Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dressage In Raleigh

Seven won his Intro Test B division this Saturday, Dec. 20th! He scored a 68.5 and beat an Oldenburg (a very expensive Warm Blood breed of horse) plus 12 others!!! We improved that score .5 from the last test.
Then we got Third in Training Test 2 out of 10. I improved my score from the first time from a 60.7 to a 65.4 I was very pleased to say the least!!!

Claudia Coombs came to give me moral support and brought a Dressage Bridle for Seven to wear. It had a sparkly brow band which looked snazzy! The nose band would not fit so we had to take the piece off my bridle, which was brown but we decided that no one would be looking at his nose! Two of Claudia's students came to watch Seven go! I was very surprised and honored to have such a great support group!
The father of the girl who got second in the Intro Test B came over to me and congratulated me, told me that his daughter has been trying and trying to win that division and they always miss it by just a point or two. I asked him what kind of horse they had, he said and Oldenburg (My favorite type of warm blood) then he asked what I rode and I had to tell him his Daughter's Oldenburg got beat by a MULE!!! He said he would have to tell her that. He said sarcastically "that will make her feel REALLY GOOD!"
The few moments of sweet revenge for all the bad comments over the years about mules! Claudia laughed after he left and told me, "At least I did not tell him that his Oldenburg got beat by a $700 Mule!"
Thanks Claudia for all the support and taking these great photos!

Strange Experience With Horse People!

This is one of the strangest experiences with other horse people in my whole life!
I drove in to the camp Saturday, Sept. 27th, mid-morning, set up the Mule's stalls and let them drink and eat some hay. Because it was raining a little I decided to tack up both my mules while the trailer was parked right by the stalls. My friends showed up and we got our trailers parked in the camp, I decided to ride Sadie on the trail and leave Seven to ride in the covered pen when I got home, since it might rain and the saddle would get soaked. I untied him and offered him some water then tied him in the stall to the main pole on the side of the stall. The temperature was in the high 70's and the stall is not solid walled so there was lots of ventilation. When I returned from our ride four hours later, there was a bucket of water filled with water at his feet where he was tied. While I was off to the bathroom, some girl looking to be in early 20's came around the corner and asked my friend Holly if she was with this mule. She said yes and the girl told her it was cruel to leave the mule tied up with no water for five hours. Holly told her that we where only gone for four hours and that we had offered him water before we left and where going to when we got back. She also told the girl that she should not have gone into the stall and that it was unsafe to leave a bucket where the mule could have pawed it and hurt himself. She said the girl acted all huffy and walked off. About that time I came walking down the inside aisle of the barn and asked three girls who were there if they had seen who went in my mule's stall. Well they exploded on me and said that it was them and I was cruel to leave him tied for five hours will no water and said that "he could not breath with his tack on"? They said he drank half a bucket of water when they offered it to him. I told them they should not have gone into the stall and that you never leave a bucket where a mule could paw it. That was when they started saying that this was abuse. So I told them to go ahead and report me and then repeated that they where not to touch my mule or leave buckets where horses could paw and get their leg caught. I also told them that if they had a problem with something going on they should have reported it to the staff and should not gone into a stall of an animal they did not own.
Boy do they need a reality check!! I am the most upset by the fact that they went into my stall and endangered my mule by leaving that bucket where he could have pawed and gotten hurt. I am also glad they did not scare him, cause him to panic, hurting one of them. He is a very sensitive mule and is afraid most of the time of new people.
We where all at a loss on this one. All the horses out there who are truly being abused and they worry with Seven being safely tied for a few hours? Good thing I did not put his hobbles on, like I almost did. Everyone I have told this story to can't believe it, including the camp staff. They all know how well I take care of my mules. There was a lot of new material for jokes about my mule abuse for the rest of the weekend!
I think this comes down to the fundamental difference between a working/using animal and a 1,200 pound pet.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sadie Mae's First Book Signing

On Dec. 13th, Sadie Mae showed up at 2pm at the Coffee Hound Books Store in Louisburg, NC to deliver the books that bearsher photo to the Author, Donna Campbell Smith! Great fun was had by all as she greeted guests at the book signing. She did well for the photo shoot, as it was not get first! She sniffed everyone up and down for cookies and let people take their photo with her. For many people it was the first time they had been this close to a mule! She stood patiently for the afternoon to meet her admirers!

At the end of the day it was back to the farm, eatting hay like all the other non-famous mules!

