by Mona Doolin, Lancaster, Ky.
Harley is a young mule that Molly Shakespear and I have been keeping track of. We hope you enjoy his story as much as we have. The following story was written by Mona Doolin, a new mule owner and first time trainer of her baby...Harley Doolin. --Brenda Ammons, Almo, Ky., email@example.com
I started riding in 2007 when I met my now husband, “Toady” Jimmy Ray Doolin, at a horse sale in Richmond, Ky. He rode walking horses and taught me to ride on an 18-month-old Tennessee Walker on the trails of Stampede Run Horse Camp in Whitley City, Ky. After riding several years and seeing all the different people coming through the camp, I became obsessed with the prospect of owning a mule and naming him Harley.
So the search began. Every day I’d search the internet for mules. Back in February of 2009 I found an ad for two yearling mules, a male and a female. I was working so I sent my cousin out to take a look at them. She called me from the farm and said they were cute enough, but she wasn’t overly impressed, so I continued my search. About a month later I saw an ad for a chocolate yearling mule and his two-year-old, chocolate Tenneessee Walker half-brother. It just so happened my husband wanted another chocolate walking horse. We were going to Stampede Run that weekend and the mule and horse were located in Mt. Vernon, which in my mind was right on the way. Unfortunately my husband didn’t agree and we didn’t make it to look at them. Two more months passed and the same mule and horse were advertised with a reduced price. This time I wouldn’t take no for an answer.
When we got there the mule and the horse were in a small muddy pen covered in mud and pitiful looking. They were being fed, but not much else. We worked out a price with the lady that had them and I noticed that the mule looked familiar. When I asked where she got them she told me she got them from a lady just out of Lexington and I was sure this was the same mule that I had sent my cousin to look at.
We didn’t take our trailer so we had to come back on Mother’s Day to pick the horse and mule up. The lady that we bought the horse from had company coming that day and told us just to go on and load them up ourselves. We couldn’t touch them and ended up leaving and asking the lady to bring them to us. We kept them in a large stall together for a couple of weeks letting them get use to us and our other horses. The first year we sent the horse to the trainer and let the mule just get to know us. We feed our horses every day so he got use to seeing us each day with the food bucket and it wasn’t long before he figured out how to bang on the gate to get fed.
The horse, Snickers turned out to be a treasure. He is smooth and had a great laid back attitude, we were hoping that same attitude would come out in the mule. He was adjusting really well in the field and it didn’t take the other horses long to figure out he was not going to be the low man on the totem pole. While he didn’t want to be boss, he also didn’t want anyone chasing him away from his food.
May of 2010 rolled around and we met Bob and Brenda Ammons and Molly Shakespear for a week long ride at Stampede Run. I told them all about my mule. Bob, Brenda and their friend, Bill Eyre, convinced me to start working with Harley line driving and break him out myself. Since I hadn’t been riding long I was skeptical of my ability to break a mule, but I said I would give it a shot. I have to say Harley did better with the lines than I did. I just couldn’t get the hang of it. We worked on and off through that winter, but I really started ground work with him February of this year knowing that he would be turning three sometime this spring. It seemed like everything I threw at him he just accepted and looked at me like “OK, what’s next?” The next step was to bite the bullet and tack him up and see how he liked the saddle and bit.
The saddle blanket was not an issue since I had introduced that to him earlier, while sacking him out. The saddle was a little scarier, but after a couple of snorts and hind leg stomps, he accepted it. We walked around the barn, I bounced the stirrups off his side, wiggled the saddle around, even tightened up the girth, no big deal. He looks so cute in his new digs.
We did this a couple times a week, not going at it every day, just when I had time. Things were going so well with him I decided maybe I could do this myself.
