Mule Tales: Mavis

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to bring you a Mule Tale, so I’m thrilled to return with a long-ear from the UK! As I now spend a lot of time seeking out and editing content for Horsemanship Magazine, I’m really grateful when a mule owner approaches me; I love bringing you these Tales, but I just don’t have as much spare time as I did. So if there’s anyone out there who would like to be featured … let me know!

Anyway, this is the story of Mavis: the glossiest mule this side of, well, anywhere! Her owner, Yvonne, had been searching for a mule for some time and it’s brilliant to see the two of them together.

1. Please introduce us to your mule!

My mule is a molly mule called Mavis. She is approx 10-years-old. She is dark bay and approx 15hh. I’ve been told she was born in Oxfordshire and her mother may have been a Trotting mare.

2. How did you meet her?

I saw her advertised on Preloved along with another mule. I went to see them and Mavis picked me!

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

I’ve only had her 3 months but I ride her. I’m having Western riding lessons on her. At the moment we are going back to basics with ground work and this has helped us to bond. I’ve only ridden her in the school but I hope to hack her out on the many lovely bridle paths soon. I’d also like to take her to shows and do dressage, trec and jump her. I haven’t jumped her but my friends have and she’s good at it!

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

My mule is kept at a livery yard with 14 horses. I am very fortunate that everyone at the yard is so kind and friendly and all the horses and owners love Mavis. All of the horses are well trained, regularly ridden and generally bomb proof. When I got Mavis I wanted her to be like them but she wasn’t, and I was concerned that she wouldn’t fit in with her quirky little ways; but with every passing day she learns something new, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She calls to me when she hears me and we have such a close bond. I can’t imagine life without her now.

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?

Be fair, be consistent, don’t ask for the impossible and give your mule the opportunity to succeed. The advice I’d give a new mule owner is take time to bond, don’t be in a rush to get out riding or driving or whatever. Mules live a long time and have very good memories so get it right from the start. Oh and don’t forget to lavish your mule with love, they are so affectionate.

If you would like your mule to be featured here, or if you have a mule story that you would like to tell, then please contact me either via this blog, message me on my Mulography Facebook page, or email me at: herecirm (at) I would love to hear from mule owners anywhere around the globe!

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Xato and the Ten Mile Weekend

Yeh, alright; I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes so hard at the title that you’ve given yourselves retina strain. Riding ten miles over the course of two days is not a big deal … except to someone who has been without a riding mount of their own for the past three years. To that person, spending the weekend going on a couple of five mile hacks is the best and most awesome thing that could possibly happen.

On Saturday, the forecast was for sunshine in the morning and then rain all afternoon. We got up early, collected our noble steeds, and set out across the common; making our way towards a small lake / large pond called the “Moat”.

When I first moved here, I was a little disappointed to discover that the Moat is not, in fact, a moat. My disappointment didn’t last for long however, as Ben explained that the name was thought to come from the word “Moot”; the Anglo-Saxon word for meeting. It’s possible that the Moat Pond was a meeting place between the two villages.

Our journey over was fairly serene, apart from one hair-raising moment when Iris – in the lead – suddenly noticed a walker, and both equines spun and thought about running for it. This did scare me pretty badly, as Xato spun, slowed, and then suddenly started going again, which is what he did with me when he bolted that one time; but I was able to disengage and turn him so that he could watch the suspicious walker pass. To be fair, the chap was – somewhat inexplicably – walking through the wooded undergrowth to the side of our wide, sandy path, and he was doing so very quietly as well. It was an understandable thing to spook at. He didn’t acknowledge us in any way, so I assume he either didn’t like horses very much or he was an ancient Anglo-Saxon wight. Who knows; we do have a few barrows on the common.

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Vlog: Week 3

What?! Farts are funny. Anyway, this week is mostly a compilation of riding video and a little bit of rabid mules at the end. S’all good.

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Xato and the Fall

Confidence is a funny thing. I haven’t ridden by myself since Xato bolted with me, back in March. This was a choice, initially, because it seems to me that whenever I do stuff without Ben around things go horribly wrong. It then, insidiously, became a thing I could not do. I didn’t even realise this was the case until last week, when I tried to get on and ride Xato in the arena and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hadn’t been able to do any weekday riding for a while as I had no one to ride with, and was desperate to get on board. “Just ride one lap around the arena,” I told myself, “just to say you’ve done it. That’s all.” But I couldn’t.

Riding in torrential rain on Saturday; no problem. Riding a circuit of the arena; uh-uh!

