Xato has been in a separate paddock since he arrived nearly four weeks ago. Obviously, I don’t feel good about this; he can see others at all times and shares a fence line, but it’s not ideal. I’ve been trying to put the herd together but we have hit a few complications:
- Marty and Xato have not formed the BFF relationship I was hoping for. Mules play rough, mule boys play really rough, and Marty and Xato are borderline murderous as far as I can tell. So I’m not keen on leaving them unsupervised.
- We had two weeks of heavy, incessant rain which made the ground very slippery. I was reluctant to let the mules hoon around on such slick terrain – apart from the fact that i didn’t want anyone hurt for their sake, how ironic would it be to finally get a riding mule only for him to pull a tendon!
- Xato had conjunctivitis, and I didn’t particularly want him to pass it on to anyone. The thought of trying to administer eye drops to Marty twice a day was particularly horrifying.
- Little Mare is still on boxrest and so one of our horses has to be with her at all times. Otherwise, I would have put one horse out with Xato and another out with Marty; it would still have been slow progress bringing the whole herd together, but at least everyone would have had a buddy.
Last Tuesday I finally found myself with a couple of free hours, so I put Cash in Xato’s paddock and let Xato out with Marty. My initial introduction had involved all three, but Marty and Cash had ganged up on Xato so I thought it would be fairer to do a one-on-one.
Initially, things went well. The mules didn’t seem that interested in each other.
Feeling pretty pleased, if a little disappointed that I’d brought my camera along for nothing, I hung around for a bit longer then decided that I could safely go down to the yard and retrieve the wheelbarrow. My plan was to do the poo picking while keeping an eye on the mules.
When I got back to the yard I found that Little Mare, who had only just had the vet and farrier out that morning to apply a cast to the foot whose pedal bone she fractured a week ago, was having a major stress and was kicking the door and sweating up. Putting her out in her mini pen turned out to be a very bad idea, so I brought her back in and sedated her (her owner is currently on holiday). I’d only just done so when I heard a tremendous thudding of hooves out in the field, so I rushed out to see Marty and Xato acting like wild stallions.
I reminded myself that a) mules play rough and b) they kind of have to go through some kind of rule-setting in order to get along nicely in the future, so I watched and waited from the yard before going up to the field and making use of the photo opportunity. Unfortunately, it seemed to me that their interaction was getting increasingly aggressive and so I intervened and separated them.
Shortly after I’d done so I heard a crashing noise from the stable yard, and ran back to find that Little Mare had thrown herself on the floor and got cast! Lordy! Never a dull moment!
On Wednesday I put Xato out with Cash, and they were getting on so well I actually left them alone and went home for lunch. I dropped by to check on them before I went back to work and they were playing chasing games; it seemed mostly innocent, but as it would be dark by the time I finished work I decided to separate them before I left.
On Saturday, we tried putting the two mules together again.
It was a little different this time: to a casual onlooker it may still have looked like carnage, but I was getting a totally different ‘feel’ from the boys this time. It felt more like play, less like berserker rage.
I still wasn’t keen on leaving them unsupervised, however, so Xato went back to his paddock overnight.
On Sunday, I put him out with Cash first thing. Initially, Cash was more interested in exploring Xato’s side of the field and Xato was more interested in checking out the bags of hay I’d distributed round the track / asking me for butt scratchies.
After this they settled down to eat hay. I left them to it while I mucked out a stable, and as they were still quite happy when I came back I let Marty out with them too. I was interested to see that Marty approached Xato very carefully, and when Xato put his ears back and went to nip Marty on the rump, Marty immediately did as he was told and left without retaliation.
By this time Ben had finished teaching, so we moved the fence to give them plenty of grass and went home for a couple hours to have lunch.
When we returned, Xato and Cash were chasing each other around and Marty was watching them from an appropriate distance. Ben wanted to ride, so Cash had to come in to take over Iris’ babysitting duties for Little Mare.
Taking Cash away changed things. Xato seemed quite upset to have lost his sparring buddy and paid no attention to Marty at all – Marty clearly wasn’t good enough! Once it became clear that Cash wasn’t coming back, Xato came to check in with me a couple times to see if I could do anything to fix the situation for him.
Marty had watched all this from a distance, and then without warning he seemed to feel that Xato’s perambulations had crossed the line and he launched himself at him. What followed was 45 minutes of increasingly volatile behaviour that eventually led to Marty trotting over and “asking” me to give him a time-out.
The problem with Xato is that he just doesn’t let up – he wants to play the whole time. Which is great, but Marty and Cash tire quickly of this and when Marty gets tired he gets frustrated and when he gets frustrated he gets aggressive. I also feel that it’s slightly unfair to ‘just leave them to it’ when they are in a domestic situation: for the same reason that I’ll rug if we are having extended periods of rain – because we don’t have proper shelter so the herd can’t choose whether or not they want to stand out in it – I would like to give them the option of taking a time-out if they so choose. We have a large field but they still can’t take themselves far enough away for Xato to stop pestering them. At least with three of them out together, they can maybe take it in turns!