Monday, February 21, 2011

She was here and then she was just GONE......

For some reason God took one of my dear friends Sarah Joyner to heaven, on Feb. 5th. She was in an unexplainable one car accident. I was so crushed then her sister called me the next morning to tell me. None of us can believe that she is gone.
I met Sarah a few years ago when I started working at the Vet School. We seemed to be instant friends although we really did not have that much in common. She did not ride but loved to read books and was into all kinds of things mystical. Dragons, Halloween, crafts and her family. We ate lunch together nearly every day and I loved to hear about her grand kids, the books she was reading and all the neat things she was doing. She in turn would listen to all my adventures with the mules. When ever I had a party at my house, even if it was the Shannon and Navarre the Donkey Birthday Party, she and her wonderful husband William would always come. She used to say that "William could fix a rainy day!" After I was not working at the Vet School any more we continued to maintain a close friendship. We would meet for lunch several times a week and share our stories. I still come home from an adventure and think, oh I can't wait to tell Sarah, but then realize she is not there any more.
There is a big hole in my heart from losing my friend!
Sarah was in a belly dancing troop when she was younger!
One Sarah and Williams many costumes for the famous Halloween Parties!

New Blankets for the mules!

This Winter the weather has been extra cold! I decided that Sadie and Seven's turnout blankets needed to be replaced! I ordered blankets rated for warmth, and so far they have kept them warm and dry. They only wear them when it is going to be extra cold or when the rain and snow comes! Here is Sadie with her fancy new blanket on! Bright blue with a reflective tag on them! Not really my first color choice but they were on SALE!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A BIG Mule Visits RMF

My friend Tara, whose first mule experience was riding Sadie Mae at Leatherwood, called me and wanted to bring over her new mule for us to work with. She said she was jokingly afraid to tell me what she had bought because he is quite the opposite of the mule she was looking for. She was looking for a dead broke, Belgian cross trail mule, middle aged, and about 15 hands. The one she fell in love with and brought home from Kentucky is a just turning three, 16.1 ½ hand, john mule. She fell in love with him because he has a very pretty face, kind eyes, and calm demeanor! She named him Rupert!

She arrived on Saturday. We did some groundwork with him to start. He seemed to know some things but still needed some work to be safe to work around. My new mule club friend Karen from Louisburg and her friend Connie came to visit around 11 a.m. They were highly entertained by us working with the big lug!

We took a break for lunch and all had something good at Smithfield’s Chicken.

Then it was time to ride. I put Karen on Sadie Mae and Connie on Seven. Connie and Seven did really well together! Karen tickled me After riding around on Sadie I asked her what she thought and she said that Sadie was a “Hot Ticket.” That just tickled me!

Next we got Tara up on Big Rupert, as this was only the second time she had ridden him I led him around for a “flight check,” which went very well. She then rode him around the pasture several times following Sadie and Seven around. As you can see from the photo, Rupert makes my two look like ponies! We joked that Tara would have to always ride first down the trails to clean out all the cobwebs!

Tara spent the night and we had a grand time. The next morning she rode with me up to Murphy’s to get some shavings and hay. Rupert handled the whole trip so well and even loaded back on the trailer quickly! Tara will have some homework to do on Rupert before he is ready to go to the mountains, but boy is he sweet and calm! Something to be said for that!

The next day I took Seven over to Jerry’s barn, also a new CMA member and rode out with his Sunday ride group. They ride from 1 p.m. till dark nearly every Sunday. He lives north of Zebulon near a town called Pilot. There is still a lot of open farmland and woods in that area. We rode through some woods that reminded me of Uwharrie with some good hills and lots of trees. It was really pretty. I doubt that many people know it even exists in that area.

Seven was glad that it was Monday and time for me to go back to work and for him to have a rest.

Tara and Rupert!
Size Comparison! My Mules look like ponies now!

Medoc Mountain State Park

Having had enough of staying in the house because of the cold weather, I met my friend Lillian to ride at a new place for me! Medoc Mountain State Park. It is about one hour north of my home. It was great! It had a nice parking area with a picnic shelter, bathroom plus 10 miles of trails which were great. We just bundled up and went for it! I knew it was cold but when I got home they said it never got above freezing all day! ACK!! Lillian and I both looked like Michelin Tire Women! But we stayed reasonably warm. The outside and back part of my feet got cold and once in awhile my chin. Lillian said her nose was getting cold, but not till we were headed in! She rode a cute walking horse mare named Olivia. Lillian has been riding Olivia for the owner just to get more miles on her. This was her first big trail ride and she did great the entire time!

