I started riding when I was six, and for the next twenty years or so picked up all those traditional beliefs – things like: backing out of a scary situation with a horse shows weakness; if a horse has a ‘vice’ such as barging, then that’s just their personality – you have to work around it; and that there is such a thing as a bad horse.
I was never the spurs and schooling gadgets type of person, but it wasn’t until I met Ben that I started to question the way things were done – why am I riding with a flash noseband? Why am I fighting this horse instead of working with it? Why does my horse not want to be caught? – and it was after a week spent riding with Ross Jacobs that I finally realised I knew absolutely nothing. This was quite a distressing realisation and I felt very sorry for myself. I had simply never thought to ask why, before. I had accepted what I was told, I had followed what everyone else did, and worst of all, I had never learnt to listen to the horse. Sure, I knew that ears back meant they was cross, but I had never been shown how to read the more subtle elements of equine body language. I didn’t understand them and they certainly didn’t understand me.
Old me would never have been able to handle a mule. Old me would have said, this mule is stupid! He doesn’t do as I say! He’s stubborn and won’t listen! Old me would probably have received a well deserved kick very early on in the partnership. Mules are smart: they are so smart that we, their humans, need to be constantly on the top of our game. Mules think, a lot. They sometimes reach conclusions that seem at first glance to be totally illogical and could easily be dismissed as pure naughtiness or obstinate behaviour. But a mule always has a reason for everything they do, and to them it is always extremely logical, and the challenge is to figure out their train of thought and how to change it. Mules are as frustrating as they are fascinating, but they are the best teachers. No one will ever teach patience better than a mule.
This is not intended to be a training blog. I will not be imparting any wisdom here because I do not have any: I am still an idiot. But I am an idiot with a mule, and I am learning. If you would like to join us for anecdotes of folly and triumph, then we would love to have you along for the ride.