by Leslie Ballard, Austin, Ark.
Just the other day I was asked, “Who taught you to ride mules and do all the cool things that you do with them?”
My very quick answer was, “Ol’ Trial and Error. Do you know him?” I pondered this very true answer for a while after the conversation came to an end. Just for giggles sake I decided to record some of my very clear-cut examples of Ol’ Trial and Error that has given me a somewhat profound education on dealing with mules. Each one of the instances are true examples, with eight out of the 10 involving my first mule Leroy, to whom I thank God came into my life almost 10 years ago. He has taught me way more than I every taught him.
1. When clipping a mule for the first time, DO NOT try to hold the twitch in one hand, clippers in the other and somehow believe that biting that big ol’ ear in your face is a way to gain a little more leverage. After you make a trip to the dentist in order to repair a tooth, the mule still as a five-inch Mohawk.
2. When attempting to get on a mule bareback in a ditch, (after chasing him two miles down the road) DO NOT have a five-gallon feed bucket in your hand. After a complete stranger wakes you up in the ditch, you’ll be left trying to figure out why your forehead needs stitches and the mule is running down the road again.
3. When hauling a mule in a two-horse straight load trailer, DO NOT try to figure out how, upon reaching your destination, the mule is standing facing the exact opposite way he was when you loaded him. Just go with it -- he’s easier to unload in this direction anyway.
4. After the fifth time the mule has broken into the tack room (shutting the door behind him), DO NOT become alarmed that he has stepped through an old kiddy stirrup that is now hung between his ankle and foot. Just get a hacksaw and cut it off. (Cut off the stirrup, not the foot - no matter how good cutting off the foot sounds at the moment!)
5. While taking your mule to a barrel race as a companion for a horse, DO NOT freak out when, upon returning to the trailer, all that is left of the mule is an empty halter and a horse going nuts. The mule has just loaded himself into a poor unsuspecting attendee’s trailer who left their back door open. Never fear, they will enthusiastically return him to your barn, but only after you have given up hope of finding him and left the barrel race.
6. When loading a mule into a new trailer, DO NOT give him his treat of an Oatmeal Crème Pie before he actually gets in the trailer. If you do, he will stand around silently laughing as you cuss and throw fits for two hours, only to hop right up in the trailer after you walk away to call for help.
7. In pre-planning for a trail ride for the following day, DO NOT put you’re sometimes hard-to-catch mule in the stall for the night for the sake of easier access. He will not only take his stall door off the hinges, he will also remove all the stall doors in the barn. Instead of going on the trail ride, you will be fixing stall doors and chasing horses all day.
8. On the day that your very good friend calls needing help sorting and working their cattle, DO NOT let your mule “hee-haw!” in a blind creek below everyone else’s sight. The bucking, stampeding, and over all general chaos seen in the aftermath is not entirely funny to anyone involved (with the exception of the responsible mule).
9. When on a trail ride, and you must travel straight down a very steep hillside, DO NOT automatically assume your saddle will remain in its proper place. Sometimes riding on a mule’s neck will result in seven stitches to the back of your head. Ironically purchasing a britchen for your mule is much cheaper than an emergency room visit.
10. Finally, as a novice who is teaching your mule to coon hunt jump, DO NOT build your jump out of four panels in the shape of an L with a telephone pole situated between them. On certain occasions the mule will miss the jump, which in turn will cause all the panels to crash down upon you, knocking you to the ground. The mule will come out of the wreck without a scratch but you on the other hand still have to remind yourself, “Small breaths, small breaths,” because cracked ribs really hurt.