To order a copy of the book "The Book of Mules" by: Donna Campbell Smith call Millie at The Coffee Hound Bookshop (919) 496-6030

Another appreance is being planned at the Triangle Horse Sports Shop in Northern Raleigh for Early Spring!

Photos of Shannon, Sadie Mae and Author Donna Campbell Smith!

Shiloh Loses Her Skirt In The Tractor Supply Parking Lot!

Linda Morris, Shiloh's new owner started out our phone conversation by saying to me "Shiloh lost her skirt in the Tractor Supply parking lot!" Which sounds like a huge problem if you are a lady but a lady Mule with lots of winter hair, not too bad!
Linda decorated Shiloh with a Santa Hat, Sleigh Bells, Big Red Bow and a Tree Skirt for her Christmas time visit to Tractor Supply Company, where Linda works part time. As they stood out front giving out candy and letting kids pet and feed Shiloh treats, her Tree Skirt kept blowing off in the wind. Linda said she had to finally just take it off as she could not get it securely tied on!
Shiloh enjoyed all the attention and stood steady as people with shopping carts and merchandise came in and out of the sliding doors! She gave a few kids a pony ride and made their day too!

Linda and Shiloh are having more fun together than I ever could have imagined! You can tell by this photo that they both are having great fun!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Seven's First Dressage Show

We arrived in plenty of time and I tried not to be noticed as I slipped him off the trailer. The Preserve Farm in Washington, NC was a very pretty and nicely laid out place! There were already several trailers with nice looking horses tied to them and people out warming up their horses.
I had clipped Seven and vacuumed him till no dust came out of his coat when you patted him. Not something easy to do with a full winter coat! Claudia and her husband Jack arrived as I was tacking Seven up. I put the new Dressage pad under our English saddle so we at least looked the part! I warmed up and got several warm welcomes from other participants. I still was trying to stay away from the other horses! Seven was being a very reserved and well behaved!
Claudia gave me my last minute instructions before it was my turn to go in the ring and try our hand at Dressage Test Introduction B. So much to think about! I was just hoping to stay in the ring and remember the pattern! Seven rode very well! He stayed between my legs and my hands for most of the ride! I was very pleased and even had a little cheering section when I got done! I was relieved! I learned later we had received a 68 score, which I am told is very good and impressive for our first test.
We then competed in the Sport Horse Versatility Class which is working over obstacles and then another class in hand with a halter. They take your riding score in this class and match it with your dressage test to place the class. I ended up with a 2nd in the in-hand class and a 3rd in the obstacles/dressage test class.
I let Seven rest at the trailer for a while and watched Claudia and Jack take their horses through the Tests and the Sport Versatility Classes too. Soon it was time for me to saddle up again.
This test was more complicated and I hoped to stay on course. Seven was not as light and forward as I would have wanted but we still stayed on course and got the job done. We scored a 60.7 on the Training Level 2 test and placed 4th.
I was very please with how everyone responded so well to Seven. You never know how things will go when you show up with a mule.
In an email Claudia told me that “I think you and Seven really made a good impression on the Dressage riders. I heard so many good comments about him and I think everyone really enjoyed seeing a well behaved and athletic Dressage Mule.”

Thank you Claudia for the complements and all the help and good advice!!
We have another Dressage Show on the 20th in Raleigh! Got some practicing to do between now and then!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mules in the Feed Room!

I came home on Friday (12/5/2008) with a lot to do for the Dressage Show the next day! I saw something that made my heart sink! The feed room door was open and the Mustang’s butt was hanging out of the doorway! No sign of Seven anywhere so that had to mean he was in the feed room! I calmly went in the house and changed my coat and shoes. I did not want to scare them out of the feed room and have them hurt themselves so I quietly unchained the gate, but as I unlatched it they heard me.
They reacted like two little kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar! The horse scrambled backwards and some how did not hurt himself on the tin he pulled back. Then I heard Seven scrambling around with hooves on metal trash cans and cans falling over! He got to the doorway and jumped the three steps down and went bucking across the paddock! I was afraid to see how much they had eaten. It looked like about 20 pounds a piece but I could not be sure. I was also amazed to see that they had not fallen through the floor in that old building! Good think I had put some plywood over the rotten hold in the floor!
(For those of you who don’t know about horses, they can kill themselves by eating too much grain as toxins in their body from the over load poison their systems, plus they could colic)
My neighbor had mistakenly forgotten to close the feed room door when some people dropping off a trailer for some parade hay got her in a hurry, easy thing to do!
I put them all in their pens and watched them both on and off all night. The both seemed to be ok but walked around like they where a little bloated! I kept those two off any more grain for a few days and off all hay that night! Seven pooped all day long at the Dressage Show but LUCKY for Seven and Buckshot they both suffered no ill effects!

