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Stories from Bernie's current trip - a mule voyage from Canada to Mexico

Dealing with Chafe
August 8, 2018

Chafe probably isn’t something you worry about a lot. But since I’m about to take off on a saddle trip, it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Here’s a short video of how I dealt with chafe on the “Lost Sea Expedition” wagon voyage across America. It may come in handy if you decide one day to run away in a wagon. Much easier would be to just stream the “Lost Sea Expedition” series on Amazon!

Posted Wednesday August 8, 2018 by Bernie
"The Horse" Magazine Reports on the "Lost Sea Expedition" TV Series
August 6, 2018

Polly the Mule’s Cross-County Journey: Health and Welfare Considerations
“The Horse” Magazine
Originally published Jul 8, 2018 / “The Horse” Magazine
By Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

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Polly’s owner planned ahead to keep her healthy and happy over their 2,500-mile, 14-month journey from Canadian to Mexican borders. / Photo: Courtesy Bernie Harberts

Some horses go on long trail rides—for several hours.

Some go on really long trail rides—for several days.

And then, there are those like Polly the mule.

Polly went on an extraordinarily long adventure. She recently covered 2,500 miles, from Canada to the Mexican border, over 14 months, all the while pulling her owner, Bernie Harberts, in a covered wagon. With careful planning and daily attention to her needs, the former eventer and steeplechase jockey kept the 14.2-hand draft mule in top form from start to finish.

“My experience is that the default state for a horse or mule is health,” said Harberts, who previously traveled 3,500 miles from North Carolina to California with another mule, that time under saddle, and a pack pony. “Maintaining that default state, whether at home or on the road, requires exercise, modest food (but not excessively rich food), clean water, good hoof care, and a general attention to their overall health and welfare. Do that, and those animals are going to be healthy.”

Polly certainly got plenty of exercise. She pulled the cart eight to 10 hours a day, with a break of at least an hour in the middle. “Those are long days in the harness,” Harberts said. “But the trick to keeping weight on while traveling is going slowly. Polly never lost body condition.”

Harberts made sure Polly could always graze along the side of the road during her breaks. In the evenings, he’d usually ask locals if they had a “patch of land” for her for the night—and he never had problems getting a positive response.

Harberts traveled with 10 to 15 gallons of water on his wagon for Polly. “But we rarely needed that,” he said. “Most of the time people would tell us, ‘Oh hey there’s a running river about 10 miles down,’ or direct us to a windmill with water. So she got to get a good supply of fresh, clean water, as well.”

Keeping hooves healthy across miles of mostly asphalt roads might seem like a daunting task. But Harberts said a little advance planning and common sense gave them problem-free hooves for the whole journey. First and foremost, he selected an animal with naturally strong hooves. “She’s big-boned and stocky, and her hooves are solid,” he said.

Still, that much road time is going to cause excessive hoof-wear. Harberts said he opted out of iron shoes because nails can loosen and shoes can come off. And traveling solo and trying to keep his wagon lightweight, he didn’t want to be his own blacksmith.

“She developed tough callouses on her toes, so her feet adapted to the environment,” he said. “And the other thing that happened is the hoof got stimulated. I swear it grew a little faster. That allowed the hoof to be shaped more like a natural hoof, like a mustang, which led to stronger hoof structure and better weight-bearing.”

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Harberts found that keeping Polly barefoot and using hoof boots, mostly on the front hooves, kept her hooves in good condition as they passed over varying terrain and footing. / Photo: Courtesy Bernie Harberts
Harberts found that keeping Polly barefoot and using hoof boots, mostly on the front hooves, kept her hooves in good condition as they passed over varying terrain and footing. / Photo: Courtesy Bernie Harberts

Although she rarely needed trimming, Polly benefited from Harberts’ natural hoof care skills he learned before the trip. “You can’t just embark on a big trip like that with no hoof skills,” he said. “It’s important to get training and get the tools to learn how to do it yourself, because a lot of the time, you’re on your own.”

Harberts walked beside Polly for about half the journey. This served several purposes: reducing the weight of her load, giving her company, and letting Harberts evaluate her and get a “feel” for how she’s doing.

“You spend that much time walking alone next to an animal, you get to know that animal pretty well,” he said. “So it was pretty easy to tell when something was wrong or what her moods were or when she was just getting tired and ready for a break.”

He says having that insight is critical when it comes to keeping the animal’s motivation up. “It has to be your idea to stop, so they don’t just start quitting on you,” he said. “As soon as you feel them getting tired, let them rest. That way you never get a balky animal.”

