Q&A with Team Half-Ass: part one

Alright – so, ages ago, I asked Mulography followers on Facebook to send in any questions they had. I am sorry that it took so long to respond, life got very hectic (see previous post)! Anyway, here is the first part of the Q&A. Thank you to everyone who sent questions in.

Read Part Two here

1. This is probably covered somewhere in the blog archives, but can you say what attracts you to having, training and riding mules instead of horses, given also that your partner is a pragmatic horseman; so why the extra challenge of mules in a horsey household, why not a nice interesting problem horse instead?

The thing is … I don’t know if any problem horse could be as interesting as a mule. Trying to explain the allure of mules to non-mule owners is always difficult, because it’s one of those things that can never be properly explained with mere words; this is why I actively encourage people to find out for themselves!

Mules are like cats, I think. People often compare them to dogs due to their loyalty and affection, but I feel that cats are a better comparison. (Most) dogs love anybody and anything and are great ego-boosters. Cats and mules require people to earn that love and are great ego-levellers. I know I quote it all the time, but it’s true: you can’t have a mule and an ego!

I prefer them for riding because, although they are still just as capable of spooking or bolting or any other gravity-defying thing, they are less likely to do so and, when they do, you know that their self-preservation will remain 100% intact.

Ben being the pragmatic horseman that he is is what enables me to do this at all. Although I am firmly hooked on mules now and would never go back to horses, I am not a trainer and am regularly flummoxed by my mules’ behaviour at times. Having Ben around keeps me sane and probably keeps my mules happier, too!

Plus, how could you ever tire of that view? The world is a better place when framed between the ears of a mule.

2. Lana (Mule) knows that Marty has been working diligently at this for a very long time. She wants to know how much longer he thinks it will take until he has you fully trained to his very high standards.

I asked Marty this question and he sighed, waggled his ears, and then turned around for a butt scratch. I rather suspect that I have gone backwards in my training as I tried to groom him earlier and it was the Wrong Brush. I’m lucky that Marty is such a patient teacher.

Marty bestows a blessing on me for trying my hardest, even if I’m not very good at it.

3. Are mules waterproof? Donkeys are not. Horses are (to a degree).

I can’t give a definitive answer except to say that mine are – this is a question that comes up a lot, and I’ve not seen anyone say that their mule isn’t waterproof. But it would be interesting to know if that’s standard! All I can say is that Marty has lived outside naked for all of his seven years, and has suffered no skin conditions or anything associated with exposure to the damp.

Xato wore a rug when he first arrived, because he’d travelled from lovely sunny Spain to arrive in England in November. I thought it was a bit mean to leave him naked to begin with!

4. Did you notice the difference in their smell straight away?

Not until I was able to hug Marty for the first time (he used to hate hugs. Arms over the neck were a no-no, as was me leaning in too close to him). I may have just got used to it, but I don’t think that mule smell is as pervasive as horse smell. Marty smells very … savoury, is the only word I can think to describe it! It’s a pleasant smell. Xato also smells nice, but in a different way to Marty.

Winter post-walk snuggles with a young Marty.

5. What surprised you the most about mules, after so many years working with horses?

Excuse my language for a moment, but I think the biggest surprise was that they called me out on my bullshit. Horses are a lot more forgiving than mules. Mules can learn a new task or rule very quickly, but that means that you have to be careful not to teach them the wrong thing by accident! If a mule feels betrayed, then you must be prepared to work very hard to reinstate the idea that you are someone worth being with.

I know we shouldn’t anthropomorphise, but there is something very human about the way a mule looks at a person who they are invested in. Their love and trust is a huge responsibility to have – that’s not to say that I would otherwise be going around, merrily abusing animals (despite what Marty tells you), but I think having mules has made me more aware of my actions, no matter how small. I don’t always get it right but I’m trying.

Everything about Marty is surprising … like how long it takes him to overcome his fear of anything different.

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