Friday, 12 September 2008

Millie Mule (with thanks from Liz!)


(Photo with thanks to Hazel Ray Photography)

Mules are not common in the UK and people here are unused to seeing them around, so I am often asked why I have one when I am seen together with Millie (Pants to her friends), my Quarter Horse x Mammoth molly mule.

It is a question I can’t easily answer. All the reasons that I had when I started out with her about 9 years ago when she was 11 just seem ridiculous now because back then I didn’t really have a clue what mules were about. I was a Gold Series endurance rider when I first got Pants, having spent many seasons enjoying competing on my pony Basil The Nag. I had heard that mules were tough, stayed sound and had endurance, so those were my initial reasons for selecting a mule when I went looking for another animal with which to do endurance riding. Little did I know that what I was taking on when I got Pants home. Firstly, she is a mule. And it does make a difference. And with mules comes probably one of the most fascinating, interesting and life-changing experience with equids one is ever likely to get.

 “Mules are stubborn” is probably the most common thing heard said when you ask people what they think about mules. Mule-folk know that although mules give the outward appearance of stubbornness, the truth is that mules have a very strong sense of self-preservation and therefore whenever they do something, they like to be certain that it will be safe and comfortable for them to do it, whatever it might be. They are so much more perceptive to the environment around them such that even small changes can cause much suspicion and worry for a mule. Therefore a mule needs a rider and handler whose judgement he can trust because if the trust is not there, then the mule will make all the decisions for himself because he will feel that in order to survive, this is what he must do. And when a mule makes a decision that is at odds with his handler or rider then the mule is likely to get what he wants! Mules have a big head and a short strong neck, which gives them the advantage in terms of leverage. Attempting to strong-arm or force a mule into doing something is completely pointless because he cannot be persuaded in this way like his cousin the horse sometimes can. The truth is that the rider or handler has simply not figured out a way to win the mule’s trust and cause the mule to want to comply with his or her requests.

 So how do you cause this turnaround in the attitude of your new mule who might view you with suspicion and mistrust until you can prove that you are worthy enough of their trust, attention and respect? Unlike his horse cousin, the mule does not give trust easily and it has to be earned, often painstakingly. I remember when Pants first arrived; she stared at me suspiciously and blew down her nose anxiously as if I was simply the worst thing she ever smelled. She also shrank away from my touch and would not be caught in the field. In 1999 I started studying the Parelli Savvy System which was initially developed for mules and so I thought that this might be the way forward with Pants. I stuck to the system and played with Pants every day and I was amazed at how effective it was in terms of winning her trust and causing her and my ideas to match up. Now she will run to me in the field and she loves to be scratched. In fact she sometimes gets so enthusiastic about scratching me back that I have to gently discourage her, as I don’t have a thick mule-hide of my own! Over time, she was soon doing virtually everything I asked her to do, with both lightness and precision. She is a great teacher for me and she can hone in on one of my weaknesses like an exocet missile, thus making sure that I know which areas to work on in myself in order to improve my mulemanship!  (Photo below with thanks to Hazel Ray Photography)

 Pants is a very perceptive mule with an exceptionally strong self-preservation instinct. Combined, this means that she can be quite spooky and reactive, depending on the situation. Not all mules are as spooky as she is, but they are still favoured as mounts for mountain riding in the US as this perceptiveness or spookiness can mean the difference between life and death. ( Photo below with thanks to Hazel Ray Photography)

Mules are also very athletic and Pants’s dam was a racing Quarter Horse which means that she and I have had some interesting “western moments” in our time together! However, I have noticed that the spookiness is slowly abating as our relationship grows and she feels more able to trust my judgement.  (following photo by EQ Video Productions, with Thanks)

At the moment, everything I do with Pants has its roots in the Parelli Savvy System (Way More Than Riding). This means that a proportion of our activities are focused on playing on the ground to enhance our relationship, build trust and communication and to have fun!

 We play together on a line and also at liberty, where she follows me and we run around the field together jumping jumps, negotiating obstacles, side-passing or doing sliding stops, slow spins and back-ups. She will also do the Spanish Walk, pesade, the bow and climb onto a pedestal. All these activities on the ground help when I get in the saddle as many manoeuvres have already been learned, plus she is more mentally, emotionally and physically ready to go and get the job done, whatever it might be.

Pants can be ridden in a bridle, in a halter, with a single string Cherokee bridle or even in a neck string. 

 She can side-pass, back up and will jump a single barrel with just a string around her neck. She is a talented jumper, something that comes from the donkey parent and she can jump very high jumps from a standstill. She is incredibly foot-sure and has very good body awareness which means that she can negotiate all sorts of tricky terrains and obstacles.

