Rocky Mountain Canary
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
From movies, TV and books to the rodeo you won’t find many who know the secret of the Rocky Mountain Canary; otherwise known as the mule. These long-eared animals are fairly unique to the mountain men of yesterday and today. We use them ourselves every day in our business for both riding and packing, but they aren’t for everyone. My Grandpa likes to compare them to cats, “you either love ’em or hate ’em.”
Part of that love-hate relationship is because of the reason they’re known as the Rocky Mountain Canary; they love to talk to each other and their bray is so loud you can hear them all through the mountains.
This can be annoying when you’re trying to be stealthy while hunting but you will be glad you have them when the day is done. It’s a whole lot easier for one of these strong mules to carry out your elk than for you to pack it yourself!
In fact mules are even stronger than horses, allowing you to pack more weight on them safely. This is good news for those of us who like to pack everything and the kitchen sink when we go camping.
They will also give your precious cargo the smoothest ride because of the extra vertebra in their back. That isn’t to say that it will all be smooth sailing. Mules like any other animal we use must be treated with a firm but gentle hand. They shouldn’t be the only ones talking to each other! Whenever you’re around horses or mules it is important to be talking to them, letting them know who you are, where you are and what you need from them. This is a partnership to be treated with extreme respect.
Another way mules are like cats is that they have very good memories, don’t mistreat them because they will get you back for it later. They are truly salty creatures, if they’re going to kick you they will wait until the perfect moment to do it so you can’t get out of it and they will jump obstacles when tied in a string just to mess with the other mules.
Unlike horses, if a mule gets himself in trouble he won’t fight until he hurts himself, instead they'll wait for you to help them. This makes it much easier for both the guide, mule and pack to make it out of a bad situation safely.
Just like guiding people you want to always be watching the mule string behind you ensuring the packs are straight, the mules are still tied together, and that any obstacle will be crossed without incident.
When leaving you must let the mules know that’s what you’re planning to do, so they have time to get their heads up and fall in line. They’re trusting you to know when to slow down or change course when the obstacles come.
In return, mules will act as fantastic guard animals even taking off after predators like a dog would. This is great because much like cats, mules really don’t like dogs and given the opportunity will make sure the dog knows it too. Mules may seem a little too cantankerous to you at this point, but they really are very sweet, some of our most salty mules will surprise us with their sweetness constantly! One year at the parade a parent wasn't watching their child very closely and she ran up to one of these mules to hug his leg. My Dad was holding his breath the whole time as he watched the little girl bound away again safely. If it had been him or someone else who knew better, they may have had a few bruises by then for being so bold.
Mules have been a part of our family for a long time so we’ve gotten to know their quirks pretty well. Still, every mule is a little different from the last, making it important for anyone who wants to be in the outfitting/guiding business to learn about them through experience.
There are even different ways to pack these guys that make your life easier or a whole lot harder. My Grandpa prefers the decker saddles to your traditional crossbuck saddles and will show you how to get the most out of your mules from the way you’re packing them to the way you’re working with them as a team.
I know my Dad will probably be around Grand[a's guide school a little too, so if he shows up for dinner you’ll have to ask him about some of the more creative ways he’s had to pack the odds and ends of his different adventures.
* pictures provided by Tim Bowers
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