The Warm Michelin Women!
Lillian and Olivia!
Sadie and Olivia!

The Rest of December

I started a new job and the weather was so terrible that I did not do much with the mules except take care of them. I chopped a lot of ice and carried a lot of warm water when the hoses were frozen. I finally found a water trough heater that I liked and ordered one. It floats in the top and keeps things from freezing over!

This December went down on record as the third coldest in history!

I was hoping to get some riding done but maybe in January?

New Years Day Ride, January 1st, 2011!

Wendy and her Mule Jonah.
Summer taking Sadie Mae for a walk!

I arrived later than I had hoped and had to hurry to get saddled. I waved the group on and when we were ready, Sadie and I trotted to catch up. They did not get very far till someone had a tack problem, so I caught up to them very quickly!

We had several riders and three or four wagons on the ride. As we moved through the woods, it tried to start raining on us a few times, but it just quit as soon as I got my slicker out. Everyone said I should just leave the slicker on!! When we stopped for a break, a young girl named Summer came over and wanted to pet Sadie. She did not want to ride her, just pet her. I taught her how to lead Sadie around, and we gave her younger brother a ride! Sadie was so compliant. She did give Summer a hard time once in a while and made her work for it, though! Poor Sadie, on her time to rest she had to work! We rode over to Camp McCall to the famous tank that overlooks the airfield where they do maneuvers and do parachute drops for the soldiers. Kenny and I started to tell Gene, his friend from South Carolina, about the wagon wreck that almost became an international incident! This is where Donna and Sadie Mae were nearly run over by some runaway mules after a wagon crash! We were in the middle of the story and my phone rang. It was Donna calling from France to say Happy New Year!! How great to hear from her! I asked her if her ears were burning because we were just telling the wagon-wreck story.

When we returned to camp, Kenny’s wife and a friend had a traditional meal for New Years day in the South. It is supposed to bring good luck! Green Collards, Black Eyed Peas, Cornbread and Ham! Thanks, Kenny and Jan!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Raven Rock Ride With Bev

On a semi-warm day, the first week in December, I hauled Sadie Mae down to Lillington, NC. I stopped at Bev’s house and we loaded her mare, Babe, onto my trailer right on the side of the road! She just hopped right on! Off we went to Raven Rock State Park, which is a quiet wooded park with about 10 miles of trails. We had a great ride and even took some photos by one of the waterfalls! Both mule and horse were in no hurry to get anywhere, and Bev and I enjoyed the slow pace by noticing funky trees and plants along the trail.

This was the first time I had been to the park in over five years. Last time I came to the park with Seven, we helped the trail-rebuilding project by log skidding some timber out to different areas of the trail. It was really fun to come back and see all the culvert bridges that had been built with the wood that we had pulled out there.

Bev and I took some photos at the waterfall!

Bev and Babe!

Shannon and Sadie Mae.

Navarre Gets A Blanket!

Too Cute!

Ricky Quinn Clinic

Navarre watching the class!
Shannon and Seven taking Navarre on a walk after the clinic.
Dee and Sadie working in the clinic.

Holly hosted Clinician Ricky Quinn for a clinic at Flint Rock Farm in Reidsville, NC. He is young compared to most clinicians, in his 30s, but has been riding with Buck Branhaman since he was a kid.

I came with a donkey sandwich in tow! I was bringing Sadie and Seven and had decided to bring Navarre, my young Poitou Donkey to give him some experience. The only way I could get all three loaded was to end up with Navarre in between Sadie and Seven. Not what I had wanted, but it worked! Navarre was very wide-eyed but handled everything so well! He even was good when I needed to take Seven and Sadie out of the stall. He stayed in the stall and only called to them a few times!

That evening Linda rode Sadie Mae and I rode Seven. He was invited to ride out and help bring in the horses from the fair pasture with Jay Lankford! What fun!

Then Ricky arrived and we all settled in for a dinner of steaks and way too many side dishes and desserts! We got into some interesting conversations about trainers, mules, horses, etc.

One of the things that Ricky kept saying was that there should be no difference in handling mules and horses. He kept insisting that he handles them the same way. We kept saying that you had to do this or that. It was a lively discussion.

Dee arrived and got settled in. She is just starting as an adult to get into mules and is more or less trying them out. She rode with us at DuPont for a little bit and was going to use Sadie in the clinic.