 So, coming back to the original question: why do I have a mule? I can only answer that it is because anything else just wouldn’t be right for me anymore. I am a confirmed muleaholic. She is teaching me horsemanship skills and attitudes with a precision and attention to detail that is second to none. You could not have a better teacher than a mule. Pants is a joy to be around and I am hoping that she will one day feel that I am as worthy of her attention and respect as she was of mine from the first day I laid eyes on her.

Photo by Hazel Ray Photography, with thanks.

Friday, 2 May 2008

New Forest Pony Sales.

This nice little mule sold at the New forest pony sales yesterday for 85 gns.
Described as bay/dun 4yo filly in the catalogue and she apeared to be about 14hh.

Alot of mule for not a lot of money!!

I've also heard there was a driving pair of white mules not offered for sale and a naughty little mini mule.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Baby Mule - Born April 2008

Just too cute for words!

Photos taken at 5 days old, mum is a shetland and dad is a small standard donkey. Another mule for Anglesey!!

Anymore 2008 mule babies?

Monday, 7 April 2008

Moon!!



Few photos of Moon in Wales. Looking at Caernarfon castle & mountains in the background! Moon is imported from the USA from - www.bundysburgbuckskins.com

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Mule Epitaph

Actual epitaph for "Maggie" - an army mule, in France, during World War II.

In memory of Maggie.
Who in her time kicked:
Two Colonels,
Four Majors,
Ten Captains,
Twenty four Lieutenants,
Forty two Sergeants,
Four hundred and thirty two other ranks,
And one Mills Bomb.


Taken from the America's Horse (AQHA magazine)

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Spots before the eyes....

Here is a photo of Muffin in action with Sheril on an endurance ride locally a few years back. It rained sideways all day and he seems to have his eyes almost closed against the weather in this pic!

"spotty" Muffin

I have kindly been sent some recent photos of the imported spotty mule Muffin.

This first one is 'Copyright NRH Photography' and is used with thanks - It is a stunning portrait of Muffin by the river at Santon Downham just after an AQHA annual trail ride in the forest.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Bess (and friends!)

Bess is one of three ride and drive mules who live alongside camels, llama's, donkey and yak at Severnwye llama trekking. http://www.severnwyellamatrekking.co.uk/




Bess is 16.1 hands and regularly pulls a 6 seater Polish carriage through the Forest of Dean. Libby and May are 14.2 hands and are identical.


Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Frances meets the public!

Frances Part 2

Frances had her first outing with Rent a Peasant at the Durham Christmas Festival. For a couple of years previously, we had staged a live Nativity Tableau with a Dexter cow for the Ox and real sheep but a hobby horse for the Ass (and a doll baby!). This was a baptism of fire for Frances, who had obviously never met so many people in such a short space of time before. The next year was Foot & Mouth. The holding was on Category D from Feb to Sept, so no livestock allowed off the premises. Frances went to the next Durham Christmas Festival by herself, with a pantomime cow for the Ox and toy sheep. With the introduction of the 6 day standstill and the need for a licence to disapply the 6 day standstill for one day events, clients lost interest in the cattle and sheep but were interested in the novelty of a mule.

So the next question arose of what was Frances to wear. Peasants were more likely to need and use a pack animal than a riding or driving animal. So, I began to research mule pack saddles. Lots of these are still used all round the world but in warm and dry climates. Frances needed something appropriate for the weather in the north of England. The western isles of Scotland and Ireland seemed to be the best comparisons. I eventually tracked down a Scottish basket maker, who made the kishies for carrying peats used by Highland ponies but the price was more than I could afford. So I then made contact with the wonderful basket maker Joe Hogan in Ireland, who was extremely helpful and made a pair of peat creels. Joe put me in touch with another contact, who made the traditional Irish straw mat and wooden straddle for the creels to hang on. This gentleman was a true Irishman, with no concept of time being an important factor. He also found it hard to grasp the fact that I already had the animal, as he tried very hard to sell me a donkey. Quite how he was going to post the donkey to me remains a mystery! When the straddle arrived, it became obvious that Irish donkeys were considerably less broad in the beam than Frances, but it provided the pattern to have one made that fitted her.


Over the years, Frances and I have come to various understandings. Work is definitely a four letter word. Any fantasies I once had of Frances carrying feed to the sheep, when there is too much snow or mud for the Land Rover to travel, evaporated in the face of Frances doing eloquent body language of "you must be joking". Frances is a little lamb in winter, will come when called & walk into the barn. In summer it is "ner, ner, ner can't catch me", the elegant flying trot and the nose tossed in the air. Unless the trailer is moving cattle or sheep, when there are indignant whinnies of "why am I being left behind". Frances was reputed, when I got her, to be "ride and drive". So a horsey friend brought the appropriate tack to try this idea out. Frances did the "all very interesting but never seen this stuff before" routine. At the end of the session I was told that Frances was an Oscar winning actress, she knew perfectly well what it was all about but had no intention of doing all that again.