In March I decided to see what he would do if I climbed into the saddle. I got a mounting block, set it down beside him and watched his reaction. Nothing. Next I laid across his back, still nothing. I asked my husband to hold him and I got in the saddle, still no reaction. He never offered to walk off, never laid his ears back or even tensed up. That day I just had Toad walk him around the barn with me on his back, so he got use to seeing me up there and how my legs felt on his sides. When I went to get off he stood still and I rolled off, no big deal.
Now while all this training was going on I was still keeping up on the internet with horse sales. Why? I don’t know, it wasn’t like we needed another mouth to feed, but it was something to do when work got slow. One day I saw a lady’s ad looking for the people that had bought a yearling mule and two-year-old colt back in 2009. I responded, and it was the lady that bred Harley and Snickers. She was curious as to where they ended up and how they were doing. She sent me their baby pictures, their birthdates, as well as photos of their mother and fathers.
I was so excited to learn more about my mule! His birthday is May, 4, 2008. and his mother is a dark chocolate walking horse named Rosie out of a Pusher mare. His dad is a spotted Jack named Leroy.
It was now the end of March and I was ready to see how Harley did with just me and him riding. He stood while I climbed up in the saddle, never offered to move off. When I was ready, I asked him to walk off. He walked off but kept looking for Toady, wanting to follow him instead of listening to me. We worked on this by having Toady stand away from him. Within five minutes, he was weaving in and around the barn posts with the rein commands. He knew “whoa” from the ground work we had been doing and stopped by voice command.
Toady wanted him to learn to work and since I was not doing well with the lines we decided to recruit the help of our friends, Walter and Sheelia Prewitt. Mules are not like horses, it takes them longer to accept and trust a person and since they were starting off as strangers it took several weeks of just getting to know one another. The Prewitts were great with him.
He is still not great with driving, but neither am I. The last two weeks they had him I asked them to concentrate more on his gait, reining and taking him out on the trail. The first time Sheelia took him out it was at night in the rain and her comment to me was, “This is the gait you need to replicate, he is smooooth.” She called him “the night glider.” Her and Walter rode him around on their farm those two weeks, introducing him to creeks, tall grass, dogs running up on the trail and water puddles.
The first of May was Harley’s first official away from home trail ride and he did absolutely great. While his gait is not fast, it is smooth. We went out with six other horses and he followed along behind, until he was asked to step out front, which he did without hesitation. He is not real fond of washes and really doesn’t like to step down into a rut, but with coaching he will do it. The Prewitt’s taught him to walk over logs and not launch himself over them, but believe me he could jump a fence easily. He launches off his back legs and lands on his back legs, nothing like a horse, you just need to be ready because if not you will be left on the ground. We took him down the river, which was swollen with all the rain. Harley walked down into the rushing water and I had to stop him..the water was up to his belly and he was fine.
The first ride was a complete success, the only issue I had was a poor fitting saddle that slipped up on his neck. Mules are straight backed and if your saddle doesn’t fit properly it can cause all kinds of problems. Harley is a good mule, he never offered to buck, rear or run off. I rode him up an embankment and wriggled the saddle back down in place. A local saddle maker is making him a new saddle with mule bars and I hope to have it soon. That should help both me and Harley.
Our first long road trip with Harley was Memorial Day to Stampede Run. I was a little concerned about how he would do overnight away from home in a stall, but once again I was worried for nothing. He stood in the stall without issue all weekend. He was the hit of the weekend, the kids loved him, he was the only mule in camp and he was getting spoiled rotted by all the kids bringing him treats and rubbing his nose. Even some of our friends that were mule skeptics were amazed at how well my young mule was doing.
We rode two days, about six hours each day. Harley crossed creeks, washes, and bridges without hesitation. We even rode up into a cave. He actually looked like he was having fun! When he would get relaxed, he would let one ear flop while keeping the other ear turned back toward me so he could hear my commands, when that ear got tired he would switch off. It was just the cutest thing I have ever seen. I will turn 50 in August and plan on riding my first mule with his new saddle at my birthday ride at Stampede Run.