I learned that mules are stubborn in an unusual setting; sitting atop one on the cliff path around the Grand Canyon. And boy, was I glad that they are stubborn and known for not shifting!
I had been travelling across south-west USA with my youngest daughter, an ardent rider. She had already been riding in Texas and Nevada (herself) and was determined to add Arizona as another USA riding state. However she said this was not one she was doing alone, and I would be riding too. Talk about being made an offer I could not refuse.
So not long after sunrise on a glorious October morning, we headed off to the South Rim ‘World Famous Mule Rides’. Now you have to understand that John Wayne I am not – in fact, I don’t even look the part. I clearly lacked his rugged Cowboy looks and attire as can be seen from the photo below.
You will note though that I was carrying the essential water canteen round my neck. I wonder if John Wayne’s canteen had the tour operator’s logo on his?
Anyway, next came the challenging task of selecting a mule suitable for me. The head wrangler took one look at my height and girth and decided that only the biggest mule could cope. While I was indeed grateful that this very tall mule would happily have me on its back, I guess the distance from the saddle to the ground was somewhat greater than I had anticipated.
To my surprise these were not the like the donkeys on Blackpool Beach. Never daunted, I easily mounted, deciding that jumping on while it was trotting along would only have been showing off.
Next stop was the Grand Canyon itself, a short ride through some forest, by which time I was starting to feel quite at ease. As the rim of the Canyon got nearer the sense of anticipation (!!) grew stronger. The tour wrangler leading the group drew us up alongside the edge to give us our Grand Canyon initiation.
Now of course I was feigning cool relaxation although the whites of my knuckles gripping the reigns may have been a giveaway. And I was about to learn that mules are stubborn…………
As she nonchalantly chatted away to us all, the mules happily gazed outwards across the canyon. I mused that they could be considering taking a gallop off the edge, fed up with fat tourists like me and the same old, same old every day.
The soothing words of the wrangler were music to my ears.
Never in the years of operating the centre had a mule decided to take a header off the rim. Never had one shown the slightest inclination to go over the side in search of better grazing. Never had one, in spite of a wide range of dumb tourists guiding them the wrong way, ever taken a wrong turning.
In fact, each day, sure-footedly they trotted along the rocky path. Patiently, stubbornly, they took their route. My admiration for the humble mule grew considerably.
We usually use the phrase "stubborn as a mule" in non-complimentary way, more as an indicator of negative intransigence. But, as a leader, there are times when it's critical to know the path you are on is the right one. And being steady on the path, instead of responding to promptings from external sources to do things a bit differently, actually turns out to be pretty smart.
A stupid mule is still smarter than a good horse or a bad man. Ursula Vernon