Another Kind of Equine

Longears_200Last 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.

goofygirlbvc (2)So here I was, mounting a short, sturdy, matter-of-fact lady named Rosemary. “She’ll stay in the rear,” I was told. “Show her the rein ends if you want her to speed up.”

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.

goofy girlWhich 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.

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Another Kind of Equine — 12 Comments

    • It was pretty interesting. So nice to be able to talk to the rent-an-equine, and see mellow, even cheerful ears. No fuss or bother. I’d ride her again, for sure.

    • Even if a ride isn’t in the cards for you, we could head on over there some afternoon–the museum is really cool. And there’s an actual gemstone-mining sluice. Plus the Path of the Ancestors. Which is mostly green and shady.

  1. a friend of my up in mariposa california breeds amazing “walking mules” out of tennesee walker mares. strong, smooth, dependable, smart, courageous.

    kit carson, jim bridger, fremont, and a whole raft of the early western explorers swore by mules as the mount/dray critter of choice.

    small wonder the trail herds at grand canyon and havasupai are mules.

    as much as i love horses and all things horsey, i have immense respect for the mule. they do the work well.

  2. I rode a mule up and down the Grand Canyon several years ago. The treks are run by a tourist company, and the trail looks EXACTLY like those Wile E. Coyote cartoons — a straight vertical wall, with a path one foot wide notched into it. The mules were all blase and calm, down and then up. But on the way back one slipped just a little bit, and tossed his rider. Luckily the guy fell inwards, dinging himself up on the rock wall, instead of the other way over the edge of the cliff. All the mules stood calmly while we fussed and hooted and patched the guy up.