Team Half-Ass and the First Sentences Of 2017

Back in ye olde days of LiveJournal, there was a popular New Year’s meme that involved going back through your previous year’s entries and copying down the first sentence of the first post for each month. I say popular … I enjoyed it, but then I don’t get out much and my idea of fun does not always match everyone else’s.

Anyway, I thought I’d revive the tradition here. I have only used ‘diary’ entries – i.e. ones about Marty and/or Xato, rather than Mule Tales or my pseudo-historical shambles.

January: Xato is off work at the moment because I’m a little concerned that he may still be having issues with his back.

Ah, yes – Xato’s ongoing dodgy/not dodgy/who knows back, which we’re still not at the bottom of (if you’ll excuse the pun. His main issues seem to be in his hips). The vet had a look at him the other week when he came out to do Xato’s second Dectomax injection, and pronounced him sound and level. Xato’s trim-before-last was the best he’s ever been for having his feet handled and trimmed, but he was back to his usual curmudgeonly ways for his latest appointment.

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Marty and the “How Annoying Can One Mule Be?”

Marty has really got on my nerves the last couple of days. I know we’re not supposed to say that – that it’s always supposed to be rainbows and sage life lessons – but by Odin’s Beard that boy is SUCH an obnoxious ass sometimes.

He’s been so annoying that I’ve been considering advertising him again in case some strange, talented person, with time on their hands and a vaugely masochistic need for a Sisyphean challenge, might just be mad enough to take him on.

He’s been so annoying that I’ve considered dropping him off at a local sanctuary in the dead of night, a note tied to his mane that reads “I’m sorry, this is what I get for messing around with that ouija board when I was younger, just don’t make eye contact with him and DON’T GET HIM WET.”

He’s been so annoying that I’ve weighed up the costs of what I’ve spent on him in the past three years against the cost of what I’ll spend on him in the next three years, and wondered whether it would make better economical sense to buy him a one way plane ticket to America and put him in my friend’s pack string.

He’s been so annoying that I’ve considered turning him loose on the National Trust land, moving country, and practicing my surprised face for when news reports reach me of the Beast Of Surrey who’s been seen thundering through the mists, his head upside down and his tail whirring like a gyrocopter, hiccoughing like a zebra as he goes.

Unfortunately I have done none of these things. My penance for having failed to make anything of him is that I am now stuck with him – unless, of course, YOU are that rare person searching for a small, hairy potato with no redeeming features and the singular ability to make everything ten times harder than it needs to be. If that is you then I suggest you sit down in a dark room and just think about it first. There’s a chance you might need professional help.

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Team Half-Ass and the Not-A-Lot

So what’s been going on with Team Half-Ass lately? Not a lot, to be honest. Well: when I say not a lot, I mean besides the poo-picking, the feeding, the haynet-filling, the fence-moving, the vet-checkings, the feet trimming, the job-working, the magazine-everything, the house-tidying … you get the picture.

I signed up to take part in a series of foundational horsemanship challenges with Kate Sandel this month. Among the many things they’ve taught me so far is how little time I have; these are easy, five minute challenges that should be easy to fit in, and yet I’ve hardly done them. I’ve just been getting by on autopilot; doing what has to be done, ignoring the rest. This is not ideal.

We are planning to move house this year – to somewhere where we can finally keep our herd in a way which we believe is best for them, without having to worry about other people – and in order to do that we’ve needed to tackle the abysmal state of our flat, which has fallen into chaos due to general apathy on my part. Ben has done an incredible job tidying; I’ve dusted a few things and complained a bit.

The magazine requires constant attention because if I am not editing articles, I am approaching folk for new articles; if I am not doing that, I am contacting advertisers; if I am not doing that, I am keeping the social media active to try and raise our profile and increase subscribers. If I’m not doing any of these things I’m either working at my actual, paid jobs, or sleeping.

I also need to crack on with the next issue of the Mule Journal, which means politely harassing people for content. Us Brits are oddly reticent about writing about our mules.

It is my sincere hope that this will all pay off in the end, but I also wouldn’t mind a lottery win about now!

One morning I arrived to find that Marty had already found his way from the night paddock into the day paddock. He seemed as surprised about this as I was; it would, perhaps, have been smarter for him to jump into the ungrazed section instead.


Shortly before Christmas I decided I was going to get on Marty, so I got on with it. I didn’t proceed to actually swinging a leg over but I jumped up and bellied over him several times and he was fine with it, particularly when he realised I could feed him treats while I was up there.

Then life got in the way and he didn’t do anything for a while; he’s currently gone feral, and spends most of his time staring at me boggle-eyed and going “SnnnooOOORRTTT!”, especially if I’m carrying a fence post. I’ve never beaten him with a stick of any kind, but there’s always a first time I guess; and he’s going to make sure it doesn’t happen by loudly announcing his peril and then running for the hills if I acknowledge him.

He’s a special boy.

Xato having a nice ear scratch. I don’t think this is lice/mite/weather related, as he’s always enjoyed a good ear rummage. It’s a mule thing. Unless you’re Marty.


It seems as though Xato has lice, or some kind of mite infestation, which is both gross and expensive. It started about a month ago and I genuinely have no idea where he could have caught something like that from, as he’s had no contact with other equines and lives out 24/7 in a herd with Marty and the horses – none of whom are showing any signs of being in the same predicament. But Xato is very very VERY itchy, particularly along his back, and is half-way through a course of Dectomax injections. We got the first vet bill the other day which charged us nearly £70 just for looking at him (on top of the £40 call-out), so that was nice!

