Horses · Lessons from a Mule

Lessons from a Mule#1 – Take Chances

I have had blogs in the past that were specifically about horses. I’d like to continue writing about my equines on this blog, but relate what I learn from them to larger life lessons that even non- horse people can relate to. So even if you’ve never seen a mule, you’ll see why mine plays such a big part in my life.

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In this first installment, let me tell you the story of how I ended up with a giant white mule. I have owned 6 horses, and fostered a few more for a rescue. I have an off track thoroughbred that I adore, but he has a lot of physical issues and can’t always do the amount of riding I want to do. I’ll have him forever, but he’s semi-retired and not up to being my primary horse. The project horses give me something to do when my thoroughbred is out of commission.

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Playing in the creek with Baron, my thoroughbred and my dog, Molly

I typically put some work into them, find them a job they enjoy and then find them a home where they can be useful. I don’t keep most of them because they’re not right for me, but they’re perfect for someone.

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My first project horse, Thunder

In 2016 I had just found a perfect home for a bay quarter horse named Thunder, and I was ready for another project horse. Thunder had some issues when he came to me, but he was a good-hearted horse who just needed a little technical training. (If you’re horsey, you’ll know what I mean when I say he needed to learn how to use his hind end to move more efficiently.)

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Thunder at his first show

I was feeling pretty good about what I accomplished with Thunder, and I wanted to do it again with a different horse. I found a paint mare on Facebook that was built like a tank and I fell in love. She hadn’t been ridden in a while and I was told that she bucked at the canter. Turns out she bucked as soon as I got on her, and reared, and flat out refused to move forward at all.

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Heidi being Heidi
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Heidi’s favorite move- rearing!

I was able to get her going pretty well and we worked through a lot of her issues. I rode her in an 18 mile competitive trail ride and we got 3rd and 6th place ribbons. That was a big accomplishment for me considering she was basically unrideable when I got her.

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After a year and a half of complete devotion to this horse, I still could not get her to ride out alone with no other horses, and there were times she reverted back to her old self, like the time she bucked me off at a Christmas parade for no discernible reason other than she felt like it.

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At the Christmas parade BEFORE she bucked me off. I’m still smiling here.

I felt like I was in over my head and riding had lost a lot of its joy. There were days she was fine, and days she flat out refused to cooperate. You never knew til you got on what horse you were getting. I found Heidi a home mostly as a companion horse. She is ridden now by the husband of the family who owns her, and she never gives him any trouble. Like ever. She is still a complete psycho when women ride her.

After Heidi, I wanted another horse, but I couldn’t deal with another Heidi. I wanted to ride for enjoyment, and not feel that I could die at any moment. I decided not to go looking, but to let the horse come to me. I have a great network of horse friends and I knew that something would come along. I put a post on Facebook about what I was looking for, so that people could be on the lookout.

I wanted a sane, easy-going horse that actually liked me. I wanted a sturdy horse, built to last, basically the opposite of my delicate flower thoroughbred. I wanted there to be something unique about the horse, like cool coloring or a unique breed, maybe a mustang or draft cross. I like horses that are conversation starters. I said that the horse got bonus points for being a grey, which includes every color from dark coal grey to solid white.

Almost immediately after that post I was offered the mule I have now. She was owned by a friend of a friend, and she was a total bad ass. She had been a pack mule for elk hunting trips out in Colorado and for the past few years she had done pretty extreme mountain riding in north Georgia. She crossed boulders, went straight up mountains, and did 12-15 miles of steep, hard riding on the regular. That is, until she injured a ligament on her left front leg and was out of commission.

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Ellie in Colorado. Look how much weight she’s carrying!

Her owner knew she would not be able to keep up with the rough riding he does anymore, and he wanted to find her a home where she could have an easier life. She was 19 years old, but mules live into their 40’s. She had plenty of useful years left, just not at such a strenuous level.

He invited me up to his house to go mule riding so I could see what it’s like to ride one. I had never ridden a mule. I had no idea what I was in for. I usually ride on groomed trails or in arenas. I’m not an extreme rider. I do some cantering on the trail and I’ve jumped around some courses, but I’ve never done anything like what we did that day.

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Me and Samantha the Mule

I rode a mule named Samantha. We weren’t even on a trail. We simply walked into the woods and started climbing up a mountain. We went through creeks, up ridges, over boulders and down steep drop-offs where I swore I was going to die. We were riding on the side of slopes so steep I just knew that mule was going to lose her balance and we were both going to go tumbling down the side of the mountain. All I could do was hold on for dear life and trust that mule to do her thing. And she did, like a total, complete, perfect trail riding machine. She was like a cross between an ATV and a Ferrari. Never a bad step, never a stumble. At the end of 12 HARD miles, she cantered wide open across a field toward home. I was so thankful to be alive, I finally relaxed and enjoyed one of the handiest canters I’ve ever ridden.

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Ellie’s owner, Dave, on the appy mule and me on Samantha

I met my mule, Ellie, for the first time that day. She was big and white, totally my type. After the ride I had just been on, I knew she could handle the piddly little trail rides I did, and that life with me would be a picnic compared to the work she was used to doing. Dave offered to give me Ellie, on the condition that I rehab her leg and give her an easier life. If she turned out to be totally unsound forever, he would take her back. I asked for time to think about it.

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Meeting Ellie for the first time

I only ask for advice from people I admire, but everybody else chimes in. I had people tell me they would never take an equine with a ligament injury, even though I hadn’t asked them. I already had one semi-retired horse; why would I want to take on another that might break down again? Why would I want a 19 year old with an injury? That’s nuts!

I emailed a local trainer that I think is an amazing horsewoman and told her the situation. She encouraged me to take a chance on Ellie. I was worried about her being 19, because that’s pretty old for a horse, but this woman assured me that mules live longer than horses and 19 is still only middle-aged for a mule. I could easily ride Ellie for another 10 or 15 years, especially if all I’m doing is dinky trail rides.

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So I did it; I took the plunge and accepted Dave’s offer to take Ellie. I’ve now had her for 7 months and I’ve been riding her for about 6 weeks, and she has so far exceeded all of my expectations. She checks every single box of my horse wish list. She’s even the right color!

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I’m enjoying riding again, learning how to relax in the saddle again, instead of worrying that my psycho mare will decide she’s done for the day and dump me before heading home. I never expected to have a mule. They weren’t even on my radar. But here I am with a fantastic mule, all because I took a chance!

 

One thought on “Lessons from a Mule#1 – Take Chances

  1. I have followed your adventures with Ellie the Mule on your FB page, but have really enjoyed the details of that relationship here in your blog. Clearly, the two of you are on your way to many wonderful experiences!

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