Vlogs: week 1 and 2

Oh right, so I recently decided to start vlogging. The topic was raised in a business group I’m part of, and it was explained how Facebook prioritises video, how vlogging adds a personal element that people appreciate, and so on. I couldn’t really figure out how I might use this for the magazine, but it occurred to me that it might be a fun element to add to Mulography. And by fun I mean horribly cringe-worthy I hate talking to camera I don’t even like watching most face-to-camera stuff because the fact that someone is looking at me even though they aren’t makes me terribly uncomfortable … but yeh, other than that it’s fun. And if I didn’t like challenging myself and / or suffering, I wouldn’t have mules, would I?

Anyway, I forgot to post the first vlog on here so here is a two-for-one. Check out the vlog tag for more.

Posted in herdlife, marty mule, mulish escapades, riding, things that are scary, track system, trail rides, video, vlog, walking the mule, xato mule | Leave a comment

Team Half-Ass and the Second Agility Playday

A couple of weekends ago, our Friends From Down The Lane invited us over to have a go on their agility set-up. I roped Ben in as well so that I could bring both mules – agility is a fabulous thing to do with any equine no matter their discipline, and I was keen to do more of it with Xato now that we’re riding out. Although he’s a pretty unflappable guy, it doesn’t hurt to introduce new things in a controlled environment from time to time. I took Marty just because it was an excuse to take him out and do things with him.

Back in November, we had an agility play day with Sue Gardner who came along with a bunch of equipment and walked us through how to approach the various obstacles. We haven’t done any since as I am terribly unorganised / have been broke all year and haven’t bought any equipment of our own.

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Marty and the Milestone

Alright, get ready for a big photo spam because Marty just reached a milestone – a proper one this time, not a “oh wow my mule just managed to eat a carrot without comparing me to Hitler” kind of a milestone. An honest-to-goodness, real life, We Have Officially Levelled Up milestone.

Yesterday, Ben and I got to the yard late in the evening and found that our fencing was down and all the members of our herd were gently revolving around the long grass like slightly deflated helium balloons. We blame Iris, whose massive vet bill plus her other massive vet bill are presented as proof of her fence-smashing ways, but later – when he thought he wasn’t getting enough attention – Xato did pull one of the fence posts out of the ground, stretch it back against the tape, and then fire it at us like a ballista bolt. So it could have been either one of them, to be honest.

I’m sorry to have cut off most of Cash’s whinny, because frankly it is an incredibly weird one and sounds good against the HAAAAAWWWW of Marty and the OoooOOOOooo of Xato; but here is a very little neigh-bray from Xato. I guess his belly was too full to do a proper one.

Anyway, after we’d got everyone back where they were supposed to be and had given them their entirely undeserved dinner, Marty lay down and had a roll. I’d been itching for another chance to approach him, so when he remained where he was I ducked under the fencing and sidled up. The last time he let me do this, I just moved in, gave him a treat, and backed off again; this time, I tried my luck by kneeling down and starting to rub on him.

I’m thrilled to say he let me do so! In fact I found a really good scratchy spot right away, so he decided I was an acceptable human and let me stay where I was.

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Xato and the Punchbowl Expedition

For the past two weekends in a row, Ben and I have been enjoying exploring the Punchbowl with our respective steeds. I prefer the Punchbowl over the common at weekends, because it is a lot quieter – few horse riders venture in because there are a lot of gates and very few places to canter, and most walkers start from the cafe and hang around that area. So we often have the place to ourselves. The Punchbowl is one of my favourite places on earth so I like pretending it’s our own personal secret!

The Punchbowl has inspired others. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of my beloved Sherlock Holmes series, wrote the Hound of the Baskervilles while staying on the other side of the valley; and in this photo, we’re heading down to Punchbowl Farm which was the setting for Monica Edwards‘ eponymous series.

And it’s easy to see why it’s such an inspiring place, when you have views like this!

Or like this…

…Or like this!

Xato has quickly learnt what his job is; to carry me serenely around scenic places, and wait patiently while I get that perfect vista photo. I know some people might be shaking their heads and tutting at me for doing this, particularly with an inexperienced mount. But the way I see it, I’m teaching him his job: this is my thing, it’s why I love riding out. I enjoy experiencing the countryside from a unique perspective and I enjoy sharing my view with others – it’s also great to look back on in years to come, and relive a good ride. I am very aware of him and my environment at all times and wouldn’t film or photograph if I felt that there might be an issue.

