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How To Pass The Oxen Exam
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How To Pass The Oxen Exam


How To Pass The Oxen Exam
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is Day to Day. One of the trickier things to learn when you begin driving a car: parallel parking. Well, try doing it with an animal - no, not at the wheel - actually parking an animal, say, a six-foot tall 1800-pound steer? In Vermont, Green Mountain College tests students on how they parallel park these animals. Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck sent this audio postcard.

Dr. KENNETH MULDER (Science, Green Mountain College): So, I'm going to propose, guys, those of you taking the exam, let's go down to the field.

My name is Kenneth Mulder. I'm a scientist, trained as an ecological economist, and I'd like to teach economics, but my favorite thing to teach here is farming, in particular with draft animals.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Dr. MULDER: Come haw, Bill. Haw, haw. So, this is Lou, over there is Bill, Green Mountain College's iconic team of oxen. Haw, ho haw.

Gee and haw are pretty standard. I've never found somebody who knows definitively where they came from. The best I've heard is that haw sounds a little bit like here.

Haw, good boy. Ho haw.

And since you're standing on the left side of the team, when you're doing a left turn, they're coming towards you. So, haw, come, haw, come here. And gee sounds a little bit like, get, and often when you say, gee, or say, gee over, as in get away from me.

Gee. Gee. Whoa.

Yeah, Rachel first. Gretchen, go out and give me a tight, left turn first.

GRETCHEN (Student): OK.

Dr. MULDER: All the way in a circle and then a wide right-hand turn again, all the way in a circle.

GRETCHEN: OK. Hey, boys. Hey, boys. Ready?

(Soundbite of cow footsteps)

GRETCHEN: Good boy. You can, you know, take the crop and do all the commands and everything, but you still - your body position has to be right and your energy is has to be right. I mean, if you're nervous at all, even if you don't know it, they're going to pick up on that and then they're going to not listen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRETCHEN: So, it's a lot harder than it looks. Ho, ho. Back, back.

(Soundbite of cow footsteps)

GRETCHEN: He's getting in the line.

Dr. MULDER: You say Lou doesn't rhyme with pooh for no reason. Lou is often the problem animal, and being the off animal, he's the harder one to exert influence on.

GRETCHEN: You know, yeah, they're actually very intimidating. I mean, I've been around horses that are taller and I have no problem with them. But they just have these big horns that stick out, and you're kind of, like, I don't want to be that close to their heads, you know, they shake their head a little. But they know where you are. And they're actually extremely gentle. They're actually more laid back than horses. They're just big, you know, teddy bears, really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. MULDER: Hello, Lou. Haw, haw.

(Soundbite of cow footsteps)

Dr. MULDER: Whoa.

ERIC (Student): I like the sense that it's kind of back to the origins of farming...

(Soundbite of cow footsteps)

ERIC: Where you're using a team of oxen or horses or whatever you have as a draft animal. And it feels amazing to be in sync with that and with nature all around you.

Dr. MULDER: And Eric, pretty much all fours with the exception of incremental force, but you know, I'm a little - that's not going to hurt your grade, because you replace that with maybe an excess of patience.


Dr. MULDER: Right? You gave them time and eventually, they listened. So, you know, I would say it was a beautiful example of an alternative driving style. So, it's quite good.

(Soundbite of cheering, applause)

BRAND: That's Green Mountain College instructor Kenneth Mulder. You also heard the voices of students Rachel Carmichael, Kyle Rock and Ryan Dixon. Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck produced that story.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Stay with us. Day to Day's back in just a moment.

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