Tuesday, 1 January 2008

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)

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