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Mule Tales, Revisited: Buckshot

Back in April last year, I interviewed Joan about her 15.3 mule Buckshot and it quickly became one of my favourite Tales. Go check it out if you haven’t already, or if you want to refresh your memory! Buckshot is a trail-blazer extraordinaire who will face anything – even a mountain lion.

Since then, Joan and Buckshot have continued doing fantastic things and have even been joined by another mule, Tennessee. Lately, Joan says that she has been using her mules for the very reason we all ride mules – to keep us safe in challenging environments. She made a recent post to the Mule Girls group about how the last three weeks have been spent with friends, exploring newly re-opened trails in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Alpine Lakes Wilderness – an area that is only 40 miles east of downtown Seattle. She very kindly allowed me to reproduce her images and captions here! I hope you enjoy going on this virtual tour as much as I did. Over to Joan:

“During our three day trips to the area we made over 80 water crossings. Less than half of the crossings had bridges. There are steep mountain sides lining this valley so we had many beautiful mountain creeks dropping to the valley floor. You always heard water falling over rocks during the entire length of each ride.”

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Xato and the Joe Wolter Clinic, part two

Xato and the Joe Wolter clinic

Part Two: Leading, Leaving and Loops

So now I’ve told you all about our (mostly self-inflicted) lorry troubles, I guess I’d better crack on with writing about the clinic itself – which was totally worth any stress we had getting there and back! I’m so glad I committed and took Xato, because it was a real privilege to ride with someone like Joe and the clinic opened up a whole new kaleidoscope of ideas for me.

Before I go any further, I want to point out that this will not be a technical, in-depth review written by someone who has a clue; you’ll have to look elsewhere for that (perhaps our interview with Joe in the August issue of Horsemanship Magazine? Just, er, just dropping that in there … carry on…). As always, Mulography is just a place where I record my (mis)adventures and my thoughts on why things did or didn’t work. It isn’t meant as a training manual.

We look a little tense, huh? Thanks to Xanthe for this post’s photos, as Ben failed in his task as Team Half-Ass staff photographer and just took interesting notes instead. Tsk.

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Xato and the Adventurers

Facebook friends will have seen that Xato and I have been doing a lot of riding out lately, in the company of our fabulous friends Samantha and Fi and their Spanish mares, Edita and Chiquita. These ladies are pretty much unstoppable, and recently even rode through Hyde Park in central London – bitless! We really couldn’t ask for better escorts as we rebuild our confidence.

Iris is out of action at the moment after she went through a(nother) fence, so it’s been particularly good to still have someone to ride with.

Our first ride was last week, on Tuesday 13th at 6:30am! Sam and Fi tend to ride early to fit in the horses around work, and that suits me pretty well as the common is much quieter at that time. It’s almost as though people like staying in bed…

I had ridden Xato out into the Punchbowl on Sunday night in preparation, with Ben leading Cash Pony in hand. We did a fairly small loop but I loved being out, even though Xato took exception to a marker post/field of sheep at one point and did a little butt-tuck and scurry. He didn’t go far at all and pulled himself up within a couple of strides.

Xato and Cash bonding over a puddle, which both refused to walk through.

We have a lot of hollow ways round here. Hi vis is a must!

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Q&A with Team Half-Ass: part two

The second half of the questions sent in via Facebook! You can read the first half here.


6. How does caring for a mule differ to horses and donkeys?

I’ll have to answer this as a mules vs. horses question, because unfortunately I don’t have any firsthand experience caring for donkeys. I would definitely like to have my own total ass to go with my half-asses one day, though!

Generally, mule care doesn’t differ that much from horses. There are a few things to be aware of, however:

