Facebook friends will have seen that Xato and I have been doing a lot of riding out lately, in the company of our fabulous friends Samantha and Fi and their Spanish mares, Edita and Chiquita. These ladies are pretty much unstoppable, and recently even rode through Hyde Park in central London – bitless! We really couldn’t ask for better escorts as we rebuild our confidence.
Iris is out of action at the moment after she went through a(nother) fence, so it’s been particularly good to still have someone to ride with.
Our first ride was last week, on Tuesday 13th at 6:30am! Sam and Fi tend to ride early to fit in the horses around work, and that suits me pretty well as the common is much quieter at that time. It’s almost as though people like staying in bed…
I had ridden Xato out into the Punchbowl on Sunday night in preparation, with Ben leading Cash Pony in hand. We did a fairly small loop but I loved being out, even though Xato took exception to a marker post/field of sheep at one point and did a little butt-tuck and scurry. He didn’t go far at all and pulled himself up within a couple of strides.
On Tuesday, I bought Xato in – he did a bit of a mule plant halfway between the field and the stable yard – tacked up, and led him down the lane to meet Sam and Fi. I’ve stopped using our small and portable mounting block because every time the chiro came out, she found Xato’s vertebrae were often pulled over to the left; this isn’t necessarily my fault and may be Marty-related, but for the sake of my mule I decided to assume that it is and see if that makes a difference. I couldn’t use the big block in the stable yard as I wouldn’t be able to do the yard gate once mounted (it is one of those awkward ones that you have to lift), so I led him out and used a field gate to mount with. I often use the arena gate to mount, but even so I was impressed at how nicely Xato lined up and stood still while I mounted, given that this was a new area and concept for him.
Sam and Fi tucked us in between them and off we went! He was superb. I had ridden him onto the common before, with Ben leading Iris, but we only skirted the edge. This time we went right out into the big wide open, and given that he was riding out with two uknown horses and in a group for the first time, he was absolutely impeccable. We ended up taking the rear at one point and he didn’t mind at all; he was happy to mooch along, enjoying himself and in no hurry to catch the horses up.
Our next ride was on Friday evening. I raced back to the yard after work, eager to tack up my buddy and go for a ride with friends – something I haven’t done for years! The only thing missing was the pint of cider down the pub afterwards! Xato didn’t plant himself coming in this time, and in fact he hasn’t done it since. I think he enjoys his little forays into the big wide world as much as I do.
This time we did a longer circuit and rode for two hours. I was on such a high. Me! Hacking my own mule for two whole hours! Xato walked in the middle, in the rear, and even took the lead for a while. We also had a couple of trots; very messy on my part (I haven’t yet figured out how to trot in a Western saddle, and he has a much bigger movement when out than he does in the arena) but under control and no fear of bolting. Brilliant. I was interested to note that he wasn’t inclined to follow nose-to-tail like most horses do when ridden together; on the wider tracks, he would pick his own route regardless of where the horse in front was going.
The highlight of this second ride, however, was the pond. Sam and Fi rode in, but I kept Xato back; on the previous ride he had been reluctant to walk through a puddle, so even though he’s crossed fords with me before (in hand), I assumed he wouldn’t go in. He was also getting quite fractious at that point and so I decided that I definitely didn’t want to try and take him in, in case it gave him an excuse to do something silly (I really don’t know my mule very well at all, do I). Xato kept pulling towards the pond, and I was getting so worried I was thinking about getting off; but then, for whatever reason, I relaxed enough to let him approach and stick his nose in. The next thing I know, we’re striding through it!
Later, Fi said that it was very sympathetically ridden, but the honest truth is that I did nothing but panic internally and Xato did it all himself. Then again, I guess it worked as it meant I stayed out of his way!
Our third ride was at 5:30am on the following Tuesday. Yes, that’s right, 5:30am. We’re having a heatwave at the moment with daily temperatures of 30c, so that was the coolest part of the day to ride in! I did momentarily hesitate about joining Sam and Fi, but then I reasoned that we only live once and I would regret any moment that I could have ridden my mule but didn’t. I’m glad I went as the 4:20 wake-up was totally worth it. We had a beautiful ride, even if Xato was feeling a little bit sassy, and the common was so beautiful at that time in the morning. Dew-drenched cobwebs spanning the gorse, mist pooling in the distant hills, the rising sun gilding the leaves in the trees, and our wonderful, generous, great-hearted equines carrying us serenely through it all. Xato even led for most of the ride!
I feel like I could die happy now, as I’ve finally caught up with that dream; but at the same time I hope I don’t, because we have many more miles to go! He is a truly wonderful mule.