Abilene Muleskinner Best Known As Old Town Stagecoach Driver
Miniature donkeys are driven single, as a team, unicorn one in front of two, as well as three across by Paige Westfall of Abilene.
“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
The often repeated quote is generally true.
“Yet, riding in a horse drawn vehicle is one of the most relaxing pacifying forms of recreation.”
Paige Westfall insists: “Nothing compares to that heart satisfying feeling of freedom with the fresh natural fragrance of real horsepower.”
Well that might actually be miniature donkeys, big mules or stout draft horses, each part of the Equus family.
“I have them all and despite differences they’re really fun to drive,” Westfall claims. “Wherever we are people just go and on how much they enjoy riding in the vehicles towed by our animals.”
Adrenaline flowed with excitement as Paige Westfall talked about Wild Heart Carriages business developed from her love for driving donkeys.
“I was a cowgirl did team penning, sorting, ranch rodeos and worked at the sale barn,” she said. “My husband Lowell and I had P&L Quarter Horses. We still have Quarter Horses, like to work horseback, and I give riding lessons.”
Interests curved when Paige got a miniature donkey in 1996. “Bernadette started out as yard art, but then I decided to learn about driving her,” Paige said. “Before long, I had more miniature donkeys, used them for driving and competed in shows.
“Through the years it grew into Wild Heart Carriages also with mules, draft horses and various vehicles,” Page continued. “We offer diverse opportunities for carriage rides at many special occasions.
“Still, we’re probably most widely recognized for being in charge of the stagecoach rides at Old Abilene Town,” she said.
Paige and her husband, Lowell, and their son Brodie live on acreage near Abilene in Dickinson County.
“We also have land in Lyon and Osage counties, but rent most everything out except we do put up hay,” she noted. “Lowell works for Kansas Gas Service while I’m generally in charge of the carriage business. Everybody pitches in when there’s a job to do.”
Acquiring her first miniature donkey from Miller Meadows at Mulvane, Paige has sold the trained Bernadette into Maryland. “I’ve had a handful of miniatures through the years and still have three now with another one on the way.”
Educating herself through You Tube Videos, Paige acquired harness and vehicles to personally train her miniatures to drive.
“I’ve trained riding horses for a long time, so it wasn’t all that different with the donkeys. It just takes time and patience, but they’re pretty cooperative,” she said. “I drive miniatures single, as a team, unicorn one in front of the other two, and I’ve driven three across.”
Awards for her miniature donkeys have been collected at shows throughout the Midwest. “I show them at halter, in-hand trail, jumping events, plus the various driving classes including obstacle and barrel racing. They can do it all.”
Weighing 200 to 300 pounds, miniature donkeys stand 30 to 38 inches tall with 36-inches a typical driving donkey.
“Their temperament is so good, stand for farrier work, whatever needs done, and they’ll live on almost anything,” Paige said. “Just a flake of dry stem hay in a dry lot is all a miniature donkey needs or wants not even grain. Miniature donkeys are scavengers too they’ll eat brush and weeds sometimes kind of like a goat or camel.”
Over feeding can develop “fat pads” on the miniature donkeys becoming a permanent disfigurement problem.
Just right size-wise for a five-foot-six, 140-pound outdoors woman except miniatures don’t have all that much get up and go.
“I love my donkeys, but they just can’t go the distance when giving rides to the public,” she said. “I needed something with a bit more size and power to pull larger vehicles to carry more passengers.”
Bonnie and Clyde, 16-year-old, 17-hands, 1,600-pound mare and gelding mule team was purchased from Smith Mule Company.
“They’re dark brown, Percheron-donkey cross, dead broke, came from the Amish, seen and done it all. Completely safe for every use around all kinds of people and situation, a perfect mule team for me,” Paige said.
After her experiences with riding horses and donkeys, Paige quickly found mules uniquely appealingly different.
“Mules are thinkers. They are so smart. Once they’ve learned what is expected of them, they want to please you,” muleteer Paige acknowledged. “It took several months for my mules and me to understand each other. They know my voice and always try their hardest. Oh there are quirks sometimes, but they are ‘asses’ you know.
“My husband always tries to jive me that’s why my mules and I get along so well,” the mule-driver smiled.
Still love for horses remained with Paige’s desire to drive. “I thought about training my Quarter Horses to drive, but decided to get a draft team,” she said. An 18-hand team of 2,000-pound Shires was purchased and used for a time.
“They were pretty but just more than I needed, so I got a smaller team Slim and Shorty,” Paige continued. “From a six-horse hitch, they’re black, Percheron-Morgan cross geldings, 16-hands, about 1,300-pounds.
“Oh the draft horses are a bit frisky on a cool morning. I take ’em out a mile at a trot and they calm right down,” she credited.
Two sets of harnesses are required, because of the difference in size between the mules and the horses.
“I have Biothane harnesses because they’re lighter weight, just as strong or stronger, and easy to handle and care for. Much better for me than a heavy expensive leather harness,” Paige said.
“We have some carts, two four-wheel wagons for a dozen passengers each, and a vis-à-vis carriage for special occasions,” Paige said. “Of course, what we drive most is the stagecoach owned by Old Abilene Town.
“It was acquired in 1959, a replica of those stagecoaches used in the late 1800s. The stagecoach is stored at the carriage house in Old Abilene Town when not being used,” the team driver said. “I’m in charge of taking care of the stagecoach. There have been a few repairs needed sometimes.”
Both the mule teams and horse teams are used for pulling Wild Heart Carriages. “We participate in a variety of events throughout the year, weddings, anniversaries, celebrations,” Paige counted. “It’s always busy around Christmas as we offer rides with both wagons pulled by the teams.”
Forward motion is essential in an equine powered vehicle but standing is as important.
“My teams know how to stand and wait so passengers are always safe getting on and off,” driver Paige assured. “My husband and son help along with Randy and Katy Purdue as headers and drivers too. The gunfighters at Old Abilene Town assist with the stagecoach rides there. I’m fortunate to always have good assistance.
“I also want to express my appreciation to Cecil and Robert Carter of 3C Carriages. They have been the best mentor and good friends who’ve helped me so much,” she added.
No letdown in driving enthusiasm at Wild Heart Carriages as Paige looks to the future possibly only having mule teams.
“Mules have their own personalities. People really like them, the big ears, and hearing that mules are crossbreds. Sterile offspring of a horse mare mated to a jack donkey.
“Nothing compares to driving a horse expect it’s even better driving a team of mules,” muleskinner Paige Westfall declared.
Bonnie and Clyde mule team of Wild Heart Carriages pull the Old Abilene Town Stagecoach in the annual Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo Parade.
Championship quality is apparent as Paige Westfall of Abilene shows one of her miniature donkeys to halter show awards.
A dozen or more passengers enjoy riding in the four wheeled wagon pulled by one of Wild Heart Carriages teams in special events over a wide area.
Paige Westfall is on the lines of a Wild Heart Carriages draft team pulling the Old Abilene Town Stagecoach in front of the carriage house at the living history cow town.
Lowell and Brodie Westfall are big help for Paige Westfall in operations of Wild Heart Carriages at Abilene.