Marty and the Oh Yes

While things have gone a little bit wayward with Xato, Marty has been rather extraordinary. I don’t know whether this is because he is now seven-years-old and therefore maturing (finally), or because he saw his chance to get one over Xato and seized it … like the annoying little brother that he is (to my own little brother: love you!). Either way, it’s been pretty nice. I am of the opinion that two is the optimum amount of mules to have: when things inevitably go astray with one of them, you’ve still got another to buoy you up.

The first of Marty’s Big Moments involved allowing me to approach him while he was lying down. I have never been able to do this before. Since his return from Anna’s, he has been letting me to get closer but it wasn’t until this moment that I was actually allowed to reach him. I chose not to touch him as I felt that was pushing things too far, so I merely gave him a treat and told him what a good boy he was. He was very sassy after that so I think he felt pretty good about himself.

Of course, Cash-pony had to ruin the moment somewhat by sliming me while I was down there, but oh well. I knew the risks.

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Mule Tales: Richard (Café Mulé)

What a fantastic pair Matty and Richard the mule are! Hardworking and innovative, they are the perfect partnership and together they run Café Mulé: a trail-side coffee service and online retailer based in Idaho, USA.

One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed when I listen to mule stories is how many people either found their mule to be a major challenge in the beginning, or just flat-out disliked them – but there was always something that made them try again. And, every time, the result was the kind of relationship many horse owners could only dream of. These long-ears demand that their humans step up to the challenge; they shape you into being the kind of person they need. I have met some very cool people thanks to mules.

I’m really excited to be able to bring you the story of this particular partnership, and I appreciate Matty taking time out from his hectic schedule to write for us. You can find more information about Café Mulé on their Facebook page and on their website.


Image © Matty Mulé

1. Please introduce us to your mule!

Richard is a 15 hand, dark brown john mule. Though his exact age isn’t known, Richard is roughly 18-20 years old. He is a career pack mule and has worked extensively in the lower hills and sagebrush expanses of southern Idaho, USA, packing camp supplies for the Basque sheep herders that still graze their herds on vast open areas of our public and private lands. Richard has existed barefoot his entire life and has also developed a wide grazing diet — he samples and eats the most woody and fibrous of plants, even when there is great looking grass nearby!

Image © Matty Mulé

2. How did you meet him?

Richard was a Craigslist purchase or sorts. I was an inexperienced mule owner and looking for an experienced pack mule. I began mule shopping during the worst possible time — in the dead of winter with ice and snow on the ground, sub-freezing temperatures, and few mules on the market. I had passed on the only other mule I had seriously looked at, as it had major issues around large dogs and would not be suitable on the trails I intended to frequent with my new mule. I finally saw a Craigslist ad for a mule a few hours from my home that might fit my requirements. So I spoke with the seller and decided to schedule a time to see his mule.

When the day came for me to see the mule listed on Craigslist, however, the seller informed me that he had already been sold … there were a few other mules in his herd that the seller would consider selling to me, though as I would learn, the seller was a regular horse trader — buying mules and horses cheap at auctions or from private parties, spending some time working with them, and then selling them at a higher price. I was completely intimidated to consider any mule under these circumstances given my inexperience,and especially given the imbalance of experience between potential buyer and seller in this case; so I took a seasoned, mule-owning friend along with me.

When we arrived at the seller’s ranch, he led Richard around, put some packing tack on him, and then turned Richard over to me as I had requested to lead Richard on my own for a bit. Richard proceeded to stumble on the iced-over road and then, becoming a bit anxious, he pushed and drug me far and wide, very much using his four legs and slight traction advantage to my disadvantage. The seller proclaimed that Richard, who was considerably underweight, was also only 13 years old — an age that my more experienced mule-owning friend severely disagreed with. I engaged the seller a bit further to extract as many facts as I could (I had driven a significant distance to get there), but secretly I had decided that this was NOT the mule for me. Richard had been pushy on our walk; he was underweight; he clearly was not as young as the seller was claiming; and I was pretty sure the whole thing had been a “bait and switch” attempt for the seller to get rid of stock he didn’t want or couldn’t easily “flip”.

My friend and I drove home as I expressed my disappointment. The only thing I had seen that I felt was a positive about Richard was that he had been extremely calm with a large dog nearly underneath him, likely from his years around Great Pyrenees dogs used to protect this area’s sheep herds. Other than that, I was convinced I did not like him. My more experienced friend saw things differently, though. He saw a very personable and calm demeanour in Richard, and he chalked up his pushiness on our walk as Richard simply doing a bit of testing with me, if not just a matter of considerably poor conditions with ice on the ground. I wasn’t convinced yet, but I tried to keep an open mind as my more experienced friend expounded upon all the great temperament aspects he had seen in Richard — going as far as telling me that if I didn’t take him, he was interested in purchasing Richard for himself.

