The Little Brown Mule and the Great Golden Mule

Marty has never been to any actual shows, but he’s been doing pretty good in online photo competitions: earlier this year he won me a £10 Derby House voucher, he’s just been named as one of the initial winners in Happy Appy‘s search for a new protagonist, and a few weeks ago he won me a £10 discount with local freelance groom service, Pony Express. The latter was particularly useful as Ben and I had a three-day break planned in Mallorca, and I was pleased that Marty was able to help pay for his own keep!

For those of you who do not follow Mulography on Facebook: the Mallorcan trip was to visit a very special mule, see if he would like to be my friend, and to get him vetted. I passed and so did he! I will be bringing you a proper write-up about this amazing opportunity very soon, but for now here is some eye candy!

I was warned when I first got Marty that one mule would lead to another, and I think I always knew that I would get a second mule eventually. Xato is very much a dream come true and I will tell you all about him next time!

As for Marty himself, I am hoping to keep him if I can. Since I decided that I would quit, found rock bottom and released myself from the stress of working with him, our relationship has gone from strength to strength. Despite all my intention to take it slow and accept that mule time flows along its own inscrutable course, there was always a part of me that longed for a mule to ride and explore with – a role that Marty will not fill for many years, if he ever does. I think focusing on Xato, whose education is further along than Marty’s and who will be able to teach me a whole new set of skills, has allowed me to remove pressure that I didn’t even know I was placing on Marty and myself; and that in turn has helped our relationship.

If a good home comes up then I am still open to giving Marty a new human to train, but until then I would like to try and make this work.

So if anyone would like to buy a kidney, I’ve got a good one on offer.

Posted in european mules, herdlife, importing mules, marty mule, photos, track system, travelling, video, xato mule | 1 Comment

Marty and the Enrichment Party

As mentioned in last week’s post, I worried about keeping Marty entertained now that he’s back on our set-up. Part of my attempts to make things more interesting included trying out some of the enrichment ideas I saw at Lockwood. I decided to start small: a couple of old feed sacks with hay and carrots inside, apples in a bucket of water, various treats stuffed in between two twisted leadropes, and various yummy things scattered around the field for them to find.

Iris figured the bags out immediately. The boys watched, circumspectly, then ran away when she picked it up. Too scary! Too scary!

Marty thought that drinking the water might be the best way to get the apples.

Marty would not engage with any of the enrichment ideas, and he wouldn’t even touch the apples and carrots that I’d scattered around the field. Mindful of Lockwood’s advice to not provide puzzles that would cause frustration, I tried to help him out. I thought the bags would be the easiest to start with, and I split one open so that he could take the hay out without having to touch the bag. This didn’t work, so I pulled some hay and carrots out and put them on the ground beside the bag. Still no go!

So we had some comfort scratchies instead.

Then he Grazed Nearby while keeping an ear on the situation. Would Cash get eaten? Would that be more entertaining than a bag full of hay? He could only hope.

It’s safe to say that Iris has no issue with feed sacks at all.

Marty went to contemplate the apples in the bucket again.

Then more Grazing Nearby while Cash checked out the rope bridge.

Iris had her own approach to apple bobbing.

So, with the bags a failure, I took Marty over to the rope bridge and tried to show him that instead. Knowing how funny he is about things resisting when he takes hold of them, I loosened all the treats so that they were barely held in place; if he plucked up the courage to take a bite of something, I wanted it to come free easily. He still wasn’t convinced, so I pulled out one of the grass bundles and balanced it on top. That was fine, but not interesting enough for him to bother with the rest.

By this time Iris had finished both the hay sacks and had come over to see what we were up to. She was surprisingly cautious, so I tried to coax her into trying one of the carrots.

As it turns out, her caution was really just her discerning tastes. She didn’t want the carrot I was offering, she wanted this other one. She is an independent mare and will make her own choices thank you very much.

Of course, because I’d loosened all the treats, as soon as she pulled one free everything else fell out. This was great for Cash as it meant he could swoop in and hoover it all up. Iris seemed baffled.

Marty had to have more comfort butt scratchies.

And then it was time for the pièce de résistance! The ultimate in enrichment! The moment everyone had been waiting for! …I moved the fence.

Not to be put off, I returned the next day with something new: herbal tea with chopped apples added, frozen overnight and turned into a refreshingly cool treat on what had turned out to be a very hot day. Marty was wary about this, too.

Cash thought it tasted funny.

Iris tried her usual response. Then she tried to chomp it, which she regretted.

Iris and Cash both figured out the deal pretty quickly in the end, and seemed to enjoy their ice tea lollies. Marty took a lot longer to convince, but eventually, after some prolonged thinking with his foot and his tail, he plucked up the courage to try it. He then decided it was the best thing ever. Finally! An enrichment success! The mule approves of something.

