The following story is based on an actual event. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.....Once upon a time, in a far-out land, there lived a clever young mule named Polilocks. She lived happily with her proud, but sometimes overwhelmed, owner Marjory. One day Marjory, her best friend Todd, his spotted horse Checkers, and Polilocks went for a ride in the park. This was a new ride for them. They had never ridden there before. It was a beautiful park with lots of heavily wooded trails. The trails were multi-use trails, to be shared with hikers and other riders on horseback.
It was a bright, sunny day and everyone was looking forward to the shade of the forest. Back and forth the trail wound, through huge, ivy covered trees. It got darker and cooler as they descended into the depths of the park. Checkers, the more seasoned trail horse was in the lead. He was older, and as far as horses go he had just about seen it all. And so it was with confidence that he carried Todd and led the young mule and Marjory down the leaf-covered trail to a long narrow footbridge that crossed a stream at the very base of the park.
Checkers didn't hesitate. Clip, clop, clip, clop, his big hooves echoed as he crossed over the narrow bride. Polilocks put one foot on the first plank of the bridge, and then paused. Marjory waited. Nothing happened. It was as if the young mule had turned to stone. That was when Marjory saw what Polilocks had already heard. From behind every bush, from around every tree came the sight and sound of hundreds of very active, short people. "Munchkins" for lack of a better description.
If the mule could have taken flight, she would have turned into a winged-Polilocks, and left that very spot. She'd never seen anything like this before. The forest was alive with hundreds of noisy, rapid-moving little short people all running in different directions at once. To her way of thinking it must have something to do with that terrible, long narrow bridge. This certainly had to be some sort of trap, and she was not about to get caught in it. If she just held perfectly still, like a big statue, maybe none of these little munchkins would even notice her!
So, there they were. A rather large, frozen, wide-eyed mule, Marjory sitting atop her as if mounted on a sawhorse, and Todd and Checkers waiting patiently on the other side of the long narrow bridge. This was definitely some kind of stand-off.
After what seemed like several hours, the little people began to herd together. They had a leader, a much bigger person, who was trying to gather them into some kind of "munchkin mass". They were all beginning to whisper. They were being told to "quiet down", and they were listening, not chattering. Order was returning to the forest. And then, almost as quickly as they had appeared, they formed a single-file line, and singing a little song, they marched off, up the trail, and were out of sight before Polilocks could take another big deep breath.
With the forest to themselves again, everyone thought that the little park ride would continue. That is, everyone except still wide-eyed Polilocks . Nope, no way was she going to cross that bridge. As a matter of fact she wasn't even willing to put a foot on it again. The last time she did that, it brought havoc to the forest, and they had been attacked by little people. Nope, no way, that wasn't going to happen again. Nope, no way, NO WAY!
Everyone might think that this is where the new trail ride at the park, and this young mule's narrow bridge crossing adventure ends. Everyone might think that, but Nope, no way, NO WAY! As I said before, this was the setting, but now let me tell you "the end of the story".
It took three trips back to the park bridge, and each time we went with lots of time and patience (and a few carrots). It took that much time to convince the young mule that those "field tripping-kindergartners" were not going to reappear and attack her like they had before. It took that much time for her to believe that the long narrow bridge was not going to come alive with little munchkins again. It was literally a one-step-at-a-time lesson for us all.
That first step, that first mule hoof on the first plank of the bridge, was a giant step. After she realized that her foot was there , and she hadn't been attacked, we let her stand for a second, and then I backed her away and took the pressure off. We then repeated the same thing over and over, each time going onto the bridge a little bit further, resting, and leaving. By the time she actually completely crossed the bridge she was no longer terrified. Leary maybe, but not wide-eyed and frightful.
We lived in that area, and used that park for conditioning rides, for many years after that first bridge encounter. Each time we rode that particular trail, and as we would start down the hill where the trail approached the bridge, she would slow her pace, expecting all those little people to reappear. Knowing that mules don't forget anything (good or bad), I am convinced that now, some fifteen years later, if we were to ride that same trail , she would slow her pace as we started down that hill. Yep, no question about it, I'm sure she would. She'd still be looking for those munchkins!