  • Feed/pasture: I treat my mules as though they’re laminitic, as sugar affects them more than horses. Prevention is better than cure!
  • Pain: on the one hand, mules are quite stoic and therefore not as likely to show pain from illness and injury; on the other hand, woe betide you if you try riding them with ill-fitting tack or ever accidentally pluck out a single belly hair while trimming their hooves … oh wait, maybe that’s just Marty.
  • Feet: mule feet differ between mules (for example, Marty’s hooves are very small and upright, whereas Xato’s are a little more horse-like) but they should all be trimmed as mule feet. I would absolutely recommend finding a farrier with donkey experience, or you can check this list for farriers/EPs with mule know-how.
  • Tack: some mules are blessed with whithers, but most are not. They are also wedge-shaped, i.e. narrower at the front, so it can be quite tricky fitting a saddle to them. There are mule-specific saddles available but it’s very hard to get hold of them in the UK! So shop around and find what style suits your mule best. Many people ride mules with a breastplate and britching/crupper even with correctly fitted saddles.
  • Fencing: mules are excellent escape artists; I’ve heard several stories of mules who would jump/climb out of their paddock, go off on a wander, and then climb/jump back in before their owner returned. This would go on for months before they were discovered. Electric fence seems to be the most highly-rated, and miraculously both of mine stay behind a single strand of chest-height tape (…as far as I know). Marty will jump out if left alone with Xato, however.
  • Temperament: mules are very smart, so they get bored easily; they need lots of stimulation by providing work, playmates, and field enrichment.

Basically, caring for a mule is a lot like training a mule: we must care for / train a mule the way a horse ought to be cared for / trained.

Footage from that one time when the field was cursed.  Marty’s attempts to bring Cash Pony to “safety” were pretty fascinating – not caught on video, unfortunately, but described in the linked post.

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Xato and the Joe Wolter Clinic: part one

Xato and the Joe Wolter Clinic

Part One: The Lorry

Joe Wolter made his UK debut in April, at the Crescent Arena in Devon. The Arena, which is the largest in the south west, was a perfect venue – as well as having great facilities, it was also only a mile from the main road* which is much appreciated when faced with driving a lorry through the Devonshire lanes! It was also close enough to various pubs that we were able to pack our bikes and cycle there** for evening meals.

* If you come in from the right direction
** Unless you need to get to a petrol station on Friday night and realise that nowhere is serving food on Sunday night

Ben and I would like to extend particular gratitude to our hosts, who went above and beyond when we arrived extremely late – thanks, in part, to a certain mule who decided that the only way we were going to load him was if we wrote a dissertation on the subject, gave a PowerPoint presentation, got references, provided our CVs, and grovelled at his feet. Our relief at finally arriving was tainted by the thought of having to set up electric fencing at ten o’clock at night, but fortunately our hosts were prepared and they sent us straight through to a ready-made paddock. All we had to do was turn Iris and Xato out and go to bed … once we’d swept all the hay out of the living. There was so much hay. So much.

I’m going to begin my clinic write-up by telling you about the lorry saga, because it was entirely down to our own incompetence; and was one of those things where you only manage to get through it by clinging to the knowledge that this will make a funny story later on. Funny in the “Why are these people such idiots” and “Why do you make things difficult for yourselves?” kind of way. I’m a mule owner – if I’d wanted to make life easy for myself, I’d have got a nice coloured cob from the gypsies like I’d planned.

Do you think we packed enough?

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Q&A with Team Half-Ass: part one

Alright – so, ages ago, I asked Mulography followers on Facebook to send in any questions they had. I am sorry that it took so long to respond, life got very hectic (see previous post)! Anyway, here is the first part of the Q&A. Thank you to everyone who sent questions in.

Read Part Two here


1. This is probably covered somewhere in the blog archives, but can you say what attracts you to having, training and riding mules instead of horses, given also that your partner is a pragmatic horseman; so why the extra challenge of mules in a horsey household, why not a nice interesting problem horse instead?

The thing is … I don’t know if any problem horse could be as interesting as a mule. Trying to explain the allure of mules to non-mule owners is always difficult, because it’s one of those things that can never be properly explained with mere words; this is why I actively encourage people to find out for themselves!

Mules are like cats, I think. People often compare them to dogs due to their loyalty and affection, but I feel that cats are a better comparison. (Most) dogs love anybody and anything and are great ego-boosters. Cats and mules require people to earn that love and are great ego-levellers. I know I quote it all the time, but it’s true: you can’t have a mule and an ego!

I prefer them for riding because, although they are still just as capable of spooking or bolting or any other gravity-defying thing, they are less likely to do so and, when they do, you know that their self-preservation will remain 100% intact.

Ben being the pragmatic horseman that he is is what enables me to do this at all. Although I am firmly hooked on mules now and would never go back to horses, I am not a trainer and am regularly flummoxed by my mules’ behaviour at times. Having Ben around keeps me sane and probably keeps my mules happier, too!

Plus, how could you ever tire of that view? The world is a better place when framed between the ears of a mule.

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