Oof! I need to get back to regular posting. To be honest, I just haven’t done much that’s particularly interesting … other than the International Pack Meeting* and the Joe Wolter clinic that I still haven’t written up completely. But apart from those super interesting events; nope, nothing at all.
* I do, however, have accounts of the Meeting in both the current edition of The Mule Journal and Horsemanship Magazine. In case you were desperate to hear what dumb things I did (actually I didn’t do many dumb things at all, which was somewhat miraculous. Except for the Sandwich Incident, which shall forever remain untold).
Anyway, since Austria I have been feeling really keen on the idea of just walking with my mules. I’ve done a lot of walking with them in the past, of course, but the Pack Meeting imbued me with new purpose. I can’t afford any packing gear right now but I have plans to convert my riding saddle, and will buy a surcingle to start Marty off with.
Ben and I have taken the mules out for a few hikes around the Punchbowl over the last few weekends. Marty has really enjoyed this; Xato is less enthusiastic, although he changed his mind after he refused to go anywhere last weekend and got taken back to work in the arena instead. That didn’t work out so well for him.
A video from a hike we did on the 25th November:
This morning the plan was for Ben to ride his mare, Iris, and I would walk Marty (the words “I’ll take Marty, he’s easier” actually came out of my mouth. I know, I was shocked as well). We were going to go to the next common over and try and find the spot where a massive fire raged a few weeks ago, purely out of morbid curiosity. It started out well – while Ben was tacking up, I decided to take Marty over to the mounting block and practice our stuff. He lined up nice and easy, and then I leant over his back and offered him a treat from the opposite side so that he had to turn his head and see me up there out of both eyes. This was a complete non-event for him and I repeated it a few times before doing the same exercise from his other side.
Marty was really eager to be going on an adventure, but half-way down the lane we met a driver who pulled over to warn us that the hunt was out and were gathering just round the corner. We stood and pondered things for a while; Ben thought it might be useful for Iris to go and see the meet, and I thought that seeing the hounds would either be kill or cure for Marty’s dog phobia. In the end, we voted against it – but our inability to make our minds up was actually a training lesson in itself, because it meant that Marty and Iris had to practice standing quietly while we deliberated.
With the commons off limits to us, that only left the Punchbowl which Iris can’t really access at the moment as her feet don’t cope well with the stones. So we went back up the lane, swapped Iris for Xato, and set off on our hike.
Marty’s next big moment was when we met a man with a beautiful wolfhound. I think that’s probably the largest dog Marty’s ever seen! We were in the lead and he stopped briefly to assess the situation, but decided things were safe and walked on by without a backward glance. I was so pleased with him. Considering how he once fell over in the middle of the road because he was so frightened by an elderly Labrador turning to look at him, I thought being able to walk past an enormous hairy hound was really very good.
Further on, as we climbed the rocky path up the hill, Marty suddenly grew several inches in height and began to radiate alarm. “Aha,” I thought, carefully checking that my hold on the rope was gentle but prepared, “I bet there are ponies around.”
Sure enough, a few strides later I suddenly noticed the outline of two dark ears in one of the gorse bushes above us. A small herd of semi-feral Exmoor ponies graze the Punchbowl and we had come across two of their number making use of the natural shelter. The path we were on was a sunken one, so it was hard to see them and they were also standing very still which seemed to worry the mules quite a bit. Xato really just wanted to get a proper look at them, but Marty was torn between wanting to see and wanting to flee. Fortunately, we passed them without incident and took the next trail to our right.
Marty was very much on the edge of panic by this point, so I asked him to pay attention and chill the hell out by going over groundwork stuff that he knows and is good at. Of course, we then met the rest of the Exmoor herd! We decided to carry on with our intended route, which was down the hill and away from the where the ponies were – but, of course, they came charging after us. The ponies don’t usually bother riders, but they seem quite enamoured with Marty and this is not the first time we’ve been followed.
I lost my cool and would have panicked if not for Ben, who promptly turned Xato towards the herd and commanded us to follow. Xato treated the prancing, snorting ponies in much the same way as he treats most things in life: with polite curiosity. The ponies came round in a semi-circle to try and get a better look at Marty, but Marty and I just made sure that Xato stood between us at all times. With Xato acting as a big furry shield, Marty and I both calmed down and we eventually moved on again; the ponies decided we were not worth investigating further, and trotted off to find their friends.
It was a really fun walk and I was very proud of both my mules! There would have been more photos of Xato in this post, but annoyingly my phone will not connect to my laptop. I tried emailing them to myself, but my phone is doing this awesome new thing where it stores mail in my Outbox for an indefinite period and I got tired of waiting. I’ll keep them for another entry!