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)