Posted in enrichment, herdlife, photos, things that are scary | Leave a comment

Mule Tales: Napoleon

My mule radar went off recently when a photo from Inky Dinky Saddles popped up in my Facebook feed, featuring an adorable mini-mule being ridden by his young jockey. A mule! In the UK! I immediately decided that I would have to contact the owner some day, some how, for a Mule Tale.

Anyway, the mule community in the UK is pretty small, and a few weeks later I ‘met’ Lara through a mutual friend (Sarah, who owns another mini-mule – the wonderful Henrietta!). Thankfully Lara was not put off by my excited frothing and graciously agreed to an interview.

All photos are copyright © to Lara Costello.

1. Please introduce us to your mule!

I would like to introduce Napoleon, my little Irish mini mule. He is all of 7 yrs old and I have had him 5 yrs.

2. How did you meet him?

I had just come back from the US and fallen in love with their giant mules, and Napoleon was advertised on a local selling site for €30. I convinced my husband that I needed a companion for my horse and off we went to meet him.

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

From day one Napoleon has been hacking out loose with me, we are very lucky that we have fabulous forestry and mountains on our doorstep. He is very good to load, he loads himself then turns around as he prefers to travel backwards. After a ride he can be a little tricky to catch but I have discovered he loves Apple cookies and so he now loads himself and gets rewarded with a cookie. I have since had a daughter and Napoleon is proving a very good pony for her, he has only been ridden about 7 times and I did very little ‘breaking’ just a few long reining sessions with the saddle. My eventual plan is to take him in the lead rein class at the Dublin horse show as I think he would frighten all the fancy ponies and win!

He hates things coming up behind him and this is something we only discovered once we started riding him, he is getting better but we have to be aware of it when out on the trails. I also have a little harness and trap and will break him to drive eventually. He lives with my mare and two sheep, that he keeps in good shape chasing them around the field when he feels like it. I think since my daughter has started riding him our relationship has really strengthened and the more love he gets the more he gives.

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

A story that represents my relationship with him is probably the trust that I have in him, he wasn’t broken and we have been able to have my daughter ride him perfectly, from day one he hasn’t put a foot wrong and I think he knows how much I trust him and has stepped up to the plate. Our overall relationship has strengthened as a result, he knows I love him and now he knows how to show his love for us, my taking care of his little rider.

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 one lesson he has taught me is to be very clear what you want him to do and be sure to reward reward reward as he picks it up so quickly then. The other most important thing is they don’t say kick like a mule for nothing! As good as Napoleon is, he must have had to fight for food at some time in his life as he is ferocious around food.

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) 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!

Posted in irish mules, mule tales, photos | Leave a comment

Marty and the Ch-ch-ch-changes

So since last week’s post, Marty has moved back onto the livery yard where we keep our horses. This is a shame as I felt that set-up was ideal for him, but it can’t be helped and I am trying very hard to replicate his routine as closely as possible. It’s not that I believe New Mellow Marty is a direct result of his environment, but I do think that the environment helped.

It’s made me look at the way we keep our herd and reassess things. Keeping equines on rented land prevents us from some projects, but we can certainly work to expand their enrichment as much as possible. Last year’s track is slowly being reborn, although this time we will try some new approaches to hold back the mud for as long as possible! Our landlord understandably did not approve of us trashing his hayfield.

Either way, Marty seems quite amiable about the change. I think he rather likes having his sparring buddy back.

“Not the face!” / “Not the ears!” / “Nooooo!”

Our dentist, Bee May, came out to see Marty on Thursday. We were trying him without sedation again. Last time, he wore the gag and had hand tools used a little; this time he not only wore the gag, but had a proper dental examination and had the power tools used! I was so unbelievably proud of him. The hardest part was putting the gag on and off, but I showed Bee how Anna had taught me to approach things like this and, working together, we were able to achieve our goal. He backed up a little but that was it. Bee was keen to allow him to move his feet if he wanted to. No hysterics, no throwing himself around, just a good, brave mule. It’s enough to make me think this mule stuff might be easy.

Unfortunately neither Bee nor myself thought to take any pictures, although Bee says she will have to get a photo of his mouth next time because it’s one of the best she’s ever seen. Well done, Marty! I knew you were perfect at something. 😉

“Look, Cash! Look! Look at my perfect teeth! LOOK CLOSER.”

I really am quite astounded with how much he’s changed since coming back from Anna’s. There are still plenty of Martyisms showing up, but they’re no longer as big a deal as they used to be. Anna gave both of us the skills needed to handle it.

To help further this improvement, I have started taking lessons with Jenni Winter of Flying Changes Coaching. My confidence has taken a real beating over the last year or so, and as a friend wisely pointed out to me, I no longer believe in my abilities. I’m hopeful that it will not only help me with Marty, but with any mule I take on after this.

