Lessons from a Mule

Lessons from a Mule #2- We are doing endurance (kinda)!

This weekend I’m taking my mule Ellie to an intro endurance ride. I want to write down my thoughts beforehand so that after the ride I can come back and reflect on what I *thought* I would accomplish vs. what I actually accomplished.

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My gorgeous mule, Ellie

First, a little history. I bought my first horse 10 years ago and all I wanted to do was compete. I wanted a barn family and to travel with my horse and to learn things together. I started out riding at hunter show barns but quickly found out I couldn’t afford the time or the money it took to show hunters and win anything. I like winning. I didn’t like spending a lot of money to lose, but I didn’t have the money for the lessons I needed. Hunters was out. Same thing happened with dressage. No $$$. Then I heard about endurance riding. I had never heard of it before and at first, I thought riding 25 or 50 or even 100 miles in one day was totally nuts and not for me. Trail riding, sure, but endurance? Nope. That’s for crazy people.

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I’m the type that’s always learning, so I joined the AERC (American Endurance Ride Conference) Facebook page and quickly learned so many things that no one talked about much at hunter barns. No offense to hunter riders, but keeping a horse sound for 2 minutes in the show ring is completely different than keeping a horse sound for 100 miles. I learned about metabolic issues, electrolytes, dehydration colic, tying up, nuanced saddle fit, tack configurations that never occurred to me and much, much more.

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I liked the idea of no rules for tack and rider attire. You wear what will stay on and be comfortable over high mileage. Most people tended toward bright, even gaudy, colors and it took me a minute to get used to it since I was so used to tan breeches and tall boots. Endurance riders often wear running shoes or hiking boots in case they have to get off and walk. I decided I liked being able to wear whatever I want, and I decided that maybe I wanted to try endurance after all.

I didn’t need to pay a trainer to get into endurance. I needed trails and a sound horse. My horse wasn’t exactly sound though (ottb with a lot of physical issues), so I bought a project horse and thought maybe I could try it with her. She turned out to be a total nightmare that traveled slower than I could walk, and she was just as happy to buck me off as she was to hit the trail, so I gave her away to a friend whose husband gets along with her and she’s living happily ever after with someone she actually likes.

After nightmare mare was out of the picture, I was offered a mule with a ligament injury for free. I was told I could have her if I would rehab her. She was dead broke, had thousands of trail miles and was a pack mule for elk hunts in Colorado. I accepted and it was the best decision I ever made. She’s 19 and a year out from her injury, completely sound, and a trail riding machine. I want to ride her forever. I wish she would live forever and I’d never have to have another horse. She is that good.

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I still have a little bit of the competition bug, but I don’t want to do anything that would compromise her soundness. I would rather ride her 5 miles at a time for 15 more years, than 15 miles at a time for 5 more years. I went back and forth about what to do with her, if I should try endurance or just trail ride and forget competing. I settled on doing a 10 mile intro ride this weekend.

10 miles is totally within her scope. She has a 6 mile an hour walk (she’s 16 hands and moves out like a mack truck). Other horses have to trot to keep up with her walk. Short horses have to canter. I feel like I’ve been given this gift of a mule that will allow me to fulfill all my dreams of pursuing an equestrian discipline, of getting into a community, of having an identity as a rider other than “I do a little of this and that.” What I want out of this horse thing is a partnership with the horse, or mule in my case. I want to overcome things. I want to build trust. I want to defeat my own fear. The competition is the vehicle to do that.

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This weekend I’m looking forward to finally attending a ride in a discipline I’ve stalked for over 2 years, even if I’m only riding 10 miles. I’m looking forward to seeing how fast she wants to go, if she wants to walk most of it or trot and canter as well. I’m totally curious about her vet checks. Will she finish sound? How will she pulse down? I’ve only been riding her for a couple months, because the first 8 months I had her she was rehabbing. There’s a lot I don’t know about her and I want to learn.

I hear there’s a group of ladies that only does intro rides. Maybe it’s due to their physical limitations, or those of their horses, but I may become one of those ladies. I’m good with 10 miles if that’s all we can do. I would still get to camp and ride and be part of the fun. Most of my horse ownership experience has been a struggle; first with an ottb with lameness issues, then a horse that hated the job I wanted her to do. I finally have a mule that’s both sound and happy on the trail. I want to go for it. Wish me luck!

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