Two weeks ago I was finally able to announce, publicly, that Marty had been asked to be the first ever ambassador for Mule Welfare UK! Honestly this should have been the topic of last week’s blog post, but I forgot I hadn’t already written about it here because that’s the kind of person I am.

Launched on National Mule Day in 2018, MWUK’s aims align very closely with my own: to inspire, support, and encourage mule owners, and to spread the word about how versatile and rewarding the mule can be … given a little time, patience, and humility! They are a young charity but have already done a lot of good work in supporting mule owners in the UK.

Marty and I cover a lot of miles and meet many different people, all of whom have been thrilled to meet a mule up close – for many, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen one. From his beginnings as an unpredictable, uncatchable, downright annoying little rogue, Marty now wears the ambassador title with gravitas and leaves a good impression on all he meets. I am very, very proud of him.

For our official announcement photos, Marty, Ben and I hiked up to a place called Mynydd Llangyndeyrn which is a Bronze Age site with a big hill for good backdrops. It’s quite a distance and there are Very Annoying Ponies (more on that later), so we don’t go there that often. Here is a very picture-heavy account of that trip!

 

The road there is also extremely long and boring.

 

But at last, we’re on the mountain! I’m sorry to say that it’s quite rare for Marty to have grass under his feet while we’re out these days.

 

Reading up on the local history, like any good ambassador should.

 

And our first promo shot – by the standing stone, which was erected around 3000 years ago.

 

Then up the ridge. The last time we were here, Ben took a cool skyline photo of us which I was eager to recreate now that we have a proper pack saddle. Unfortunately…

 

…Marty ruined it by leaving behind a souvenir.

 

Then we dragged poor Ben up the hill (which is an official Marilyn at 863 feet) for more pictures. It was very windy up here and Marty had a few diva moments while we tried to get him to pose nicely.

 

But we got there in the end!

 

 

And then for the descent.

 

Oops – hit a slick patch! I absolutely cursed myself for this, as it’s the kind of thing that can really bugger up your mule’s willingness to listen to your decisions. The last time we were here he slipped while I was asking him to cross a very shallow ditch and immediately decided that he was never going to cross another ditch again, so when this happened I thought we were stuck up there forever. Fortunately, Marty was apparently in a more forgiving mood this time. I guess you have to be when you’re an ambassador.

 

I haven’t cut myself out here, this was the whole hasty camera angle – Marty sliding into view with an expression that wouldn’t be amiss on a theme park ride.

 

I’m cross with myself for the tight lead here; I was worried about him going down too fast, and getting carried away by momentum. What I should have done was help him find his balance by asking him to halt and back up, repeatedly, until I didn’t have to hold him.

 

His saddle had slipped, so we had to have an impromptu strip down and reassemble once we were on more level ground. Convincing him to wear his breeching will be the next big endeavour!

 

The rest of our descent was down a trail that’s a stream during winter.

 

Time for some interpretative dance to get him over the ditch that stymied us last time.

 

He made it! Hurrah!

 

And then, we entered … The Ordeal. There’s stock grazing on this mountain and we’d passed the cows on our way up; they hadn’t cared about us and Marty hadn’t cared about them. On the way back, however, we found another small group and with them were two ponies.

Unlike the Exmoor ponies in the Punchbowl, whose attentions were always easily dissuaded by a bit of energy and intent, these ponies are not semi-feral and presumably belong to one of the farms nearby that has grazing rights. This means they are very curious and very, very persistent.

I placed myself between them and Marty and advanced, stepping forward and using the tail of my rope to back up my energy projection as they came towards us. Unfortunately, their interest piqued the cows interest, and one particularly rambunctious heifer came bounding over with them. We were literally beset on all sides and even with Ben on foot to help us, the ponies still managed to dive round and pop up in irritating places, coming back in for another go whenever they were driven off.

I was very stressed during this encounter because I was frightened that they’d get close and kick Marty on his offside. I didn’t want him to get hurt and I definitely didn’t want me to get hurt if he tried to run away from them! Luckily, the cow left us alone quite quickly – she was more easily affected by Ben and I getting ‘big’ and shooing her. The ponies had clearly never been told to get out of anyone’s space in their lives and they followed us for the half mile or so back to the gate, even racing across the road after us.

Much later I remembered that I had my plastic litter picking bags in Marty’s packs, and if I’d thought about it at the time I could have used them to really back up my GTFO vibes.

Marty was truly exemplary. There were so many reasons for him to ‘misbehave’, and no one would have blamed him if he had: strange ponies rushing at him on all sides and/or running past, me getting more and more stressed out next to him, Ben and I both sending out a lot of energy, cars passing … but he maintained a steady pace throughout, and never took the slack out of the ‘smile’ in his leadrope.

Interestingly, on the two occasions when the ponies did get too close for comfort, his response was to turn his quarters and double barrel them. He had no intention of running away and, luckily, the ponies had no intention of fighting.

Still, I was very glad we had Ben with us!

 

The ponies are sighted.

 

There was too much energy happening for Ben to take any photos during our horribly long walk back to the gate, but I thought you might like to see the two offenders once it was safe to be taking pictures of them.

 

Now there was a barrier between us I let them talk if they wanted to. Marty did NOT want to. Marty was very angry with their offensive behaviour and he bloody well told them so.

 

Sometimes, an ambassador has to get tough!

While we were walking home we passed a farmer who we’d met on this road before, and who was as pleased to see Marty now as he had been then. We went up the drive to his house so that his wife could meet Marty, and so that Marty could meet their horses (he told them where to go, too). It’s a small world: it turned out that not only was the farmer the guy who our local feed store had suggested we contact for muck heap removal, but he’d actually known the previous-previous owner of our farm and had spent a lot of time there as a boy. We had a lovely long chat, Marty behaved very well, and everyone was very impressed with him. We picked up litter on our way home.

The other, better side of being an ambassador!

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Mulographer Sari

Sari was raised by cats which accounts for her solitary nature, occasional mania, and attraction to shiny objects. After riding and being around horses for 22 years, she discovered that she was, in fact, a mule girl and fell hopelessly in love with these extraordinary creatures. She lives in Wales and is married to Ben, who is potentially the best Ben who ever Benned.

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