Xato and the First Gotcha Day

Xato’s 1st Gotcha Day* was on the 9th November, meaning he’s been with me a whole year! I’d planned to put together a little video compilation, but unfortunately my video maker kept crashing and, to preserve my sanity, I gave up on it and dug out some photos instead. These are a rather random selection of whatever phone pictures I chose to upload to Facebook, but it does mean there might be one or two that you haven’t seen before.

I would like to have written something important and / or inspiring to mark this occasion, but honestly I’m too tired. It’s nearly 1am now as I’ve spent most of my evening working on the magazine, and I have to get up early again tomorrow to get my stable chores done and my magazine chores done and so on and so on … engage zombie mode! This is also the reason I haven’t ridden in a few weeks as I feel like mules really need you to be on the ball. I am not on the ball and I don’t even know where the ball is.

But, looking back on these pictures has made me smile. We have had a great first year together!

* I’m not sure whether to celebrate his Gotcha Day on the day that he passed his vetting and I knew he was going to be mine, or on the day that he actually arrived in the UK. I guess he can have two?

Left: Our first selfie, about twenty minutes after arrival! Poor fella had a sore on his nose. Right: Xato quickly proved to be almost as good at selfies as Marty is.

First ride on my own mule! :D

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Posted in clinics, dentist, gotcha day, herdlife, photos, riding, rugs, trail rides, walking the mule, xato mule | Leave a comment

Marty and the Groundwork Lesson

The current issue of Horsemanship Magazine features an article and a cover photo from Lucy Chester (you may know her from her Instagram, @haflingeratliberty). I was put in touch with her as a potential contributor via Jenni Winter, who came and gave me some confidence coaching last year prior to Xato’s arrival. Everything is linked, you see! Anyway, I really enjoyed Lucy’s article and I liked what I saw when I looked through her Instagram and horsemanship website. She teaches in my area so I decided to book a lesson and learn some new things that could help me with my mules.

“Who are you? Are you going to make me do something? You’re going to make me do something. Are you going to take my ears?! Are you going to DO THINGS??!!”

As we would be focusing on “trick” training, I was in two minds over which mule to pick: Marty is more motivated by that kind of thing, but his general nervousness means he’s not as up for new experiences as Xato is; and Xato loves doing anything with people, but he’s not as responsive as Marty. I could see this kind of work having benefits for both of them.

In the end, I chose Marty. I was ultimately glad of this, because – although he decided to introduce Lucy to true mule nature by planting a couple of times on the way to the arena, and although he decided he couldn’t trot when asked because a stranger was nearby and might DO SOMETHING to him – he was still the easier candidate for the exercises we did. I can improve my skill with him and then work on them with Xato.

“Hmm … maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe.”

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Xato and the Thinning of the Veil

Eek! Nearly two months since my last update? Oh dear! I haven’t even written about our trip to Austria last month, where Ben and I went to attend the third International Pack Animal Meeting. I don’t know where the time goes – I never seem to have a moment where I’m not supposed to be doing something else!

To try and ease myself back into more regular blogging, here is a fun picture post for you. With Samhain / Hallowe’en incoming, I took Xato into the woods behind their field and, with Ben on the camera, we took a few fun shots. I’d meant to do this costume combo last winter, but we didn’t get the snow I was hoping for – so an autumnal scene will have to do!

I’d also wanted to dress Xato up as well, but I was having a bit of a bad day (week, month, year…) and didn’t bother in the end. This was a fun way to see what works in case we have a future, professional photoshoot, however.

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Team Half-Ass and the Hackathon

I apologise for the lack of written updates recently; gone are the days where I could wax lyrical about the minute intricacies of my mule days, boring you senseless with my blow-by-blow view of what happened/what might have happened/why what happened happened. I no longer have the brain capacity to retain all that detail in my head and I don’t have the time to tell it even if I did. I am juggling so many things that I have to prioritise, and sadly Mulography does not pay for mule food – or for my food, come to think of it (if you would like to help out a poor struggling Mulographer so that she can afford to drop her other jobs, check out Horsemanship Magazine – Facebook page here – and marvel at our extremely good value for money. Share it with friends who might like it! And yes, this message is brought to you by an editor who has no shame. I did it and I’d do it again).

Anyway, your best bet is to keep an eye on the Mulography Facebook page as I tend to keep that fairly active; uploading a photo or sticking together some videos does not take a lot of effort.

Plenty good view…

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Posted in british mule society, dogs, marty mule, photos, riding, trail rides, video, vlog, walking the mule, xato mule | Leave a comment

Mules in songs

I love music. My favourite genres are metal and folk, although I have a fairly eclectic taste. I’m currently obsessed with the new album from Swiss folk-metallers Eluveitie – here’s an equine-themed song from it (maybe don’t watch the video. The horse’s anachronistic tack is doing my head in).

I also love sharing music! So I got to wondering whether there were any songs about mules that I could listen to. As you might imagine, most of the songs I found are part of the country genre; I’m not a big fan of country (although Dave Stamey’s Talkin’ Bronc Ballet Blues and Jaquima To Freno by Ian Tyson – set here to Jeff Sander’s exquisite Cowboy Dressage freestyle test, which I will share at any excuse – are a couple of favourites), but if it’s about mules, I don’t really mind it. Do you have any songs to add?

