Modern-day cowboy trains donkeys

Some people may think Howdy Fowler is something of a throwback.

If you ask what his occupation is, he'll tell you he's a donkey trainer.

But, the list of things he does has quite a range.

Aside from training donkeys, he trains horses, puts on his own Wild West shows, trick-ropes, makes spurs, guides hunters, writes freelance magazine articles, he's even helped round up buffalo and the list goes on and on.

The 44-year-old transplant from the Northwest, originally from Chiloquin, Ore., is an old-fashioned, modern-day cowboy.

"I discovered a long time ago that if you're going to live in the Southwest, you'd better be able to do a lot of things with equal enthusiasm," he said with a big grin.

"In ranch work, there's no such thing as job security so you'd better make your own.

"I do like to specialize in training donkeys, though."

He and his wife, Yahooskin, live at the Flying L Guest Ranch about 20 miles north of Kingman where Howdy manages the place and trains horses and donkeys, keeps track of the cattle and he pursues his other aspirations while taking care of the ranch.

Fowler's love affair with burros began when he was a youngster and his father, who was a horseman, gave him a donkey.

"I got my first donkey when I was 10 or 11 years old.

He was a little white jack and I called him Snowball," Fowler said.

"My dad thought I'd get tired of him pretty quick ...

I wore out two sets of shoes before I went back to school that fall."

There was no way to realize at the time that working with donkeys would be something that he would continue to do for many years to come.

And there was a lot more to learn about training donkeys than he could have conceived.

"After a number of years I realized that the big problem people have with training donkeys is they use horse-training methods," Fowler said.

"You need to change the sequence of events in the training schedule from what you do with a horse.

The average horse, due to genetics, doesn't have many brains.

"You train in a round pen for just a few days with a donkey.

Human beings get a big kick out of lunging at horses and making them run around in circles on a halter rope.

You cannot force a donkey to run in circles on the end of a halter rope.

They're too smart.

They won't do it."

The endearing things about burros for Fowler are their intelligence, their ability to get around and their durability.

"I expect pretty much the same out of a donkey as I do a horse.

Except, a horse will run 'til it drops dead.

A donkey will run a mile or two and you won't get anymore out of it," Fowler said.

"We rope cattle in the brush and do anything you can do off a horse.

"The larger ones are capable of carrying a guy 20 to 30 miles in a day if they're properly trained and conditioned ...

That's why they train people like me."

Learning to become a donkey trainer was a challenge in itself.

"Mechanization took over the donkey's job here in the desert.

Most guys who trained donkeys have died off," Fowler said.

"There was a period in history where it was almost completely erased.

There was some mule men up in that part of the country, where I'm from.

Most of what I learned was from necessity and observation."

Although most people don't realize donkeys can be trained to be excellent riding animals as well as pack animals, Fowler doesn't expect to run out of burros to train anytime soon.

"There's approximately 80,000 head of donkeys in the U.S.

and probably only 10 percent of the owners expect to do anything with them," Fowler said.

"We've been pretty blessed since we've lived here.

We've picked up a number of donkeys to train."

"And it doesn't look like Uncle Sam is going to run out of donkeys anytime soon."

For more information about donkey training, or as Fowler likes to call it, people training, he can be contacted by mail at PMB 179, 2170 Northern Ave., Kingman, AZ, 86401 or, since the Flying L has no telephone service, phone messages can be relayed to him at 681-3938.