Marty and the Bad Day

The mules had a visit from their chiropractor, Celina Harrison, last week. Even though Marty isn’t ridden I still think it’s important to get him checked to make sure everything’s working as it should, particularly after his mystery lameness last month. I’m glad I did as it turned out the poor boy had done himself quite a bit of mischief – almost certainly due to mucking around with Xato!

“Don’t look at me,” says Xato, “I had nothing to do with it. I don’t even know who this is.”

His back was out pretty much the entire way down, so Celina had to do as much as she could to make him comfortable. It was a little bit heartbreaking to see how nervous he was; Celina said she could feel his heart thundering beneath her hands. In order not to stress him too much, it was decided that she would come back next month to give a follow-up and make sure everything was in good order.

The next day I turned Marty and Cash out in the arena so that they could graze down the grass and save me a bit of money on my hay bill! Marty was obviously feeling very good after Celina’s visit, because he initiated a chasing game that preceded the following clip by about a minute and then carried on for several minutes afterwards. I was particularly impressed by his canter pirouette, shown here at around 54 seconds in!

Putting Marty out in an area without a catching pen was a bit of a risk, but he had been acting so sweet lately that I allowed myself to be suckered in and thought I’d give him a chance. Ha.


After I initially turned him out he seemed fine, allowing me to approach and rub on him, but when I came back later that afternoon he took one look at me with the neck rope over my arm and took off running. He adopted his old bullying ways – charging round and forcing Cash to run with him, using him like an equine shield – so I took Cash out and settled down to work this through with Marty.

A photo from that morning, during play. This bank ain’t big enough for the both of us…

I wanted him to go into the arena so I left the gate open, as I was slightly concerned about him jumping over the low electric fence. Marty did not want to go in the arena however and just ran round and round the grass area.

I knew I couldn’t put any pressure on him because just being there with the rope was pressure enough, so I opted to stand in the middle and wait for him to think things through; maybe he’d choose to go through the gate and into the arena, or maybe he’d stop running and open communications. However, after a few minutes of this – during which Marty galloped, pinned his ears, shook his head and kicked out – I began to realise that he had got himself stuck in pattern, and that if I wanted to help him I needed to intervene.

Butter wouldn’t melt.

What he had been doing was trotting round, feigning an approach, and then suddenly veering off and launching himself into a gallop past me, bucking and scowling. All this time I had been standing still, but the next time he tried to pass me I took a step and projected a barrier across his path.

He was several metres away at this point, but he slammed the brakes on so hard that he slid to his knees and landed on his belly. I felt pretty bad about this, although when I went over to inspect the ground later it looked like he’d hit a soft patch which was probably why his braking didn’t work as planned.

I remained absolutely still while he got his feet sorted out and stood up. He then took a couple of steps to my left, positioning himself in front of the arena’s gateway, and waited. After a moment I ‘asked’ if I could approach and when he made no objection, I walked up to him and rubbed on him. From there I was able to slip the rope round his neck, rub on him again, and then lead him over to where I’d left his halter and put that on him as well.

Inspecting Xato’s headcollar, which smelt fascinating apparently.

The whole thing had probably taken no more than five minutes, and I found it really interesting. After his fall, his bad boy attitude completely vanished and he let me catch him as though nothing had happened. What had prompted such a furious charge around in the first place? Why did he not take the offered escape route into the much larger area of the arena?

Back in the field, he was very happy to follow me around while I did chores and was equally happy to let me approach and touch him. He’s a curious little fellow and I hope his tumble didn’t undo all of Celina’s good work.

I’m not sure what goes on in Marty’s head, but I’m pretty sure he’s the hero in it whatever it is.

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