When I was a child back in El Dorado, I overheard Red Mack explaining how to train a mule. He was employed by a man who raised trotting horses, but there were also some draft mules on the place. Red was sitting on the corral fence with my cousin, a lad of about six, and they were studying a big molly mule of about three years old. I was playing in a sand pile nearby watching and listening. Red Mack said, “Those mules like this big old baby here, why, they don’t know enough yet to respect folks. The first thing you got to do is get them to respect you. If you don’t get a mule’s respect right at the start, there will be trouble down the road.”
“How do you do that, Uncle Red? How do you get them to respect you,” my cousin wanted to know. Red was not his real uncle. Mine either.
“Well, sir, let me just show you.” With that Red picked a Catawba bean hanging over the fence and threw it hard at the mule. It hit her on the front hoof. The animal shied, but not much. She stood her ground and looked sideways at Red. He rushed toward the bean and the mare was so surprised that she backed up a step or two and snorted. Then Red put his foot on the bean and said loud to the mule, “I am putting my foot down on this here bean, now, you big old mule. I am putting my foot down.”
The mule stood erect and alert as Red bent down and picked up the bean. He walked towards her waving it and she didn’t budge. Suddenly he threw the bean at her hard and hit her between the eyes. She tossed her head back and almost sat down. Then Red put his foot on the bean again and said even louder this time, “I am putting my foot down on this. You hear me?”
With that the molly mule began to lick her lips and relax a little. Then Red brandished the bean above his head and walked towards the mule. The animal turned her rump to Red and walked to the corner, looking back.
“Get in up on the fence at that corner, boy, and shoo her back. My cousin did so and the mule turned back to Red and dipped her head. Red Mack threw the bean over the fence and began to pet the big animal between the eyes, speaking softly.
“See, boy? You got to put your foot down. Then they will know you mean business.”
I’m not sure his method is fool proof. I think he may have been joking with my cousin. I think Red had been working with that mule awhile and he wanted the kid to believe she was greener than she was. Whatever the case, the training session was good theater. It was a kind of dance between a truly happy old man and a mule who must have wondered what was going on. Please do not try this method on a green horse or mule and if you do, don’t hold me responsible. I was only four and my memory may be flawed. My cousin doesn’t remember the event.