The next morning we met at the arena for some groundwork! I had brought Navarre out to watch the whole thing and had tied him outside the arena. Everyone from the barn and those watching the clinic who came over to pet him thought he was so cute. It was so good for him. He really did not act like he was afraid of anything except a big drain that we had to pass!

Ricky commented that he thought Navarre was ridiculous and did not see the point of owning him. Half way through the ground working session, Seven was doing very well, so I decided to let him have a break and get Navarre out. Ricky commented that my mule had shrunk! Ricky asked me what my goal with Navarre was, because I sure could not ride him. I told him it was for him to learn manners and be respectful and to teach him to drive.

I worked him some and got him to several times drift and yield his hindquarters. Ricky watched for a while and then said he got it. Navarre was cute! I told him, “Yes, that was his main job – to be cute!

We worked all weekend and I learned a lot. The one thing I realized was that the reason Ricky doesn’t think you should handle a mule any differently than a horse is because his horsemanship is at such a high level that it doesn’t matter if it is a mule or a horse. Most people never reach that level!

DuPont State Forest -Logging

This trip to DuPont was wonderful! I arrived on Thursday and found a parking space and a corral for my mules to stay in. Everyone got together for dinner and brought food to add to “The Man Pan” which Blue cooked for us.

“The Man Pan” is a huge pan with a long handle which the men were using to cook with. Joke was, you needed to be a man to lift it, too. We all bring something different to add to the pan and somehow everything works out. Beef, chicken, green and red peppers, potatoes, etc. all mixed together make a wonderful dinner! It is also great entertainment to sit around the fire and watch the dinner cook! The only drawback is that with a pan that big, sometimes dinner is not till late in the evening!

It started to get cool quickly as the sun went down, but we just stoked up the fire, moved in closer, and enjoyed eachother’s company. The next morning the mules that would be doing the pulling were harnessed and loaded into trailers and taken to the work location for the day. The riders later caught up on the trail. We were divided into groups and given a safety talk by Forest Ranger and Park Superintendant Brown. Then the work began. I followed the mules around and took photos of the guys hooking up the logs and then the mules dragging them out. Rascal and Angie’s team, Butch and Sundance, worked like an old logging team even though they have only done this one time before. Kenny’s team of Mary and Hollywood had a little trouble pulling together at first, but Kenny just kept right with them and they worked things out quickly! It was not long, and they had pulled out quite a few logs. The group in the parking lot would help unhook the Dog-Ears on the logs and roll the logs closely up to the other logs that had been brought in to keep things organized. Ranger Brown and Tony McMasters had gone down to another section of the trail and you could hear a lot more trees being taken down for the mules to pull out later. Soon it was time to break for lunch. The mules were sure glad for that. They all got several apples and apple cores for all their work.

The logs were quite impressively large, and a team of big mules was most definitely necessary to get them out. Each log is cut to 16 feet long and seemed to range between 25-35 inches wide. I have had several people tell me that that each log probably weighed at least 600-900 pounds. What impressed me the most was that the mules could get down into the woods and with a minimal trail pull those big logs out. Once done in one area, if you used your foot and raked the area with some leaves where they came out of the woods, you could not even tell that they had been through.

Logging with mules and horses has seen a resurgence in the last five years or so because they can get in and take out select cut trees with minimal impact. Otherwise, trees have to be clear-cut, or at least a large trail made which tears up the ground and is left behind. This type of logging can leave scars on the land for years to come.

After lunch we moved down to the second staging area to remove the logs that Ranger Brown and Tony had cut down. After the teams got into the swing of things in the new area, Kenny and Rascal started letting others take a turn at mule skinning! Ranger Brown got to drive Butch and Sundance. He did a great job. I was so glad he got that opportunity because he told me later he had never done that before. Ranger Brown has been in forestry his whole life and has served all over the county. I was glad I got some good photos for him! Then it was my turn to drive Butch and Sundance. I must say I was nervous because the last time I log skidded with Seven I fell, and Seven ran me over with a small log! This was a BIG log and two BIG mules! I had to remember Rascal’s commands for them, as they were a little different than the commands I used while driving. The mules worked perfectly for me, and we took the log all the way across the road to the drop spot! What FUN!!

When we finished we had pulled out over 40 logs! Ranger Brown will get the logs loaded onto a truck over the next week and sell them to the local mill. The money will go back to the maintenance of the forest. Some of the logs that we harvested on the last trip were sent to the mill and cut into boards that are now siding on a new maintenance building. It is fun to drive into the park and know that our mules pulled those logs out of the woods!