It did occur to me that last winter he was rugged almost the whole time, as he’d just arrived from Spain and I thought it a little mean to expose him to our cold, rain and snow before he’d had time to adjust properly; whereas this year I’ve left him naked. Also, this year his winter coat has stayed dark instead of adopting his usual pale colour. If it’s not lice then I wonder if there’s some explanation there.

I haven’t ridden him since October, although Ben has done a little bit of schooling with him. He ran away with me on our last ride, and although I got back on I’m afraid I’ve lost my confidence again; I’m not sure if it’s going to come back this time, but I’m surprisingly at peace with that. I’ve got really into the concept of just hiking with my mules and am genuinely considering selling my riding saddle in order to buy a pack saddle; or, at the very least, find a way to convert my saddle to carry panniers.

Regardless of what I decide in the end, I won’t get back on him until this itching is sorted. I don’t think putting a saddle on him right now would be very kind! Besides, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in regards to his understanding of the rein. Even with all the time I spent working with him before we began riding out, I still think I rushed it and survived most of the summer on luck and Xato’s good temperament alone! We’ll see what happens when I have time to offer him some consistency again.

Shameless plugging, sorry. The magazine has a January sale on at the moment – take out a print subscription before the end of the month and get two back issues free. A bargain!

Posted in half-ass mulemanship, herdlife, marty mule, mulish escapades, photos, riding, things that are scary, vet, xato mule | Leave a comment

Team Half-Ass and the Prancing Ponies

Oof! I need to get back to regular posting. To be honest, I just haven’t done much that’s particularly interesting … other than the International Pack Meeting* and the Joe Wolter clinic that I still haven’t written up completely. But apart from those super interesting events; nope, nothing at all.

* I do, however, have accounts of the Meeting in both the current edition of The Mule Journal and Horsemanship Magazine. In case you were desperate to hear what dumb things I did (actually I didn’t do many dumb things at all, which was somewhat miraculous. Except for the Sandwich Incident, which shall forever remain untold).

Anyway, since Austria I have been feeling really keen on the idea of just walking with my mules. I’ve done a lot of walking with them in the past, of course, but the Pack Meeting imbued me with new purpose. I can’t afford any packing gear right now but I have plans to convert my riding saddle, and will buy a surcingle to start Marty off with.

Ben and I have taken the mules out for a few hikes around the Punchbowl over the last few weekends. Marty has really enjoyed this; Xato is less enthusiastic, although he changed his mind after he refused to go anywhere last weekend and got taken back to work in the arena instead. That didn’t work out so well for him.

A video from a hike we did on the 25th November:

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Why the tarpaulin?

Originally posted on the Facebook page – go here to see the comments, as there were plenty of interesting ones.

I recently read a rant about equines being asked to walk over tarpaulins. The author demonstrated the ridiculousness of such a task by stating how unlikely it is that they would take their horse out on a ride and be constantly confronted by tarpaulins, umbrellas, and other commonly used “desensitisers”.

This is an argument that I’ve heard surprisingly often. Technically, they are correct in their statement: it is very unlikely that we will ever encounter the exact things found on a horse agility course (although Xato and I did recently ride over a tarpaulin that someone had spread on the road to collect hedge trimmings … but that’s neither here nor there). However, I feel that people who say this are missing the point somewhat.

We don’t ask our mules and horses to walk over something like a tarpaulin because we believe that we might one day encounter a wild tarpaulin and have to defeat it. We ask them to walk over different surfaces because – when done correctly – it builds their confidence and prepares them for many things; different terrain out hacking (or that muddy gateway in winter!), crossing water, loading into a trailer, and so on. It’s not possible to practice and prepare for every single potential encounter, which is why we use methods such as horse agility to help teach our equines that they can trust us and our decisions. It’s also useful to know how they’ll respond, in a safe environment, to any question we put to them.

Some input from readers which I thought explained things far better than I did:

“I would also see these methods as enrichment, giving them a chance to think and encounter their own fearful feelings and learn a new way to deal with them.” — Susanna

“They seem to have totally missed the point that we’re training our animals to trust us. The real request isn’t ‘Please cross the tarp’ but ‘Please follow me when I ask you to do something weird’. I also clicker train mine to ‘Touch the monster’ with their nose. Doesn’t matter what the day’s monster is – road cone, recycling box, stationary tractor etc. – it’s about trusting my request.” — Joy

“Yes, we try to build up a trust scenario so when they meet something alarming and new, we agree that it’s alarming and new, then we tackle it together and, by trusting each other, we cope.” — Deb

“I always think that giving them challenges gives the horse the opportunity to ‘learn to think’.” — Erica

If anything the fact that a tarp is something you probably won’t see while out is the whole point – using it as a training aid, it needs to be new to the horse.” — Ben

“Animals in the wild have a constantly changing environment presenting them with an ever changing supply of challenges which, in the case of horses (developed over around 55 million years of evolution), they normally overcome alongside their fellow herd members – sometimes being adventurous and taking the lead, sometimes overcoming their nerves by following a bolder friend, or sent ahead regardless by those behind. The average paddock could be seen as a very dull and unstimulating environment by comparison. Setting up a few novel situations should help restore some of the interest and complexity lost to horses in a domestic set-up, as well as develop their innate problem solving abilities and, perhaps most importantly, promote confidence in themselves and their humans as part of a team.” — Leonita

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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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