Thanksgiving 2008

Mom and Dad came down for Thanksgiving! Some how, I pulled the house together, had Thanksgiving dinner ready when they arrived on Thursday afternoon. Dad wore his vest I gave him for his Birthday and the hat from a few years ago. We ended up dressing alike so of course we had to take a photo with a mule.
Friday I rode Seven and practiced for the dressage show coming up and also rode the Haflinger mule all over the farm and tested him out! He keeps impressing me!
Reuben, Mom's Dog Dylan and the Wild Cat all did very well together until Sat. Night. Dylan was chasing the lazer dot and the cat decied he did not like Dylan acting like that! Shawn the cat got all upset and every hair on his body was standing up. I chased him out of the living room, got my gloves on and picked him up and put him in the bathroom. He cooled out! In 20 minutes we had a nice kitty again!
Saturday Mom and I did some shopping and then we rested and ate the rest of the day! Sunday they headed home but it took them longer than expected because it was raining horribly and cold!

Shiloh's New Home!

November 22 and 23, 2008 was a long tiring weekend! I might just have to not do much but sleep over Thanksgiving! I left Friday night and took Shiloh to my friend Holly's place in Columbus, NC. Then Saturday Holly came with me and we hit the road at 8AM. I was taking my mule Shiloh to her new owner, Linda Morris in South Carolina. I have not had much time to spend with Shiloh and Linda needs an older steady mount to ride. On the way we stopped at this regular looking gas station to get a bring and use the restroom. They had the most interesting crafts and wood carvings all over the store. Framed prints and paintings, wood cravings, hand made signs and pottery. All of a sudden in the middle of no where we were shopping! Holly bought a really nice bear head carved out of a pine knot and a carved gourd for a friends. I bought a walking stick that had twisted wood from a vine growing into it. I also found a poster of South Carolina Waterfalls for a friend who works on my truck who just happens to spend his free time hiking to waterfalls!

We finally arrived at Linda’s Place!
Linda almost cried when I opened the trailer and told her to go in and get her new mule!
The Big Bow (Like the car commercials) was a Big Hit!
We looked are over and I told Linda some of Shiloh’s quirks, then Linda rode her for a few minutes to try her out and to see how her tack fit Shiloh.
I got to see my old Donkey Banjo which Linda calls Brayhoven. He looked very good and happy! We had lunch then messed with Linda’s Haflinger Mule for the afternoon. We left about 4pm and took the mule with me to try out for my friend Beverly. We got back to Holly’s house in Columbus about 5:30 so I went out for Chinese for dinner with Bruce and Holly.

Left Sunday at 6AM, got to my house at 10:30, set the new mule up in a paddock and started getting ready for the Pony Party! Cleaned the paddock (5 wheelbarrows) then tacked up and decorated Chester and Sadie! They looked great with silver hooves, painted stars and hearts all over them! Eight kids came and we have endless pony rides for about an hour and a half and some parents and a grandfather rode too! After they left I cleaned the trailer, unpacked and crashed in my bed!!! Now I have a mule and a donkey with silver hooves and silver stars and hearts all over them walking around in my pasture! What will the neighborhood think?? Hopefully it will all come off in the next rain storm!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Seven's Dressage Lesson

Yesterday Dressage Trainer and Instructor Claudia Coombs came out to help me and Seven get ready for some Dressage Shows we are going to attend. She gave me some things to work on with him and we rode till we could not see each other anymore because it was so dark! FUN!
I met Claudia when a mutual friend of ours put us in contact because she wanted to learn more about mules. So we are helping each other out!

Thanks so much for all your help Claudia!
Here is a neat photo of Claudia riding Seven:

The Blue Mushroom

Sounds like a cool Bar or Restaurant we would like to visit, doesn't it?
I saw this Very Blue Mushroom while riding Seven in the Uwharrie National Forest with my mule club in the Fall of 2008. I found it very interesting and so I took a photo of it and did some research on the Internet.
I found Dr. Tom Volk, Professor of Biology at University of Wisconsin.
He said it was a Lactarius Indigo.
Thanks for the feed back Tom!

2008 Birthday and National Mule Day

I had a great Birthday, had fun all weekend, taking Seven to two mule shows.

