As many of you know, I love to travel and see "the world", I like to walk and wander the streets of a city, just absorbing everything around me. I was back in New Orleans recently doing just that.
The French Quarter in New Orleans has many mule-pulled wagons for tourists. For the most part, the mules are well cared for and are suitable for the job so I like to go down, deep into the "Quarter" and admire them. I was really annoyed though at one driver, here's what happened.....
There's a lot of crazy traffic in New Orleans, tourists and locals driving the narrow streets, cars, pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, bicycle carts, noise, music and lots of confusion - even a one-man-band taking up a lane of traffic as he played and pushed his "float" of dozens of instruments down the middle of the road.
So, this mule driver somehow got into a real problem at an intersection. It probably wasn't his fault (not sure) but instead of calmly trying to get out of a bad situation, he lost his cool, got really mad - cussing etc. - and nearly got his mule hurt and his wagon wrecked. He darn near jack-knifed his wagon and in the process almost hit a car (who was probably the problem in the first place) and put his mule in a very precarious situation.
The mule "knew better" and didn't want to make the turn but the driver forced the mule. Now, in this case it all turned out ok but not because of the wagon driver who thoughtlessly put his mule at risk. So, what bothers me about this? Well, several things really.
Firstly, we as horse people do not make good decisions when we are mad. The thinking human in this case lost his temper and was not taking care of his animal or even himself.
Secondly, all good training is based on trust. The bargain we make with horses is that we will take care of them and not put them in harm's way. We will be responsible in our expectations and our behavior. The horse's (or mule's!) part of the bargain is to willingly do what we ask and give their utmost when needed.
Thirdly, we as a horse community must be very aware of how we are perceived by the non-horse-owning public. This mule was well cared for and this was probably an isolated incident but I'm sure many people were aghast by what they saw of the driver's actions and reactions.
Here's the big problem: I think that if we in the horse community are not careful in our actions, we stand to be interfered-with by well meaning but ignorant animal rights groups. The non-horse-owning public and even some owners with little experience are often not qualified or prepared to understand the relationship between horses and their trainers and riders/handlers. I firmly believe that only horsemen have the knowledge to give the best care and insure that horses lead good and productive lives.
Horses and mules are not pets, they are working animals. Most, if trained properly, are happy with this bargain we make. Just watch any good horse doing "his job" and I'm sure you will agree. This relationship could change if we allow outside sources to have input into the care and training of horses. The only way to prevent this is to make sure we conduct ourselves in a professional and horseman-like manner at all times! See you next week! JD (And...... Go 'Hawks!!)