Posted in dentist, enrichment, herdlife, photos, things that are scary | Leave a comment

Marty and the Photoshoot

A few weeks ago, I saw an advert for a very reasonably priced photoshoot by local photographer, Krsphotography. Ben and I got engaged three years ago but we haven’t got around to planning a wedding yet let alone an engagement shoot, so I decided that this was an excellent opportunity and a good excuse to get some nice photos taken with our herd. Ben and I take a lot of photos of each other with our respective steeds, but we very rarely get pictures with all of us in.

Of course, the herd had their own thoughts about this idea.

Things I learnt from this experience:

  • Getting three equines to pose for the camera is a lot harder than I’d thought.
  • It’s even harder to get them to pose nicely if you want to hug or gaze lovingly into your partner’s eyes.
  • There is a REASON all the ‘engagement shoot with horses’ photos that I Googled beforehand only featured one horse, usually grazing.
  • Give the photographer a flag or something so that the awful mule won’t continuously ignore her attempts to get him to put his ears forward.
  • Iris does not like having her tail washed, as evidenced by our broken tie string.
  • Marty has an inexplicable hatred of wooden gates.
  • If Cash can get poo on himself, then Cash will get poo on himself. And Cash can always get poo on himself.
  • The kraken who lives in the pond below the hill has still not been vanquished.

Ben’s summary of the experience: “It was like trying to have a family picture taken with three giant, idiot children.”

I love this picture. Marty is on kraken lookout. 

Photo © Katie Spicer

Cash. Why are you like this.

Photo © Katie Spicer

Lovely shot of Ben and his horses. If it looks like he’s trying to separate bickering kids, it’s because he is.

Photo © Katie Spicer

Probably the only photo where we were able to engage in any kind of pose that made it look as though we actually loved each other.

Photo © Katie Spicer

Marty: “I hate you so much right now. I wish I was still in Devon with Anna. Anna understood me.”

Photo © Katie Spicer

“Fine, I’ll do what you want and put my head over this stupid gate. But I’m not going to enjoy it.”

Photo © Katie Spicer


Photo © Katie Spicer

This is probably the single greatest photo of all time. It sums us up very well.

Photo © Katie Spicer

Marty: Are we done yet?
Me: No.
Marty: Are we done yet?
Me: No.
Marty: Are we done yet?
Me: No.
Marty: Are we done if I bite your face.

Photo © Katie Spicer

He’s a cutie when he actually puts his ears forward!

Photo © Katie Spicer

My overall review is 10/10, would do again. It was a lot of fun, we’ve got some great pictures, and most importantly of all they tell it how it really is … this family owns a mule. Of course we’re a little crazy. 🙂

Posted in about us, herdlife, photos | 1 Comment

Mule Tales: Ears

The Tevis Cup is a 100 mile ride in California. The aim is to complete it within 24 hours, and it holds the title as the oldest modern day endurance ride. It has never been won by a mule, although two have claimed the Haggin Cup – which is an award for Best Condition at the end of the race, available only to the first ten riders to finish successfully.

This year saw two mule riders enter, one of which was the magnificent Ears owned by Roger Downey and ridden by Eve Blumenfeld. I am so very excited to be able to bring you their story! Thank you, Eve, for so generously sharing your adventure with us.

Photo © Cynthia C. Buendia

1. First of all, well done on completing such an incredible test of endurance and partnership. Could you tell us a little about your mule and introduce him to us?

So it comes with a funny story. I just got into endurance 2 years ago by doing a Ride & Tie event and ended up loving riding a horse … did when I was a kid. So at the age of 54, having never owned a horse or taken riding lessons, I asked my girlfriend to get me an Arab. She did – an 8 yo 14.1 hands named Tux. I love him. Started our first year on LD, did great!!! Second ride on him I met a man named Roger Downey who was on a mule and we rode most of the season together, although he could never remember my name and he had a different mule each time. My horse had no problems with mules. He did the Tevis that year, 2014, on his mule Jodey and got pulled. The next year I bumped up to 50’s with Tux and Roger on his mule. My Arab was not ready for the Tevis. Roger went into 2015 on his mule Jodey again and fell off and ended up getting airlifted out … I told him he could never do the Tevis without someone, he is 76 years old. So he said ok, do the 2016 Tevis with me I said my horse is not ready, his response: RIDE ONE OF MY MULES! Lol, never in my life had I ever been on a mule.

So I got on the 15.3 hand mule, larger than life and could drag me anywhere he wanted which he did at first and still does (sometimes), and did a few rides with him. Then in November last year I did an LD and we won, did a few more conditioning rides in the winter and Roger said take him home … WHAT. Totally worried about my little Arab but guess who bosses whom around. When I am around, Tux acts like he is boss but when I can spy on them they are like best buddies and teenage boys always getting into trouble.