With this in mind, deciding to conflate my first solo ride since the bolt with mine and Xato’s first solo hack probably seems like a pretty weird thing to do. But the thing was, when I thought about riding out I felt confident – I like riding out. It’s exciting. It’s enjoyable. It’s my comfort zone in a way that arena riding isn’t. There’s no reasonable explanation for this and it doesn’t make an ounce of sense, but I knew that starting from a confident place meant that the first barrier was over with: if I feel confident, my mule will too. I am terrible at coming up with plans in the arena, but riding out gives me goals to mould and attain; and having goals means that Xato feels like he has a purpose, too, which is another confidence booster.

“Ah,” said my over-active imagination, “but what if he bolts? Eh? Eh??”

I confess, that nearly got me. But then I squared myself up and retorted: “What if he does? I have more tools now. We have put in the work. My response would be the same if we were on our own as it would be if we were in company. If I was really worried about him bolting and not being able to stop, then I shouldn’t be riding him out at all; there’s no difference.”

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Posted in about us, mulish escapades, photos, riding, the way mule thinks, things that are scary, trail rides, xato mule | 2 Comments

5 Facts About Mules That You Might Not Know

1. Mules are intelligent, not stubborn.

Ah yes, the big one! Mules have unfairly earned the description of “stubborn” due to their high intelligence and strong sense of self-preservation. If a mule does not think that what you are asking them to do is safe, then they will not do it. This creates some interesting challenges for the mule owner, who has to get creative and learn how to work with the mule in order to attain the desired goals. Because of this, mules are something of a specialist subject and – although the rewards are great – they are not suited to everyone; just because someone has years of experience with horses does not necessarily mean they will get along with mules.

2. Mules smell different.

A mule’s scent is not like a horse’s or donkey’s; it is like a mule’s. This can be quite baffling to some horses who can’t quite figure out what this creature is, and I believe it plays a large part in why some horses are frightened of mules. Smell is so important to horses that a foal whose nostrils have been coated with something pungent may be so confused that they actually go to the wrong mare – so I can imagine how bewildering it must be to be confronted with something that looks horse-shape, but doesn’t smell like how they expect a horse to smell!

3. Ear and tail language in mules isn’t the same as it is in horses.

With horses, we’re all taught that a swishing tail means the horse is getting irritable, that ears back mean you’re probably going to get kicked, and if they reverse towards you then watch out! However, mules are slightly different. As with anything, this all depends on context – be aware of what the rest of the mule is doing before making any conclusions and, if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution – but things that might seem negative in a horse are not always so in a mule. For example, a mule may approach someone they like with their ears turned slightly backwards; this isn’t annoyance, but rather a form of “begging”. Mules are extremely affectionate animals and this often means they just want some love! A mobile tail usually means that the mule is thinking, and reversing towards you is generally their way of asking for butt scratchies … mules love butt scratchies. They are also not shy about using their tail to deliver a good smack against their handler when displeased; this can be a warning that means “I will kick you next time”, but it can also mean “You stopped doing that thing I liked, this is what I think of you”. The best way to tell  what your mule is thinking is to just spend time with them and learn how they express themselves.

4. Mules were once the choice mount for the nobility, the clergy, and even royalty.

Mules – particularly white mules – were often reserved for VIPs in medieval Europe. Queen Elizabeth I travelled to her coronation in a mule-drawn carriage, Cosimo de’ Medici rode a brown mule, Cardinal Wolsey rode a mule decorated with gold trappings, and the Pope himself used to ride a white mule (nowadays he has a slightly more modern kind of mule).  Three and a half thousand years ago, the Hittites considered a good mule to be three times more valuable than a chariot horse, and in ancient Ethiopia the mule was held as the most high status of all the animals. King David rode a mule, as at that time they were strictly reserved for royalty; and the Prophet Mohammad had a beloved white molly named Duldul.

5. Mules have a longer lifespan than horses.

Mules are slow to mature, both physically and mentally. However, they can easily live until their forties and a working mule in its thirties is not uncommon. Whereas we might be wary of buying a 20-year-old horse, a mule of the same age will – providing it is healthy and has been well-treated in its life – give you many more years of enjoyment under saddle or in harness. Due to this slow maturity and extensive lifespan I get pretty damn irritated when I see trainers and mule owners backing 2-year-olds, but that’s a rant for another day.

Posted in asian mules, european mules, mules in history | 3 Comments

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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Posted in about us, herdlife, marty mule, mule whispering, mulish escapades, photos, video, xato mule | 1 Comment

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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