by Jennifer Schmuck
Jenn's dad leading their dog, followed by Jenn riding Katie
When I was looking at ads for mules that were for sale, I frequently came across the “been there, done that” mule. This sounded to me like the kind of mule we should be looking for as a mount for my husband Steph, a beginner rider. I assumed a mule that has been there and done that would be a mule that would be laid back in new situations, calmly travelling down the trail, used to everyday situations...or so one would think. But that was before I got my mule, Katie.
Katie is a “been there, done that” mule. She’s been there once, done that before and now she’s bored. Ride the same trail twice, and her lower lip drops until it almost drags on the ground. She slows down until Steph’s mule Larry has to push her from behind. Tapping her with the end of a rein results in what appears to be an abused and offended mule, suffering calmly (but very obviously) and I’m glad we usually don’t meet anyone on the trail who would ask me what I had done to her. Katie is not a seasoned trail mule (shhh, don’t tell her I said that!) but I put some trail miles on her since she came home to us and she is doing really well.
You can probably imagine how trailriding looked like when we didn’t have a trailer yet and had to go the same trail all the time. Either Katie was shuffling along, setting new records in slow walking and aging perceptibly in the course of minutes, or she was looking out for something to make a fuss about (did you know there could be anything from a mountain lion to pink elephants in even a small bush?!), or she was watching for some entertainment in the form of spooking, turning, eyes bulging…you get the picture. We provided a reliable source of amusement for our neighbor Mr. Esch who lives right beside the trail near our house.
I was so relieved when we got the new trailer. After the trailer loading problem was solved we finally could explore new trails. The problem is a trail is only ever new once!
I have to admit I’m probably just as easily bored by the same trails as my mule. After having ridden all the trails we found in that area, distraction presented itself in the form of my father, who is 70 years old and loves hiking. He wanted to see where we ride. He wanted us to take our dog, too, who usually has to stay home because she is too excited to stay reliably beside the mules when we ride. Lo and behold, with dog and dad in front, Katie thought it a fun outing again. Phew! I even got some earflop out of her.
The next weekend my father was back home again, so we had to go without him and I knew we would need a new area to ride. We had found a parking spot for the trailer and set out to explore the woods we had seen on the map, and which Michael, our friend with the problematic perception of parking space, said was good for riding. It turned out to be a rather depressing riding area. The woods were very dark and eerie, it was mainly gravel roads, and as most trails on the map turned out to not exist anymore we got lost and had to go the same way back that we came. Which lead invariably to a complete meltdown of my “been there, done that” mule, who just made it back to the trailer, in complete disbelief that I really had made her take the same trail back that we came.
That evening Michael called and asked how the trail was. I said the woods were dark and sinister, and that neither we nor the mules liked it. “Oh ya,” he said, “the woods ain’t pretty in that area.” It was good we were talking on the phone, as I would have kicked him in the shin really hard otherwise.
Of course the “been there, done that,” mule has also had her feet done before. Now having her feet done is boring. It gets considerably more interesting when throwing up the rope with her nose while the hoof lady rasps away on her hooves. There would also be the option of chewing on the lead rope, or destroying the end of the rope by pawing on it (of course standing on only two feet, as the hoof lady is working on one of the hindfeet at the same time). If finished with all that and the feet are still not done yet, fall asleep and let the hoof lady hold up the hoof if she can (ignore the swearing that might interrupt your sleep). The “been there, done that” mule also always likes to be helpful, as in finding the tools the hoof lady might have mislaid. While the hoof lady rasps away on the left front foot, the right hind leg can easily stretch out to unexpected lengths and find the nippers she might have been looking for. (Katie is not one to get distracted by angry yells, in case you wondered).
Now after making a lot of fun of my “been there done that” Katie, you probably think she is a really spoiled annoying brat. You know, partly you are right. If she’s bored she can really get on your nerves. But she is the best mule ever for me. She has a great sense of humor and a big heart. She trots into the trailer and is that eager to go out and do things. She doesn’t know much about trail obstacles and difficult terrain, but she always gives her best. She would never offer to kick or buck. If something is difficult or scary, she is always willing to give it a try. Of course, once a danger is braved, well, you know, it gets boring…