Through the Ears of a Mule

by Marguerite Sloan

Rocky grazing, July 09, 2001

I was born loving equine of any kind, and when I learned my dad had a work horse that could be ridden, I was obsessed to ride that horse. It finally happened with my dad walking along side and holding on to me so tightly that I actually rode on the side. I had to wait another five years or so for a pony, and I have been riding ever since.

I was fascinated with the mules my dad worked in the fields, but it would be a long time before I would have one to ride. I became more interested as I watch a little molly compete on the trail in North America Trail Ride Conference.  She was a classy little personality and took her rider to receive many awards.

I think I want a mule, but I would always find another Arab to buy and compete in the competitive trail competition. My choice of a fine bone animal kept leading to unsoundness for the rigors of competition.

I had heard many tales of mules being more hardy and sensible and they would not over eat as horses do. Our neighbor lady rides mules and let me ride one of hers, and offered lots of insight into having a mule. I remember as I was putting the bridle on that mule and asking, “How do I get these ears into the bridle?”  She answered, “Just like you do with horses.”  During the ride I was amazed at how easily the mule negotiated the trail, and with so much power.

I seriously started shopping for a mule and it might as well be gaited. I found a green broke two year old mule and he was beautiful and gaited. I had worked with a lot of green horses but never a mule.

I started with Rocky, a fox trotter and Col. Ben cross, and kept a journal on each ride, which lets me relive each ride with fond and sometimes exciting memories. One memorable ride on Rocky and with a friend on my Arab mare getting herself caught in wire. The mare had both hind feet caught in the wire underneath the shoes. I always carry wire cutters and was able to cut the wire away while the mare stood quietly waiting to be released. I don’t believe I really want to know how Rocky would have reacted under the same situation. The next obstacle was a “stare down” with a deer. Rocky stomped his foot to tell a reluctant deer to move on. 

Now that should have been enough for one day, but as I start the truck to leave the Rock Haven Park, I realize there is very little gas left, maybe enough to get to the nearest gas station. I have to pass the first gas station, because I cannot see a way into the station. I thought I could feel the truck sputtered a couple of times before reaching the next station. It had to be running on the fumes.

Rocky and I have had some exciting times together. One particular ride in an open field; we came upon a badger’s den, which had some fresh dirt piled higher than usual. Rocky stopped, stared, then decided he could sneak by that dirt monster. He makes it by without mishap, but then notices the hole, and very quickly decides to check on this. According to my husband,  Rocky stuck his head into that hole up to his eyebrows, and Rocky, being a very determined mule, is not about to leave until he is ready. I’m praying, “Please, do not let anything come out of that hole, or I’m a goner!” Fortunately, we make it through that episode in one piece.

Another eventful ride happened in the nearby woods as Rocky and I are traveling along when I get a glimpse of what looks like a good size piece of bark falling from a tree. This falls on my head, surprising me with its weight, knocking my hat to the side, sliding down Rocky’s side, hits the ground, then runs into the brush. Rocky stands dead still for all this, thank heavens! I ask my husband, who is riding behind, “What was that?” He replies, “It’s a groundhog.” In disbelief I exclaimed, “I didn’t know groundhogs climb trees!” My husband replies, “They can’t climb very well, that’s why it fell.” Well, I guess that makes sense.

I did make quite a bit of progress with Rocky, but decided he was just too much mule for me and had to sell him. Although he was gelded, he was quite interested in any mare making it difficult to ride with others. I was never confident enough to ride him alone. I just could never get comfortable with his unpredictable personality.

I still want to try another mule and called so many ads with no answer until one returned my call. I was at a loss for words since I couldn’t figure out which one returned my call. I knew I hadn’t called Nashville, but here is an entertainer on the other end of the line. He has a three and a half year old molly at the trainer’s, and then asks, “How good a rider are you?” I wasn’t sure how I should answer such a question, but I know I am not a rodeo bronc buster! Well, they gave me the trainer’s name and number, but I already know this is not a mule for me.

Well, I find that I actually know this trainer and I would like to visit with him again even though I know I will not be buying this mule. He and his wife show me the cute little molly barely 14 hands and maybe 800 pounds. She shows her Arab characteristics with a nice head and a refined neck. She is a dark rose gray and will probably eventually be white. 

She is very calm during saddling and the noise from other mules. “Come on, we can go for a ride in the pasture.” I am a little nervous with this since I had some risky adventures with the previous mule, but she takes me through some ditches and near the cows without a bobble! I ride in their arena for awhile and the wife rides the little mule away from the barn by herself. I’m becoming more impressed since she is behaving so well. Remember, I’m not going to buy this mule! Well, maybe, if I can talk them down little on the price!

Will they haul the mule to our place and when? Sure, and we can ride, and then I will fix a chili dinner. They bring her on October 2nd, 2002 and this is the beginning of Jamie’s and my bonding.  Remember she is half Arab and it seems to me Arabs don’t accept a new master right off the bat.  I guess the master has to prove themselves a worthy boss! 

I keep her in the round pen for several days away from the other horses and making her dependent on my care.  Jamie likes her grooming, but is reluctant to pick up her feet, and is restless during saddling.  We have some work ahead of us. We work in the round pen at a walk and on turns. I am using the hackamore that has been used in her training. She is responsive to the hackamore, but I am not that confident to continue its use. We will change to the bit soon. Little did I know this would be the beginning of many new adventures and I would learn that “Through the ears of a mule; blow the winds of Heaven!”

Categories: Essay