We headed home for another great dinner made by Blue in “The Man Pan.”

The fun was not over yet! On Saturday we took a long ride. Right before lunch the faster part of the group took a turn and the rest of us could not figure out which way they went. Apparently we took a wrong turn, as we never found them. They were sitting at lunch wondering where we could be! It split the group about in half so we just took off on our own adventure. We headed for the farthest and highest part of the park to Stone Mountain. It was quite a climb. It kept getting steeper and the trail kept getting smaller and smaller. This became a challenge as I did not have a rider for Sadie that day and so I was riding Seven and ponying Sadie. I went up what looked like a rabbit trail, and then I saw what I thought could be the top, so I pulled over to the side to find a spot to tie them both! The view was spectacular, and we took photos! All knowing that we had a very long descent ahead of us! The top of the mountain was over 3,400 feet, which is pretty high for not even being in the Smokies in North Carolina. We got back just before dark and after the speedy group. We had a great story to tell at camp that night!

Sunday was a lot more relaxed. We cleaned up camp and made sure everything was locked up. About half the group decided to take off for home so we had a group of about eight or nine for a shorter ride. The weather was nice and it warmed up by the time we rode out at 9am. Today I had a jockey for Sadie. New CMA Member Dee came in the night before to ride Sadie. She has not ridden in years and wants to maybe get into mules. We had a great ride; about three hours. We rode over to the old airport strip and took some photos with a great view behind us! We did run into several bikers that day and all where very polite about pulling over. A few of the mules were not too keen on passing the bikes, even standing still. Linda Morris came for the day to ride on her Belgian mule Shasta. She is such a character to be around! Always joking about something! It was no joke, though when we came to a large creek crossing and Shasta did not want to cross. I tried to lead her across, but Shasta said, “No way!” Even with all the other mules on the other side, she did not want to come. Blue and Rascal rode back across. Rascal took a hold of the halter rope and started to pull with his big mule. Then Blue got a big branch of rhododendron leaves. I told Linda to hang on, because I knew what was coming! WHACK! Shasta with Linda handing on for dear life was in the deep creek. Rascal pulled her the rest of the way across. I think Linda’s heart was beating a little fast and she said “Oh, did you bring the old lady along for entertainment?” Only a true mule rider can laugh at herself!

Needless to say, we did not have any more trouble crossing creeks the rest of the day.

I love coming to DuPont, and look forward to the next trip!

H. Cooper Black with Horse Riders

I was invited by Cobie and Susan to come for a weekend at H. Cooper Black. They had a group of friends going to ride for the weekend. Susan’s horse started to have some lameness problems and so I told her I would be glad to bring Sadie Mae to ride. We arrived in Cheraw and stopped to get some Subway sandwiches to eat later for lunch. Once we arrived and got the mules settled and the trailer parked, we were both very hungry. As some of the others arrived and set up their camp, we had our lunch and watched everyone. Then it was time to saddle up. We took off for a shorter ride, but had to watch which way we went as the Palmetto Retriever club was competing with their dogs at some of the ponds. The mule club always goes in the spring when they are there, so it was fun to see the group again! We had a nice ride and wove our way through some of the trailways from the ponds. Everyone’s horses were fresh and we had the chance to do a little cantering! That night Cobie cooked dinner for everyone. It got rather cold, so we all had showers and turned in early.

The next morning Susan got up early and even cleaned stalls and fed the mules for me! I told her she could come any time! Most of the group was not very excited to ride in this cooler weather but Nancy, Susan, and I rode out. We headed for the goose pond to lunch. We had a great time and Nancy and Susan, who had never been to the lake before, thought it was very pretty. About halfway home we ran into the rest of the group that had finally decided to go out for a ride. That night we had a great chille and salad dinner and spend the evening by a warm campfire!

Sunday morning several people headed home, but those that were left went out for another ride. It was great fun. We did some more cantering though the woods. We ran into a few other riders, but otherwise we had nearly the whole camp to ourselves!

Uwharrie Ride

Most of the mule group watering our mule down at the River.

The mule club headed up to the Uwharrie National Forest for another ride and camp at the 4B Farm in Troy, NC. We saddled up for our ride on Saturday morning, and it was going to be a pretty fall day! It was Halloween weekend, and I wondered what trickery was coming our way!