While the trip was mainly problem-free, they did run into a few issues, Harberts said. Polly once spooked and tried to jump a fence, ending up with the fence separating her from the wagon. That led to a few scratches requiring basic antiseptic care from his first-aid kit.

They also encountered lots of flying insects on their journey. While Harberts had trained Polly to accept getting sprayed with insect repellant, he said none of the products he tried worked for more than half an hour. “It helped that she was a mule,” he added. “They seem to resist insects a little better.”

As they were going through South Dakota, though, they ran into what the locals called a “nose fly.” The insect would fly up Polly’s nostril and sting high up inside the nose. “She’d go blind racing up the road in a fury,” he said. “The people there told me those flies are known to drive horses crazy, sending them in a rage through crowds and barns.”

Locals shared with him their only-known deterrent against those nose flies: dangling strips of fabric down from the noseband over the nasal passages.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, was preventing skin lesions from tack. “Chafing is a huge issue with horses traveling long distance,” Harberts said. “Sheer friction will wear a hole in them.”

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Even well-fitting tack can eventually lead to sores over long journeys, so Harberts took extra steps to protect Polly’s skin. / Photo: Courtesy Bernie Harberts
Even well-fitting tack can eventually lead to sores over long journeys, so Harberts took extra steps to protect Polly’s skin. / Photo: Courtesy Bernie Harberts

Poorly fitting tack won’t always cause obvious problems in nontraveling horses, especially if the fit issue is minor, he said. But constant use over weeks and months can cause serious problems. Even well-fitting tack will eventually lead to sores over long journeys. “It’s like if you rub a piece of paper against the back of your hand for five minutes,” Harberts said. “That’s nothing. But if you do it for eight hours straight, you’ll get pretty sore.”

For Polly, the rubbing came from the tugs, which connect the harness to the wagon.

“Those tugs touched her flanks, rubbing back and forth, as she walked,” Harberts said. His solution? A silicone spray designed to give show horses a shiny coat. That, plus wrapping the tug in clear vinyl plastic wrap, kept the chafing at bay.

He also used the spray on her shoulders and applied a special foam padding to the collar, which prevented collar sores throughout the trip, he added.

Of course, such a long trip requires physical preparation for the animal, Harberts said. He trained Polly for the two months leading prior by having her pull what he called a “stone boat”—like a wooden sled—to increase her fitness level. And he got a veterinarian to approve Polly’s health status for the journey before heading out.

Harberts put great care and consideration into Polly’s health and well-being for their long journey. But he credits the generosity and kindness of the people he met along the way. His goal was to interview the people of the Great Plains about a prehistoric sea that once covered the area, as part of his “Lost Sea Expedition,” which aired as a public television documentary series. But, in the end, it “just turned into a much deeper picture of America,” he said.

“These people were ranchers and farmers,” Harberts continued. “They’re not going to show up as B&Bs on your smartphone. We made ourselves vulnerable, traveling the ‘flesh and blood way,’ and we found that the Americans of the Great Plains were so open and welcoming to that. And really, that is the reason Polly stayed so healthy. It’s because people helped us.”

Planning is important, he said. But so is having an open mind to discovery and sharing culture with others, united in a common appreciation for taking care of animals. “We were humble and grateful, and somehow that brings out the best in people,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”

Original story at: https://thehorse.com/159215/polly-the-mules-cross-country-journey-health-and-welfare-considerations/

Posted Monday August 6, 2018 by Bernie
The Completed Lost Sea Expedition Route
September 28, 2009


The Lost Sea
75-million years ago

The goal of the Lost Sea Expedition was to travel the seabed of the Mediterranean-sized sea that covered the Great Plains 75-million years ago. Just me and a hearty mule named Polly pulling a small wagon filled with recording gear.


The Completed Lost Sea Expedition Route

The voyage began in Neptune, Saskatchewan. That’s about the only thing that went according to plan. What was supposed to be a 6-month trip spanned 2 calendar years. In the end, we spent 13 months on the road, crossed 10 state lines and witnessed 4 seasons roll one after the other into the next. On March 13, 2008, mule Polly and I arrived in Fort Hancock, Texas.

Posted Monday September 28, 2009 by Bernie
The Final Lost Sea Breakfast
August 27, 2009

It was the target mule Polly and I had been aiming at for 14 months. We’d started in Canada, traveled the length of the Great Plains and now it lay before us.

The Rio Grande.

