Last week at Camp Lipizzan, which happens around these parts roughly once a month (openings in February and March, just send me a ping), we were having a horse-intensive, as opposed to a writer-intensive, which meant my mission was to maximize the horse experience. That meant riding every day, lessons, horse yoga, and by sheerest happy chance, a Groupon for a trail ride at the park down the road.
I had always wanted to do this, in the way of those who live in resort areas but never actually visit the sights. And this time, the chance was there, and irresistible. And when we got there–even greater joy. The grizzled old cowboy type handed me…a Mule!
I’ve ridden many, many horses of many different breeds, and have a barnful of an actual Endangered Breed, but this was a first. I was thrilled.
Mules are their own thing. They’re the offspring of a male donkey and a mare or female horse (the opposite, stallion on female donkey, is a hinny–reputed to be much less sturdy, sane, and solid). As hybrids, they’re almost always sterile, but they’ve been valued for millennia as solid, sound, intelligent, and frequently opinionated working animals. As my farrier noted just this morning, “A good mule is the best equine there is, but a bad one, just take it out and shoot it.”
Because, you know, extra brains. And lots of stamina. But not a lot of idiot tolerance. And if they don’t see the sense in something, well, “stubborn as a mule.” Also, “kicks like a mule.”
My Endangered Breed has rather a similar reputation, minus the Equine of the People part. And the ears. Definitely, even with the exceptionally large and Elegant sorts, the ears are much the less.
Hokay. I hadn’t advertised myself as Expert Rider/Trainer–I didn’t want to be handed a 2yo named Satan, and obliged to train him for them when all I wanted was a nice sightseeing ride. I was more than happy to take the rear, which is where an experienced rider should be in any case, to keep an eye on the rest of the string and serve as a barrier in case somebody spins and tries to leave at speed.
Which didn’t happen. It was a good group, good horses. And a great mule. Engine on her like one of my horses, which means a lot of power in that compact body. She just didn’t see why she should rev it unless there was good reason. I was totally on board with that. And the part about showing the rein ends? Literal. No need to touch her. Just think it and show her, and crank up the RPM’s to the needed level.
We rode through classic Baja Arizona: steep rocky trails, dry sandy riverbeds, a lovely stand of cottonwoods along the underground watercourse, mesquite bosques that were ancient towns once, with pit houses and the occasional artifact still to be seen.
I felt very classic, riding like a miner on a good mule. And when we were done, the wrangler told me “She has a great turn of speed on her–rode her yesterday and she was flying up those hills.”
I can imagine, with that engine (because usually when I ride rent-a-horses, they feel as if they’re wheelbarrowing along down on their fronts, and I keep trying to find the accelerator to get the front end up; but with this lady, that was completely not an issue). But I was happy to have a nice mosey on a well-trained equine. Perfect day. Perfect mount for me on the day.