Frances is now quite happy to go out to events as the peasants' mule, with her creels full of fleece, and stand around all day meeting the public and being fed thin slices of carrot by small children. If the carrot supply slows down, the public are reminded what they are there for! For many small children, Frances is the first large animal they have met. Frances is also more than happy to pose for photocalls, and has appeared several times in the local papers, promoting events.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Rent a Peasant - Frances



Frances the mule is believed to be well into her twenties and is a cast member at "Rent a Peasant" - Please check out their website - www.rentapeasant.co.uk/
.


Frances the Mule: Part 1 - By Louisa

I keep rare breeds of cattle and sheep. A concatenation of circumstances, including the BSE crisis with the attended catastrophic drop in the value of cattle, in 1996 led to the formation of the living history group Rent a Peasant. The aim was to portray everyday life of ordinary people, using the livestock, as a means of paying the feed bills. By 2000, we had become an established part of this niche in the Heritage market. Then came another livestock scare: E. coli. Bookings were cancelled at short notice, with no compensation. So the vague idea formed that there was one class of animal that was not associated with food and health scares: the equines. And there the matter rested until my faithful twin-tub washing machine broke down and I needed a replacement. I duly bought a copy of the yellow ads paper to look for a replacement but, as one does, went through the agricultural and livestock sections first. Skimmed over the horse section but my eye was caught by the word "Mule". Humm, thought I, a mule would be a suitably low social class equine for a bunch of peasants, got to be worth phoning up to enquire. Remarkably I was the first to enquire, so arranged to view and met Frances. Frances, as you may see from the photos, is a past mistress at doing "Cute" and this had saved her life. The people advertising her were professional horsemen with enormous 17h horses that competed at Wembley and the like. They had gone to the knacker man to arrange to have a horse put down, seen Frances and come home with her. At this point they had then thought "what on earth do we do with her" and so put the ad in the paper. In turn, I came home with Frances, knowing absolutely zilch about mules but feeling that they couldn't be so much different from cattle, could they? It was pure serendipity, fate or whatever you like to call it that a broken washing machine resulted in the purchase of a mule. I do feel that I was "meant" to have her.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Anybody out there......

Well its up to you guys now!!!

I have about four promised articles on mules to post when they arrive, and there will be a Treacle update in the spring if we don't float away in the meanwhile but otherwise I need imput from mule owners in the UK.

I'm happy to organise photo shows or eventually a "national show" or a class at a county show in the middle of the country if there would be any interest from mule owners?

I don't know maybe people would rather keep their mules the best kept secret?

Alternatively if you have emailed me and not had a reply try again - I ALWAYS reply to emails.

Best Wishes Laura

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Are there other mule blogs?

Well so far I have found two other blogs that mention mules (unless you would like links to various grungy rock bands and of course those with shoe fetishes.....?)

The first blog I found was "My name is Paul" - http://geehawpaul.blogspot.com/

This blog will make you laugh and then cry.

Then tonight I stumbled across this blog "Riding in the backcountry" - http://www.outfitterssupply.blogspot.com/ which is not exclusively about mules but does include several gems of posts.

For example - Just a quick entertaining blog entry today... Many have asked about the horses used by the British Long Rider Daniel Robinson. When his lawyer was asked about their origin, he said that he believed they were some sort of "Chinese" horses. Once Daniel was freed and available for comment, he confirmed the horse's origin. His trusted friends and companions for the long arduous journey were in fact... Mules!

and - "Should I pack Horses or Mules"

I am asked this question regularly. Coincidentally, the only people who ever ask this question are those who have never owned a mule. That says a lot;

If anyone knows of other mule blogs please leave a link to them in the comments section or email me. Thanks!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Muffin (The American Spotted Version!!!)

Today I was looking through my old appaloosa papers and stumbled across a cutting I had kept from the Telegraph - June 15th 1996. Included in this was a photo of Muffin the mule, who had just been imported to Norfolk from Wyoming along with his friend Millie.




Mule Day that year was held at Uttoxeter Racecourse and was sponsored by Smirnoff Moscow Mule.

I havn't been able to find much more recent information on those two mules - Muffin used to be easily spotted (sorry!!!!) at endurance rides in the South East and I believe Millie is a star at Parelli. Any more information would be appreciated!

Eleven years on from when I spotted this photo and I still covet Muffin!

Indian Army Mules...