But no sooner had Polly hauled our wagon to the river’s banks, I discovered a ding in my dream. While I could see the Mexican flag from where I was standing, there was no getting down to the water. The Rio’s bank’s where way too steep for descent.


Within sight of the Mexican flag
Fort Hancock Port of Entry
Fort Hancock, Texas


But no way to get there….

Nope, my steed and I weren’t going to wade into the Rio like they used to celebrate the river’s arrival in days gone by. So I tossed Polly’s water bucket into the river, and extracted a bucket of Mexican American water to wash her feet in.

If you can’t take the mule to the river, take the river to the mule.

As I washed her hooves in the silty water, my mind wandered to all the folks I’d interviewed on my journey.


River meets mule

Each interview took us on a wildly different journey, from the mummified school house coyote to how to cook a rattlesnake. But each audio journey began the same – with a sound check.

To adjust my audio recorder’s volume and gain, I asked the subject what he or she had for breakfast. While “pancakes, an egg and coffee” streamed through my earphones, I twiddled with knobs and controls until I got the sound just right. But these were more than just sound bites. I came to look forward to them almost as much as the interview. I vowed that, at trip’s end, I’d run a string of them together like so many colorful beads,

Well, Polly’s pulled her wagon to the river’s edge. There’s no going farther. It’s time to string my breakfast tidbits up.

To listen to my Plains friends describe how they start their day, just click on the audio player below.



Some of the voices you’re listening to have appeared on RiverEarth.com in the past. In speaking order, they are newspaper publisher Dan Epp, dinosaur caretaker Harvey McPherson, paleontologist Mike Everhart, the railway hobo known as Hobbit, whole foods vegetarian Kathleen Ann, paleontologist Chuck Bonner, Chuck’s wife Barbara, sod house dweller George McKillip and 1950s champ lady bare bronc rider Twila Merril.

And with that recording, trail mates, the Lost Sea Expedition draws to a close.

From here aboard the Lost Sea Expedition wagon I’d like to thank you for traveling with Polly and me from Canada to Mexico. Yep, it’s been a bang up voyage. 2,500 miles through 10 states and 4 seasons. To see how far we’ve come, click here for the route map.

Now it’s time to return to Southern Pines, North Carolina – by truck and trailer.

But don’t think we’ve reached the trail’s end.

Nope, in coming months, the real work begins. It’s time to put together the Lost Sea Expedition documentary series. When complete, you’ll be able to travel the Lost Sea and meet its fossils and denizens in full Hi-def glory.

So long friends.

See you on that dusty Lost Sea!

Bernie
Mule Polly

Posted Thursday August 27, 2009 by Bernie
Meet the Mule that Walked Across America
April 27, 2009


Train eating mule?
Seneca, Kansas

Ever meet a mule that swallowed a train? No? Well, here’s something almost as good. Yep, here’s your chance to meet one that walked across America. Click here for the April 25 program details…

Posted Monday April 27, 2009 by Bernie
The Bull 'n Lime story with Trent Loos
March 16, 2009

Last week, I spoke of what I’ve come to refer as the Bull ‘n Lime incident. That’s were a bull chased me onto my wagon pursuing Polly’s last flake of alfalfa hay.


The Bull ‘n Lime Incident
Russel Gap, New Mexico

Here to explain how hay, whiskey and limes almost brought the Lost Sea Expedition to an early close is Trent Loos. Trent is the host of the daily “Loos Tales” radio program. For the past 2 years, we’ve been doing interviews about the Lost Sea Expedition. I’ll be running installments in the coming weeks. Let’s start with the Bull ‘n Lime incident. Just click on the audio player below.

Posted Monday March 16, 2009 by Bernie
Guadeloupe Thoughts
March 3, 2009

In recent days, mule Polly and I have crossed the Guadeloupes, the range of hills that divides Artesia, New Mexico from Fort Hancock, Texas, our final Lost Sea Expedition destination. Unlike cars, which travel the gravel route in 3 hours, Polly and I took some time to look back on the trip we’re completing. We stretched the 110 miles to 12 days.


The Guadeloupes

From Artesia, New Mexico, the route climbs 2,500 feet to Russell Gap. Here, in the mile-high Chihuahua desert, we entered the lonely realm of winter wind and choya cactus. This is the land of 7 inches of rain. This is the land where, as the mailman in nearby Hope puts it, “the wind blows so hard, it’ll blow a post hole out of the ground”.


