Saturday, 24 November 2007

Widget - Part 4

(please read 1-3 first!!! Further down the blog)

The Next Installement - By Helen Pring

Well here is the next thrilling instalment of the tale of the wonder mule, it does seem like rather a long time since I last wrote and I have a horrible feeling that this is going to be a long article. Last time I wrote we were still firmly in winter coats and rugs having just completed a lovely day’s trail hunting.

First and foremost we have re-introduced Widget to harness, I bought a set of harness for her and after lots of head scratching and looking in books we got the harness on. I did some driving years ago but I can’t say it was much use as I didn’t remember much. Widge stood patiently for all the fiddling with the harness with the air of a professional having to put up with amateurs. She took the blinkered bridle with no trouble and I was convinced that she must have done it before to be so laid back about it, so after a few trial runs we got going . And surprise surprise she turns out to be a laid back driving mule!! Is there nothing this mule can’t do we ask ourselves…. Well actually standing still doesn’t come easily to her so there is something to work on.

We had a lot of plans laid out for the summer and we were eagerly planning a trip to the New Forest when disaster struck and the pony’s jockey Brenda was struck down with illness and had to undergo major abdominal surgery. It was of course a bitter blow for us all as it has wiped out nearly 3 months of activities. I was reluctant to let Widgets fitness slip so I took to riding her and leading Autumn when I could to keep them both ticking over. Widge didn’t appear to mind towing a small chestnut pony behind her around the village but some people did point and stare at the ‘odd couple’.

However after consultation with my mother who lives up near Chippenham we managed to organise a weekend away staying with mum and going on the Miserden Fun ride with a friends daughter and her very good pony. In hindsight I should have taken the pony with me as company but I sadly underestimated the power of separation anxiety that Widget would feel. We arrived in the beautiful yard where the friends lived and Widge was put in a paddock next to another horse. I expected her to take it all in her usual accepting stride but she didn’t settle at all and bearing in mind that the fencing must have been over 5ft and very sturdy, I was horrified to see her sizing it up and making little runs at it.

Mum and I watched her for a while trying to decide what would be best to do, we were sure that she would eventually try to jump out and the friend wasn’t keen on letting a mad mule run with any of her horses so we decided to take her back to mum’s yard. There was a problem though in the form of mums highly strung pony broodmare and last years gelding. Nevertheless we boxed a reluctant mule and took her to the yard. The pony mare was shouting madly as the trailer came down the drive and was in the yard waiting to see who was in the box before we even got there. The look of complete horror on her beautifully well bred face when she saw the lovely banner-like ears of Widge spoke volumes and we unboxed and let them meet over the gate. A tense second passed while they sniffed then the mare exploded into the most violent outburst I have ever seen. She was screaming obscenities at my poor girl and striking out, then she reared high and struck over the gate at Widget. She caught her leg on the gate and went crashing to the floor, the poor silly old thing. However we used the momentary pause in the outburst to get Widge into a stable before the mare was on her feet shouting at the top of her voice. Then to add insult to injury the mare backed up to the door and gave it such a kick it punched a hole in the wood. All this time the yearling was at the back of the yard with his eyes popping out at Auntie Izzy gone mad, apparently unable to believe his eyes. Widget was calling to them every time they got more then five foot away and straining at the door. She was saying something about just wanting to be loved but we doubted that she was in line for anything like that.
Mum and I had a very sleepless night and I crept out several times to see if they were settling. By the morning all was quiet and Izzy had decided that all the excitement was enough to bring her into season, and maybe this odd creature was actually some sort of new stallion. After some debating we turned them out together and they were fine.

The day of the fun ride dawned and we boxed up, not with much co-operation on Widge’s behalf it has to be said, and arrived in the beautiful rolling countryside of Miserden. As I opened the top door Widgets head appeared and her ears were nearly falling off they were so far forward. She told me that even though she couldn’t see them she KNEW hounds were close, and looked almost excited when we led her out. Apparently it occurred to her early on that it was a fun ride not hunting as she fell asleep in the sunshine within a few minutes. I think that as she has been dragged around the countryside a lot in the last 12 months she must be used to people staring at her as she sighed heavily as people stopped to have a look. Anyway the ride itself was wonderful and out of the 70 jumps (yes that’s right 70 jumps!) we did about 55 which must be good going in anybody’s book. The best bit was when we stopped for refreshments along the way, a nice old chap came over and patted her and then he got a misty look in his eye and put his hand on her nose and said softly ‘we won the war on the back of these animals’ Widget was gazing back at him with that unfathomable expression of wisdom that she has and I felt strangely touched to witness it. The moment passed and he told us that we could go down the hill and up through the woods or we could jump the stone wall behind him to miss it out. I was prepared to go down the hill but when he added that not many people had fancied the wall, the gauntlet was well and truly thrown down! I suppose it was about 2’6” but lower this side and feeling all eyes on us Maddie and I cantered towards the wall, Maddie and her pony Arthur sailed over like pros and Widge and I followed suit. It was hard to resist the temptation to turn around and wave at the onlookers.

So that was a lovely weekend away.

Brenda started riding again and after the slow build up as she healed we were out and about again, we are still taking it easy but we did go to our riding club show a few weekends ago. We dragged the animals out of the field and I groomed and plaited her, trimmed her ears and oiled her hooves and generally made her as beautiful as she could be. She didn’t entirely approve of the plaiting bit, she was suspicious that something new was happening and she said that she wasn’t sure if she was going to like it if it meant looking pleasant all day. We arrived at the show in plenty of time, and most of it was taken up with the usual bombardment of fascinated people. Even though I did hear a child cry out ‘look mummy it’s a donkey’. Brenda an I both entered for the Prettiest Mare class so in we went with 10 others, we circled round the ring and I kept up a steady stream of muttered bribes to Widge to encourage pricked ears. I though she looked like a million dollars so you can imagine my outrage when Brenda and Autumn were called out 2nd and we only just scraped a rosette in 6th place. However I didn’t think I should argue as I’m not convinced that she should have been in a mares class in the first place.

We did meet a very nice chap in a wheelchair who had suffered a stroke but was previously in the England Tentpegging team. He wheeled himself over and wanted to pat Widget who was engrossed in watching the dog show, but when she realised her presence was required she very gently lowered her head into the chaps lap so he could stroke her. I am sure that most animals know when someone is vulnerable and when caution and tenderness is required. All this however went out the window when Autumn went into the veterans class. For almost twenty minutes nothing could be heard throughout the showground because some long eared prat was shouting at the top of her voice for her beloved chestnut mare to come back to her. Needless to say it was highly embarrassing and once the mare did come back Widget feigned indifference. Still we redeemed ourselves by jumping two clear rounds in the fun jumping.
Widget is about to become immortalised in bronze as the well known artist Susie Whitcombe flew down in early May to take photos and sketches of her to model her next bronze on. Susie was really lovely and has such a wonderful ability to capture animals on canvas and in clay. Widge was clearly unaware of what an honour it was as she complained about me leading her about for no good reason but was obliging enough to prick her ears and did take an interest in the sketch pad Susie had. So we will wait and see what comes of this but I am thrilled that my very special mule will always be remembered in bronze.

So I think that this about brings us up to date with what is happening in our little yard, an unlikely hotbed of international mule relations!

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