Friday night we left and tried to beat the sun going down and the rain starting. We did and I got all settled in my bed when the rains came. Seven stayed mostly dry because I let him camp under the awning. He kept standing with his rear end sticking out and got that part of him soaked!

Denton Farm Park in Denton, NC holds a nice Mule and Draft horse day the end of October. They have crafts for sale, demonstrations of wood cutting, singing, dancing and of course plowing and a mule show. They also have a full sized steam train and 3 miles of track. It is a very relaxing and neat place to be. There were some really nice mules from Ohio there so the competition was deep. I was pleased with Seven’s rides especially since we had not practiced very much. Seven got a third in the trail class!

At Noon they had a planned robbing of the General Store that was about 200 feet from where we were having the mule show. We stopped the show but most of us just stood around with our mules. The mules did great with all the gun fire! I jumped more than Seven did! As the actors moved towards the Church at the end of the little “main street” a little rabbit came running out from under the church. Of course that caught everyone’s attention. He ran right in front of me and Seven and under Karen’s horse trailer and then darted across the arena and into the woods. Poor thing was scared to death! The whole crowd laughed and watched the rabbit rather than the show!

I did get to play with my friend James McLamm’s trick mule's toys on Sat afternoon. With me on the ground Seven jumped up on a pedestal about 2 1/2 foot high and put his front feet up on a small dinner plate sized one too. I was very proud of him. That Chris Cox "Direct and Drive" and the words Load Up did the trick! He also crossed a teeter –totter bridge for me several times.

At the State Fair show on Sunday, we lost steering before the Ranch riding class and then the Right lead went out before the reining, but it is all good because we did not, but came close, run over the Judge!Seven gets tired and wants to go home and things the out gate is much more appealing than what ever we are doing in the ring. Need less to say we did some schooling on right hand turns and right leads after the last class.
I got home around 8:30 and got mostly unpacked! Time to clean the trailer out, get some wash done and start packing for Leatherwood!!! YEA!!!

Fire's Ceek! Trip from HELL?

The first weekend of June, 2007 I went to a place called Fire's Creek in the very western corner of NC near Murphy. It took me 7 1/2 hours to drive home! I stayed at a friend’s place (THANKS Dr. Jim!) the night I left and finished the drive the next morning.
The directions were ok but the road signs were really bad! I turned on to the wrong Forest Road, which ended a mile down a one-lane gravel road. There was no place to even think about turning my 24 foot trailer around!
First I wanted to cry, then I was wondering if I could get a Ranger to help, then I thought about setting up camp and riding my mule to find help! But decided I wanted out now so, I had to start backing! I backed a long way and the road started going back down a little hill. The trailer would slide about 2-3 feet down the gravel hill each time I hit the breaks! That was scary because at the bottom of the hill and around a corner was a little bridge that I had just barely driven over going forward! Somehow I made it across the bridge and also made another sharp turn to the right!
Once I got most of the way backed out of the road I found place to pull in and try to turn around. I backed on to the second bridge and took a hard turn to the left. Put the trailer in a ditch but I made the turn. The truck could not get the trailer out of the ditch. I had to take poor Seven out of the trailer and walk him down the road and tie him to a tree.
(I wonder what he was thinking about all this!)
I was able to pull back and forward about twenty times to get the trailer moved over onto the road. Then I walked down to rescue Seven, who jumped right back on the trailer for me. I was then able to make it back the road I incorrectly turned off. Unfortunately, that turn could not be made either so I had to go several miles back down the one-lane Forest Road to a place where I could turn around! The whole thing added two hours to my trip! Boy was I glad to find the horse camp! Needless to say, my trailer and I are fully bonded and I feel as if I can take it anywhere now!I had a wonderful ride and met a lot of great (horse) people! So it was well worth it! Seven and I went to test for the American Trail Horse Association (www.trailhorse.com) 7 levels of trail training. We passed all 7 of the levels! There is a pretty trail called the Rim Trail that goes all the way around the mountains in that area. We rode about a 1/4 of it. There is a nice primitive campsite and a very nice horse club who would be willing host us! I would love to bring the CMA back and to do some riding or a pack trip around the whole Rim. I promise that I will hang some signs or ribbons if we host a ride here so no one else gets into the kind of trouble I did!

Skid marks from sliding down the hill! Small bridge I had to back over!
Many waterfalls on the trails! Mountain Laurel in full bloom!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seven's Jump through the Pool Noodles!

