Apologies for the slightly late post this week. As you may have already seen from the Facebook page, I foolishly left part of my finger behind in 2018 which makes typing quite a tedious endeavour. I have become one of those people who laboriously punches each letter with a single index finger, and who can’t remember where any of the keys are because it turns out my muscle memory relied on using multiple fingers on both hands simultaneously. What a charmed life I led when I had ten fully functioning digits! Have you ever tried to put socks on one-handed? Alas, for I did not realise how fortunate I was.

A bloody brilliant start to my five year memory book; note that I also got the year wrong.

I am, of course, hamming things up somewhat. I’m aware how lucky I am, how small my problems are in the grand scheme of things, and I’m grateful to our wonderful NHS for patching me up. But if you can’t find humour in your situation then all is lost, so I will continue to whinge elaborately as it amuses me.

One thing I will not be doing much of for a while is taking Marty out on his walks or getting much done with Xato. This is disappointing, but I’m pleased that Marty and I walked for nearly four hours on Saturday – two days before my accident – so at least we got some hiking time in. I’m also very aware of the irony of being able to walk my mule for several miles in just a halter with no problems what-so-ever, and then being injured while trying to lead a horse down to his field. This is the value of teaching your equine to lead nicely, to follow a feel, to never pull or lean on you. As a groom, I have often had to handle supposedly trained horses – horses worth five figures – who have no concept of listening to a person on the ground. Being a groom is a hazardous job but I have always prided myself on never being injured at work in all the years I’ve done it because I take precautions, I (generally) understand the way the horse thinks, and sometimes I will flat out refuse to handle a horse if I consider it to be dangerous. I dropped the ball on this one and paid the price.

Anyway, this is a lot of typing for someone who only has one useful hand. Onwards to adventure!

Hanging out by the cafe for a while, which was good for Marty as there were lots of dogs around.

Our first hike of the day was a circuit of the Punchbowl with my neighbours and their Spanish mares. You may remember them as mine and Xato’s regular hacking companions last year! I bribed them into coming out with me by offering to act as gatekeeper, and was asked not to take them down any rough mule routes. I don’t know what they meant by that (it’s a halo you can see above my head right now, in case you were wondering).

Marty and I usually skulk around in the bowels of the bowl because less people go there, so it was good for us to be up top and see more things.

 

Got places to be!

 

Our super awesome companions – Samantha and Edita on the left, and Fi and Chiquita on the right. These guys rode bitless through Hyde Park!

 

Samantha takes a great picture. Marty looks like such a baby in his winter fluff.

 

Marty’s Spanish ladies following us through the Smallbrook, which was deeper than I’d anticipated – last time we came this way, Marty and I took the footbridge.

There were only two moments of alarm: once where Marty spotted a pile of deadly sawdust in the heather, and once when we encountered some of the semi-feral Exmoor ponies who took a shine to the mares and started following us. Marty and I were in the lead at the time, but we doubled back to fend off the would-be suitors. I picked up my energy and directed it at the ponies, and was thrilled when I felt Marty’s energy match mine! The ponies didn’t think twice and immediately turned and fled. Marty turned back when I did and we took up a new position of rear guard until we were well clear of where the ponies had been.

The funny thing was, although Marty responded beautifully during the encounter, once the problem was solved Marty’s heroism went to his head and he got very cocky – even pinning his ears and feigning bites at poor Edita’s rump, which he wouldn’t have dared do before. He was very silly for a while until he’d worked off his energy.

Another fab shot from Samantha. Spot the ponies!

Part two of the adventure involved us leaving our Spanish friends and meeting Ben back at the yard, where we had a brief rest – Marty had a haynet – while Ben tacked up Xato. Then we set off in the opposite direction, this time for an amble round the common. Ben hadn’t joined us in the Punchbowl because Xato’s done much less work than Marty these past few weeks, and I thought it would be unkind to then expect him to carry a rider on a two and a half hour hike.

Despite having already been out, Marty did not hesitate when he was asked to leave the yard a second time. We had a nice ramble until we were heading home, when Ben and Xato – who had been following – suddenly came thundering past us at top speed. Top speed for Xato is surprisingly fast given the size and shape of him.

Marty jumped, but held; and I was able stand and watch as both my husband and mule gallumphed away down the sandy track looking very much like an oversized Thelwell cartoon. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw two supremely fit Warmbloods who had come cantering up the hill behind us and were now parked up and waiting.

Xato took Ben as far as he felt he needed to and then stopped dead, coming to a halt as quickly as he’d left. Marty and I traipsed over to them, picking up a discarded leg wrap as we did so.

“He can move,” said one of the riders with a hint of admiration, as they politely walked past before trotting off again.

His worry over, Xato immediately went back to neutral and was totally chill for the rest of the ride. I was pleased that Ben had been riding him, not me. Ben was able to assess the situation calmly, going with Xato and helping him to get away – as Joe Wolter taught us – rather than fighting with him. As Ben pointed out, the broad sandy firebreak on a wide open common was really the ideal place for something like this to happen (not that a bolting mule is ever ideal, but you know what I mean). American trainers often talk as though everyone has miles and miles of open access land to work with, whereas in the UK we usually find ourselves contained to narrow bridleways! I think this was why Xato was able to let go of his worry so quickly, because he felt that his rider wanted to help him rather than hinder him.

It was the same track where Xato bolted with me last year, also caused by the sudden appearance of another horse (which, incidentally, was the same horse who took my fingertip off six days ago. Perhaps Xato was trying to tell me something) – but in the opposite direction. He definitely has a lot of concern about any level of energy behind him. More work to do there!

Waiting for Xato to catch up. He has two speeds, slow and fast.

 

Xato, coming up the hill that would soon contain Unexpected Warmbloods.

 

Ben and Xato practising serpentines.

 

When we got back, Marty suddenly remembered that he hated Ben. He’s been fine with Ben ever since he (Marty) bumped his head back in the summer, and was fine with him before we left for our ride. Not so when we returned! Ben was actual Satan!

The incident put Marty back into a silly frame of mind (which is an interesting observation to ponder: the mule who left was able to go back to neutral almost immediately, the mule who stayed held onto his worry for a much longer time. Of course this is partly down to a difference in personalities and Marty’s more horse-like brain over Xato’s donkey brain, but it still gave me pause for thought), but overall it was a good day out!

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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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