Giovanna Bloor from Llanfrothen recounts the Indian Army and their mules' brief but memorable stay in Wales during WWII in this article published on the BBC's website.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/northwest/sites/history/pages/indianarmy.shtml

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Mules on TV!

Now this is great stuff....

Free equestrian TV on the internet with a channel dedicated to longears.

http://www.nickernetwork.com/

At the moment there is footage from a mule auction, training videos and a documentary on the history of the mule.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Amber Days

AMBER DAYS - By JENNY WILLIAMS


I was sitting at my friend Claire’s kitchen table after doing a walk with the local donkey group and mentioned I would still like to find a riding mule.
“I know just the one!” one of the group said. “My blacksmith told me about her, he says she’s the sweetest animal he knows”
Apparently she was on show at “Butts Rare Breed Farm” near Cirencester, I knew the owner as I often saw her selling Welsh Mountain Ponies at the Andoversford Pony sales so I made an appointment to visit.


I found her in a small pen in a “petting barn” and I’m presuming it was “deep litter” as it certainly didn’t seem to have been cleaned out and was about 18” deep.
The pen was made up of four 12’ gates so there was not much room for her, certainly no way for her to get away from unwanted attention and she looked pretty miserable.


I suspected that the blacksmiths visit was the one bright spot in her life and she looked forwards to her trim just to alleviate the boredom. I asked if she was for sale and was told that she was going to be put to a cart and driven the ten or so miles up the main road to the next pony sales in a few days. I visited the next two sales and she did not turn up various excuses were given but I suspected the “putting to a cart” might’ve had something to do with it ;0)


The informer told me her blacksmith said she was still for sale and it was a blooming shame to leave her there so I arranged another visit to see her ridden. I hadn’t been on an equine since losing my nerve as a teenager and I knew about ride and drive mules out of market, it usually meant that tack was thrown on them and if the rider stayed on for a few minutes it was a ridden mule!


The girl was busy washing “Muffin” (Yes! I know,yet another one!!)when I arrived she hadn’t got a saddle that fitted which rather proved my point that no one had actually ridden her there but she was mounted bareback and ridden round the track of the farm park. Ridden, I think was the generous way of putting it. Her head was pointed in the general direction desired and she went down the path which was boarded by fences and eventually came back to where I was standing. I knew in the pit of my stomach that this mule had never had a lesson in her life but she tried her best and didn’t buck so I said I’d buy her if she was delivered. Two days later she arrived and due to her colour was renamed Amber (or Amber Days after an American folk tale about a couple who were each turned into half a mule during the night)


There was one slight snag----what the blacksmith hadn’t told me was about her feet. Her hind legs were badly scared and her front fetlock had a large bump on it.


An experienced horse owner would’ve seen this before but on the first visit she was too deep on deep litter bedding and on the second well to be frank I was too busy looking at her glorious gentle eyes and watching her being ridden. Ridden mules were so hard to find I should’ve taken someone more experienced with me but hindsight is an experience in itself!


I called a vet in to examine her and give me the low-down. He asked me to trot her up and down and looked her over carefully. He presumed she’d been in some terrible accident as a foal but said the “ringbone” had seemed to finished forming and I could probably still ride her—then added that he knew someone who would love her if I wanted to let her go.


I declined as I still had hopes of riding her but after I had time to think things over I began to worry. I might be able to ride her but with my lack of knowledge how would I know whether her limp was due to ringbone fused bones or lameness?: (" What if’s" are a nuisance sometimes.)


My friend Claire’s daughter had just bought a Welsh cob and asked me if I’d like to volunteer Amber as a temporary companion for it so I led her down to the village to play nursemaid.
She spent the winter being thoroughly spoilt. In the meantime I found I knew the dealer who had sold her to Butts Farm. At that time he used to visit Henley Horse sales regularly but of course he wouldn’t give me any background on my “orange” mule as he calls her.


However when she was being exhibited on a stand for the BMS the chairman suddenly said he knew her! He even found me some photo’s he’d taken of her being paraded round an agricultural show ring by a dealer he knew some years before


On one of them you could see the ringbone and scars on her legs but unfortunately they were stolen when my handbag was :0( but I still have one that doesn’t show her legs.)
Claire worked as a veterinary nurse so when an expert equine vet was visiting as a locum and coming out to give the welsh cob a flu jab she asked him to look at Amber. He said she had Ringbone of the upper something or other (with a very long name) and virtually repeated that she could be ridden but I was still a bit nervous about it and then thanks to Amber I found Sarah-lee and as she was a schoolmistress with a lot of experience I started to ride her instead, not sure that I would have the experience to back her properly anyway.


