I sold my horse and gave up riding forever perhaps nine months ago. This was after being advised by every medical type in my life and the Rector of my church that I would go Splat! if I came off a horse at my age and state of decrepitude. There is truth to this. I would be a dope if I didn’t acknowledge it.
The only thing is–riding is addictive. Not just the wind-in-your-hair thrilling part of riding, all of it, including picking out your horse’s hooves. It’s a physical thing: body memories, muscle memories. The part of being human that allows dancers to perform entire ballets without having to look at their notes. I’ve ridden for so long that the sensation of being on a horse can come to me anywhere. Swinging down the aisle of the local mall, for instance.
Not riding was painful.
After suffering for months, I decided that somewhere on the planet, a horse with a sufficiently low energy level must exist. It had to be a gaited horse–and this is a very important bit. Most people ride WTC horses: they walk, trot, and canter. The trot is the problematical gait: it’s the backbreaking bounce-bounce-bounce you find on most horses. People who ride rental horses once discover this gait and never ride again; it’s that jarring.
But, alternatives exist. I discovered Peruvian Pasos in the late 1980s, courtesy of my bad back. Peruvians are reputedly the smoothest riding horses in the world, a claim I believe. The only thing is, they’re a Spanish breed and many are very hot–Ole! That means if you move your pinkie, you may be in the next county before you can say, “Why am I on the ground?”
If I couldn’t find a Peruvian as sedate as what I wanted, I wanted another breed just as smooth. I had very limited goals in my post-optimal, maybe end-of-the-trail equine experience. All I wanted to do was meander slowly around our arena and mosey down our mostly flat trails.
I also desperately needed a way of getting away from my computer. I’m an author and I spend most of my life in front of my screen playing with words and turning my spine into something resembling a pretzel. I needed a new interest! A passion! Outdoor exercise!
Last June, after another disappointing attempt to find the horse of my dreams, I was in Santa Fe NM having dinner with friends. It was really fun. They ride mules. Sue and Dick love their mules and ride them all over. “They are really friendly. They’re more like dogs.” Our friends said mules don’t go lame or break as often as horses.
A few years back, Dick started a “Meet a Mule Day” at the County Fair where mules and their people get together and ride across mattresses and through kids’ wading pools and do amazing things that would cause horses to have nervous breakdowns on the spot. Dick described all the things his mule could do: find lost people, keep their property free of varmints, and do their income taxes. These are useful skills.
Most of my good ideas come when I’m asleep. After this dinner, I woke up with an Ahah! Why not get a mule? Mules like to go slow. They’re careful, smart, sure-footed, live a really long time (up to fifty years), and they’re sturdy. Why not get a mule? A gaited mule! I know they come gaited from seeing the Peruvian National Champion Mule at a horse show in Monterey, CA.
Great idea! All I had to do was find one. I said, “I think I’ll get a mule,” on Facebook. Lickety split, I was hearing from people I hadn’t heard from in years. The mule ladies. It was really fun. Did you know there’s a worldwide network of women who actually run the planet? They all ride mules. I began hearing from them. It was really fun and got me off of FB for hours at a time. And then back on the Net, searching for gaited mules.
I found a lot of gaited mules, all a long way from Santa Barbara, CA, and mostly in the South. I’d find one that sounded good in Alabama, another in Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, and then Tennessee. Clearly, my mileage points were going to be challenged by this search.
But then, a new friend told me about trainer Lou Moore-Jacobsen and One Moore Training in Templeton, CA. She trains mules! And she told me about the Reese Brothers Mules in Tennessee. Their family has been producing and selling mules since the 1920s! That’s even older than me. Here’s their FB page.
I contacted Richard Reese, who handles mule sales for his family’s business. Click here and you can contact him yourself. I told him what I just told you and asked if they had a mule that would fit my needs. He said he’d think about it. Somehow the fact that he would be in San Tan Valley, Arizona, at a mule auction and sale and could bring a prospect for me with him came up. All of a sudden, Yipes!, it was late July. The sale was in a few days.