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Team Half-Ass and the Week of Jailbreaks

I haven’t done a written update for some time – not since our ten mile weekend at the end of June! To be honest, not a lot has happened. I didn’t ride at all for the two weeks after that; not a big deal, except by the second week Xato was bored and looking for other ways to entertain himself.

So basically, Xato doesn’t actually HAVE to stay behind our electric fencing. He can literally let himself out whenever he wants. However, he only does so under certain circumstances: 1) because I have turned up then gone away again without giving him food or taking him with me, or 2) because I have taken someone else out of the paddock who isn’t him. He will honestly spend 12 hours in a diet paddock behind a non-live fence with fresh grass on the other side and not once think about pulling up a post and letting himself out … but if I arrive, then go up to the yard to make dinners? Yeh, he’s coming straight out. He doesn’t break anything when he does it, just pulls out a post and steps over the downed fence – often leading Marty out with him.

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Mule Tales: Moti

A slightly different Mule Tale this week – the Brooke have kindly allowed me to reproduce this story of Muhammad and his mule Moti, who live in Pakistan. Life there is very different from how our mules in the UK live, and it is hard for the people, too; I am so thankful for charities such as The Brooke who work tirelessly to improve the life of working animals and the people who own them!

Muhammad Arshad is 35. He earns 500 – 700 rupees (approximately £4 – £5) a day transporting bricks by cart at Hamza Brick Kiln, on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan. He owns Moti, a 15-year-old mule, who he uses to transport the bricks.

Muhammad is a Brooke Community Change agent, meaning the Brooke team identified him as being particularly passionate about animal welfare and have trained him up to spread Brooke’s message to other owners in the brick kiln. He also leads community engagement sessions and is often the first point of contact if another owner has a question or problem.

Before Muhammad attended Brooke’s meetings, he believed in traditional myths and practices, much like many of the other owners in the brick kiln. For example, when treating wounds, Muhammad would rub salt and break oil into them; if a horse, donkey or mule showed signs of colic, he would feed it tobacco and molasses; and if an equine was lame, he would fire the joint.

Muhammad and his fellow owners now have the knowledge to correctly manage these symptoms. Muhammad says: “Since attending Brooke’s Community Engagement meetings, I now think my mule’s life is just as important as mine. Brooke taught me that there is so much I can do with my own hands to make a positive change to my mule’s life, such as grooming, feeding and foot cleaning. I want to spread that message as far as I can.”

One of Brooke’s lessons that has resonated particularly deeply with Muhammad is that of grooming; “Just like me and my wife need clean, ironed clothes, so does Moti need grooming. Grooming brings us closer together and our love increases, we feel like he is a family member.”

Not long ago, Muhammad noticed that the nails from Moti’s shoes were sticking out, causing bleeding as they brushed against the opposite leg. As the farrier was not based at Hamza brick kiln, it was expensive and inconvenient to keep returning to the farrier to have him rasp the nails down. Muhammad thought that he would be able to manage this himself if he had the right tools: “I was worried, and thinking what can I do?”

Muhammad went to the market and found a rasp used in construction and adapted it by adding a wooden handle. His homemade rasp, made from readily available local resources, allows Muhammad to file down the nails himself to prevent injury to his mule. It has been so successful that he has made two more rasps for fellow owners. Furthermore, he is on hand to show other owners how to file down a nail if he spots a horse with brushing wounds.

Brooke’s community engagement work has empowered owners like Muhammad in the Hamza brick kiln. For Muhammad, the most significant change has been the knowledge and ability to prevent common injuries and ailments; “Prevention is better than cure and it is our responsibility.”

About Brooke

Brooke is an international charity that protects and improves the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules which give people in the developing world the opportunity to work their way out of poverty.  Over 100 million of these animals are the backbone of developing communities and their best means of making a living. Without healthy working horses, donkeys and mules, around 600 million people wouldn’t be able to put food on their tables, send their children to school or build better futures for themselves and their families.

Brooke delivers significant and lasting change, even in some of the world’s most challenging areas. We use our expertise to work with owners, communities, service providers, governments and international organisations. Operating in 11 different countries, and funding projects in four others,  Brooke now reaches over two million working horses, donkeys and mules each year.

Brooke was set up in 1934 by Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British cavalry officer, who travelled to Cairo in Egypt in 1930 to seek out the abandoned war horses of the First World War. She set up the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital, which later became Brooke.

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Mule Tales: Raven

This week, we’re back in America to meet Raven and her human, Elaine. This lovely molly is a great example of the effect that a good start will have on a mule; you can’t go wrong with a mule who’s been well-handled from day one!