I asked Adam Goodfellow to come out and help me join up with Sarah-lee and he made a visit bringing a student with learning difficulties with him. Little Blue Moon my 10hh driving mule and Amber are higher in the pecking order than Sarah-lee and were being a nuisance so Adam asked the student to keep them away---Amber spent the next hour with her head on his shoulder!


I always called her "my in-between mule" because she had dropped into a grove between my two working mules and I always felt guilty about her just being a field ornament. She was never bad mannered, in fact I don’t think she knew what bad manners were. Considering the trauma she must’ve been through at some time in her early learning life, she was very forgiving to humans and, unusually for a mule, she likes men. Then the Horse Trust told me they wanted a mule for displays and as she had been so well behaved on mule stands and loved to be cuddled, I felt it would be the perfect answer for I wouldn’t sell her in case she ended up on the dealers circuit.


She is now living in wonderful conditions in Cambridge with horses and my hinny Sarah-lee for company so I hope you will all visit her one time (And leave a donation for this great Charity that does so much for the welfare of equines)

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Sarah Lee Silver.

Sarah Lee Silver - by Jenny Williams.

I first saw Sarah-lee at Stowe Fair 1991 and fell in love with her straight away. There was one snag. My Van had blown a gasket and I had been told it would cost £300 to fix it; the Dealer wanted £350 for Nancy as he called her.

I decided my lack of experience would not be a good thing for her as I had not had any contact with equines since losing my nerve as a teenager in the mid 60’s so I felt she’d stand a better chance with someone else. I was sure such a beautiful mule would find a good home.
I never forgot her though and it was through her I found and joined the B.M.S., boring everyone stiff about this lovely mule I hadn’t bought!

I was so disappointed at missing her I eventually bought a little black welsh pony cross called Bluemoon from Henley horse sales and Amber from Butts Farm, I think it’s called withdrawal symptoms!

Around 1995 a friend drew my attention to an Advert in Horse and Hound for a 13hh part bred Arab mule, it had to be “Nancy” so I rang the Number.
Putting the pieces together it was the same animal. The lady had “rescued” her from the following sale and changed her name to Sarah. She told me she was easy to ride and “bombproof”-- and she wanted £700 for her! Once more this was way above my budget, again I had to pass her by.

In 1997 I was showing Amber on the B.M.S .Stand at the Malvern Autumn Show when a lady said she had ridden a mule just like her at Weston Super Mere. She casually let slip that there were two mules, and one was a flea-bitten grey called Sarah! She only had a vague idea of her whereabouts so on the basis that if you want to know any gossip about an area you should ask the postman, I got on to directory enquiries and started ringing every post office in Weston super mere. Several confused postmen later and I found one who knew exactly where the two mules were—at a riding stable run by a lady called Debbie Banwall, who let horses out for riding during the tourist season. She was based at Burnham on sea. I rang her and she was very helpful. Yes, she had two mules including a part-bred Arab mare she had purchased from a local dealer who had bought her down from Appleby for her. She was now running out on the Quantocks as the tourist season was over. I could visit her anytime.

I was desperately trying to get planning permission for my smallholding and was overrun with debt and livestock so I could not leave but I saw Debbie occasionally at Andoversford sales when I had a stall for my paintings so got bulletins of Sarah’s progress.

May1999 and I was strolling round Andoversford looking for somewhere to set up my stall and was brought up sharply by something in a group of coloured ponies tied to a lorry in the parking area. It was a pewter coloured mule. I went up for a closer examination and the pewter colour turned flecked. I hadn’t seen her for 10yrs but I knew there couldn’t be two mules like that “Yes, it’s Sarah” Debbie said coming up behind me. I wanted to ask what she was doing there but didn’t dare. A local donkey Derby dealer came up and started to ask questions—how much? £1000!!!! I knew he wouldn’t pay that for her but there were several people around who might and again she was out of my reach.

I returned several times to look at her and there was always a large group round her from the dealers who knew a crowd puller when they saw one to the well off horsy types who could afford her but not appreciate her, just stick her in a field as a companion. Suddenly Debbie said “you really want her don’t you?”
I said yes but I couldn’t afford her.
“How much can you afford?”
I had sold my first two donkey foals that month so I told her and found myself writing out a cheque, hoping the bank manager wouldn’t be too disappointed.
I couldn’t stop shaking and asked Debbie to put her back into the Horse box till I could find someone to take her home for me, in case someone saw her and gave her a better offer. I was still shaking two days later.

Debbie had said that she wanted me to keep Sarah’s name but it is pretty common since “that” film (which by the way doesn’t have three mules in it anyway) so I upgraded it to Sarah-lee Silver because of her colour.