Photo © Jessica Bishop

2. What was it about Ears that endeared you to him? What would you say are the main differences between riding a mule and riding a horse – especially in endurance events?

Funny thing is I did not think Ears liked me at all – he seemed very indifferent, came from the race track where they get smacked around. Love to watch mules or horses racing, just beautiful, just wish they did not get the abuse or discarded if they don’t do well. Ok another story lol. It took time to bond, people say “oh they are stubborn”, I got the feeling they are more self preserving so if they have had enough they tell you. Now that I have both, I feel that what traits they have are more intensive than a horse. With Ears his focus is like none other … and when he hunts no stopping him, you can find that in a horse but they really like to be with horses so if one is nearby, hang on.

Photo © Dominique Cognee

3. I saw some photos of you while the ride was in progress, and you looked great – was it all as effortless as you made it look? I know you have a funny story about Cougar Rock!

Yes it was we started in pen one, only 60 riders are allowed – those that place high in previous races that year. They go by % and below 60 I think we scored 24% … I was told not to start in that pen BUT let me tell you I would not have it any other way. Most of the fast competitive riders start there … my response, you are all on mini coopers and I am in a Suburban lol.

“Single track to start before you cross under hwy 89 up to Squaw.”

“Then we pretty much walked up Squaw since most horses get pulled at Red Star for metabolic.”

“Coming into our first Vet check with crew, Robinson Flat.”

“Heading out of Robinson in about 23 place.”
Photo © Jessica Bishop

The idea for Cougar Rock is to follow the arrows and go around a big slab of granite … well Ears thought it would be quicker to just JUMP and that he did. I have to tell you I would not do this on my Arab, but I knew he was steady and when he puts his mind to something you could not be safer. His head says it all….

Photo © Gore/Baylor

So headed into the worst part of the ride: 2 very hard canyons, Swinging Bridge and Devil’s Thumb, and headed down and up into Michigan Bluff in temps reaching 110. So if I was going to get pulled it would be Deadwood or Chicken Hawk, we just had to make it to Foresthill where I had my crew waiting for me. So my next oops moment was at Swinging Bridge. Ears opted not to take the bridge but go through the water, and they mentioned at ride meeting not to as there were no spotters. This is what the photographer had to say about those photos: “Some of the better water shots, but your river exit had my heart in my throat!”

“So here is a picture of Swinging Bridge, not during the Tevis but one of my conditioning rides.”

Image © Lynn Glaser

Image © Lynn Glaser

OH and MULES roll more than anything in the WORLD!

4. Is that how he celebrated his accomplishment? Can you describe your feelings as you crossed the finish line?

So surreal I really was thinking we did this, we really did this. Even though I knew that when I got on him in the morning he was going to make it – not once in the ride did I think we were not going to make it – I questioned myself as I had come off in the dark losing my stirrup, and took a bit to find and I banged my knee on a rock. BUT damn, that mule did not waver. Also I got lucky and came in with my friend who rescues Mustangs and trains them so the joke was a mule and a Mustang walk into a bar – well actually cross the line together. And once I got him home he JUMPED out of the trailer, called out to my Arab Tux, and they both were screaming and he ran up to the gate. I let him in, they chatted, and he went straight to his favorite roll spot!

Photo © Gore/Baylor

5. That’s fantastic! It must have been such an incredible feeling. What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt as a mule rider, and what piece of advice would you give to someone new to mules?

So I was brand spanking new to mules … give them the same respect you would a horse, they deserve the same treatment. I never go the stubborn side so I have been lucky I have tried to spend more time getting to know him and vice a versa. There is a big misunderstanding with them and some people actually ask you to move as their horse does not like the smell of mules  – hummmm my horse had no problem. I think the horses pick up on the human vibes. Oh, and trust him like never before – he knows best, someone said to me he will take care of me and take me to the finish. I thought ya right BUT I’ll be damned he did … give them their head and trust their judgment, 99% of the time they are right.

Photo © Lisa Peck

Image © Lynn Glaser

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) 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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Marty and the Busy Week

Marty has been feeling quite sassy this past week. If I’m honest, I do not like Sassy Marty. Sassy Marty is kind of a jerk. However, Sassy Marty is who I’ve got, so he and I will just have to learn to coexist.

I think that’s kind of the realisation I’ve come to. For two and a bit years I’ve been doggedly working away, seeking perfection, and always hoping that one day we would find the magic spell to turn Marty into a Good Mule. The thing is, Marty has his own ideas of what constitutes a Good Mule, and those ideas do not necessarily tally with ours. I genuinely mean that in the nicest and most affectionate way, before anyone starts furiously typing…! He is the kind of mule that I think Joshua A. Lee, the author of the wonderful book “With Their Ears Pricked Forward”, would call a jarhead. And that’s okay. I love my little sassy jarhead.

