ENTERPRISE — Mules and handlers came to Enterprise last week, even if the 2020 Hells Canyon Mule Days had to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
At least a dozen riders and their mules took part in three mulemanship classes put on by Ty Evans, who spends nine to 10 months a year traveling across the U.S., Canada and Australia putting on clinics geared toward “Helping people with mule problems and mules with people problems,” as his website says.
While Evans was instructing the 10 participants with mules Wednesday, Sept. 9, in the arena of the Wallowa County Fairgrounds, wife, Skye, served as his spokeswoman. Another dozen participants were set to take part in the beginning riding class and nine more in an advanced riding class. The clinic ran until Thursday, Sept. 10.
“Ty focuses on the person, so they have the tools and the knowledge to go home and teach their animals themselves,” Skye said. “It’s kind of like taking your dog to obedience school and never learning what they were taught or how to communicate when they come home. So he just teaches how to communicate to the horse or the mule so they can go home and get along.”
Indeed, Evans’ instruction isn’t just for mules and their owners. He teaches owners of horses and donkeys, as well. Skye said the instruction is similar for each.
“They are a little bit different,” she said. “The methods are the same, but sometimes how they take it in is a little different.”
She went on to describe the differences.
“A donkey is a deep thinker and a horse generally is very reactive so they’ll just kind of guess really quickly, while a donkey likes to really think and ponder about it first,” she said. “A mule is usually a great mixture of the two. They don’t have to think terribly long and they’re not too reactive. They’re a really good mixture of the two. But like everything else, each mule, horse or donkey is individually different from any other.”
This year’s clinic drew participants from around the Northwest, as well as several locals, Skye Evans said.
“I’m not sure where everyone’s coming from, but we’ve got a good pull from near and far,” she said.
Skye noted that the clinic seemed to be going quite well.
“They’re doing really well,” she said. “Usually, the first day is more chaotic and they’re just trying to keep hold of their animals and listen at the same time, but it looks like they’re all doing pretty well so far.”
She said the pandemic has had a definite effect on attendance.
“We actually have a really good class here even with all the crazy things going on this year,” Skye said. “Something that took away from it was Mule Days being canceled. We had a lot of people who couldn’t drive so far just for a two-day clinic rather than spending the whole week here. We did have a lot of cancellations, but we were able to fill in a few of those spots.”
But the social distancing required under the pandemic wasn’t a problem.
“You can’t be all that close anyway,” she said. “You’ve got animals in the way and everyone keeps kind-of distant.”
The Evans have been to Mule Days before. Skye said they held a clinic here about six years ago and were looking forward to doing it again this year.
“We were really excited to come and then Mule Days was canceled,” she said. “But at least we got to have the clinic still.”
She said they plan to return in two years for another clinic. They’re usually in the West during the summer. They plan a clinic in John Day in June. Their travels usually have them doing clinics in the East in the fall.
Skye said they regularly travel with their two daughters, aged 5 and 7, as well as four mules and a pet dog. Like kids all over the country, their daughters are being home schooled.
“We’ve been at it a couple weeks now,” Skye said.
But outside their family, it’s about the mules.
“A lot of times the mules, horses or donkeys aren’t doing anything wrong, it’s just about trying to find a way to communicate with them so they understand what you’re asking,” Skye said of Ty’s training philosophy. “He says ‘Bring out the best in your mule and you’ll bring out the best in yourself, as well.’ ”