Team Half-Ass and the Birthday Weekend

I turned 32 on Monday (not 33. I spent the entire day thinking I’d turned 33 until Ben mentioned my actual age that evening; I thought he’d forgotten how old I was). Today I was ID’ed while buying a 15p alcoholic chocolate bar that I’d found in the clearance section of Sainsburys (my favourite part of the shop). I haven’t been ID’ed in years so that was a joyous occasion, particularly when the cashier expressed surprise over my age; I’m glad I hadn’t bought any My Little Pony toys for once else she might have doubted me further.

All in all, it was a good end to a birthday week that began last Saturday with a mules-only stroll on the common – a location which Xato hadn’t returned to since he bolted with me last autumn (at some point, I will actually get around to telling you that tale). Ben had ridden him up and down the lane several times but, on the one occasion we decided to go further, Xato was in an unusually silly mood and we decided not to overload him by introducing the common on top of everything else. At that point, our main concern was to convince him to stop being a prat and get him home again without any flying lessons and with him feeling alright about his experience.

Although I have been successfully riding Xato myself since returning from the Maultiertreffen, it seemed sensible to give Ben this ride and so I took Marty along on foot.

Marty did not want to be caught. His catching problems have resurfaced and I honestly don’t know why; the usual triggers have been absent, we haven’t changed anything as far as his food or environment is concerned, I haven’t been asking him to work harder or work less, he hasn’t had any recent medications. It’s a bit of a mystery at the moment. Once I have him he’s perfect, so I don’t think it’s pain related as the silliness goes away as soon as the halter’s on. Ben’s pragmatic response was to suggest that we just view Marty as a wild animal, and accept that sometimes we get to see a domesticated side. If you look at Marty in terms of “that’s really good – for a wild animal”, working with him feels a lot more optimistic.

Anyway, despite his reluctance, once we were out he really enjoyed himself. I explicitly told him that he was going to be Xato’s chaperone and had a Very Important Job to do, and this responsibility seemed to appeal to him.


Trying to get the two of them in a photo was surprisingly hard.


Marty loves sniffing posts. A particularly good post will see him half-close his eyes and go into a little trance of olfactory ecstasy; this one was only a middling sort of post.


Scouting for bears in the woods.


The classic “He’s behind me, isn’t he?”


Xato peering over the hedge. We’ve had a lot of people peering over the hedge lately to see “our donkey”, so I guess Xato wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Weirdly when the general public asks us about our “donkey” or mule, they only ever mention it in the singular and they’re always referring to Xato. I think this is odd because to my mind, Marty is the more typical representation of what most people in this country would think of when they hear mule or donkey. But it’s Xato who gets noticed.


Good boys! Marty has been ponied before from Iris, and Xato may have been ponied off before he came to us, but we’ve never put them together. They did very well. Ben expressed surprise that Marty didn’t attempt to bite Xato, but despite how awful they might be to each other on their own time, both mules know that rambunctious behaviour is NOT tolerated when there’s a human involved.


Xato was very, very good. They both were; Xato ambled along like it was only yesterday when he was last on the common, and Marty performed his bodyguard role admirably.

On Sunday, Ben and I swapped mules and took them up to the Punchbowl. We packed Xato’s saddlebags with a very luxurious picnic lunch we’d bought from the posh farm shop and headed up to a place called the Temple of the Four Winds. This intriguingly named folly is now nothing more than a hexagonal stone platform with a stunning view across the Weald and on towards the North Downs, but it was once an elaborate lodge where Viscount Pirrie – a turn of the century Irish shipbuilder – would host dinner parties for his hunting friends.

After lunch, we took an exceedingly steep path (it soon became apparent why it was overgrown – I don’t suppose many people used it) up to Gibbet Hill, the second highest hill in Surrey. As you’ve probably deduced from the name, it was once the site of a gibbet from which the area’s many highwaymen would be hung. Because I am a very morbid person I delighted in the juxtaposition of the hill’s grim past compared to its modern day use, which saw many happy families enjoying its views and picnicking in the sunshine.

I liked this ride a lot because we went down several paths I’d never been on before, many of which required a mule’s off-roading abilities. We covered six miles – the furthest I’ve ridden on my own mule for nearly a year!

I was also very pleased with Marty, as when we popped out of the gorse at the top of Gibbet Hill a small dog belonging to one of the picnickers lost its tiny mind and rushed him. As you may remember, we’ve had a lot of problems in the past with Marty being afraid of dogs; this time, however, he did a little spook and then stood there calmly, watching with mild “Can I stomp this?” interest while the dog’s owners tried unsuccessfully to get it under control. I realise that we surprised them by suddenly appearing out of the undergrowth and the dog’s initial reaction was, I think, understandable – but it constantly amazes me how many people let their dogs off-lead when they have no recall installed. It’s why I like to loudly announce that I am riding/leading a mule and, being a mule, he is very good at kicking. People make more of an effort then.


Got to stop and admire the view from time to time!


This was actually a downhill, but the camera has flattened it somewhat. I like the pale green light behind us.


View from the Temple. After the heavy rain which followed our drought, the plants have gone into overdrive so the view isn’t as good as it sometimes is!


Everyone stopped for a picnic.


There was a bench in between all that bracken which I used to get back on, but it makes for a funny picture.


Xato, posing and looking handsome after our climb up to Gibbet Hill.


The stone cross, erected in memory of an unknown sailor who was murdered in the Punchbowl while on his way to Portsmouth. His killers were executed and their bodies displayed on Gibbet Hill.


Again, the camera has flattened the descent, but I was really pleased with myself here! I’ve never liked downhills even before I lost my confidence, but I rode down this one – which has a lane and then another drop into the Punchbowl ahead of it – with only the teeniest tiniest little prickle of nerves.


That bright green strip used to be a motorway seven years ago. Now the motorway goes through a four mile tunnel beneath the Punchbowl.


Ben is very good at taking big scenic shots!


I got to try ponying, too. Please ignore my face. I certainly try to.


It was an enjoyable way to not turn 33. Many thanks to Ben for taking great photos and for walking the entire six miles … I do keep telling him that he needs to replace his agoraphobic mare with a good trail mule. He can’t have mine.

1 thought on “Team Half-Ass and the Birthday Weekend

  1. Rosemary says:

    . “I think this is odd because to my mind, Marty is the more typical representation of what most people in this country would think of when they hear mule or donkey. But it’s Xato who gets noticed.” This is Marty’s paranoia in a nutshell………:)


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