When an anticipated trip takes a painful turn, California locals have a Western Horseman editor’s back.
The long ears. The big, kind eyes. The extremely loud brays. Those were the three things I was most looking forward to at Bishop Mule Days in Bishop, California. Those quirky characteristics are enough to leave any horse person smitten.
Every Memorial Day weekend for the past 49 years, talented mules and donkeys prove their versatile ability at the famous event. With more than 200 classes offered for riders, exhibitors must compete in a minimum of 20 classes in order to qualify for highpoint. One day you’ll see a jenny whip around a barrel, and the following day she’s tacked up in a hunt seat saddle going over fences.
My camera batteries were charged and my editor’s cowboy cap was on—I was eager to cover the event and showcase it in Western Horseman. So naturally something had to go wrong.
Maybe my camera bag was too heavy or I slept wrong the night before, but something triggered a pinched nerve in my back that had recently healed, and I was down for the count the first morning of the event. And by down, I mean couldn’t lift my head off the pillow, let alone sit up. I was heartbroken.
Somehow I managed to awkwardly roll out of bed—imagine being strapped to a 2-by-6 board and rolling—and hobble down a flight of stairs (because of course the motel I was staying in didn’t have an elevator). I drove to the nearest grocery store and purchased the strongest pain reliever I could find (it was on the bottom shelf and near impossible to reach) and some heat pads to stick on my back. In hindsight, I probably should have purchased a six-pack to aid in relief.
But if horses have taught me anything, it’s that the show must go on. Oftentimes our editors travel solo to gather pictures and interviews, so we can’t rely on others to cover for us when we’re out on the road. The next day I felt well enough to carry a camera body and a lens or two. I was determined to see those mule ears!
I gingerly walked around the fairgrounds and was impressed by the camaraderie of the mule community. While sitting in the bleachers watching team roping and barrels, I met a photographer named Sandy Powell, who was laden with camera gear—she looked like the special forces of photographers. “Bingo,” I thought to myself. Because of the pinched nerve, I found I was only able to lift the camera for one shot at a time before needing to rest. At that pace, I was bound to miss a shot.
Sandy graciously offered to work with me and share her photos when it came time to write the story. As I soon found out, Sandy was a fantastic photographer with a desire to write. Her and I would later work together for on the ’49ers Wagon Train, which appeared in the November 2017 issue. Our paths were meant to cross.
That afternoon I knew I needed to take a proactive approach to my injury. As fate would have it, there was a chiropractic office next door to where I was staying. By then, I was worse for the wear after being on my feet all morning, and I think it showed. Dr. Philip Schmidt and his staff at Bishop Chiropractic fit me into their busy schedule and adjusted my back. When they found out I worked for the magazine, they whipped out their latest copy. They said they always have one on hand for clients in the waiting room.
I managed to get through the rest of the show, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help from the Bishop Chiropractic and Sandy. It was a comforting reminder that folks in the Western horse world watch each others’ backs.
For more information on Bishop Mule Days, visit muledays.org