At first she showed a typical mule reserve and wasn’t keen to catch me but we worked our way round that and I spent almost a year just walking her in hand round the local lanes and bridle paths. I knew she couldn’t have lasted so long unless she could be a good ride but I was a novice when I lost my nerve and that was over thirty years previously, I hadn’t ridden since.
I found a saddle that fitted and a webbing bridle and gradually began walking her tacked up then one day I was walking her and just felt it was the right time to get on.

After that I spent hours riding her.I bought a “trooper saddle” from Henley market and then copied the way the donkey men used them by attaching an extra girth.
We began doing fun rides for charity. On the first I had heard there was a slope so I decided to try a crupper, Sarah-lee told me exactly what she thought of that idea in the first few minutes so I threw it at a marshal and asked them to keep it for me. However the “slope” proved more of a problem as it was an almost vertical bank and within a few steps the saddle was “undressing itself” over Sarah-lee’s neck. She, turned sideways and stopped, clearly saying that she was not going another step until I’d got off and sorted things out—dually reprimanded I did as I was told, walked her down the hill and remounted.

At the start of the next season a friend had made me a set of breeching out of webbing and delivered it to test just before we set off. As the ride was on Bredon Hill just outside Pershore and all up and down maybe this wasn’t wise. We came to a farm track at the side of the hill. It was rough and stony and deeply rutted by tractor tracks I wasn’t going to push her as it was a 12 ml trek and she had already done 8mls the previous day in the Cotswolds. I wasn’t sure what she could do, so I let her pick her way up the hill at her own speed. Behind us came a terrible snorting, scrambling sound.

I glanced round cautiously; convinced there must be a fire breathing dragon or a troop of Shire Horses thundering up the track. No, it was a young girl on a wild-eyed Arab. Soon it was alongside us, snorting, dancing, and sweating furiously. The next thing I knew, it had stumbled head-first, pitched its rider and was disappearing over the brow of the hill. The rider was muddy and shocked but unhurt. It appeared the mount was on loan. Somebody offered to catch it.” I don’t know what to do if you do!” sobbed the girl “I can’t get on him—he rears if you try to mount” I swear Sarah-lee snorted in derision!

Later we had a chance to try the breeching going downhill. We entered a field with a path more suitable for goats than horses. A steep slope led to a gate in the bottom right hand corner another track led to a gentler but longer zig zag track to the right. Sarah-lee pricked her ears and I let her have her head – she followed the gentler path and watched the horses struggling down the steep one. The breeching gave me confidence though.

We did a ride for air ambulance at Offchurch but it wasn’t until the last half mile I remembered the river. The water was deep and muddy, the bottom hidden and there was a steep bank down to it. Sarah-lee stopped dead! It didn’t help that it was a public footpath and two dogs were running up and down on the other side barking. It was a seven mile hack back and the only footbridge blocked by a style.
The trouble is people would keep trying to help! The more they “helped” the more she dug her heels in convinced there were crocodiles in there. It took me an hour to persuade her there wasn’t.

As time went by people got used to her on the rides and started to look out for her, At first they’d been worried their “short-ears” would react but most of them ignored her, she even acted as nursemaid to a nervous retired racehorse on one ride, guiding it quietly along on its first fun ride.

The only time she had me off was my fault entirely. We were riding through some woods and I heard some buzzards call above us. I looked up through the canopy to see them, Sarah-lee looked down at a “Triffid” (Burdock plant) she’s convinced they are going to uproot one day and get her and likes to get her bit in first.
She leapt sideways and spun round dropping me unceremoniously in the mud. She stood there looking down at me with that infuriatingly “What an earth are you doing down there?!” look on her face. I remounted, muttering under my breath, a few yards further on a grass snake slid between her legs and she didn’t bat an eyelid.

I have entered her in the occasional show but I don’t like them as they are so boring. I rang up the organisers first to ask if they minded and they were usually quite good. One judge said she would be “Honoured” to judge my part-bred Arab.

Pony owners were the most problem. At one show I was already feeling guilty as Sarah-lee had seen the Malvern Hills as she came out of the trailer and obviously thought we were out for a great fun ride instead of a boring show. It was hot and we were standing by the handy pony ring. The gymkhana classes had just finished in the next ring and a child on a little chestnut welsh pony came out and started tearing past from one end of the field to the other. Eventually she hauled the exhausted sweating animal to a stop and stood alongside us to watch. After a few minutes it was dug in the ribs, swung round and galloped off again. My girl sighed and carried on watching the class.
Suddenly a shrill voice piped up,
“Oh, it’s probably the donkey that spooked him”
I turned to see “proud mum” trying to take over the reins of over excited welsh pony.
No one speaks about my Sarah-lee like that! I’d had enough of the brat by then and as it swung pony round, barging my quiet well behaved hinny I explained in no uncertain terms that my girl was not a donkey,-the pony had stood alongside us for five minutes without batting an eyelid,-and if she couldn’t control her child better it was no use blaming my hinny for it’s bad behaviour. “Mothers” mouth opened and shut, and she led brat and pony away without another word. The handy pony class judge grinned and gave me the thumbs up.