Enjoying access to the middle overnight.

He is still looking for a loan home, although I must confess that I’m not actively searching at the moment. In the meantime, I’m just trying to work round his particular issues. The set-up he’s currently in works very well for both of us.

On Sunday Ben and I had a (much-belated) engagement photoshoot with our herd. It was the first time I’ve actually haltered Marty since he returned; he wore his leather headcollar, as I thought it looked smarter. I managed to trim one of his disgusting dangling ear-bogies, but not the other. He got sprayed with Dream Coat because there was no way I was bathing him. And then we strategically did all our photos in long grass to hide his toes, which were a little bit overdue for a trim!

I’ll be making a photo post about that later, but here are a couple to show you now. Many thanks to Krsphotography for the images!

Photo © Katie Spicer

Photo © Katie Spicer

Marty hated that gate. He was really good for most of the shoot, but the posing by the gate part was the worst thing he’d ever had to do (apparently). I particularly like this one because Ben and Iris look really elegant and well turned out, and then you have two disheveled idiots next to them and a grumpy sod at the end. This isn’t the best gate photo … that one is being saved for next week (unless you are personally friends with me, in which case you’ve already seen it!).

On Tuesday he was haltered again ( which he objected to) and had his feet trimmed (which he rather enjoyed). He was meant to have his teeth done, too, but our lovely dentist was ill and had to cancel – we both agreed that throwing up on him might not help train him to accept dental work!

He was very good about bringing his legs forward and onto the hoofjack today. This, however, was his third hoof and he was getting bored.

I got surprisingly cold standing in the shade while he had his feet done. Marty generously helped me warm up by letting me scratch his butt in the sunshine afterwards.

Marty and his catching paraphernalia. I don’t use the neckrope out in the open because I can’t hold him with it; it’s designed for use in a smaller area. If he were to bolt then he would end up running round with a lunge line trailing after him, which I think would do more harm than if he were to simply slip free of a leadrope.

Despite his continued distrust of the halter, it doesn’t affect us too badly because we are no longer in a situation that sets us up to fail. I do not try and catch him out in the open. On the two occasions that I’ve needed to bring him down to his pen, I’ve just put a leadrope round his neck and led him down on that. The first time I did it he shied away, and I let him go – giving him the time to change his mind – before sending energy to turn him, the way Anna showed me. I sort of imagine it as though Marty has a sail, and I need to send a gust of wind that catches it just so in order to arrest his forward movement and step his hindquarters round. If it hadn’t worked it still wouldn’t have been a big deal, as being on a track means that he can only go two directions: towards me, or towards his pen.

I’ve also started trying to teach him to lead by cupping my hand under his jaw, behind his chin. That has mixed results but he’s getting the idea.

Posted in catching, dentist, feet, half-ass mulemanship, photos, track system | Leave a comment

The Prophet and his Mule

Some time ago, back when I still used Tumblr, I stumbled across an otherwise mule-free poem that contained a line about “Duldul, Ali’s white mule”. Naturally this piqued my interest and I had to find out more. It didn’t occur to me at the time that this might make a good article, unfortunately, and so I didn’t make a note of my sources – or the original poem! So this is by no means an academic essay, it’s just stuff I found interesting. Sometimes I get carried away when a topic seizes me and I don’t think about putting it to practical use until much later.

There are many mentions of famous, named horses throughout history, folklore and literature, but not so many mentions of mules. This is of course terribly unfair and I’m going to make it my mission to uncover and remember our long-eared companions of old.

This series starts with Duldul, the favoured white mule belonging to the prophet Muhammad. He may have owned several mules, but the only named ones I can find mention of are Duldul, the “first mule seen in Islam”, and Fiddah. Duldul was a molly and is described as being white or “greyish” in colouration. I couldn’t find any further mention of Fiddah’s sex or colour. Fiddah also lacks his or her own stories, although interestingly he/she shares a name with the prophet’s coat of mail which may have symbolic meaning.

Finding any artwork of Duldul was very difficult. This is the only image I found, taken from a set of Islamic posters – and, although it appears to be linked to Duldul the horse, I think those could be mule ears!

Duldul exists in many different versions. For example, although historical accounts seem to concur that she was in fact a mule, once you get into folklore she is referred to as a horse – even a winged horse, according to the Uyghur people of the steppes! Kurroglou, the bandit-minstrel of Northern Persia, rides a great Arabian stallion named Kyrat who is reputed to be the great-grandson of Duldul (not impossible if Duldul, in this instance, was a mule; but highly improbable). I suspect this may be a case of prejudice against mules, which is sadly not just a modern phenomenon. The Arabian horse is perhaps seen as a fancier, more prestigious mount for a prophet to ride; although Arab owners have told me that their highly intelligent, independent horses have a lot in common with the mule!

