Saturday, 24 November 2007

Widget - Part 3

(Again - parts 1 and 2 are further down the blog - start at the bottom)

Widget the hunting mule - by Helen Pring

Well winter here in Somerset has been pretty wet but thanks to the positioning of our fields we have managed to escape the hock deep mud that seems to plague other parts of the world. We have kept ours turned out all winter so far with only the lameness episode confining them to the yard so far.

Since the last instalment of the incredible magic go anywhere do anything mule (this is more or less how my friends and family refer to her as I constantly tell everyone how wonderful she is) we have been out and about surprising more horses and people. So after a few weeks rest while she was lame she needed to be brought up to speed before I took her hunting so another busy afternoon clipping followed, honestly she did need it, then she was once again shining and ready to go. This session clipping went even better then the first as she knew what was going to happen and just stood and let me take my time. I even ran the clippers down the length of her ears and clipped her head out completely this time. My friend with the pony wanted her clipped a bit more as she was sweating every time we went out so I duly oiled the clippers and did a blanket clip.

I was itching to get out and do something fun as winter road riding does get rather tedious so we decided to load the horses up and go out to Brean to ride on the beach. Having endured a lecture from husband on the dangers of the mud, the tide, the other beach users, the possibility of being blown to France we loaded up and away we went. All I can say is wow, the beach was so long it just disappeared into the distance and barely anyone in sight. We parked in the car park, tacked up and road down towards the sand, we had to ride down a steep jetty to get to the sand. All was going well but then both animals refused to step onto the sand. Widget said that it might be anything and how could se possibly know if she would sink and never be seen again, and Autumn said that is Widge didn’t like it then there was no way she was going to risk her life. We went sideways and backwards then forwards and after a good amount of coxing Widget shut her eyes and tentatively put a hoof on the sand. Finding that it didn’t in fact give way or suck her under she walked on as if she had never harboured any suspicions about it. It was a lovely ride up the beach, we trotted and cantered and generally had a lovely time. Now Brenda had never galloped before and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to initiate her to the noble sport of trying to hang on while the wind tries to tear you off the back of your animal. So when we got to the far end of the beach, bearing in mind that it is 3 miles long, we turned and I told her just to grab a handful of mane and let the pony do her thing. We cantered and then I shouted to her to give Autumn her head and kick on. Autumn is a game little pony and possibly the fastest thing on four legs so when Brenda did as she was told the pony shifted effortlessly into top gear and all I saw and heard was a round chestnut backside kicking sand in our faces and a squeal of excitement from Brenda. Widge galloped after them but no matter how much I love her she will never be very fast and we quickly fell behind. Eventually we caught up with Brenda and Autumn who had thoroughly enjoyed themselves and made our way with a couple more gallops back to the box.

A few weeks before Christmas I decided that I had no excuse to put off taking her out hunting so I duly rang the secretary of the Taunton Vale hounds and asked if I could join them for a day. I got her in the night before and groomed her until she was spotless and then settled down for a restless night. Husband was grumbling because I couldn’t sleep for excitement and apprehension but the most beautiful day dawned and I was up and about getting her fed and generally mucking about. We were a bit late getting to the meet as for all her lovely qualities she can sometimes be reluctant to box, especially when she is suspicious about being tacked up and going into the trailer alone. The pony didn’t help by insisting on calling her every five seconds but she did go up with a bit of persuasion and we were off. I rolled up to the meet to find the usual assortment of large and beautiful horses as well as a few smart cobs and unruly ponies. We saw the quarry in the form of a rider with a sock dangling off the end of a rope disappearing into the distance and after a short break the Huntsman moved off and cast hounds in the first field. I has been pretty well hidden just outside of the farm yard talking to a nice girl on a big chestnut, Widge had been dozing in the sun not really bothering about much, however when we moved off people suddenly noticed that there was an alien in their midst and I got mobbed by interested followers. My wonderful mule took it all in her stride and didn’t even worry when hounds came streaming around her legs. She was willing to keep up but said that she saw very little point in the whole thing. One of the horses was rapidly obsessed with her and kept being silly when he lost sight of her and calling. I don’t think that any of the horses or people were anything other then interested and certainly none of them had a strong aversion to her.

In all honesty we didn’t do much that day, the ground was very wet and hounds kept loosing the trail and getting confused. I think the highlight was when we checked in a farmyard and were standing about, Widget decided that is was far to quiet so she brayed at the top of her voice. As the hideous noise died away there was shocked silence followed by peals of laughter by everyone in earshot. Taking this a request for an encore she proceeded to bray again.

I did manage to get out again before Christmas but it was so foggy we just loaded back up and went home again. I went out with the Taunton Vale again in late January and this time we had a lovely day. She was very sensible at the meet and drifted in and out of sleep but was polite when a nice gentleman on an old grey horse came to say hello.

The first tricky bit we came to was a stream at the bottom of a steep field but with catlike agility (alright maybe not catlike but not too far off) she jumped over and away we went up the other side of the hill. We had a lovely day and even though we missed the first few fences we were still up with the rest of the field. We went down though a quarry and up the steep other side to a nasty rail with a ditchy thing in front, so me and another girl with a bit thoroughbred horse slipped out of the wood the further down and round the outside of the wood to hopefully catch up. We could see them going off across the fields the other side of the hedge but the only way to follow was over a set of narrow rails around 2’6”. We decided to go over so the girl put her horse at the rails where it promptly refused. I trotted Widge towards them and she popped over obediently, so I waited on the other side for the girl to join me. But this horse wasn’t having any of it and after countless attempts I suggested that maybe I should just jump back and we would try to find another way round. So, silently grateful of the work that I we put into our jumping in the summer, we hopped back across and cantered back to the woods. Fate was against us though as we didn’t find a way round or meet up with hounds again but I went away thrilled that she had behaved well and jumped nicely.

So she has another string to her bow and is a mannerly and sensible hunter. I did get a nice exercise trap from husband for Christmas so the next thing on my list is to introduce her to the joys of harness. I know she has done some harness work but quite what and when I am not sure.
So we are up to date with the magic go anywhere do anything mule, I am not sure she signed up for all this excitement when I brought her home but I like to think she is enjoying it.

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