Team Half-Ass and the Week of Jailbreaks

I haven’t done a written update for some time – not since our ten mile weekend at the end of June! To be honest, not a lot has happened. I didn’t ride at all for the two weeks after that; not a big deal, except by the second week Xato was bored and looking for other ways to entertain himself.

So basically, Xato doesn’t actually HAVE to stay behind our electric fencing. He can literally let himself out whenever he wants. However, he only does so under certain circumstances: 1) because I have turned up then gone away again without giving him food or taking him with me, or 2) because I have taken someone else out of the paddock who isn’t him. He will honestly spend 12 hours in a diet paddock behind a non-live fence with fresh grass on the other side and not once think about pulling up a post and letting himself out … but if I arrive, then go up to the yard to make dinners? Yeh, he’s coming straight out. He doesn’t break anything when he does it, just pulls out a post and steps over the downed fence – often leading Marty out with him.

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Mule Tales: Moti

A slightly different Mule Tale this week – the Brooke have kindly allowed me to reproduce this story of Muhammad and his mule Moti, who live in Pakistan. Life there is very different from how our mules in the UK live, and it is hard for the people, too; I am so thankful for charities such as The Brooke who work tirelessly to improve the life of working animals and the people who own them!

Muhammad Arshad is 35. He earns 500 – 700 rupees (approximately £4 – £5) a day transporting bricks by cart at Hamza Brick Kiln, on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan. He owns Moti, a 15-year-old mule, who he uses to transport the bricks.

Muhammad is a Brooke Community Change agent, meaning the Brooke team identified him as being particularly passionate about animal welfare and have trained him up to spread Brooke’s message to other owners in the brick kiln. He also leads community engagement sessions and is often the first point of contact if another owner has a question or problem.

Before Muhammad attended Brooke’s meetings, he believed in traditional myths and practices, much like many of the other owners in the brick kiln. For example, when treating wounds, Muhammad would rub salt and break oil into them; if a horse, donkey or mule showed signs of colic, he would feed it tobacco and molasses; and if an equine was lame, he would fire the joint.

Muhammad and his fellow owners now have the knowledge to correctly manage these symptoms. Muhammad says: “Since attending Brooke’s Community Engagement meetings, I now think my mule’s life is just as important as mine. Brooke taught me that there is so much I can do with my own hands to make a positive change to my mule’s life, such as grooming, feeding and foot cleaning. I want to spread that message as far as I can.”

One of Brooke’s lessons that has resonated particularly deeply with Muhammad is that of grooming; “Just like me and my wife need clean, ironed clothes, so does Moti need grooming. Grooming brings us closer together and our love increases, we feel like he is a family member.”

Not long ago, Muhammad noticed that the nails from Moti’s shoes were sticking out, causing bleeding as they brushed against the opposite leg. As the farrier was not based at Hamza brick kiln, it was expensive and inconvenient to keep returning to the farrier to have him rasp the nails down. Muhammad thought that he would be able to manage this himself if he had the right tools: “I was worried, and thinking what can I do?”

Muhammad went to the market and found a rasp used in construction and adapted it by adding a wooden handle. His homemade rasp, made from readily available local resources, allows Muhammad to file down the nails himself to prevent injury to his mule. It has been so successful that he has made two more rasps for fellow owners. Furthermore, he is on hand to show other owners how to file down a nail if he spots a horse with brushing wounds.

Brooke’s community engagement work has empowered owners like Muhammad in the Hamza brick kiln. For Muhammad, the most significant change has been the knowledge and ability to prevent common injuries and ailments; “Prevention is better than cure and it is our responsibility.”

About Brooke

Brooke is an international charity that protects and improves the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules which give people in the developing world the opportunity to work their way out of poverty.  Over 100 million of these animals are the backbone of developing communities and their best means of making a living. Without healthy working horses, donkeys and mules, around 600 million people wouldn’t be able to put food on their tables, send their children to school or build better futures for themselves and their families.

Brooke delivers significant and lasting change, even in some of the world’s most challenging areas. We use our expertise to work with owners, communities, service providers, governments and international organisations. Operating in 11 different countries, and funding projects in four others,  Brooke now reaches over two million working horses, donkeys and mules each year.

Brooke was set up in 1934 by Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British cavalry officer, who travelled to Cairo in Egypt in 1930 to seek out the abandoned war horses of the First World War. She set up the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital, which later became Brooke.

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Mule Tales: Raven

This week, we’re back in America to meet Raven and her human, Elaine. This lovely molly is a great example of the effect that a good start will have on a mule; you can’t go wrong with a mule who’s been well-handled from day one!