I pondered the situation, debated at length with myself, and finally decided that I would offer to purchase Richard on terms that would allow me to bring him back with a full refund after two weeks if desired. The seller agreed and signed my contract. I spent multiple hours doing ground work with Richard nearly every day of the next two weeks. My vet checked him out, agreed that he was certainly not 13, but stated unsolicited that Richard was one of the most easy-going mules he had worked with as a vet. I was sold!

Image © Matty Mulé

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

I was drawn to the personality and trail capabilities of mules, and I purchased Richard for the very specific purpose of launching a trail-side coffee service on the almost 200 miles of trails that run through the open foothills, just minutes from the city of Boise. Our trails are frequented by hundreds of hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians on any given day during the summer. Last summer, we served coffee on 18 occasions for members of our community, with Richard packing in roughly 200 lbs of gear, up to four miles into the trail network. Once packed in, we set-up a temporary table and hand wash station and serve either hot pour over coffee that we prepare on site or cold brew coffee on nitro out of kegs and a packable stout tap our friends built for us.

We serve our trailside coffee “on the house”, accepting only tips and donations, as we like to encourage any and all who venture by us to stop, share a cup, and converse while taking in the beautiful scenery. Of course, Richard has become a huge draw, and we get a ton of people who come mostly to pet Richard and spoil him with the carrots and apples they pack in. We have come to the point where we can only run our coffee service for two-and-a-half hours at a time, as we consistently serve upwards of 100 patrons and exhaust all the supplies Richard can carry in that time period.

Richard and I have packed into the nearby mountains for family camping trips, and we have plans for building out our skills and capabilities. We’ve started to work towards some saddle mule skills. Though this has no purpose for our business, we enjoy working together, and Richard is attentive and eager to learn.

Image © Matty Mulé

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

When time allows, I try to accomplish most tasks without putting Richard in a halter and lead; whether it is picking out his feet, moving him in the pasture, blanketing him, or applying the much dreaded and super scary FLY SPRAY. While approaching tasks in this manner builds a lot of trust, it also leaves room for antics, and Richard is not above testing the waters on tasks that he has accomplished many times before.

One such episode happened this winter. We had some significant wet and cold weather here, and Richard had a period of feeling a bit sick, so I was blanketing him fairly often for the colder spells. On one of these blanketing occasions, I opened the barn for Richard, and he gladly came in and started helping himself to the hay bales (as I imagined he would).

While he was stuffing his face, I went into the tack room to retrieve his blanket. When I appeared with his blanket, he looked at me as if I were carrying a flaming chainsaw and bolted from the barn. What ensued was a good 30-minute process of me driving Richard off around the pasture, waving his “evil” blanket at him, until he decided to come in to me and be comfortable with it. The result, after many false blanket phobia shenanigans, was that Richard stood completely still and allowed me to put the blanket on him and do up the six straps underneath in the middle of the pasture and without being haltered or flinching a muscle. Likely Richard was bored that day and desired a bit of entertainment (even more than getting at the hay bales), but in the end, I see episodes like this as an opportunity for growth and re-affirmation that we can work through to achieve a task together without forcing it.

Image © Shane Davila

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 I’ve learned as a mule owner is to have a sense of humour and be positive about everything – including the times when Richard and I are not reaching a goal together as quick as we would like (potentially due to some exhibition of personality on Richard’s part).

After Richard and I started serving our cold brew coffee on the trails, we began receiving lots of requests from people wanting to purchase our coffee on the flat lands. We went all in, and that has led to a multi-month build up to our current business activities of bottling and distributing our product to local shops and grocery stores. Being an entrepreneur is a high-stress endeavour, and there is always a task at hand that you feel personally responsible for achieving … and you wish you had achieved it at least a week ago, always!

My approach to Richard is in stark contrast to this, and I very purposely try to make my interactions with him into time that builds me up and emotionally “recharges my batteries”. With Richard, I can accept that we might not reach our goal, today, tomorrow, or a month from now. And with him, there is no forcing — he is a mule, and he has a considerable size advantage over me. All I ask is that we come together with some earnest effort — the journey with Richard is the destination.


If you would like your mule to be featured here, 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 happy to take worldwide submissions!