Duldul’s name, also, appears to be up for debate. One source I found translated it to mean “porcupine”, which they suggested was due to her unusual gait. In Poetry and Mysticism in Islam: The Heritage of Rumi, it spoke about Duldul being linked to the word for heart, which is “dil”. It said that the mule’s good nature prompted many Persian poets to refer to the heart as a “Duldul”. To quote the 13th century Rumi: “It is a long way, and my soul is walking; but the heart can be doubled and turned into [a] Duldul”. Here, he refers to joining with a beloved in order to “double” the heart. Duldul symbolises “the strength or ‘mightiness’ that is gained through love, and which enables lovers to overcome all obstacles easily”. I personally like this idea a lot.

16th century Turkish artwork featuring a white mule, artist unknown.

As mentioned, Duldul was the prophet’s favourite and he rode her into many battles. At Hunayn, a battle between Muhammad and his followers against the Bedouin tribe of Hawazin, he is reputed to have ordered Duldul to sit (although some sources say she “lay on her belly”). He then took a handful of sand and threw it in the face of his enemies, bringing about their defeat.

Duldul outlived the prophet and when she died she was “so old and toothless that in order to feed her the barley had to be put into her mouth”. As she “survived until the time of Mu’awiyah”, this means she was at least 30+ years old – depending on how old she was when given to Muhammad. Ali, as mentioned in the poem, was Muhammad’s son-in-law and Duldul was passed on to him, although exactly when in unclear.

“White Mules: Spain”, by John Singer Sargent.

Duldul and Fiddah had been a gift to Muhammad from al-Muqawqis, the ruler of Alexandria. They were accompanied by a donkey called Ya`fūr, a descendant of the donkey ridden by Jesus into Jerusalem. There is a lot more information available about Ya`fūr, although no one seems able to agree on his colour: he was either white, or brown, or black! But he was an Egyptian donkey, and therefore very beautiful. He also had the rather singular power of speech.

He told Muhammad that he was “the last of his lineage, for Muhammad was the last of the prophets, and that he had been waiting for him and had allowed no one else to mount him.” Unfortunately tradition also holds that Ya`fūr committed suicide after the Prophet’s death by throwing himself into a well – but hadith studies (religious disciplines used in the study of the collection of reports of what the prophet Muhammad said, verbatim, on any matter) consider this to be unreliable data. Which is good news for us donkey fans.

I find the stories of Duldul and her fellows deeply intriguing. It is interesting to see that, at the start of one of the great world religions, is preserved the name of a mule. As mule owners, I think that is something to be proud of.

Photo copyright © Jacqui and Clive Tilley

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Mule Tales: Seven

Seven has actually featured on the blog before – he was included in the round-up of different mule types last month. I thought at the time how beautiful he was (have I mentioned that I have a soft spot for draughts?), so I’m really pleased to have him back for his own post. After talking to his owner, Shannon, it sounds like he shares many similarities with Marty; she gave me a lot of advice, which I’m hugely thankful for. She also supplied me with some of the most fantastic photos!

Shannon has a great blog which you can read here.

Photo copyright © Diane Hoffman

1. Please introduce us to your mule!

Lucky Number Seven – 20 year old, Belgian Draft cross, John Mule, 15.1 hands, Sorrel with white mane and tail, Star.

I am Shannon Hoffman, live near Raleigh, North Carolina, USA on the St. Clair Red Mule Farm.

I work at a full time office job but ride, train and help people with their mule and donkeys the rest of the time. I have been an Open Horse Show Judge for the last 15+ years and so enjoy working with 4-H kids and anyone who wants to learn. I still, of course, take lessons and I am so blessed to have found a wonderful mentor who is a great teacher and has such great horsemanship skills she doesn’t blink at working with a mustang, mule or mammoth donkey!

Photo copyright © Ginger

2. How did you meet him?

A good friend of mine who buys and sells mules on the side had him for sale. I had already decided that my next mule would be a Belgian Draft Horse Cross. I actually suggested the name Seven to my friend because Seven has a freeze brand on his hip with a 7 in it. I met Seven at a fun show that my friend brought him to. I used him for a lead line class and rode him just for a few minutes. I did not have my own farm at the time and so I could not buy him without first selling my other mule. I watched Seven being loaded on the trailer that day, SOLD to another family. I was really trying not to be crushed.

But a week later they decided he was not the mule for them and called to return him. I told my friend that I would go and pick him up and wanted to try him out. So I scrambled to find a place to put him! He was green and scared of his own shadow half the time but there was something about him I liked. I was going through some fear issues for the first time in my adult riding career, myself, and we just seemed to work things out.