Wow, my friend Casey actually caught Seven's Jump through the pool noodles at the Trail Challenge in September! I had expected him to shoot through the obstacle but not to leap through the air like this! He went from a stand still to this! After looking at the photo he jumped higher than I thought! No wonder the chin strap broke! It think it was the only thing that kept me on!
Not one of my more shining horsemanship moments, but funny all the same!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Weekend at Uwharrie with the CMA

Jane and I got to the 4B Farm right about the time it started to rain!
We checked in and found the stalls, got her horse settled and the mules in their big stallion stall. It was the only stall left where the Sadie and Seven could be together. It is 18 foot long and 12 foot wide but very dark so I took a battery operated lantern and placed it up on a shelve on the back of the wall. It let the mules get used to the new space with a little light, because other wise it looked to me like a big dark cave!
Once we got parked, plugged in and awning out it stopped raining. We met up with our friends at the camp fire. As I was heading to bed I noticed that the clouds where just a thin layer. There was a faint circle of light around the 3/4 full moon, but what was weird was there was another off centered circle higher in the sky and brighter. Where the two circles met they joined and followed the circle around the moon. It was the weirdest thing I have ever seen!
The next morning was cool and crisp. Bev Duval came to ride Sadie Mae. We rode out at 9AM after a much needed word of prayer from camp owner Larry Blackburn. It was the kind of day you could tell was going to warm up so I did not bring a jacket. 18 mules and 2 good horses moved quietly through the woods making short work of the mud puddles. We stopped for lunch at Baden Lake, where Jane saw a copper head snake trying to eat a cat fish. The fish jumped and got away from the snake. That is not something that you see every day! We decided to ride with the long ride for the rest of the day! It was such a nice day and everyone was having a good time!
We stopped by what people call "The Big Rocks" for
a rest and took some photos. Seven and I climbed up on one of them. Upon arriving home, 8 hours later, we untacked, let the mules do some grazing. We met up with some other mule friends and a couple visiting from California who are thinking of moving here! We ended the evening with deserts and a CMA Club meeting.Sunday AM after sleeping in a little I got the mules ready to go early. A friend who is helping me with Dressage and I am helping her get to learn about mules was there camping. She came over to ride Seven. We ended up with Mule Pony rides for about five people! They where all having great fun! Nice way to get your mules warmed up for the trail ride too! The Sunday ride was 7 mules and 2 horses. We rode to Hang Glider Hill and had lunch. It was another warm day so we took it easy as the mules almost have their full winter coat on! We where all sorry to go home!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Vise Clip Incident

In early October we got some rain and the grass really started to kick in again. So I took Chester the Donkey and Seven Mule off the pasture by locking them in the paddock and giving them some hay to eat. They are none too happy with me because the other mules are out in the lush green grass. The first night I went out and checked on Seven and Chester at about 10:30 before bed. I wanted to make sure that they had not broken through the fence or knocked a board out in their unhappiness.
Seven came walking up to the gate looking for a treat. I could not believe my eyes! There was the vise clip that I use to keep the high pressure hose on the fence while it fills, attached to his lower chest, pinching some skin!!
Poor thing, it had to hurt big time! It was only pinching a small bit of skin and this clip is strong enough you would not want to get your fingers in between it. He was a little apprehensive but allowed me to approach him and take it off. The skin where it had been was not broken but felt like it was sure going to be a brusie with some swelling.

Here is a photo fo the Vise Clip for you can get the idea:

I have had that clip out there on the fence holding the hose for over 5 years now and nothing like this has ever happened. Once in a while I have found it on the ground.
The only thing I can think of is that I had it clipped on the fence but not holding the hose and he leaned on it just right to have it pop up and grab him! I can only imagine the jumping, bucking and snorting that went on when that clip first BIT into him!
This just goes to show you, that what ever you leave in or near the pasture, they will find a way to break it or hurt themselves on it! At least in this case, no real harm done!


April 18-20, 2008
Published in Western Mule Magazine, July 2008

Much to my friend Blue’s amusement, I had screwed up. He was nice about it, but I could hear the chuckle in the back of his voice over the phone. Just two weeks before our scheduled pack trip (higher elevation, cooler temperatures), I had body-clipped my mules after several 80 degree days at home. I would have to pack in blankets for my nearly naked mules to wear at night in the Smoky Mountains. At least the ride in and out would only be about six miles and I have one tough pack mule to boot.