The ride went really well, and we ran into several other groups with horses. Then we ran into two of our members riding with another group. It was Nate and Bonita. Bonita was riding a mule they have named Festus. Their group stood off to the side, and we all greeted one another as our group of close to thirty passed by. Toward the end of the group, Bonita’s mule decided that he would like to ride with all the other mules and not the horses he was with. Bonita was helpless to pull his head around to make him go back. After awhile, Nate just called to her to go with us and told us to take good care of her! Jay even pulled the mule to the back with intentions of taking Festus back to his group. Once he got there, Nate and his group had already left, so they just came back to our group. Everyone was laughing about it, including Bonita.

The funniest part of the whole thing is that a few new members in the club did not realize that we knew Bonita and could not believe that we were riding off with someone and her mule like that!

CMA Horse & Mule Show

Shannon and Seven show in Western Pleasure.
Sandra & Sarah with their winning! Not a bad start!

CMA Horse & Mule Show -October

Our mule club has raffled off a mule colt for our yearly fundraiser. After years of this, several of our members got tired of doing it and keeping the colt. So we started a benefit horse and mule show instead. This was our second year holding the show and with plenty of volunteers, I decided to show Seven to help support it. We got there on Friday afternoon and got to school in the arena for a good long while! I was parked next to Holly, Sandra, and Linda. A few others also came in, too. We had a good time hanging out and getting everything prepped for showing the next day. Saturday came early, and I was so pleased to get a Bo Jangles breakfast biscuit from Jay that morning! Boy did that hit the spot.

We showed in halter and showmanship. Seven and I got second in Showmanship with horses mixed in. Then the English riding classes started. Sandra was showing her new mule Sarah. She bought her from Karen Reeder with the hope that she could do some showing with her. Sarah has shown a lot before, but Sandra had not ridden in a show since she was a young kid. Well, Sandra and Sarah blew everyone’s socks off by winning the first class with about 18 people in it! Then she got a second and a few more firsts! We were all so happy for her! She was elated, to say the least! Seven and I did ok for most of the show; we placed in every class and showed in the western classes, too! It was a lot of fun and the judge said he had never seen a nicer bunch of broke mules!

The club ended up raising a pretty good amount, and we will vote on making a donation to a therapeutic riding group or something like that at our January Planning Meeting!

Sadie's Colic

Susan riding Sadie before all the problems started!

I was going down to meet Susan for a ride at the Moss Foundation in Southern Pines. I loaded Sadie Mae up first and saw her grab two big mouthfuls of hay and seem to swallow them whole, rather than chewing! Darn it, I thought, I will be lucky if that doesn’t cause a problem later! Well, it did!

Several hours later, Susan and I were riding along and Sadie just all of a sudden lay down! She had been acting a little sluggish but drinking well on the ride, but now I realized she might be colicing from this morning’s hay swallowing! We got her back to the trailer, untacked her, and let her roll in some sand. She rolled a little but then lay there like she was in some pain. Oh, boy, I thought, here we go!

It is very rare for a mule to colic, so sometimes when they do it can be bad!

I gave her 10 cc of Banimine and sponged her down. Once she seemed to be doing a little better, I loaded her on the trailer and headed for home. I called my vet Dr. Kate Lombardi to let her know what was going on. She said she would be there if I needed her. I wondered if I should just stop by the Vet School on my way home or just take her home and hope for the best!

We got home at 4:30 p.m., and Sadie got off the trailer and seemed to be doing well. She ate some grass and was acting normal. But later in the evening, my mom, who was in town from Virginia, noticed she was lying down in the pasture. When it was time to come up for dinner, she was not doing well at all. She wanted to roll, was in obvious pain, and would lie sprawled out on the ground. Very scary! Dr. Kate came around 7 p.m. and gave her some mineral oil and another shot for pain. She stayed about another half hour and Sadie seemed to improve, but as soon as Dr. Kate left, Sadie got bad again. I called Dr. Kate, and she recommended that Sadie go to the Vet School for treatment. I agreed.

I always keep my truck and trailer hooked up so all we had to do was put Sadie on the trailer and go!

When we drove up, about five people where outside to greet Sadie as I unloaded her. Of course from the trailer ride and being in a new place she was acting a little more bright-eyed and seemed to be in less pain that at home. They took her in and the Emergency Vet and Resident, with the help of some of the Vet Techs, went to work checking her out. They could not really find a whole lot wrong with her, but they could tell she was uncomfortable. After she was settled in a stall, my mom and I left for the night with promises that Dr. Hale would give me a call if anything changed.