 1. Please introduce us to your mule!

Raven is a 14-year-old molly mule out of a Tennessee Walking Horse. I was fortunate enough to find her as I started my search, at the age of 58, for a solid safe mule for myself. She was raised and trained by a single woman who watched her be born on her own farm – I like to think that we are such a good fit because of her first 8 years with this woman. Raven’s great early training was immediately apparent by her calmness, her ability to load effortlessly in a trailer, and she is such a delight for any farrier. Raven has two pasture mates, both donkeys. Nellie Bly came to live with us six months after I got Raven as a companion, it was love at first sight! Ruby came to the farm this past January as a companion for Nellie Bly when I take Raven off trail riding.

2. How did you meet her?

On June 27, 2011, I made an appointment in Rhonda, NC with Windy Hill Mule Farm after months and months of searching for a safe mule for myself. I rode her that day after not having ridden since 1987!!! I was quite nervous, but her calmness and the ease of guiding her around their farm made me very sure she was the one for me. The people that ran the farm were extremely concerned about matching the right mule with the right person and their experience and abilities.

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

Raven and I have primarily ridden around my 10 acre farm where I have made several trails that wind around through my woods. I also ride her around the neighbourhood. I have recently retired, and now have a truck and trailer so we are loving getting out trail riding and meeting up with other riders. Future plans include training her to drive.

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

My relationship with Raven has evolved greatly since she first came to the farm. She has always been a calm and trusting girl. As the years have gone by we have a closer understanding of one another. I hear many horse owners speak about “mareish” behaviour and I understand what that is, but I have not seen what most would describe as that behaviour in my girl. She comes to me from the pasture when I whistle for her and I think that says a lot. She is my girl and I am hers.

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 most important thing that I have learned is the difference between horses and mules and even donkeys. My father was a jockey, so I was raised on the racetrack always around thoroughbreds. Mules are much more relaxed and less reactive to all kinds of things that would set off most horses I have been around. They make their own assessment of situations and decide whether it is safe to proceed or not. I have learned to almost ALWAYS trust my mule’s judgement. They have a greater intelligence than horses, only surpassed by the donkey from which their calm intelligence is derived.

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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Mule Tales: Alula’s import story

Hurrah, a new import story! Alula is actually a double import: initially brought over from the US to Europe, she then travelled from Germany to Sweden where she resides with her current owner, Tina.

Alula, photographed last week.

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

Thera are very few big mules in Sweden and I wanted one that I could ride on. I had a smaller mule for 18 years (12hh) that I used for packing on trail rides. I came into contact with Alula’s seller through the Swedish Donkey  Society. During the process, my small mule became sick and I had to put him down. It nearly broke my heart! So, when he was gone, I decided I needed to buy a new mule. I had always wanted a gaited mule, but buying one from the USA would be too expensive – so finding Alula in Germany was just sheer luck! The seller had imported her from the USA in 2014, along with her big donkey half-sister. The reason she put up Alula for sale was probably that a mule is a bit more than a horse, so the seller was not prepared for the effort of training a mule.

First day at her new home in Sweden.

2. How long did the process take, from buying your mule to her arriving at your yard?

The process took about 5 months. We had contact via Facebook and email and the seller sent a lot of pictures and videos. We arranged the transport so that we met in Denmark at a place owned by a friend of mine, who had worked with mules in the US. The papers we needed for export/import between Germany/Sweden was only the veterinary exam.


3. What obstacles did you come up against?

There where no obstacles. To my surprise, when we drove back over the bridge between Denmark and Sweden, the border police did not even look inside the horse transport or ask for any papers. And the same thing happened for the seller when she passed the Germany/Denmark border!!!

Practice before a filmshooti earlier this summer. She’s carrying an old Swedish army packsaddle.

4. Were there any surprises or particularly memorable moments?

No surprises, but some memorable moments. She was bigger than I expected, but very easy-going. We had an overnight stay at some friends in the south of Sweden and there was no problem loading/unloading her, even though we were complete strangers!

Alula’s parents: Red Rum and Busting Loose Sweetheart, a champion Tennessee Walking Horse mare.

5. What advice would you give to anyone looking to import a mule (or any equine) from another country?

My advice is to be sure it is a serious seller. When it comes to mules, it’s better to transport them yourself – or at least have a transporter used to mules. They are special and cannot be treated like horses. And if you use a equine transporter, make sure it is a good one.

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 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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Vlog: week 4

We covered a lot of miles this week – from an awesome weekend of riding with Ben, to three weekday rides with a friend of ours. Therefore, this is mainly a through-the-ears special!

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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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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