I loaded the mules, blankets and all, in my 24 foot goose neck trailer, and met Blue off of Highway 40, just 20 miles from the Tennessee boarder. Lucky for me, he as able to guide me for one of the “less than boring” drives into a horse camp I have ever done. It was 11 miles, started out paved with lines on the road. It winded and twisted up and up, half the time I was already on the wrong side of the road. Then the lines were gone, the road went from two lanes to one, and then it was nothing more than gravel. It twisted and climbed, up and up, the cliffs grew and grew. We met a few cars but we were lucky that they where able to pull off. Finally, the road began to change back to pavement and flattened out into the scenic Cataloochee Valley of the Smoky Mountains. We pulled into the area near the horse camp and parked on the side of the road. I was a little relieved.

I tacked the mules and began loading the saddle panniers. Blue had his mules, Red and Beau, tacked up and packed in a jiffy.
(Yes, a man named Blue with a mule named Red, but that’s another story)
He has panniers that he was able to pre-pack and then just hang them from the pack saddle. I must invest in this before the next major trip. It is nearly impossible to balance the saddle panniers as they are already on the back of the mule. I rolled up the mule’s turnout blankets and strapped them over the top of Sadie Mae. With the blankets, tent, my food, sleeping bag, forty-five pounds of mule feed and some bottled water, I know she was glad we didn’t have far to ride.

On the way to the camp, we met a few walkers who where very interested in what we where doing and where we where going with all that stuff and extra mules. I guess they are not used to seeing pack mules or even mules for that matter. We crossed the bridge to the open meadows where the elk come down to graze at dawn and dusk. It was a warm day and we rode out in t-shirts. The creek was running quickly and making a soothing sound. The meadow was quiet and the first butterflies of the season where fluttering around us. We came up to a wet spot in the dirt road where there were around 50 butterflies drinking. As we rode up on them, they all took off at the same time and fluttered around us, one of every color and shape.

At the trail head the pack mules backed up behind the lead mule and danced around the pole at the end of the gate with out a hitch. We began our trip deep into the Smoky Mountains.

The trails started out easy but slowly began to climb. We stopped and rested the mules each time they began to blow too hard. The leaves were still not out on the trees but each side of the trail and the mountainsides were covered in greenery and small wild flowers. We stopped for just a minute at the Giant Popular tree to have our picture made. There are just a few around the Smokies and ‘I am told’ this one is the biggest one and it is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Half way down the other-side of the mountain and almost to our camp-site we ran across what turned out to be just the first of many downed trees, blocking the trail. This one was particularly bad as it had landed at long angle across the trail about was about hip height. There was a trail off to the side but with a sharp angle of loose dirt, roots and still some difficult logs to step over. Blue’s mules went right over after he dismounted and gave them a little encouragement. So I dismounted Seven, Sadie Mae followed Blue’s mules and stepped right over. But Seven did not want to go through that area. His only other choice was to jump it. I climbed over and as soon as I got clear asked him to jump. With great form and the best grace a 1,250-pound Belgian mule can show, he cleared it easily. We soon reached Camp Calledwell.

There where two other hikers on one side of the camp so we set up on the other side. We found a log to set up our saddles and packs, but had more trouble and discussion about where to tie up the mule’s high-lines. They have to be tied between two trees and long enough so that they could not reach any trees to chew the bark off. Most of the trees that where big enough to tie to either had a smaller tree between them or were too far apart for my rope to reach. After the mules where set, the decisions turned to tent placement. Finding a place that was flat, soft and also would not collect water was a priority. We were expecting some rain that night. Blue and I each found a place near our own mules, but only the rain would tell us if we made a wise choice.

We collected firewood and with some effort (Just to see if we could) used a flint and striker to start the camp fire. A few times during the night I woke and checked on the mules. Even with a heavy cloud covering the almost full moon made the camp look like a Wal-Mart parking lot. We didn’t seem to have any unwanted animal visitors that night. The rain finally came at 5:30am, and it was not hard to miss on my tent. I stayed in bed till the rain let up, but Blue was already up eating breakfast.

It rained a little while we were tacking up, but we decided to chance it anyway. Blue had put on his black rain duster coat and so began Seven’s weariness of him. Poor Blue could not even walk through the camp without Seven backing up and snorting at him. I wish I could explain to Seven that Blue didn’t become a monster just because of that black coat. Some times what the mule is thinking is a mystery to us all.

We headed back up the trail we had come down the day before and Seven jumped the big tree for me again. This time, I rode Sadie Mae and led Seven with no pack. This was his first time being led for very long and he did very well and enjoyed the freedom of going down the trail with no rider. He seemed to enjoy jumping small logs and mud puddles all day, something I don’t let him do when I’m riding him. We climbed and climbed. Sometimes the trail was just a small hiker path with a long hillside up and down to either side. The view became more stunning as the mountains opened up.

