Team Half-Ass and the Hill Track

Last weekend, Xato and I attended Joe Wolter’s first UK clinic down in Devon. I will be doing a write-up of that very soon, but it requires a certain amount of brain capacity and I am running low on that at the moment – within the next fortnight I have a magazine to compile and print, and a man to marry!

So instead I thought I’d do another feature on our current track system.

This year, we managed to reclaim the hill field which had previously been given to the cows. I’m very happy about this because it means we (almost) have enough grazing for everyone, and keeping equines on a hillside is good exercise for all involved. I feel it offers more enrichment than a standard flat field, too. Oh, and it’s extremely picturesque! That’s important!

Moving the boys over a few weeks ago. Iris was still on boxrest at this point.

I don’t think we were running tracks when we last had access to the hill field – here’s a little bit about why I started using one. I am very much a track convert! Becoming a mule owner has caused me to give a lot more thought to how my animals occupy themselves when I’m not around.

The hill field is pretty much perfect. It is bordered by woodland at one end, which offers them shade, shelter from the rain and wind, and interesting things to forage for. At the bottom is the lake (also fenced off – it’s man made and we are on strict orders to not let any pointy hooves get near its liner!), which is basically their TV. Lots of animals use it, and we currently have a Canada goose family with three little goslings! The hillside itself is probably my favourite part, as they have to travel up and down it several times a day and that means they’re working on their topline and core strength without me having to lift a finger. I am a very lazy person.

My mule-only track plan didn’t work out because I can’t leave Marty and Xato alone together. Xato is an unrelenting juggernaut and, without a horse to keep the peace, he and Marty will pester each other constantly until Marty (who has less stamina than Xato) jumps out and goes in search of a more peaceful place to live. I decided that the benefits did not outweigh the hassle! With four of them to look after, I like to make life as easy as possible.

Anyway, as we create the track shape by strip-grazing, I initially started off with a long strip across the top of the field. The “other track” to the right, between the wooden fence and the green tape, is so that the cattle can be moved between the fields on either side without disrupting the equines. That’s the plan, anyway. It hasn’t been tested yet!

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Team Half-Ass and the Face-Pulling Contest

In lieu of anything constructive to say, here is a big ol’ photo dump of the boys being … well, boys. They’re a good bunch. Iris is still on restricted movement and therefore confined to a seperate pen, so they’ve had a solid three weeks of bonding time with no yucky girls to interfere and suggest they do anything sensible. This evening, for example, I arrived to see the mules chasing each other up and down the hill; and then I realised that Xato had pulled a taller-than-me branch off one of the trees and was trying to bash Marty with it. As long as they’re happy…

Marty was very excited by our arrival – I think he thought we were bringing dinner.


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Team Half-Ass and the Unicorn

April 9th was National Unicorn Day, and as a lifelong devotee to the noble beast, I naturally had to celebrate in some way with my mules.

I thought their reaction was very interesting, particularly when compared to Cash pony (our horse, Iris, ran through a fence a couple of weeks ago and had to have stitches which she subsequently ripped out, and is therefore in jail a small pen of her own. She did not get to play Unicorns with us).

As you can see in the video, Cash didn’t really care. He wandered up to look at the newcomer once, but otherwise appeared totally bored by the whole thing. However, after breakfast, as he ambled back across the field towards Iris, he suddenly noticed the Unicorn standing on the other side of the fence where I’d left it. A Unicorn in the field is fine; a Unicorn behind a single strand of electric tape requires a big drama to be made about it. It’s Cash logic, I don’t know. It really frightened him and he was just as scared when we brought it back into the field for him to look at. Who knows? Perhaps it was the sudden surprise of seeing it there which upset him.

Unfortunately I didn’t get his explosive reaction on video as I wasn’t expecting it, but here is the aftermath – including the mules helpfully gliding in to block my view (maybe they thought it was mean to film Cash in his moment of crisis. I genuinely think they know he’s a little bit subnormal and look out for him as best they can).

So nonthreatening here that Cash could have a snooze.

What a good boy.

They are BOTH good boys.

Goddamn mule spooked my Unicorn!