 1. Please introduce us to your mule!

Raven is a 14-year-old molly mule out of a Tennessee Walking Horse. I was fortunate enough to find her as I started my search, at the age of 58, for a solid safe mule for myself. She was raised and trained by a single woman who watched her be born on her own farm – I like to think that we are such a good fit because of her first 8 years with this woman. Raven’s great early training was immediately apparent by her calmness, her ability to load effortlessly in a trailer, and she is such a delight for any farrier. Raven has two pasture mates, both donkeys. Nellie Bly came to live with us six months after I got Raven as a companion, it was love at first sight! Ruby came to the farm this past January as a companion for Nellie Bly when I take Raven off trail riding.

2. How did you meet her?

On June 27, 2011, I made an appointment in Rhonda, NC with Windy Hill Mule Farm after months and months of searching for a safe mule for myself. I rode her that day after not having ridden since 1987!!! I was quite nervous, but her calmness and the ease of guiding her around their farm made me very sure she was the one for me. The people that ran the farm were extremely concerned about matching the right mule with the right person and their experience and abilities.

3. What do you do with her, and what are your plans for the future?

Raven and I have primarily ridden around my 10 acre farm where I have made several trails that wind around through my woods. I also ride her around the neighbourhood. I have recently retired, and now have a truck and trailer so we are loving getting out trail riding and meeting up with other riders. Future plans include training her to drive.

4. Can you share a story that you feel sums up your mule and/or your relationship with her?

My relationship with Raven has evolved greatly since she first came to the farm. She has always been a calm and trusting girl. As the years have gone by we have a closer understanding of one another. I hear many horse owners speak about “mareish” behaviour and I understand what that is, but I have not seen what most would describe as that behaviour in my girl. She comes to me from the pasture when I whistle for her and I think that says a lot. She is my girl and I am hers.

5. What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt as a mule owner, and what piece of advice would you give to someone new to mules?

The most important thing that I have learned is the difference between horses and mules and even donkeys. My father was a jockey, so I was raised on the racetrack always around thoroughbreds. Mules are much more relaxed and less reactive to all kinds of things that would set off most horses I have been around. They make their own assessment of situations and decide whether it is safe to proceed or not. I have learned to almost ALWAYS trust my mule’s judgement. They have a greater intelligence than horses, only surpassed by the donkey from which their calm intelligence is derived.

If you would like your mule to be featured here, or if you have a mule story that you would like to tell, then please contact me either via this blog, message me on my Mulography Facebook page, or email me at: herecirm (at) gmail.com. I would love to hear from mule owners anywhere around the globe!

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Mule Tales: Alula’s import story

Hurrah, a new import story! Alula is actually a double import: initially brought over from the US to Europe, she then travelled from Germany to Sweden where she resides with her current owner, Tina.

Alula, photographed last week.

1. Why did you decide to import a mule, and how did you choose her?

Thera are very few big mules in Sweden and I wanted one that I could ride on. I had a smaller mule for 18 years (12hh) that I used for packing on trail rides. I came into contact with Alula’s seller through the Swedish Donkey  Society. During the process, my small mule became sick and I had to put him down. It nearly broke my heart! So, when he was gone, I decided I needed to buy a new mule. I had always wanted a gaited mule, but buying one from the USA would be too expensive – so finding Alula in Germany was just sheer luck! The seller had imported her from the USA in 2014, along with her big donkey half-sister. The reason she put up Alula for sale was probably that a mule is a bit more than a horse, so the seller was not prepared for the effort of training a mule.

First day at her new home in Sweden.

2. How long did the process take, from buying your mule to her arriving at your yard?

The process took about 5 months. We had contact via Facebook and email and the seller sent a lot of pictures and videos. We arranged the transport so that we met in Denmark at a place owned by a friend of mine, who had worked with mules in the US. The papers we needed for export/import between Germany/Sweden was only the veterinary exam.


3. What obstacles did you come up against?

There where no obstacles. To my surprise, when we drove back over the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, the border police did not even look inside the horse transport or ask for any papers. And the same thing happened for the seller when she passed the Germany/Denmark border!!!

Practice before a filmshooti earlier this summer. She’s carrying an old Swedish army packsaddle.

4. Were there any surprises or particularly memorable moments?

No surprises, but some memorable moments. She was bigger than I expected, but very easy-going. We had an overnight stay at some friends in the south of Sweden and there was no problem loading/unloading her, even though we were complete strangers!

Alula’s parents: Red Rum and Busting Loose Sweetheart, a champion Tennessee Walking Horse mare.

5. What advice would you give to anyone looking to import a mule (or any equine) from another country?

My advice is to be sure it is a serious seller. When it comes to mules, it’s better to transport them yourself – or at least have a transporter used to mules. They are special and cannot be treated like horses. And if you use a equine transporter, make sure it is a good one.

If you would like your mule to be featured here, or if you have a mule story that you would like to tell, then please contact me either via this blog, message me on my Mulography Facebook page, or email me at: herecirm (at) gmail.com. I would particularly like to hear from UK mule owners (purely because Mulography is about owning a mule in the UK), but am more than happy to take worldwide submissions!

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Vlog: week 4

We covered a lot of miles this week – from an awesome weekend of riding with Ben, to three weekday rides with a friend of ours. Therefore, this is mainly a through-the-ears special!

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