I was so glad to be riding mules! I could see horse tracks (very round) in the dirt, and it seemed like every hundred feet, one of them had taken a step off the trail. Considering the elevation, I was glad to be riding my steady Sadie Mae. Having once been a pack mule for elk hunting in Wyoming, the tight trail and high elevation was nothing extraordinary to her.

In the Smoky Mountains, there are so many old trees, huge, and with such character in their shape and bark. It was eerily quite in certain parts of the forest: no planes, no cars, no other people talking, no birds. We stopped for rest at a hiker parking lot entrance. The mules took the opportunity to graze and got every blade of grass they could.

At one point, we came upon a very old fence. Blue told me that it was made of Chestnut wood and that it was probably older than his and my ages combined. He had some fence on his family’s land that was made of chestnut wood as well and said it seemed to last forever. The trail followed the fence line and the ridge. On the other side of the fence was private property, I could not help but feel jealous of the lucky dogs who own it!

After a few miles the ridge broke open to green pasture. We tied the mules and were able to go through a gate to a nice stone table and seats for some lunch. This was at 5,600 feet (pretty high up for North Carolina). The wind was blowing very hard. It seemed to be getting colder and the clouds in the distance were lifting off the lower mountains.

As we mounted up, something strange happened. The wind just stopped, dead, not even a light breeze. It was silent for almost a minute and then it picked up again. As I rode down the trail I saw Robins and some Chickadees and an Eastern Towhee, a bird I had to look up later. A chipmunk peeked out from behind a tree trunk twice at me and then ran off to another part of the woods.

And then it started hailing. At first, it was a few drops but then the noise came hard on my hat and I pulled on my rain slicker. I could hold out my hand and catch little frozen dots. It only lasted a few minutes before it changed to a shower of rain. We rode down and down the trail, reclaiming all the upward steps we had taken before. This was on the other side of the mountain and Sadie Mae seemed to know we were headed to camp as she took advantage of the downward momentum.

We came to a few downed trees but most had a path around them. Some required dismounting because it was so tight getting through the trees. Blue had one tree he had wished he had dismounted for as it squeezed his leg as his mule Red went through. At one point we had to do a short “Man from Snowy River” reenactment and as I told Blue right before I slid down “I know the mules can handle all this just fine and they are built for it, but it still makes me a little nervous!” I pointed Sadie Mae toward the hill and down she went with Seven in tow, not a problem. At the bottom we were rewarded with a nice rushing creek and a waterfall. By then, the rain had stopped.

We returned to camp to heat soup and hot chocolate. After a rinsing my hair and a change of clothes, I told Blue I was ready to stay a few extra days. That night, we could see the stars, and the moon was very bright. The mules felt quite pampered in their turn out blankets and I am sure where the only pack mules east of the Mississippi with blankets on.

By morning, the clouds had moved in again, I got up and started packing. Looking around, I wondered how I was ever going to get all that stuff back on the pack mule again. But it all fit in wet tent and all, since I was now short 45 pounds of grain and most of the water bottles. I did forget to pack my light folding chair until the last minute, so it was tied on rather strangely to the top of the pack. On the way out, we rode the lower trails that crossed so many creeks I lost count. It was truly beautiful and the mules moved out; they knew we were heading home.

We hit the elk meadow after about two hours of riding and started back towards the trailers, past the Ranger Station and then by an old church that was built back when the first people settled here. Once in a while you would hear the church bell ring; it seemed everyone who visits here pulls the rope at least once. As we rode by, Blue’s mule Red spooked a little bit, even though there was no one around. Blue said it was the Holy Ghost that scared him.

When we got back to the trailer, we loaded up and headed back upon those 11 miles of twisty road. It was going very well until we met a mini van coming up the gravel hill. The driver backed to the edge as far as she could, but it didn’t leave me much room on the inside of the curve. I had to slide my truck very close to her van and then drive a little behind it before turning the corner to get my trailer through. After that, it was smooth sailing all the way home. When we got home to Eastern North Carolina it was warm with some spring thunder showers, no blankets necessary!

I have been trying to hold on to the relaxed, peaceful mind set I came out of the woods with.
Many Thanks to Blue Goodson for another great pack trip, I can’t wait to do it again!

Friday, October 3, 2008

What I did this Summer!