Marty surprised me with his boldness. He wasn’t sure at first, but his curiosity quickly overcame any misgivings he had. Given his usual reaction to any small animal who enters his field / looks like it might enter his field, I’m also surprised that he didn’t try and kill my poor Unicorn … but then, he did start gnawing on its leg after Xato knocked it over. So there’s that. Creepy mule.

Xato on the other hand was quite uncertain to begin with, although in typical Xato-fashion he exhibits this concern very stoically – it’s not really until Ben crosses behind that his cup overflows and he has to get out of there. He doesn’t like movement behind him, I’ve noticed.

However, when he knocked the Unicorn over, his only response was to calmly back up a stride, airplane his ears, and look down his nose at it. Funny fella.

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Marty and the Somatisation

A couple of weeks ago I was poo-picking the fields at work. The fencing is powered by a small energiser, and in order to pass from one field to the next I needed to turn it off.
Now, my brain knows all about electric fencing. I knew not to touch anything metal on the energiser or cables, and I was careful not to brush against the fencing as I reached through. Unfortunately, due to being an idiot, I didn’t really give much thought to the earth spike. I was also wearing a wide-brimmed hat which compromised my peripheral vision, and so I didn’t realise how close I was to it. My forearm brushed against the earth spike just as my fingertips touched the crocodile clips on the battery, and I received an almighty shock.

My first thought was that the clips were faulty and it was they that had given me a shock, but then common sense filtered through half a second later and I realised what I’d done. I berated myself and tried again, this time steering clear of the earth spike.

However, ever since, I have found myself getting nervous when I reach for those clips to undo them. I know they didn’t give me a shock, I know that I won’t get a shock so long as I don’t make the same mistake again, and yet I can’t stop feeling worried about it. The weirdest part of this is that I have even given myself phantom shocks – where I imagine that I have received a shock when I touch those clips, even though I haven’t! My brain has even come up with the theory that the longer I’m touching a clip, the more likely I am to get shocked, and therefore I should do it as quickly as possible.

Marty has a problem with food “resisting” when he takes hold of it, i.e. a haynet or an apple held for him to take a bite out of. Today he accepted a wadge of cleavers I’d picked for him (albeit with some tail-swishing, cavernous nostrils, and lots of staring), which was a quite a big deal for him!

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Team Half-Ass and the Many Things

Alright; first of all, I apologise for how quiet things are getting on here. As some of you may know, Ben and I are now running Horsemanship magazine which is a fantastically fun project but requires a lot of work! As my intention is to create an income with it, it regretfully takes precedence over Mulography which, although equally fun, does not earn me any money. And I need money in order to fund my mule addiction.

Our first issue together.

Other things that keep me away from blogging are editing The Mule journal for The British Mule Society, caring for our four equines, working my actual job, and oh yeh – planning for mine and Ben’s wedding in May. So if you encounter me looking a bit wild-haired and manic, that would be why.

My only regret is that this means I don’t have as much time to search out Mule Tales for you. I absolutely love sharing mule stories, and although everyone I’ve approached has been happy to tell their tale, very few people volunteer them – and I sadly don’t have the time (or the brain capacity) to contact people and follow-up on those who promised to write but never did. So if you’re reading this and you own a mule (or a donkey!), or know someone who does, and have not shared their story … then I would absolutely love to hear from you. Don’t feel like your story isn’t important enough to be heard. Every story is fascinating and I want to hear them all!

In other news, things are chugging along nicely in the world of Team Half-Ass. We’re still having a few issues with Xato, but I feel I understand the problem better now and am excited to see what advice Joe Wolter can give us on his clinic at the end of the month.

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Team Half-Ass and Bottom’s Dream

Last week I picked up a Donkey mask (of the Shrek variety) from eBay, for no reason other than because I thought it would be funny. It certainly made me laugh, anyway, but then it doesn’t take much – simple minds and all that.

I was actually really surprised with the herd’s reaction to it. Both the mules immediately wanted to check me out, and although Marty didn’t want me too close to begin with, and Xato chose to lean away from me as though to say, “I’m not with her, honest. I don’t even know her”, neither of them were particularly bothered.

Poor Cash pony was bothered, and had to teleport a few times; nobody paid him much heed. Iris felt that grass was more interesting than some fool in a mask.

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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!

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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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