One Great Mule
Certainly books are great emancipators, but so are horses and mules. The author J.G. Roach wrote, "The emancipation of women may have begun not with the vote, nor in the cities where women marched and carried signs and protested but rather when they mounted a good cow horse and realized how different and fine the view. From the back of a horse, the world looked wider." So true. Horse or mule, it's amazing. There's something special about a great mule and I know one. He's gorgeous and tall and just about perfect in every way especially being as smart as almost all mules are. Being as smart as they are they certainly know we people have some catching up to do. As Perelli said, "If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong." Yup.
So there we were on a trail ride picking our way through the foothills of the Cascade Mountains on a gorgeous spring day. The ceiling of the forest a dense overstory of douglas fir and sitka spruce, the understory a blanket of fallen logs, moss, sword fern, rhododendron, trillium, huckleberry and salmonberry. Sunlight slanted down through the boughs as the horses and mules made their way up and down the mountain trails that were yet a bit gooey from spring rains. The thing of it was, picking your way along a trail is work enough for your ride but mules just aren't partial to going downhill. Considering we'd gone uphill most of the morning, return to camp meant traversing the downhill slopes.
Snaking down the hillsides we slid through some dicey spots in the trail. One horse, sinking hock deep in the mud, did a quick two step and hop but the rider kept her seat. My mule was lined out behind his buddy and barn mate, a pretty Jenny with an accomplished and capable rider on board. It was slow going picking our way down the steep and slick narrow trail. We'd been going at it for awhile, with every passing minute the mules agitation increased. The Jenny expressed herself flicking her tail, FLICK - FLICK - FLICK, no less so than had she been irritated by a nasty horse fly. My mule flung his head about. Now this mule is already somewhere around 16 hands and, with his head extended fully so he can watch his step, that meant the reins were full out. As he flung his head about this caused the reins to wildly loop through the air. Being on a borrowed mule I tend to be a bit picky watching for anything that might hurt him or anything "different." So I was watching really carefully as the slow and careful steps were kept in measured time to the flicking of the tail ahead of me and the flinging of head and reins. No matter, it happened so fast I couldn't speak it as it happened. At one point, as the Jenny flicked, the reins looped catching the tail as smartly as if it had been roped. "Stop!" was half out of my mouth but things were going from bad to worse fast. As the Jenny felt the pressure on her tail, she tucked in hard. As my mule felt pressure on his reins he pulled back, hard. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And so it went. Yup! We were ring tailed!
Before you can imagine, the Jenny was sitting down in the path. She had her tail clamped down hard, her rider was neatly deposited on the ground and went to work at relaxing the tail to release the reins. Thankfully the riders ahead immediately stopped so there wasn't that pressure (of being left behind) on the mules. I was really hoping that my mule would stay put because, other than being a guest on his back, without reins we could be going anywhere at any moment. My mule was pretty anxious and pulling hard. Standing in the stirrups leaning and reaching full out I couldn't reach the clip at the bit to release the reins. I'm pretty tall, but this is an enormous Jack and his head was fully extended. Meanwhile there's all sorts of commotion and direction as to what's to be done. Long ago I'd released my end of the reins which were now tightly over the top and just behind the ears of the Jack. I was working hard to get the reins over Mr. Long Ears while calling out to give the Jenny a treat. Hopefully a treat would prove a distraction and the Jenny would release her tail. Thankfully the rider ahead of the Jenny heard me, had a treat at hand, offered it and the Jenny, immediately, released her tail.All in all, from beginning to end, (double entendre not intended), the whole incident didn't take more than a minute or two. Those two good mules, they weren't scared of each other, they didn't freak out, we didn't have a wreck, none of the tack was lost or ruined and no mule or rider was hurt.
In 1867 H. Riley wrote the following as part of a treatise for the US government:
"There is no more useful or willing animal than the Mule. And perhaps there is no other animal so much abused, or so little cared for. Popular opinion of his nature has not been favorable; and he has had to plod and work through life against the prejudices of the ignorant. Still, he has been the great friend of man, in war and in peace serving him well and faithfully. If he could tell man what he most needed it would be kind treatment."