I entered her three years running at the BDS Championship show and got the dubious distinction of, despite being the only one in the class to be ridden in the saddle or pack mule and donkey class, coming last every time. Sarah-lee got a rosette for just being there but I don’t count those sorts of rosette.

My most prized position was a certificate Sarah-lee got on one fun ride to say she’d completed the 12 mile ride—much better than any old second hand rosette anytime :0)
Sarah has also been a great ambassador for the breed on various BMS stands
She has earned the notoriety of having “Coon Jumped” out of her stall at the Three Counties Autumn Show—not bad for an old lady with arthritis! However, most fun has been acting as guinea pig at the local donkey groups various demonstrations. Whether it was the yearly, early May walk for local charities. Or the aromatherapy demonstrations (Never mind the pongee stuff just let me at the grape oil it’s in!)

She’s had her teeth rasped and her feet trimmed, she’s had shiatsu and Tellington touch and various saddle tryouts all without bating an eyelid although I’m sure she wondered what us human beings get up too!

I stopped riding Sarah-lee because of foot and mouth and maybe it was this year of inactivity that made her arthritis start to show worse. She definitely started “squaring up” her left hind toe when led and I worried about riding her. Her last but one owner hadn’t helped when I rang up to say I’d got her “Good God! Is she still alive!!?”
I said I hoped so as I’d been riding her for three years. It started to worry me more though. She had the back man to her ( Suck through teeth like a plumber “What an earth has happened to you girl”—coarse no explanation in what he meant, professionals always like to keep you in the dark it makes you more in awe of them)

The next time (after Foot and mouth) I had to have one of his partners as he’d smashed both arms in a motorcycle accident. She did the 15minute prod and massage took the cheque for a third of my weekly wages and before Sarah had walked home a half mile she was dragging her toe again.

This did not exactly boost my confidence although I have seen her do a great gallop around the walkway and up the field to skid to a halt just by the donkey’s paddock.
She had the blacksmith who handed her over to his apprentice while he did someone else’s animal. I was not at all happy at this (I was paying for the organ grinder not the monkey) especially when he did not listen to me when I said she had arthritis in her left hip and continued lifting it too high even though Sara-lee was obviously protesting. Eventually, when it was obvious he was not listening she sat down on him, a thing she had never done before.
She had her yearly teeth rasp in spring, this time during a demonstration by the visiting Donkey Sanctuary practitioner and for the first time protested! I’d never had any trouble with the equine dentist before and looking at the photo’s can only assume that
a) It was because she was handed to someone else to hold
b) As her head was raised up it put pressure on her back

I was worried about her future and as fate would have it The Horse Trust rang me up and said they heard I was looking for a home for my mule Amber and they would like to have her on display. They already had a Hinny but I managed to persuade them to take Sarah-lee also. So if you are in Princess Risborough please visit, and give her a stroke.

Bluemoon

BLUEMOON - by JENNY WILLIAMS

Little Bluemoon was the first mule I bought. I had been looking for a mule to drive and had been to see one or two that local dealers had offered but none had caught my attention until I went to Henley in Arden Horse sale in 1993 and saw a sparky little blue/black mule tied to the railings amongst a group of coloured horses. I watched as the traveller lad gingerly edged up her side to stick a number on her back. I knew the lad; he was used to horses and had been coming to the fairs and markets regularly since he was a nipper showing off the ponies for his father so the way he was handling the mule showed he knew he had trouble.

All the dealers gathered round trying to persuade me this little mule was the best thing since sliced bread so they could get the luck money from the dealer who was selling it. It was only £250 —really cheap!...Maybe so if you wanted it, but I didn’t so I turned away but kept an eye on her anyway.

I always kept some polo mints in my pocket just in case I saw a mule in the sales so I was giving her one when the man responsible for leading the animals through the ring came to fetch her. He was a nasty piece of work at the best of times, jabbing on the halters causing the horses to rear and plunge and he wasn’t the brightest twit in the bunch but I couldn’t believe it when he walked up behind the mule and slapped her on the rump!! Well of coarse Blue did what any mule would do when so insulted, she gave him both barrels in the chest! When he picked himself up off the floor he asked me to untie her and hand him the rope. Needless to say she didn’t sell.

