Team Half-Ass and the Hill Track

Last weekend, Xato and I attended Joe Wolter’s first UK clinic down in Devon. I will be doing a write-up of that very soon, but it requires a certain amount of brain capacity and I am running low on that at the moment – within the next fortnight I have a magazine to compile and print, and a man to marry!

So instead I thought I’d do another feature on our current track system.

This year, we managed to reclaim the hill field which had previously been given to the cows. I’m very happy about this because it means we (almost) have enough grazing for everyone, and keeping equines on a hillside is good exercise for all involved. I feel it offers more enrichment than a standard flat field, too. Oh, and it’s extremely picturesque! That’s important!

Moving the boys over a few weeks ago. Iris was still on boxrest at this point.

I don’t think we were running tracks when we last had access to the hill field – here’s a little bit about why I started using one. I am very much a track convert! Becoming a mule owner has caused me to give a lot more thought to how my animals occupy themselves when I’m not around.

The hill field is pretty much perfect. It is bordered by woodland at one end, which offers them shade, shelter from the rain and wind, and interesting things to forage for. At the bottom is the lake (also fenced off – it’s man made and we are on strict orders to not let any pointy hooves get near its liner!), which is basically their TV. Lots of animals use it, and we currently have a Canada goose family with three little goslings! The hillside itself is probably my favourite part, as they have to travel up and down it several times a day and that means they’re working on their topline and core strength without me having to lift a finger. I am a very lazy person.

My mule-only track plan didn’t work out because I can’t leave Marty and Xato alone together. Xato is an unrelenting juggernaut and, without a horse to keep the peace, he and Marty will pester each other constantly until Marty (who has less stamina than Xato) jumps out and goes in search of a more peaceful place to live. I decided that the benefits did not outweigh the hassle! With four of them to look after, I like to make life as easy as possible.

Anyway, as we create the track shape by strip-grazing, I initially started off with a long strip across the top of the field. The “other track” to the right, between the wooden fence and the green tape, is so that the cattle can be moved between the fields on either side without disrupting the equines. That’s the plan, anyway. It hasn’t been tested yet!

For a while the “other track” also served as a handy place to keep the tiny square pens the convalescing mares required.
The boys, ambling down to where I’d moved the fence. Please excuse Cash’s creepy extra ghost foot.

Reaching the corner, I took it wide and made the downwards track very wide to begin with. Dead ends on a track should always be large enough so that the herd don’t find themselves trapped if they all gallop round to it. I also made my end fence twice as high, because the hillside meant that it would have been very easy to pop over it otherwise!

The salt lick is hung on the fence here. Our water troughs are at the far end, by the gate. A track becomes pointless if all the amenities are in one place!
This makes a very pretty picture, doesn’t it?
Reaching the woods was great because it gave the herd further enrichment. For example, one afternoon I arrived on the yard and could just about make out the two mules fooling around by the trees. As I got closer, I realised that Xato had a branch in his mouth – shown here for size comparison – and was trying to smack Marty with it!

Once the track reached the bottom, I narrowed the section that ran down the hillside. They didn’t need such a large strip anymore and the other benefit was that now the grazed down grass had a chance to regrow.

I could hang out here all day.
Another benefit of a hillside: dramatic skylines!

As they now had more space, I also narrowed the original section of track along the top of the field and built my mule pens. The mule pen originally started as part of Marty’s catching process, but it has now evolved to become a necessary part of herdlife. The mules get much less than the horses to, and they’re also much quicker to sneak in and help themselves to someone else’s food. Putting them in pens means I can go off and do chores instead of hanging around watching them!

The horses never try and take each other’s dinner. I don’t know whether this is because they’re nicer than mules or just not as smart.
Good boys.
Again, narrowing the track means that the grazed grass gets a chance to regrow and can hopefully be “used again” – I’m all about conserving grazing!

While Xato and Iris were away at the clinic, Marty and Cash started on the other side of the hill and strip-grazed their way down that. The track is currently not a complete circuit because we’re having to shut two of the herd members in on one side to keep Little Mare company overnight – hopefully this will change soon, as it is not very practical in the long run.

My plan now is to split the middle into three and strip graze our way up each portion. I hope that having two portions resting at any given time means that we will see some regrowth and can go back and regraze the area, but we have had very little rain over the past month and so the grass is not growing as quickly as I would like. We shall see. As I mentioned, I’m getting married next weekend, so that seems that an ideal time for some awful weather.

Photo taken after unloading Iris and Xato on our return from the clinic. I did make this strip wider the next day, but at this point we’d had a very long day and just wanted to be finished!
The bottom of the track.
Xato marching up the hill.

A few short videos to end with:

This one was taken after I’d brought Iris in to wait for a vet check-up. The boys, for reasons best known to themselves, decided that the ideal response was to bomb up and down the top of the field as fast as they could (at this point, the track was just a long, straight strip). They actually started by running down to one end, beating each other up, then running down to the other end and doing the same thing. By this point I think they’d forgotten why they were running and Xato, as you can see, is at least starting to question his life choices.

Xato leads a very sedate lifestyle, and no matter how fast the others ran, he always came up or down the track in his own sweet time. Weirdly that’s changed since returning from the clinic, and now he gallops around like anyone else.

After the long journey home from Devon, Xato really wanted to roll. Unfortunately he also really wanted to do it on the hillside, which makes rolling about 50% harder.

Mootle is a recognised Team Half-Ass word for mule, by the way. Here they are asking for soggy butt scratchies. It’s all glamour here!

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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 England and is married to Ben, who is potentially the best Ben who ever Benned.

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