I named him Lucky Number Seven because he has the number 7 branded on him, he was 7 years old and I paid $700 for him (my friend gave me a steal of a deal). Now my life has so many occurrences of the number 7 in it, ones I did not even realize were there.

Photo copyright © Jan Brown DeVos

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

I started out just trail riding him with my Mule Club and going on weekend camping trips. I used to show hunters and then all-around in Quarter Horse circuit and so I just kept riding and training him, to see what I could teach him. I believe in having a well-trained and well-rounded equine that I can take anywhere and try anything with.

I started using trail obstacles, tarps, water boxes, mattresses, pool noodles and such to gain his confidence in himself but he also had to trust and look to me – rather than spooking, doing a 180’ spin and bolting. I kept working with him because he always showed TRY for me, even when he was afraid and he always got just a little better.

I showed him English and Western in open shows and usually did pretty well with him. We also learned to work cattle and he really enjoys that. We started doing Cowboy Races and Obstacle Challenges when they became popular and for once in my life I was ahead of the learning curve on something, since we had been doing so many obstacles. He gained confidence in himself and even became so brave he would charge at the obstacles like he enjoyed it! Over a few years he won three belt buckles, two from high point end of the year competitions and one from a tough one-day class.

Seven and I would get called to go over and be “company” for young race-horses out on the training track who were ready to be exposed to being in a crowd of other horses. We of course could not keep up when they ran full out but we acted as blocks and moved around the horses as they warmed up to give them experience. On one of these trips, my trainer friend asked me to help him back a horse in the round pen. After things went well, he told me about all the problems he had been having with this particular horse and his fears during training. It seemed that the race-horse really liked Seven. Seven seemed to understand that when he got scared and moved closer to him that he was not being aggressive, just unsure. So Seven would let him get close, where other racetrack ponies would drive him off, having a very negative effect. Seven and I went over 3-4 nights a week for 3 months, to help get this race-horse trained and ready for the track! We both had never been in such good shape! The race-horse went on to win several races and have a good career.

We have also given a go at Dressage and even Western Dressage. Seven competed in a fundraiser with a friend of mine riding him, where they completed a dressage test and then an obstacle course! They did great together and even beat the 6 other horses (with their regular riders) to win! He was on a cover of Mules and More Magazine with an article about the win!

The last few years I have backed off competition and we have been mainly just trail riding both on trips and around the house. He has a new rider, a friend of mine, and he so enjoys trail riding with her. He gets pulled out to do a lesson or two and to help me pony and work with other mules and donkeys. He remains sound and strong and ready to go on our next adventure. I hope to have him as my Best Friend for many years to come!

Photo copyright © Shannon Hoffman
Shannon says: “Fabio is the stallion of the Wild Pony herd. Hecomes up to Seven just about every year and he and Seven “talk”, I wish i knew about what….”

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

I don’t really have a specific example but our relationship is based on leadership and a mutual trust of each other that had to be built step by step.

When he gets him self in trouble (leg caught in a cinder block, hay bag strap, etc.), he waits, knowing I will help him, when he is afraid of something he stays with me, physically and mentally for me to show him it’s ok. When he is unsure of someone he knows I will stand between him and them, if needed, to make him feel comfortable. I know he is MY Mule because he is always watching me, trying to see where I am. I had to earn that level of partnership from Seven, as with most mules.

I know he will listen and try for me, no matter what, well except maybe not for a scary hiker! He will carry me over the mountain and the next one. Seven understands me more than I can understand myself sometimes. I have learned so much from him and he makes me be a better human. He is so sensitive that he makes me more aware of my own environment, if I watch and listen to him.

Seven is very smart and shows me once in a while just how smart! I taught him to come to a mounting block, rock or log to help me mount up. He has always been very helpful in letting me get him in just the right place to help me. One day he was just a little bit farther away than I felt was safe and I just asked with my voice, “Come Closer”, I was stunned when he did just that. Mules are so smart and connected.

Photo copyright © Shannon Hoffman

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?

I use this statement from dog trainer Cesar Milan, “Calm, Confident, Leadership” when speaking of how to handle mules and donkeys. If you stay Calm and Confident when asking your mule to do something, and they become upset or fearful, it will help them stay calm and be confident. Leadership is needed to direct and teach that this is needed from the partnership. If you are not a leader then the mule will start making his own decisions about what he would like to do and what is safe for him. You might not like those decisions!

Mules understand Justice so the punishment better fit the crime and your animals personality (don’t ever lose your temper). Mules need for you to give them clear expectations of them and then honestly reward them for working for you. A very important part of the punishment when needed is to not harp on what they have done wrong after it has been corrected. Move on to better things once you have made yourself clear. For Seven, a slight jerk on the lead rope or a small yield of hindquarters and a sharp “No” from me is more than he even needs.

