’d hear people yell out our names. Mostly they were encouraging Harrison.

By the time we reached Westcliffe’s Downtown area, which is all of about two blocks, we were illuminated by street lamps and Christmas lights. So many people offered beautiful comments about the animals and called out to Harrison.

For a few fleeting moments in this tiny parade an overwhelming and unexpected feeling of joy and sense of community overcame me. I couldn’t contain the big smile and my eyes welled up with emotion.

Co-creating authentic experiences is hard work, but somebody has to do it.


Equine therapy, donkeys and autism

April 26, 2009 recently had an interesting piece on therapeutic horse riding for autistic children.


We raise and train large-breed donkeys and my son Harrison, who is now 5, has been riding them since he was 3. In fact at age 3 he rode on a three-day pack-trip into the Sangre de Cristo mountains. He was diagnosed with autism at 4.

I try to get him out riding fairly regularly when the weather is nice. This weekend he rode both days for about 45 minutes per ride (about three miles) on the trails at Bear Basin Ranch. I lead the donkey from the ground and keep a watchful eye out for any safety issues, such as wildlife, horses, or my own dog crashing out of the brush.

Reading the CNN piece renewed my interest in Harrison’s riding, and the use of donkeys in this type of therapy. Perhaps one piece to the autism puzzle has been right here under my nose all along. Donkeys seem very well suited to this type of equine therapy since their movement is virtually the same as a horse, yet their generally calmer nature makes them less scary than horses.

There is a difference between therapeutic recreational riding and hippotherapy, which is done under the guidance of a licensed therapist (speech, occupational, physical, psychologist). Still, as he rides we practice singing songs and even reciting books. Harrison has several songs memorized and can bring to voice entire kids books word and verse. While riding.

This activity is also therapeutic for a parent — actively engaging the child in an enjoyable activity while freeing yourself to walk and enjoy the outdoors.Harrison and Ace.

Harrison is prone to screaming and tantrums. Both days this weekend I noticed considerable improvements in his disposition and behavior after riding.

In addition to helping with autism, getting out on the trail for some equine-assisted therapy also helps fight NDS (Nature Deficiency Syndrome), which is at least as rampant in our society as autism. We regularly point out and name the different types of trees, wildflowers and animals that we see along the way.

Corral panels, eagles and mules

November 24, 2008

How to straighten out corral panels

fixedpanelMy friend and favorite old rancher guy, the late Virgil Lawson, once told me how to straighten out a bent steel corral panel — by driving a truck over it. I’ve been eying a bent panel since a horse snafu over at the ranch earlier this summer. So today I decided to give it a try. I set the panel down in the driveway and lined my truck tire over the most-bent round tube. Well, it straightened out the panel, all right, but it also flattened the round tubing and left a herringbone tire-tread pattern in the metal! I thought I heard Virgil’s hearty laugh from somewhere up in the sky, but the truck certainly took the bow out of that panel.

The eagles have to eat too

My friend and neighbor Kevin called this morning and told me about a dead buck deer near here that had a golden eagle feeding on it. I drove over to take a look and found local Colorado Division of Wildlife District Wildlife Manager Justin Krall conducting an autopsy of sorts. He wanted to rule out the possibility the deer had been shot. With the hide peeled back, no bullet holes were revealed, though there was one small puncture in the skin. Oddly there appeared to be some slits in the carcass that were not accompanied by matching cuts to the hide. From what he saw, Justin thought the deer died from internal injuries, either from fighting with other bucks, or from a run-in with an automobile, though there was no evidence of skid marks or vehicle debris on the road nearby. He took the head to test for chronic wasting disease. He said that the DOW has tested about 300 deer from this area in the last year and found no cases of CWD.eaglesmall

Later I drove back to the scene and found the eagle had returned along with a flock of magpies. The big bird lifted off the carcass and landed in a nearby tree where I was able to get an up-close photograph.

Man dies in fall from mule

Condolences go out to the family and friends of a 65-year-old Custer County man who died last week after he was reportedly thrown from a mule while riding near his home in the Antelope Valley area southeast of town.

Apparently Jerry Gregory’s neck was broken in the fall, and while it’s been labeled a freak accident, it is a reminder of the dangerous nature of equine activities.

A mule is a hybrid between a horse and a donkey, and can be quicker and more powerful than either of its parents.

I’ve had horses try to unseat me, but it’s been the donkeys that have put me on the ground. Twice I was dumped when donkeys spooked. Another time I was riding a slight downhill at a trot when my burro Ace stumbled and literally went down on his nose, pitched me over his shoulder and nearly rolled over on top of me. I landed with my forehead and shoulder hitting simultaneously and scrambled mightily to get out of the way.

Despite these wrecks, I still prefer riding a donkey because they rarely buck and are not inclined to run away for great distances like a horse. Generally, if spooked, a donkey will run a short distance, then turn back to see what scared them. Usually you can ride it out until they stop.

Burros, saddles and gear

September 2, 2008
This is a britchin holding a rading saddle in place on my neighbor Patti's mule.

This is a britchin' holding a riding saddle in place on my neighbor Patti's mule.

I’ve noticed from the “stats” provided by WordPress, that some people have been coming to my site looking for basic information about burros and pack-saddles and other burro gear. I would like to provide answers to these types of questions, so if you have any just ask them in the comments and I will answer them based on my experience.

For the person googling the difference between a donkey and a burro, there is none. The word “burro” is Spanish for donkey. Out West we almost always refer to these animals as burros. Of course, a cross between a donkey/burro and a horse would be a mule.

Quite often people will refer to my larger donks as mules, and I’ve given up on correcting them.

As far as gear goes, when I first got into pack-burro racing back in 1980, one of the first things I realized I needed to buy was a pack-saddle. I bought a Colorado Saddlery Burro Pack Saddle for $175 in 1981, and it is the same one I’ve used in countless races over 27 years. I’ve also used it on a lot of training runs and pack trips on animals of various sizes. All the leather is still original and in good shape, and I don’t think a person can go wrong with one of these saddles for basic packing or pack-burro racing.

One problem in saddling donkeys/burros and mules is that these animals generally have a less pronounced withers than a horse, and thus the saddle tends to slide forward, especially on a downhill.

Pack saddles usually come with a “britchin’ ” (breeching) which is the rigging used to keep the saddle from sliding forward. While this style of rigging is the only way to go when packing a heavy load, many pack-burro racers instead use a crupper, which runs under the tail to keep the saddle from sliding forward.

While a crupper allows more freedom of movement in the rear end, and eliminates the chaffing that can be caused by a britchin’, some say it can put undue pressure under the tail at a point where a lot of nerve endings come together.

I’ve run a number of tests using both a crupper and a britchin’ and I’ve decided a britchin’ is the only way to go for packing heavy loads, and also on a riding saddle.

However, in pack-burro racing, where the animal must trot for very long distances and the burro is only carrying 33 pounds, it’s nearly impossible to get a britchin’ rigged exactly right so it doesn’t chaff the rear flanks. I’ve gone back to the crupper for training and racing, and have not noticed any ill effects. It is important that the crupper not be adjusted too tightly, and that it be made of good quality leather. The better ones contain flaxseed as a stuffing.