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Xato and the Oh No, part two

Gosh, this has taken a long time to write. Mostly because I was recently given the amazing opportunity to run Horsemanship magazine (oh yeh, just a li’l thing I forgot to mention … more on that later), and I’ve been spending every spare minute getting the April issue ready to go. Every spare minute that isn’t spent on wedding planning, anyway. Or putting together the next issue of The Mule Journal. Or doing my freelance groom work. Or caring for my own equines. Or … you get the picture!

The other reason is because, after typing out the first half of this, I was suddenly struck by the realisation that this entire blog has been me waffling on about theory without ever actually accomplishing anything. I had hoped that, with Xato, I would soon be doing “normal” things like hopping on for a lunchtime hack, rather than finding myself facing another big problem that I had to unravel. It made me feel like a bit of a screw-up, so I moped around feeling sorry for myself for a while. I even questioned what the point of this whole horsemanship thing was, which is an awesome thing to contemplate when you’re running a magazine about horsemanship. It occurred to me that if I didn’t care how my mule felt, then I could just stick him in something like a Waterford, strap his mouth shut when he objected, and go on my merry way. Problem solved!

Except, obviously, it wouldn’t be.

Since the bolt, a few people have suggested that I put Xato in a bit for safety’s sake. I truly appreciate their advice, and I’m not swearing off bits; but I do have reasons for not immediately going to one, and I thought I’d explain those reasons here.

Working with energy at liberty.

 

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Mule Tales: Rudy

This Mule Tale is a little different – as you know, I normally do a question and answer format, but Linda wrote such a beautifully told story that I had to include it in it’s original layout. What a wonderful mule Rudy is!

All images © Linda Marie Leggette.


I’d like to introduce you to Rudy. He’s a very special guy, and I am very proud of him.
It all started about 26 years ago, at a local horse sale in Innisfail, Alberta. I was standing beside one of my riding/packing friends. He had been a mule owner for years, and I always kind of liked his long eared friends. I had been on pack trips with him, and was amused and interested in the unique characters of his saddle and pack mules. A two-year-old mule came into the sales ring, and my heart started beating faster. I took the leap and started bidding on him, only to realize that Keith was also bidding on him. I thought – well, if Keith would buy him – he’s a good one. When Keith realized that I was serious, he let
me have him. I had to call my husband and tell him what I had done – bring the trailer!

My then husband was a horse trainer, but had trouble working with Rudy. Keith told me about a fellow from northern Alberta who was a good mule man. I called him and he was more than willing to help. I loaded up the truck and camper, and hauled Rudy up north to spend a few days with this gentleman. He taught me how to think, how mules think, and gave me the tools to work with Rudy. I have been forever thankful for his expertise and teaching skills.

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Xato and the Oh No, part 1

Xato’s steering and brakes have been an ongoing project since he arrived. As I spoke about here, it has been my intention to take him bitless: partly because, due to the confirmation of his mouth, I felt he would be more comfortable that way; and partly because I agree wholeheartedly with Ross Jacobs when he says, “A bit is nothing more than something to attach the reins to. It is the reins that convey the message from the rider to the horse and if the reins are attached to a bit or a noseband the message remains the same. For this reason I do consider that if a horse responds to a bit but does not respond just as well without a bit, there is a problem in the way the horse understands the message coming down the rein.”

For whatever reason, Xato does not understand the message coming down the rein so it is my job to make it easy for him. We began, over four months, by starting on the ground and installing a disengage, and then progressed to asking him to flex and give to either rein – both in hand and under saddle. We have also had three sessions of bodywork done and his saddle checked and fitted.

Progress was steady, but sticky in places, and if I had been plotting it on a chart then the green line of his improvement in hand would have risen much quicker than the blue line of his ridden work. Having a rider on bored makes him feel more vulnerable, and therefore more inclined to make his own decisions.

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Mule Tales: Squealy Bob

I have been collecting Mule Tales for a whole year now; it has been a very fun and rewarding hobby, and I have ‘met’ so many fantastic mules and their equally wonderful owners. Don’t forget that you can check out the Mule Tales page to see them all!

Anyway, what better way to celebrate the one year anniversary than with the brilliantly named Squealy Bob? Carolyn, Squealy’s owner, says she’s often thought that he and Marty are very similar personalities and I have to agree. Marty wouldn’t dream of squealing or striking (too scary!), but everything else sounds very familiar. They even look rather alike!


“Squealy Bob and his buddy, my QH gelding Ace.”

1. Please introduce us to your mule!

Squealy Bob is eight-years-old, out of a rangy quarter horse/mustang mare and a mammoth jack. He stands about 13 hands and thinks he’s as big as the big boys he runs with in the pasture.

