by Molly Shakespear, Almo, Ky.
It was the day that would change Bob’s world forever. It started like many others: up early, coffee on, mules fed on their tie line, breakfast cooking on the grill. We were camped at Double M Campground in Shawnee National Forest, located in southern Illinois.
Having ridden in that area many times, I knew the riding would be good. With all the forest trails, streams to cross, and rock ledges, it is a nice cool place to ride in July.
There was a large group of us, mostly from western Kentucky, so I knew most of the other mules and horses on my tie line. We generally all get along as the pecking order has long since been established. With this large of a group, an early start just isn’t going to happen. At around 9 a.m., everyone is finally ready to head out.
Today Jeff Jones is elected, by acclamation, to be the trail boss. Jeff has ridden in Shawnee National Forest for several years so he was the best choice for the job.
The group was only about a mile from camp when (what I call) “the event” happened.
Bob was riding drag on the group of 11 riders. This is his permanent position because of his unorthodox riding methods and general lack of skill in the saddle. (As a side note, let me say that Bob has great difficulty with items that are sharp or hot and he doesn’t have a working knowledge of gravity or balance. This is why Brenda will not allow him to wear spurs or to ride any where except for the back of the pack.)
What happened next is a bit foggy and changes each time Bob tells the tale. What is known is that Bob had stopped along the trail to get a snack out of his saddle bags and to allow Libby to grab a mouth full of grass. At such a time, Bob usually kicks his feet out of the stirrups, drapes the reins over the saddle horn , and sets in the saddle like a rag doll.
It is believed that Libby was stung by a bee, as she took a giant jump sideways, leaving Bob suspended in mid-air, at which time gravity took over bringing Bob to rest on his left side on the hardest piece of Terra Firma that exist in the Western Hemisphere.
A few years ago, (well maybe more than a few) Bob would have jumped up, looking around to see if anyone was watching. Today, however, he just laid there hoping someone was watching and would come to his aide.
Fortunately for Bob, Libby had stopped close enough to him that he could reach up with his good arm, grab the stirrup, and get back on his feet.
By the time Bob was on his feet, Bill Eyre and his mule Herbie had ridden back to render aide. Bob was busy gathering up his glasses, hat, GPS unit, and what little pride he had left. With Bill’s help and the use of a nearby stump, Bob was able to get back in the saddle.
After catching up with the rest of the group, Bob was greeted with many words of encouragement, like “Ride it out,” “Cowboy up,” and “Stop whining.” I think Bob was really touched by their sympathy until he realized the tears in their eyes were from laughter.
On the trail again, we headed into some really beautiful riding, the rock formations and meandering streams were just as I remembered them. Lunch was at a place called Round Rock where there were tie lines for me and my friends and large flat rocks for the humans to lunch on.
During our lunch break, we saw a large mule coming down the trail and he stopped for a visit. We learned his name was Murphy Brown and his human was Chad from Mattoon, Ky.
After a pleasant break and a filling lunch, we were again on the trail. Bob once again was relegated to the drag position. As he was ambling down the trail, he heard someone yell “BEES!” Looking up, he saw his wife Brenda in what was a half-dismount/half-fall from my saddle and me with my head between my front legs, trying to get the bees off my face and ears. Once Brenda was clear of me I headed for the brush to try and escape all the stinging, and Brenda tried to keep the bees off her face and arms.
All was soon clear of the bees and some order was restored. It was discovered that I, and several of my friends, had multiple stings, along with several for Brenda and some of the other humans.
I should point out that bees are not normally a problem this time of year, but I believe the abnormally hot weather had the bee’s confused.
As we returned to camp the last drop of daylight was fading from the western sky - a draining that seemed more a suffocation than a sunset, a final faint gasp as the day died of heatstroke.
Later that evening everyone set around discussing the days ride. However, it seemed to Bob that his display of mulemanship was mentioned way too often.
The next morning everyone was up having coffee and discussing the upcoming days ride, I took this opportunity to lead a human to water to see if I could make him drink. This task proved almost impossible with Jeff.
We look forward to another visit to Double M Horse Camp in the fall. Hope you have safe and happy trail riding.
Chad, of Matoon, Ky., and Murphy Brown
Molly lead's a human (Jeff) to water to see if she could make him
Brenda riding Molly and Bob riding Libby
On the tie line