My husband and I found ourselves at the Leavitt Ranch the last days of July 2015. Richard Reese had brought a gigantic semi-truck pulling an equally gigantic trailer full of mules.
It was so much fun! I want to thank Buck Leavitt and the Leavitt family for their gracious hospitality in letting all us mule-and-would-be-mule lovers tromp all over their place trying them out before the sale. And thanks to all the people that staffed the cash registers and so on. Quite a lot of work was involved in this production.
And thanks to all the people at the auction. It was such a fun event and I enjoyed meeting and being around so many new people. In my conversations with the “mule ladies” before going to the sale, one of the things I heard over and over again was, “Mule people are friendly. It’s not snobby like horse shows can be.” That was very true.
This was a totally new culture to me. I’m from Silicon Valley and lately (the last twenty-plus years) the Santa Barbara area. I’ve never been to a mule auction. Lotsa mules, folks. The auctioneer talks really fast. You don’t want to wave your bidding card around a lot, unless you intend to bid. The mules were really beautiful. Seductive, actually, moving into and out of the auction area. If you have an equine habit, this could be a danger area.
The Leavitts are going to have another sale in the spring, so if you’re at all inclined to mosey on down, it won’t be 110 degrees then. That was the only negative. The auction was hot, in all ways.
I do want to apologize to those people whose views I blocked at the auction, standing on the rail attempting to film the goings-on with my iPhone. (Which I just learned how to turn on.) I was trying to put together a video of the auction to post here. I didn’t realize I was in the way until someone told me, “You’re really blocking people’s views.” My husband said, “Yeah, you were really in the way.” Oops.
I need to warn you more emphatically about a downside to a mule auction. So many of the mules were so cool that we could have easily ended up with, oh, three or four. Really. An excited lady at the checkout rushed home to get her horse trailer, “I just bought two mules! I didn’t think I’d buy a mule …” Her parting words were lost as she ran to her truck.
Richard Reese showed extreme honesty in telling us, “They’re too green for you,” as we inquired about this mule or that. This was very good advice. My husband, who is normally the more conservative of the two of us, caught the fire. He wanted one. Or two. But we are old codgers knowing nothing of mules.
Oh! Did we get a mule? Yep. Lil’ Annie, who had been with the Reeses one and a half years, ridden by Richard himself. She is exquisitely beautiful and I rode her all over the Leavitt Ranch. Reese Mules are known for their good manners and quality. Did it ever show! I want to share a couple of pictures of Annie when we brought her home. This is her first airline trip. She was so good!
Doesn’t this beat fighting your way through the airport on your own hooves? Once we got into the terminal, Annie’s behavior was even more remarkable.
She did have a little trouble at the airport security checkpoint as we boarded. She had to explain that she couldn’t remove her shoes because they were nailed to her feet. Also, fitting into her economy class seat was difficult.
Annie’s home now, a lovely addition to our family. How’s she doing? Freaked out, man. She’s in major culture shock. But, I got her some sunglasses and an iPhone. She’s starting to adjust to California life. Went to Starbuck’s and Trader Joe’s for the first time. I told her we’d cruise State St. and hit the beach soon. Maybe do some surfing. I’ll report when we do.
I also called trainer Lou Moore-Jacobsen. When you need help, get it. We’ll get it sorted out.
All the best,
Sandy Nathan, who, in addition to being a new mule owner, is also a bestselling and award-winning author. Check out my Amazon Author Page. Also, if you feel the slightest inclination to sign up for this blog through Google + or email, there are places on the top right of this page where you can do it. I will not spam you, posting interesting-to-almost-everyone articles only occasionally. I mean, where can you get a blog post about a mule in an airport?? It’s really funny; I’ve got thousands of FB and Twitter and other “friends,” using the Amazon definition of the term, which means you hit Like and made a comment on someone’s FB page once. But I’ve got 53 followers on this blog. It’s been like that for years. Maybe the sign-up thing is busted. I dunno. Try it and post a comment if it doesn’t work. Or works. Ciao!