Monday, July 4, 2011

RIP John Henry

Over the years I have read many a story about a gorgeous mule by the name of John Henry in issues of the Brayer Magazine, which I get being a member of ADMS so that I can register my miniature donkeys... well today I heard that he had passed away. I really felt the need to reach out to Kathleen, who owned him, even though she didn't know me, and let her know how her stories of life with John Henry had touched me... so I dropped her a quick e-mail. I was amazed to get the following response and wanted to share it with you all, because whether you knew him, or knew of him, or not, please note that the world just lost an awesome equine!

the e-mail and pictures:

hi susan,

you know it is people like you who take the time to send me a note that just warms my crying heart. i have gotten over 300 emails 90% from people i don't know. they all talk about john henry like they know him and love him. the whip [am driving society], the yankee peddler [east coast horse mag], the ADMS and the CAA [carriage assoc of am] all have asked for an obit. i just couldn't face doing one so i asked my trainer, jeff morse, [http://green.meads.com] if he would. this is what he wrote…i think he nailed it - just the right amount of facts and smiles…. thank you for your thoughtfulness...

John Henry 1991-2011

Kathleen Conklin, “John Henry’s human”, knew she had to be part of his life the moment she laid eyes on him in an Amish mule dealer’s barn in Lancaster County, PA. on a cold winter night in 1994. The impressive force of his charisma is rare among equines. He usually wasn’t hard to notice. 1500 pounds of 16.2 hand, black shiny Percheron Mule with 12” ears. Hard to be wallflower. Plus he had the uncanny ability to launch a loud, clear, friendly bellow at the precise moment that doing so would have the most powerful effect on a crowd of people and horses. We smiled. Everyone knew who it was and they were glad to have met John Henry. He even gave the lucky ones a kiss.

John Henry began educating Kathleen about mules as a 3 year old. He knew only how to be tied and to be lead. He would not let anyone touch him. What an education he would provide! And what a fortunate mule he was to have Kathleen to work his magic on. She was receptive. Dedicated. Horse smart. Kind and fair. She always did everything the right way for John Henry.

His competition championships stretch from Shelbyville to Saratoga to Gladstone to GMHA to Lorenzo….and to Walnut Hill. The prestigious summit of carriage driving … Walnut Hill! A Mule at walnut Hill!?! Imagine that. Invited there, even. A barrier broken. John Henry was a champion or reserve champion at Walnut Hill 6 of the last 7 years. Few that saw him will forget the turnout: the restored royal blue butcher’s cart with bright yellow trim and Kathleen absolutely correctly appointed in her blue and white striped apprentice butchers apron. Every detail meticulously researched and executed. But the joke was on Walnut Hill. A mule would never have been used to pull a butcher’s cart! Only fast horses like hackneys’ would be able to make the rounds before the meat spoiled. But still he won and won and won. Always loved that joke. It was impossible not to smile at John Henry.

Few know that it was John Henry that caused the American Horse Show Association now the United States Equine Federation to overturn a 50 year ban on mules in competition. Mules were banned because their exceptional skills beat society’s horses. They were reinstated because of the skillful ambassadorship of John Henry and Kathleen. It was hard to say no to John Henry. A barrier broken with a smile.

I taught John Henry and Kathleen to dance in preparation for an invitational musical Kur at a meeting of the American Driving Society in Fair Hill, Maryland. How could I say no? But what music to use? This had to be special. The choice? I knew it the second I heard it. Canned Heat’s “Too Much Giddyup (Not Enough Whoa)”. Look it up. It was perfect. And of course John Henry was his usual superlative self and made everyone smile again.

John Henry’s legend is larger than space allows to tell it all here. His magic broke down barriers too numerous to list, but…. and I speak for the horsemen that knew him… in a lifetime, we count on the fingers of one hand the good horses by whom we measure all the rest. John Henry will always be at the top of our list. A mule on the top of the list? Imagine that! We are truly privileged to have known the magnificent John Henry.






“Take this hammer, and carry it to the captain,
Tell him I'm gone, tell him I'm gone”. ~ prison work song about John Henry attributed to Leadbelly

tally ho,
kathleen, john henry \ / & agnes \ /
http://john.henry.org
http://horseblanketetc.com
http://pbase.com/conklink - photo albums

I immediately wrote back to Kathleen to thank her for sharing the pictures and info with a total stranger who nonetheless was a big fan... and she gave me permission to copy for this blog, and sent me one more:

Here is the last picture taken of John Henry 8 days before he died. In our last class at that show he stopped dead during the first trot and wouldn't do anything but walk. I excused myself and took him out of the ring. That was the beginning. He was champion of the commercial division and also won the carriage dog class with my JRT, Cracker Jack…..John Henry was a real trooper….


RIP JOHN HENRY, you will be sorely missed!!!!!

3 comments:

Vaquerogirl said...

What a fantastic story and a fantastic obit. Not enough people give mules the credit they deserve. I have never owned one myself, but I had several friends that did, and what an education I recieved via their beautiful 'long ears'.
Thanks for posting!
RIP John Henry

Unknown said...

Sometimes it's easier not to reach out to someone . . . but this ladies thankfulness and all that she shared (because you reached out to express your sympathy and admiration) is inspiring and touching. Thanks for sharing, Susan!

ema1 said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. What a wonderful animal. I was born and raised in Missouri and mules are the state animal there.
Maureen