Choya cactus

While not extracting cactus spines from Polly’s muzzle and legs, I did some reminiscing on our Canada to Mexico voyage.


Man and mule reflect


Stages of desert life

Field recording notes: I made the following recording in the Lost Sea wagon while parked on a jagged ridge under Russell Gap. If you listen carefully, even though I’m sitting inside the wagon, you’ll hear the desert wind whistling between my words.

For some voyaging and vegetation thoughts, click on the audio player below.

Posted Tuesday March 3, 2009 by Bernie
Into the Guadaloupe Moutains
March 3, 2009
Posted Tuesday March 3, 2009 by Bernie
The Hands That Feed America
February 23, 2009

Recently mule Polly and I took a lunch break at the grain elevator in Tokio, Texas. This cheered Polly immensely as she had her choice of millions of pounds of milo. Milo, a close relative to sorghum, is used by feed lots to fatten cattle and bio fuel plants to produce fuel. To Polly, it looked like a million pound buffet.


Polly samples the million pound buffet

After Polly ate her fill, I visited with Manual Cantu and Daniel Christensen. In October and November, they weigh and unload the grain trucks that milo grain to the elevator. Until April, they load the milo onto trucks that haul it to nearby feed lots.


Manual Cantu


Daniel Christensen

Manual and Daniel’s handshakes were leathery – the bones in their fingers out of line, like broken branches that had healed crooked.


The hands that feed America

To listen to Manual and Daniel explain what happened, click on the player below.



Daniel’s “hands of a working man”

Posted Monday February 23, 2009 by Bernie
Journey Down a Mule's Throat
February 17, 2009

Traveling by mule wagon across the Great Plains, under what used to be a 1000-foot deep sea, it’s hard to imagine what the vanished marine inhabitants looked like. Still, given what I have on hand, one mule and some photos of a mosasaur skull, I’ll try. Today, we’ll look at the mosasaur’s head, in particuler, the structure of its mouth.


Polly on the Lost Sea seabed
Lake Alma, Saskatchewan, Canada

To review, the mosasaur was a marine lizard that swam in the Lost Sea 80 million years ago. Its closest living relatives are snakes and the monitor lizard.

Today, we’ll talk about its jaws and mouth. Polly, who just happens to be standing idly by, will be pressed into service.


Polly – today’s Mouth Model

Here’s what Polly’s front teeth, her incisors, look like.


Polly’s incisors

A typical herbivore, she sports 12 incisors in the front of her mouth – 6 upper and 6 lower. These flat teeth are designed for tearing grass (and the occasional book-signing cookie).

Okay, now let’s look deeper into Polly’s mouth. For this, I’ll cram my camera into those teeth for a photo. Here’s what the inside of Polly’s mouth looks like.


Behind Polly’s incisors

What’s striking is how the roof of Polly’s mouth is corrugated. See those triangular, ridge-shaped rows of tissue in the roof of Polly’s mouth? As Polly chews grass, she presses the bits of food against these ridges with her tongue. They’re sort of like one-way speed bumps, allowing bits of food to pass toward her throat – but not back out.

Pretty cool, eh?

But what does this have to do with a mosasaur’s mouth?

Quite a lot, actually. Like Polly, the mosasaur’s mouth was designed to grab stuff, then work it down its throat. Here’s a photo of a mosasaur fossil’s maw.


Mosasaur

Most notable are the shape of the teeth. Slender and conical, they were designed for grabbing and holding, not shredding, prey.

Okay, so a mosasuar has clamped down on a 4-foot fish. What next?

That’s where the pterygoids come in.


Ptergygoids (center)

Ptergygoids are special teeth found in the roof of the mosasaur’s mouth, way in the back. Like the ridges in the roof of Polly’s mouth, they helped hold food in place in it’s inevitable journey toward the gullet.

Something the mosasuar had that Polly’s doesn’t is a double-jointed jaw. If you look closely at this next photo, you’ll see a second joint in the jaw. It appears as a fine tan line in the lower jawbone, right behind the last teeth.


Second jaw joint (center)

This, along with a floating lower-jaw joint, allowed the jaw to swing open to almost 180 degrees. This allowed it to ratchet over-sized prey down its throat like a modern snake.


The complete mosasaur package

Pretty neat, eh?

So that’s the last things fish and grass blades see here on the Lost Sea.

Coming next, how you can get your hands on a piece of Lost Sea mosasaur lore.

(Thanks to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for letting us photograph their mosasaur. Bernie)

Posted Tuesday February 17, 2009 by Bernie


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