At 4:30 a.m., Dr. Hale called me with a report. She said that at about 2 a.m. Sadie started having major pain and was being very dramatic and throwing herself on the ground. She had hit her nose tube and was sneezing blood all over the walls of the stall. Apparently, Sadie gave the technicians quite a scare! Dr. Hale said they had been working on her for two hours and had gotten her stable. They figured out that Sadie had a blockage in her small intestine, and from what they could tell with the ultrasound, it was blowing up with gas, getting very painful and then dissipating. They had her on double fluids and pain medicine and all they could do then was wait and hope that she would soon pass the blockage (aka: globs of the hay she had swallowed). Needless to say, I did not get any more sleep that night.

The next morning, I was very upset and crying. I really thought I was going to lose Sadie. I had a doctor’s appointment at 10 a.m., so my mom and I headed into Raleigh for that and then planned to go see Sadie. On the way, I got a phone call from Dr. Timo Prange, a Belgian Veterinarian who works at the Vet School as head of Emergency Medicine. He said that it appeared that Sadie had passed the blockage and she was doing much better.

I was so relieved, but I knew we still had to wait a few days to see if any damage had been done to Sadie’s intestines where the blockage was. That kind of damage can be worse than the blockage itself.

Went I arrived at the Vet School my friend Susan was there in the parking lot. She had gotten my email about Sadie and jumped in her car to come and see her! That was so thoughtful! She said that she got quite a scare because she found the stall with Sadie’s name on it but no Sadie in it, and she thought the worst had happened! But one of the students had only taken her out for a walk.

When I came down the aisle, I gave my little whistle I do to call my mules, and Sadie let out a huge bray! She was very excited to see me and seemed to say, get me out of here, Mom! We got an update from Dr. Hale and Dr. Kruger, and Dr. Kruger was already calling her Princess! The plan was to keep her until at least Friday morning if she continued to improve and start feeding her small amounts of food and taking her out to graze on the green grass! Thankfully, she continued to improve and was released to go home Friday morning. I called in and asked if Dr. Gerard would have time to take a look at her teeth before she left. Dr. Mat Gerard is the tooth guru!

He teaches classes to other veterinarians about dentistry. My thoughts were that if Sadie had a sore or bad tooth and that was why she did not chew her hay, well then this would just happen again. All went well, though, and Sadie got her teeth done with no problems. Some of the students and residents got to use the electric file on her, too!

So it turns out that she was just being greedy, and that is what started this whole thing!

Later I bought some special hay nets with small holes on them, and she doesn’t get any hay in the trailer except for through some small holes now!

I worried of course for a long time when she came home and watched her like a hawk! I am so thankful to have gotten so lucky and have her back in one piece! She would have been sorely missed by many!

Sadie in her stall at the Vet School.

Dr. Gerard working on Sadie's teeth. Kobie holding her big head up!!

Donna from France Visits Again

Donna makes Sadie work hard for her cookies! Watch out for your fingers Donna!
Tacked up and ready to ride!

South Mountain –CMA Ride By: Donna Taylor (Puylaurens, France)

Whilst leaving Colin in charge of weaning Lottie and Fiona, I went off to enjoy myself on my two-week trip to America. As usual, I gave Colin lots of instructions on what to do and not to do with the three donkeys and Martha, the tortoise. I know Colin is perfectly capable of looking after them all whilst I’m away, but I always feel so much better when I’ve talked through everything with him.

So, off I flew to North Carolina. My plans were to meet up with the three friends that I stayed with last year. Firstly, I was going to stay with Shannon Hoffman, who has two beautiful Belgian mules, Seven and Sadie Mae. Then it was off to Boiling Springs to stay with Charles and Daphne Bridges, a couple that I first met on the Red Rock Ride holiday ten years ago. And finally, I would spend a few days in West Jefferson with Joel and Nicole Robinson whom I also first met on the Red Rock Ride

When I was planning this holiday, I emailed Shannon to let her know I would be coming to North Carolina some time in September and to find out when would be a good time to stay with her. Shannon belongs to the Carolina Mule Association and she said that the club had arranged a weekend riding at South Mountains State Park and could I make it for that date as I would then be able to ride Sadie Mae, one of the kindest and safest mules around. I rode Sadie Mae last year at Leatherwood Mountains, so this idea suited me perfectly.

The riding hat and jodhpurs were in the suitcase even before I started packing. There was going to be one slight problem - I hadn’t ridden for at least ten months and I was sure to be saddle-sore before the end of the weekend.