Immediately one of the dealers came round to inform me of that fact so I shrugged—not interested. He wanted me to go and find how much they wanted for her, I refused so he went and asked himself and came back to let me know they’d knocked £100 off and he could deliver her to me free of charge. Now why should I have a mule I didn’t want delivered free? I looked at Blue, she certainly seemed a lovely little mule and I had hesitated and lost the chance of buying a lovely mule at Stowe Fair the year before that I still regretted so I gave in and said I’d have her.

As I went to collect her from the dealer he informed me proudly “Ride and Drive Missus, but whatever you do don‘t get on her back!”-----Hmmm! Think about that...as it was I doubt if she had ever had a bit in her mouth and was probably about 18mnths old.

Once she had settled in I sent her off to the dealer to be gypsy broke to harness in return for some cash and a couple of paintings. When he’d completed his task he insisted on delivering her back to me at Henley horse sales where he drove her up and down the main street in front of his mates and came to ask if I’d take £700 for her! I declined the offer and took her home making sure to call out Farm key in order that she could be freeze branded.

I drove her out down the local lanes and we enjoyed exploring together although she hated bicycles and would often spook a bit when they passed, the swooshing of the wheels making her react but it was nothing I couldn’t cope with. She loved going out and tried very hard to please but things took a downward turn when we got in with “them wot does it proper”. First there was the issue with Blue putting her tongue over the bit which never bothered us but seemed to worry everyone else so everything was tried from high rubber tongue holders to flash nosebands that got tighter and tighter and I finally threw a wobbly when one trainer wrapped a bandage round her nose to tie it shut. She got banned by the local donkey group, the track I used to take her up for some off road relief got shut because the travellers kept dumping scrap cars, and then her tack was stolen so I decided somebody was trying to tell us something. We weren’t enjoying driving anymore so I “retired” her and started riding my Hinny Sarah-lee-----three weeks later the brand new Hillam I’d ordered as a special treat for her was delivered and sat in the barn for three years untouched till I loaned it to a local driver to try it out on her new cob.

For ten years Blue lived as a paddock ornament and would probably be stuffing her face still, but then I heard about and saw The Saddlechariot. A member of the BMS bought one in the back of her car to our Mule Camp in Wiltshire and I fell in love with the whole idea immediately. It was light, easy to transport and best of all as there was no place for a groom no one could complain if I didn’t have one (and the one thing I hated about driving was the threat that I should have someone sitting alongside me to have to keep an eye on and make polite conversation to), and even better I could get out of the cart fast without worrying about being run over and there were no heavy metal shafts to break my ribs when walking along side it.

Knowing that this was the only thing that could get me back into driving again I started saving and a couple of years ago managed to purchase a Mark 1 version. By now I knew a little more and was studying the Natural Horsemanship way of doing things which suited my mules who like someone who can ask the right questions. One question I’d always mulled over was Why Blinkers? I drove goats in harness and knew you could not drive them with blinkers; it freaked them out not being able to see around them, so why should an intelligent animal like a mule like it? The other issue was everyone worrying about Blue putting her tongue over the bit, then I had the answer.....Get a bitless riding bridle and drive her in that!

Blue was a completely changed animal. Although she hadn’t been out for ten years she took to The Saddlecharriot like a duck to water. I took it very slowly at first, popping off if she showed any sign of worrying and going to her head, it was no different to dismounting a ridden mule. We were passed by our first bicycle and she totally ignored it as she had seen it coming and knew what the sound meant and we were even invited to join the donkey group again! (though there were some white faces when they saw her driven in but by the end of the day they had to admit she was a changed animal.)

The mule Camp that year was held in 1000 acres of parkland near Oswestry so I took her. It was fantastic; all that rolling grass and the treasure hunt was so much easier when you can just drive round an obstacle and jot down notes.

I now have had the Saddlecharriot upgraded with the instant release. I was quite happy with the old version which was very quick to release her from but when waiting to go into a driving demo last year I witnessed an accident that encouraged me to get the upgrading done. A friend had gone into the ring to give a driving demo in a conventional cart and it is thought her mare got stung in the groin by a wasp. All hell broke loose! The groom was thrown out first and run over, the driver next, and the cob charged round the ring bucking until there was not much left of the cart. Luckily as she was blinkerless she could see so made for the entrance and back into her trailer. Simon, who invented the S.C., just stepped back, pulled the cord, released his pony and led him out of the way. I had confidence in my ability to get Blue out quickly so I wasn’t worried and she had confidence in me so she was quite calm but I asked Simon to fit the release anyway.

Now Blue and I have put the fun back into our driving we are back to exploring places no other cart can reach and it’s just like going for a walk with your dog, all we have to do now is persuade “them wot does it proper” to let us join in......Heck, they’ve started to accept blinkerless and bitless we might them to come into the 21 centaury eventually:0)