The more good horsemanship you use with them the better. I have learned more horsemanship since I started working with mules, than any other time in my life. I think it is because you need it to be effective. Training tricks and force will only get you an unhappy and resentful, if not scared of you, Mule Partner.

Obedience: if you don’t have a cooperative partner when at home and things are going well, you will have big problems when things get crazy! If they can’t stand tied for grooming, Vet work and Farrier at home, how will they handle being tied at the trail-head while you are busy for a minute. I would never get on a mule that was disrespectful on the ground, because the ground manners are a reflection of what you will get from the saddle.
There is always more to learn if you are open to thinking things through and listening to your mule!

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) 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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Marty and the Good Life

Marty continues to settle in well to his new lifestyle. We’ve gone past the clingy stage, where he began to panic if I tried to leave or would run to greet my return, braying as loud as he could; now he’s in the “I’m a cool teenager posting photos of gang-signs on Facebook oh crap mum’s seen me” phase. To be honest, that’s normal Marty behaviour. He has a lot of bravado but he likes someone to give him a cuddle when he’s scared.

He is feeling remarkably mellow at the moment. Whether that’s a result of his time at school, or his new healthy track-life, or a combination of both – I don’t know, but it’s nice. I think the routine of coming into his pen twice a day is good for him. He learns patience, as he usually stays in there for a few hours each time; it gives him stability, as he knows exactly when people will arrive (or specifically, when food will arrive); and he also knows that when he’s in there he’s on my time – I can do things with him – and the rest of the time is his own to do with as he pleases.

A few times he has really surprised me with just how laid-back he is about things now. The other day, I arrived at the field and he came up to the gate to greet me and to get scratchies. In order to reach him better, I climbed the gate. He didn’t react at all to me appearing above him – he was standing broadside, having lined up perfectly – and he didn’t react when I accidentally bumped him in the loins with my toe! I’d kept scratching him and he just poked his nose, wagged his lip and gurned throughout. Impressed, I sat the gate for a while before deciding to see what would happen if I rested my knees on his side while I scratched. Again, he didn’t stir. Then I decided to lay my leg over his back – he didn’t tense up, he didn’t move away, he just kept enjoying his scratchies. He moved his head from side to side a few times to better enjoy the scratching, which meant that he saw my boot out of both eyes and that didn’t concern him either.

I’m aware that his ear position in the photo with my boot could be taken to mean uncertainty; I wish I’d taken a video, as you would have been able to see that his ear position did not in fact change, and that at this very moment he’s just gurning away and enjoying himself.

I’ve done that twice now, and I’ve also done a bit on the ground with him where I rested my forearms on his back and jumped up and down like I was about to spring on board. He stood nicely, then looked hopefully for scratchies afterwards. All these things were spur of the moment that I did just because it felt right at the time.

Of course, another time he flipped the hell out because I touched his mane (I was thinking about cutting it and was trying to figure out how I would do it, and if it would look stupid to leave the forelock. I think I was probably focused too intently on that danger-area behind his ears, and it made him uncomfortable). So, he’s still Marty. Just with a little bit more maturity.

It’s that great time of year when his stripes are extra visible on his legs. I’ve just realised that his his hock stripe resembles a sideways Eolh – the rune for life, and protection. I love the little stripe and chestnut on the inside of his forelegs, too.

I’m not suggesting that either of the good things mean he’s suddenly turned a corner and is ready to be ridden, but it made me stop and reevaluate a few things, that’s for sure. I’m still not sure what to do with him. I genuinely think he would benefit from a more experienced owner, but at the same time I’m quite keen on the idea of teaching him to pack rather than ride and that seems a lot more achievable at the moment. Or at least, it’s achievable if I can find anyone to teach me how to pack. There’s only so much you can learn from books…

He has more or less been accepted by the locals.

He has figured out that field shelters are a great place to enjoy scratchies when the weather is awful.

His new neckrope is very fetching but he doesn’t want the girls to see him in it. He is, after all, a magnificent and untameable stallion.

As of Sunday, he and the mares have started going into the middle overnight. In all honesty this is probably not ideal as he certainly doesn’t need the grass, but unfortunately there isn’t a way to give the horses free access and keep him out. So I’m trialing it and seeing how it goes.

On Monday morning he brought himself out when he saw me arrive, but on Tuesday morning I had to go and fetch him. I was interested to see how that would work out. Anna had told me that it was probably not a good idea to try haltering him in a large area anymore, so I went out with a leadrope and put it round his neck. He shied away from my first attempt at touching him, but then I was able to approach him again and lead him out. We jammed up a couple of times, but he didn’t actually try to leave at any point. I just had to give him a moment to figure it out. I was really pleased.

“Hmm … maybe I didn’t mean to come out after all.”

“Welp, there’s only one thing for it…”

“…Time for a butt scratch.”

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