Shannon met me at Raleigh Airport at about five o’clock on a Thursday afternoon and we headed straight to a saddlery shop. I told Shannon there was absolutely nothing I needed for my trip or to take home with me, but I would love to have a look around. Well, thirty minutes later, we left the shop with a very nice pair of Ariat boots. A girl can never have too many of these!

Dinner was next and then we called into a supermarket to stock up on our lunches and dinners for the weekend. By the time we got to Shannon’s house, it was around two in the morning British time and I was feeling quite tired, But I soon woke up once I saw Shannon’s family of furry friends.

First to greet me was Reuben – Shannon’s gorgeous corgi. I’m not sure if he remembered who I was, but he was certainly happy to see me. Maybe he remembered the accent! Then I met Seven, Sadie Mae, Chester and Navarre. I was so excited to be back with mules again.

So, Friday morning we were up at half-past five putting the mules in the trailer before heading off to South Mountain State Park. We were meeting Shannon’s friend Ron and his mule Jed in a parking area near to where Shannon lives. Ron had recently bought Jed and joined the Carolina Mule Association, He thought it would be good experience to do some trails with the Association and also to get to know a few of the members.

We arrived at the Park a little before midday. We unloaded the mules and put them in their stalls before setting up camp. I know I have said this before, but it still amazes me to see how well set up things are in America for trail rides and camping for rider and equine. I am so impressed.

To say that I was on cloud nine for the duration of the weekend was an understatement. Everywhere I looked there were mules. I knew that the campsite was going to be mostly occupied with mule owners from the Association, so I was so happy to know I would be around these beautiful long eared equines for a whole three days and, of course, riding the best mule in town too.

Not all the mule riders were at the campsite on the Friday, so that afternoon there were only six of us ready for a ride. We went for about seven miles along beautiful tracks with beautiful scenery. Sadie was perfect as usual and it felt so good being on the back of a mule again. I spent a lot of time speaking to Ron, who was riding his handsome mule Jed. I told him that, because of jetlag, I would probably wake up at the crack of dawn, wide-awake and not get back to sleep. Ron said that he is an early riser and if I woke early, I could walk over to his camping area and he would make me a cup of tea. That sounded like a good idea to me.

That evening was spent around the campfire with everyone catching up on each other’s news. We didn’t go to bed late, as we knew we had a long day ahead of us on the Saturday. Before we went to bed, we popped into the stable area to check on Seven and Sadie. The majority of the mules had their heads over their stable doors ready to greet us. I could hear either a little bray or the munching of hay. Wow, I’m back in mule land again.

On the Saturday morning, I was wide-awake at around 05:30am. Unfortunately, I woke Shannon up whilst I was getting dressed, but I said that I could feed, water and clean the stalls and she could stay in bed a little bit longer - a luxury for Shannon.

It was pitch black when I walked out of the trailer. I froze for a few seconds because I have a huge fear of bears and I had this image of one jumping out of the woods and attacking me. So I very swiftly walked over to the stalls, quietly said good morning to Seven and Sadie Mae and headed towards Ron’s trailer.

Ron made me a nice cup of tea and we sat chatting until sunrise, when it was time to feed the mules. Seven and Sadie Mae seemed quite excited to have a new friend give them their breakfast and a few treats. I cleaned out the stalls, which was the least I could do for Shannon and then headed back to the trailer for breakfast.

I knew this was going to be a long day, but in my mind, it turned out to be an epic. We all had to be ready to ride at 09:00 so that we could have our group photo taken. I think I counted around 25 mules with their riders. After the photos, about 18 of us headed one way and six took another trail.

At lunchtime we stopped, tied up the mules and some of us took a short walk down to see a beautiful waterfall. I was quite glad of the rest as I was already starting to get a little sore. When we resumed the ride, the afternoon seemed to go on and on and on. We had a little stop mid-afternoon just to stretch our legs. I think I almost fell off Sadie Mae.

Shannon could see I was getting a little uncomfortable and suggested that we take a shorter route back. ‘Oh, what a great idea!’ I thought. ‘Maybe it’s going to be one or two miles back to camp.’ Then Shannon told me that we were much further away than that, even by the shorter route.

Five of us took the shorter ride. The trails were quite steep and rocky in places, which normally don’t bother me at all, but on this particular day, I could feel every one of Sadie’s muscles when she walked.

