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 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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Team Half-Ass and the Team Ride

Ben and I have been together for nearly 6 years. We have ridden together several times, but never on our own equines: we’ve gone trekking, performed musical rides with Waldburg Shires, borrowed friends’ horses, and ridden together on clinics. We’ve ridden my old mares, now sadly passed on; I’ve ridden his previous horse, while he rode a friend’s; and of course I’ve led Marty out on many occasions while Ben rode Iris.

A collage of equine adventures.

But on Sunday 4th February, while the late afternoon sun cut through the day’s dull grey clouds, we finally, finally got to ride together on our very own steeds.


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Mule Round-Up: January 2017

The monthly round-up of UK mule news has been good fun, but I will now be moving to a quarterly collection. Maybe it’s just because it’s winter and people are feeling uninspired, but I think I could probably bring you more stories (and be less annoying in my quest for them!) if I left more time between updates. It has been good experiment, nonetheless.

Anyway, enjoy this edition of mule news!

Jennifer says, “Still working on Millie’s trust and confidence. She’s coming on well, stands to be rubbed and stroked and is relaxed most of the time. I’m letting her loose in the afternoons on a 22′ line and she hangs around ” helping” and grazing. Every so often she realises I’m out of sight and has a slight panic, rushing around looking for me which is better than running off as she is outside the ring fence but she needs the trust on my behalf, too. When I relax so does she. The draw is a lot better when it comes to asking her in after playtime. If she doesn’t actually come to me, sometimes I tread on her lead and say whoa just before she reaches the end then I hold the end and we carry on working, but we are working with the lead on the ground which is a prequel to liberty work ( just don’t tell her that it’s my idea, not hers!).”

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Marty and the Bad Day

The mules had a visit from their chiropractor, Celina Harrison, last week. Even though Marty isn’t ridden I still think it’s important to get him checked to make sure everything’s working as it should, particularly after his mystery lameness last month. I’m glad I did as it turned out the poor boy had done himself quite a bit of mischief – almost certainly due to mucking around with Xato!

“Don’t look at me,” says Xato, “I had nothing to do with it. I don’t even know who this is.”

His back was out pretty much the entire way down, so Celina had to do as much as she could to make him comfortable. It was a little bit heartbreaking to see how nervous he was; Celina said she could feel his heart thundering beneath her hands. In order not to stress him too much, it was decided that she would come back next month to give a follow-up and make sure everything was in good order.

The next day I turned Marty and Cash out in the arena so that they could graze down the grass and save me a bit of money on my hay bill! Marty was obviously feeling very good after Celina’s visit, because he initiated a chasing game that preceded the following clip by about a minute and then carried on for several minutes afterwards. I was particularly impressed by his canter pirouette, shown here at around 54 seconds in!

Putting Marty out in an area without a catching pen was a bit of a risk, but he had been acting so sweet lately that I allowed myself to be suckered in and thought I’d give him a chance. Ha.


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Mule Tales: Xato’s import story

He’s been here for three months so I reckon it’s about time that I tell his import story. As a very brief overview for anyone who might be viewing this blog for the first time, Xato is a Comtois mule who we brought over from Mallorca, an island just off the coast of Spain. His owner now sources and exports mules to the UK which is really exciting!

The first meeting.

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

I had been considering the idea of importing a mule for a while. When it became obvious that Marty was going to be a very, very long term project, I started thinking – hypothetically – about where I might find a riding mule if I wanted one. It seemed to me that there was more choice on mainland Europe, as mules come up for sale so rarely here and finding one that’s had any training is like finding a Viking hoard of gold! However, although I joined a few mule groups and kept an eye on what was around, it was never more than a daydream as I figured importing would be way out of budget.

Then Xato came along. Essentially, he chose me. As I mentioned in my intro to Xato, I had admired him from afar and when I was offered the opportunity to have him it was something I knew I couldn’t pass up. Mindful of the advice that I’d read in previous import stories, I asked his owner, Xanthe, for videos of him being caught, handled and led, and then Ben and I flew out to Mallorca for a couple of days to meet the great golden beast in person. It was love at first sight and I was so pleased when he passed his vetting – the dream was coming true!

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Xato and the Five Mile Hike

On Saturday we had another fantastic walk in the Punchbowl; nearly five miles of one, in fact! The chiropractor is due out to see Xato on Monday afternoon and the saddle fitter is visiting at the weekend, so we shall hopefully be riding again soon. In the meantime, I was quite happy to keep my feet on the ground.

I know some people think me odd for hand-walking him, but it’s all good preparation for when he’s hacking out. I also feel that if I can not safely lead him in hand then I have no business riding him.

Our route this week was dictated by my idea of introducing Xato to the Smallbrook. I didn’t think he had any hang-ups about water – he has been quite happy to splash through puddles, and I knew that in Mallorca he’d been taken into the sea on more than one occasion – but I was still interested to see what he thought of crossing running water.

I always lead with a loose line anyway, and I made sure he had plenty of rope in case he jumped – I didn’t want him to catch himself and feel as though he was being punished for making a decision. However, I guess it didn’t occur to me that I could actually shorten my rope instead of raising it skywards to keep it clear of his feet, which is why I look like some kind of crazed puppet master in this video.

My excuse is that I was concentrating on finding the shallowest parts to place my feet! Three cheers for good leather boots!

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Mule Tales: Juanita

What an amazing story this mule has! Born and raised in El Savador, Juanita and one of her lucky humans, Karin, decided to make the 2,500 mile journey to a new life in California. It took a lot of work and planning, and you can read about it here in Juanita’s words!

Photos and words © Karin Usko.

1. Please introduce us to your mule!

Juana is about 17-years-old and 13.2 hands tall. She is a Peruvian Paso mix mare with a standard donkey. Due to her mother’s personality, Juanita turned out to be quite grumpy, but she is harmless, she is all a big bunch of drama. You touch her and she acts as if it hurts, you brush her and it’s as if you are burning her!!! But she secretly likes all that. When I point at her feet and say “mano”, she will lift her front foot for me and when I point at her hind and say “pata” she will kindly lift her hind. I feed her treats from my mouth to hers and she will do it so kindly that she won’t touch my face. Once under the pad (no saddle 😉 ) she is the most careful animal I have ever had! She takes great care of me. We are a team and she knows it.

She is funny when I put her bridle on (we don’t use a bit, only a light hackamore on her) I just open the reins in front of her (facing her) and she dives into her bridle. She loves it!
Breakfast time … when she is bored of waiting she will bang and bang on the fence until I either pretend to throw little rocks at her and she runs out to the turnout kicking and farting as if I was killing her, or I feed her. No rocks or food, no stopping! Kind of a little brat, ha?!

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