By: Lucky Number Seven
Fall is here and Shannon and I have had a very busy summer!
Late Spring Shannon started riding me at least three days a week so I knew something was up!
We went to some of our regular rides with the mule group and it was nice to see all my long ear friends. July was pretty quiet but very hot and I stood in the stall with the fan to get out of the hot sun and take the flies off of me.
Shannon showed me a magazine called Western Mule Magazine and my photo was on the front. She was very excited and everyone kept calling me a star. I am not sure why but I guess it is good to be on the front of a book with photos of other mules in it.

In August we made our long trip up the big hill to that cooler place in the mountains. I think they call it Grayson, I am not sure why other than all the rocks are gray colored but I am not sure about the “son” part. Shannon hurt my feelings by mostly riding Sadie Mae and leaving me in the stall a good bit. I was happy when her Mom came and took me out for a walk and some grass. Finally on the last day Shannon rode me but I think it was only because her Mom was riding Sadie Mae.

The next day I thought we where going home but we ended up at a show arena they called Fletcher. That was where we met a man named Chris Cox, he was very nice and I trusted him right away. He had a funny accent, I think they said he is from Texas and Australia, not sure where those places are and how can you be from two places at once? We rode for three days with Chris telling all the riders what to do. Shannon learned some different ways to ride me and we tried some new bending techniques. Boy, I have never worked so hard in an arena. Chris Cox rode me for a little while and I liked him very much. I was very good so he did not ride me long. Some of the horses where not behaving well and Chris rode them too but for longer. Now I know why Shannon was practicing with me so much! She told me to be very good because I would be the only mule there and we needed to make a good impression for this Chris guy. Chris genuinely loves horses and now I think he loves mules too! Lots of people where watching the group and our friend Holly who I usually see on the mule rides, was there too. She helped Shannon by holding me when there was a break.

I am not sure why but Sadie Mae was very upset to be in the stall the whole time I was out there working so hard. She had to be tied and she screamed a lot, then she even bent the metal wire on her stall front! We where both very happy to arrive at home, just like Shannon told me we would when we left that Fletcher place.

We all had a welcome break from riding for a week or two when we returned! I got fatter than usual and then Shannon started making me wear that black mask, it makes me so upset because I can’t eat the grass as well. On Saturday and Sunday’s some of Shannon’s friends bring their horses over and we ride around the fields and lakes in the area.

In early September Shannon tacked me up on Friday night and we ran around some barrels, over some poles and practiced starting and stopping, backing and side passing. I knew something was up! Early the next morning she loaded me and the short eared mustang up in the trailer. She said we where
going to have fun! That always worries me a little.

We arrived at a nice outdoor arena and I heard people saying that this event was called an Extreme Trail Challenge. Shannon took the Mustang over to the arena first. When they came back the horse said there were lots of weird objects and things in that arena and that I should be careful! After getting tacked up and warming up in the open field we rode over and it was our turn to go in! I remembered doing something like this with her before so I kind of got excited. We side passed over and got some paper out of a box and then headed for some logs and brush on the ground, no big deal. But then, ahead of me was a thing that had all different colored arms. Shannon asked me to walk through it! I got my head through and then decided I did not like the way those arms were touching my body. I jumped up in the front and threw myself forward to get by without getting hurt! This must have surprised Shannon because she got behind my motion. We started going to the next obstacle and I realized something was different. Shannon was pulling on the reins but I could not feel her ques very well. It seems my chinstrap had broken! We completed about thirty obstacles like water, dirt hills, jumps, and bridges all in about 12 minutes. Shannon could not convince me that a scarecrow who was standing next to a bale of hay she wanted me to get near was not going to hurt me. The scarecrow had her arms stretched out and big eyes. She was not moving or speaking so I was not going near her! We finished by running through a corn maze, I don’t think Shannon was very happy with how fast I wanted to run in the maze but I stopped when she sat down and said whoa so we could make a sharp turn. I was hot and sweaty when we got done. Shannon walked me around to cool off and I gave a little boy a ride! We stayed the rest of the day and I was surprised when my name was called over the loud speaker, everyone clapped and Shannon gave me a big hug! She told me that we had won the Advance class in the Trail Challenge. I heard other people talking about how cool it was that a mule had won. They also said that we won by only three points beating a guy who had won the last two times.

So now fall is here and I am quickly growing a thick coat of hair and just waiting for Shannon to start feeding us all that good hay I saw her put in the barn this spring. Looking forward to seeing everyone on the trail and the show ring this fall!

Hope you have a cookie for me when I see you!
Lucky Number 7