Shannon was telling me at one point that we had about three miles to go, however, I must have mistook what she said because we saw a sign that said 4.6 miles to camp. I nearly cried. I think Shannon must have found it quite funny, because I didn’t stop complaining the whole 4.6 miles back to camp.

I even had to get off Sadie Mae about three times that afternoon as my backside and legs were so numb. Sadie loved me as her rider as we would walk side by side along the trails together and I had plenty of treats for her too. At least I wasn’t the only one to walk. Ron, Marty and Shannon all led their mules a little way too, but none of them complained like I did.

When we finally arrived back at camp, we had been nearly ten hours in the saddle. I noticed that the other group were already home, and had already untacked their mules and were looking at us as if to say: ‘Well, what happened to you lot?’

After managing to dismount and collapse in a heap, I helped Shannon untack Sadie Mae and put her in her stall. I then took a very long shower, drank a cold beer and started to feel a little better, before I remembered that we were off on another ride the next morning.

Sunday morning, I was up at the crack of dawn again and headed straight over to have my cup of tea with Ron. His gorgeous dog, Tripp was waiting for me by the trailer and Ron had the water nice and hot for my tea. We sat and talked until sunrise, when we headed over to feed and water the mules before cleaning the stalls.

Ron and I were both very sore from the previous two days’ riding, but were determined to ride out with the group again. We knew it wasn’t going to be as long as Saturday’s ride as everyone was going to be leaving that afternoon to head home. I thought we would only have time for two or three hours – that was certainly wishful thinking!

My friends Charles Bridges and his son in law Ezra joined us on the ride. I was going to be staying with Charles and his wife Daphne when I left South Mountain and as Charles only lives 45 minutes from the Park, they were invited to ride with us on their mules.

We set off again at nine o’clock. I felt so battered and bruised from the last two days that I really didn’t know how I was going to cope. There were only ten of us in the group that morning, and Teddy Royal was our leader. Everyone knew how sore I was, but I told them that they wouldn’t hear me complain once. I was also determined not to get off and walk which didn’t please Sadie Mae at all.

Teddy would stop for a break every few miles and pretend that he needed to get off his mule for a rest. He knew just how uncomfortable I was and I can’t thank him enough for giving me those five-minute breaks. Trying to get back on Sadie Mae was getting harder and harder and on one occasion Max gave me a leg up and I nearly went right over the other side.

The group that morning were so much fun. Teddy got me talking with an American accent and when I said, "I'm gonna bust you with a stick," they all laughed so much. At least it took my mind off the pain!

The ‘morning’ ride finished 12 miles later at half-past-two in the afternoon. I slid off Sadie Mae and drew a sigh of relief: no more riding for a few days. Luckily, Charles could see I needed a few days’ rest.

We hosed the mules down, cleaned the stalls and put everything in the trailer. I said my goodbyes to Teddy, LuAnn and all the other lovely people I had ridden with before helping Shannon load Sadie Mae and Seven into the trailer.

To have the opportunity to ride the beautiful Sadie Mae is very special and I’m so grateful to Shannon for arranging for me to enjoy a wonderful weekend in the South Mountains State Park with the Carolina Mule Association. You are extremely kind, thank you.

It was so very nice to meet such wonderful members of the Carolina Mule Association and I hope, one day, I will be able to ride with you again. You all made me feel so welcome and I have made new friends too. Thanks to the Saturday riders for putting up with my moaning for the last 4.6 miles and thanks to Teddy for giving me a breather every few miles on the Sunday. Lastly, thanks to Ron for his company and those lovely cups of tea.

To all the Mule and More readers. I wish you a very Happy Christmas and a very safe, healthy and prosperous New Year. With all my love, Donna xxx

Dock Diving

Molly and her Boston Terrier, Mandy, had a Dock Diving Event near my house, so they came to stay with us over the weekend. I went to the show with them and took Reuben, too! We had gone swimming a few nights in the lake behind my house. Reuben really liked it, but with all his fur he could not stay afloat too well. So I bought him a life preserver made just for dogs. With that, he could swim and not drown! At the event, Mandy broke her own record and jumped 17 feet – quite a distance for a Boston Terrier! Reuben got so excited when the dogs ran and jumped, so we signed him up to let him give it a try. It is a long way down off of the dock, so Mandy got involved to help. I picked Reuben up and put him down in the water a few times and then one time he jumped – or was he pushed? We met two wonderful sisters who have a photography business, and they caught Reuben jumping! Both sisters also have Corgis that like to dock dive, too! They do great portraits and action shots! Thanks for the great shots!

Here is a link to their website: