by Jennifer Schmuck - Hennef, Germany
I think everybody who owns one can agree when I say that there is hardly any other pastime that can cost so much time and money as having equines. People who don’t have mules, horses or donkeys of their own tend to think that we have a lot of money because we have our mules and keep them here on our land. My reply then is usually, “No, we used to have money, now we have mules!”
What people usually don’t get is that mules are priceless! I look out of my window and see Katie munching her hay with that lovely satisfied and self-absorbed expression in her large mule eyes. Or Larry standing at the gate with a happy expectant face. Who can resist those longears?
What makes me talk about money, of all things? Well, we tried saving for a trailer. But try as you might, something just always comes up. First thing that needed to be bought was a new saddle for Katie, of all things! Exactly what I wanted to avoid, and why I had brought a nicely fitting saddle with me from Missouri. Well, in Missouri that saddle slipped forward a little when riding down a really steep trail. No problem, I had bought a britchen exactly for that purpose. When we went on our first trail ride here in Germany though, the saddle started to move forward even on level ground. I was totally baffled. What seemed to have happened is that while the mules had their long vacation (eating all they want and being petted almost bald in isolation in Decatur, Texas) Katie’s back seems to have changed. My saddle lady here suspects she has lost muscle mass in her shoulder. So as a correction pad didn’t help, and I realized I couldn’t have a britchen constantly keep the saddle in place even on level ground. I reluctantly wrapped up my beautiful mule saddle and stored it away in the hope of using it again some day.
Now Katie has a back that is pretty straight, a little downhill, and her withers aren’t very pronounced. One look at her and the saddle traders here, use to horse backs, knitted their brows and said they didn’t think they have anything that would fit her. And that proved to be true. A custom made western saddle was not possible for me and Katie, as we couldn’t wait for at least ten weeks without being able to ride in the meantime. And what’s more, I didn’t know a saddle maker here that I trusted could really fit a saddle to Katie’s back. Thankfully I came across a lady specialized in a new type of saddle with adjustable panels which had also shown in pressure tests to distribute the weight evenly. She first fitted Katie with an endurance saddle that had no horn, which of course made me grope into thin air! I must have looked pretty silly reaching for a non-existing horn! Luckily I only had to use this until Katie’s saddle with horn and custom made panels (to level out her downhill back) was ready. After ten weeks and dumping even more money on the table I now have her fitted with a very nice looking saddle that she really likes and I find very comfortable. And it has a horn!
As if that hadn’t already cut a deep enough hole into our savings account, it became soon obvious that something had to be done about Larry’s front feet. We are in the process of transitioning our mules to barehoof, and this is not always easy. They have good feet and don’t need shoes here on our trails, but Larry doesn’t take that easily to walking over gravel without shoes. Now we cannot avoid all gravel, because we don’t have much choice in our trails anyway. On top of that Larry had started to tell us that he wasn’t enjoying the trail so much anymore. He was treading carefully because he was wary of gravel even if there was none. And he had stopped flopping his ears!
So what to do? We didn’t want to shoe him, and our hoof orthopedic also said the hooves are fine, he just needs time to adjust. She then gave me the phone number of a very nice lady who is specialized in hoof boots. The hoof boot lady was thrilled! Mules! How wonderful! I wanted Renegade hoof boots, if possible, because I like the way they are easy to put on and easy to handle.
I had decided I wanted a pair for Katie, too, as the lady would be here to fit Larry anyway and Katie might need them on rough ground. We knew the boot story would end very expensively, as it costs of course a fee for driving out to us. But anything to see those Larry ears flop again and have him enjoy the trail!
The boot lady came armed with patience, lots of treats, and a huge number of boots in all colors. The first boot she put on Larry’s foot was a thing that looked like a big black clot, it was just to see what he would say to a hoof boot. Well, let me put it this way: it was pitiful. I thought we might need defibrillators because Larry had a heart attack and needed to be reanimated. He reared, then stood there, eyes bulging, not daring to move. Then he tried to move, but his hoof was gone and instead a black monster was moving with him! He froze and just stood there, hardly breathing. Tears were shooting into my eyes, I felt so sorry for him. It was incredibly hard not to be able to explain to him that it was for his best!
After a few minutes we took off the boot and let him graze a little. That always calms him down. Then we tried on a Renegade boot. It fit! We couldn’t think of anything but let Larry find out that it is okay, so we let him loose in the pen. He immediately tried to get rid of the boot by trying to bury his hoof with boot on in the sand. Then he tried to pull open the velcro that keeps the boot on with his teeth That wouldn’t do, so we took him out again and let him graze, with the boot on. Lo and behold, as soon as he found out that he could eat his grass with the boot on, he was okay with it. Even with both front boots on. We then put a fitting pair on Katie’s hooves (“Oh! Pretty! Do these come in red, too?” was all Katie seemed to think about them) and set out on the trail for the last test. Would they stay on their hooves? You bet!
Larry and Katie walk out in long strides, and Larry even walks just as fast as Katie.
Now we’re all set, Larry is flopping his ears again, Katie and I have a saddle we both like, and in October, we get two weeks of vacation to spend with our mules! The saddle, the boots and the fitting cost an arm and a leg. So what? Spending quality time with your mules...priceless!
I just hope we can ride the trail at all with people holding us up all the time to ask if those are mules, and now what the heck are they wearing on their feet?!