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Mule Tales: Toby Jack

Toby Jack and his person, Laurie, are one cool pair! This little mule got a lucky break when Laurie went to view him, and now he holds his own in obstacle challenges, archery, dressage, trail riding and cow work.

Laurie is a horsemanship trainer based in Georgia, USA, and you can view her website here.


1. Please introduce us to your mule!

Toby Jack is an 8 year-old-mule. He is out of a spotted saddle mare and stands approx. 14.3 hands. His “mule-anality” is a combination of a curious, playful boy and an anxious, worried watch mule.

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Team Half-Ass and Dem Bones

Marty and Xato’s tumultuous love affair has been interrupted due to the fact that I’ve taken out restraining orders against them both.

A little under a month ago, the herd moved over to the front paddocks in order to graze it down before the spring growth starts to come through. There is not a lot of space out there, and so I have split the herd in two during the day, when Iris is out, and at night (when Iris is in the stable, keeping Little Mare company) I was putting all three boys together in one paddock. Our herd is usually peaceable enough to coexist nicely in even the smallest space, but unfortunately Xato – though a sweetheart – is also an incorrigible antagonist and I would arrive in the morning to find evidence of midnight mayhem. Not wanting to risk them in the dark, I separated the mules overnight and only put them out together during the day.

Unfortunately, although I never actually witnessed any play between them, Xato was almost always ending the day with a ripped rug, or another chunk missing from his mane and tail, or a new and bloody wound on his neck. So both mules are now out with a horse chaperone and a fence between them; at least until they’re back in a bigger area.

Xato’s favourite spot to have his morning hay is by the “window”, which allows him to loom over anyone riding by on the lane below. This morning while I was poo-picking, I heard a rider exclaim, “Is that a MULE?!” “Yes,” came her companion’s weary reply. “There’s two of ’em.”

Marty has a balcony view, too. Can’t show favouritism after all. When he first moved here he used to hide behind the hedge and shout unexpectedly at anyone riding by; it made him very popular.

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Xato and the First Two Miles

On Saturday, Xato and I had our first hack (or trail ride, for the American readers). I’ve decided to copy what a lot of the US folk seem to do and keep a note of how many miles we do under saddle. So far, that totals two whole glorious miles!

Admittedly, we probably went out before we were ready; but now that I’ve got it out of my system, I am in a better position to appreciate what needs working on and do the work that needs to be done. I wouldn’t recommend this as a way to discover where the holes are, of course.

We had no agenda when we left the yard, intending to see how he got on and base our distance on that; but he was as good as gold and followed along behind Iris like a seen-it-all, done-it-all trekking pony, all the way down to the village green and back. He didn’t react even when Iris did an impromptu tap dance over an unexpected dustbin, and when she remembered how scary that section of road had been on our way back, he stood patiently while Ben worked her through it and moved on again only when I asked him too.

The less good thing was when he became love-struck over a pretty redhead and decided to turn around and follow her. It wasn’t a major deal as I just kept him bending, disengaged him, and moved him on once we were pointing in the right direction – but it was a tad embarrassing and not something I want him doing!

Anyway, here are some photos from the last few days.

Ears so big they span the entire lane…

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Muleteer Tales: Xanthe

Xanthe should be familiar to many of you as she is the lady who gave me Xato – his real mum, as he is keen to remind me (“My real mum would let me chew on this gate.” “No, Xato, she wouldn’t.” “…Totally would.”). Based in Mallorca, she has a wealth of experience regarding mules and has been involved with Intelligent Horsemanship, using mules as her project theme when working towards her Preliminary Certificate of Horsemanship.

What some of you may not know is that Xato isn’t the only mule who she has helped find a forever home here in the UK! For those of us who have wished for a longear of our very own, Xanthe is essentially a fairy godmother. She is keen to continue helping people find their long-eared soulmate, and if you are searching for a mule then please contact me at herecirm@gmail.com or via the Facebook page and I will put you in touch with her.

You can read my story about importing Xato here.


A baby Xato!

1. How did you get involved with mules?

I had seen mules working the land and pulling carts as a child but had never taken any further notice of them. My involvement started due to the surprise that my draft mare came with inside her!

When I phoned the previous owner to let him know that Jeca had arrived safely he told me that he had given me a present by getting her covered by a Catalan Jack, not exactly what I wanted.

On 7-6-2016 the surprise was born and I decided that I needed to have a crash course in mules because he was not keen on being handled. I was working towards my Monty Roberts Preliminary Certificate of Horsemanship and decided to use mules as my project; I was able to find several mules of different sizes and ages to work with, and I became hooked because I found them fascinating.

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