I had originally planned to write an end of year post a couple of weeks ago, but it turned out to be quite a difficult task.
I didn’t feel particularly great about how my year had gone. I thought I’d done a pretty good job with Marty – he’d gone from being a pasture puff to carrying a pack saddle AND a rider, both huge things for a mule like Marty – but I could still have done better, right? I mean, it wasn’t like I was heading off on trail rides or packing anything particularly impressive. Hell, those panniers of his are so diddy it’s an insult to other pack mules to call him one of them, right?
Xato was an even bigger source of could’ve-done-better feelings. His escape from the yard earlier in the year really shook me, as until that point it had never crossed my mind that he would leave us. He’s always been the dependable guy who wants to hang out with us. To see him disappearing up the road by himself was very scary, and it put a halt to my plans of walking him out like I do with Marty. Our network of lanes might be extremely quiet, but you can’t go more than a few miles without either having to cross a busy road or passing a lane that would take you onto one. Previously I’d had that safety net of “Well, if the worst happened and he did get loose for some reason, then it’s not like he’s going to go far”; but now all I could see were gory visions of him running into the path of a car. He also ran away with me in the arena, which knocked my riding confidence again. I adore that mule and I really want to be having fun with him, too. I just want us both to be safe!
However, after wallowing around for a while I finally got a grip on myself. Who on earth was I competing with? Where in the rules does it say you have to do everything at once? Why can’t I be pleased with little improvements and small moments? If we have weaknesses – and we do – then we have strengths, too.
Marty might not be a trail mule yet, but he has been an immense, long term project and just getting on him – and having him take to it so well – is a phenomenal achievement. Our friend Zoë was really impressed with how well he led. I didn’t do much with Xato this year, but Ben did; Xato was never meant to replace Iris, but he helped fill that space and gave Ben someone to ride and work with until Joey unexpectedly came along. His dressage score was pretty amazing considering that he is not really built for dressage! If 2019 was Marty’s year, perhaps 2020 will be Xato’s.
Anyway! With that pity party aside, what did we get up to in 2019?
I didn’t do much except recover from my surgery on New Year’s Eve, after a horse I was looking after took the end of my middle finger off. One year on, it could actually pass as a reasonable finger so long as you don’t look too closely. I even grew the nail back, which wasn’t expected. It’s permanently bent and is a weird mix of super sensitive and no feeling at all, but I’ve learned to adapt and can do pretty much everything I used to do. My thumbnail dropped off later but regrew, and my skinned index finger looks as good as new. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend it but it could’ve been worse.
Marty and I went out for a hike in England for one last time. It was actually a good example of what a great mule Marty is to hike with, because at the time my finger was still an open wound, the growing skin was very fragile, and I literally didn’t have the strength in my hand to hold a cup of tea – I would have had a bad time trying to lead anyone who wasn’t as light in the halter as Marty is.
We completed our move to Wales by packing up all the equines and delivering them to their new home. I was very impressed with how well everyone loaded. Later that month I also took Marty out for his first hike in Wales – the first of many! I can’t remember whether it was the end of this month or the beginning of April when Xato tried to run home again by squeezing out through the gate. He went a mile up the hill, was spooked by a herd of horses before he got any closer to the main road, and ran home again. What a numpty.
Iris ran into an electric fence overnight, punctured her knee joint, and had surgery. What followed was an awful four month saga of vet visits, further hospitalisation and endless antibiotics, eventually coming to an end in August. In better news, April was also the month where we met two mules – the world famous Wallace The Great, and beautiful Percheron mule Michelangelo who I first met three years ago – and we also met Zoë who is planning to do a long distance hike this year to raise funds and awareness for the campaign to eradicate ecocide. Zoë was looking to increase her mule experience so she took Marty on a couple of hikes and rode Xato as well. I’m super excited to say that she now has a pack mule of her very own, and from what I’ve seen is doing brilliantly – as I knew she would.
Having introduced Marty to the concept of carrying pack by combining bike panniers with his surcingle, we took him out for a picnic for the first time. This was also the month where we somehow made it down a long forgotten bridleway that was literally a ravine full of mossy boulders, Xato learnt to canter on line when asked and without buggering off, and we enrolled with the Keep Wales Tidy scheme because of our litter-picking.
Not a huge amount happened this month; I ‘rode’ Xato tackless in the round pen for no apparent reason (‘rode’ is written as ‘rode’ because to say that I had any direction at all would be a massive lie. But it was a pretty weird thing for my confidence to allow me to do). I also got to see two other mules: we visited Michelangelo again, and while walking with Marty I was surprised to see a little white long-eared face peeking out at us. That was how I discovered I have a mule-owning neighbour, Mel!
I got on Marty for the first time (post written much later. Photo is also a more recent one, too!). There was a time when I never thought this would happen, so it was an amazing moment for me. Marty was brilliant about it and (touch wood) we haven’t yet had any issues. Ben said he thinks it’s been the most stress-free starting he’s seen.
Iris had still not recovered from her accident and now had extremely aggressive arthritis in her knee. Rather than putting her through more surgery, we made the decision to say goodbye. August was also the month where Xato did his first Intro B dressage test in an online class specially for mules, and came 2nd with 63.04%; and it was the month where Marty wore a pack saddle for the first time, and went out on a picnic with it. I didn’t write about either of these things on here because I am a terrible blogger.
Marty became the first ever ambassador for Mule Welfare UK, and we met the inspirational Joan – owner of Buckshot! I first ‘met’ Joan in 2016 when she wrote a Mule Tale for me, but as she lives in the USA we’d never actually met in person until this year.
Marty and I passed our 100th mile under (pack) saddle. It was also this month where we went shopping for the first time, by making the trek over to our local feed store to pick up some supplements and salt licks! It was a real bucket list item for me. To get there we had to walk a mile or so down a busy road that was 50mph/40mph for most of its stretch; we’d been up and down parts of that road on several occasions previously, and I only attempted it because I was confident that Marty could handle it, but considering that he’d had no real experience with traffic before we moved I am really pleased with how easily he’s taken to the task.
We welcomed unplanned acquisition Joey the cob to our herd. Well … some of us welcomed him.
Marty carried our picnic lunch in his panniers and we went out for a hike on Christmas day. A great way to spend it and a great way to end what’s been a very good year for him!
Compilation Music Videos
Featuring the videos I could find, anyway! My new year’s resolution is to try and keep a better order on them this year…