The Bold and the Brayful—a column by Fenway Bartholomule
reprinted from the Brayer, the magazine of the American Donkey & Mule Society
Fantasy versus Reality
When my FarmWife bought me, I was a Pasture Mule. Like Reining Mules, Working Cow Mules, Dressage Mules, Driving Mules, and Jumping Mules, Pasture Mules do good, challenging, and important work. In my case, my key responsibilities were eating the grass, swishing the flies, and keeping an organized manure pile.
FarmWife bought me—or, rather, accepted the gift of me, because I was bestowed upon her as a present—with the idea that I would make a fine dressage mule, and that she would like to learn to drive me, and that perhaps we might do a bit of trail riding. She imagined our dressage as one-tempi's and canter pirouettes, lovely lengthenings, a symphony of travers hither and renvers thither . . . or is it renvers thither and travers thither? In any case, I set her straight the first time she tried to perform a 22-meter irregular ovaloid upon me. "Training level, test 1 does NOT call for 'poky trot, rising—ears back.'," I told her. "Our dressage needs work." Now, if we can trot in a straight line for twenty strides we're very happy—and we remember, both of us, that the term "dressage" simply means "training." We're training, all right. We're just not training for the hard stuff yet.
FarmWife imagines driving—she imagines driving me boldly through the water obstacle at a combined driving event, watching my plunging haunches as I brilliantly surge through the churning vortex. She has started me in harness for this very purpose, and I have learned to pull a travois of PVC pipes and, with apprehension, a rubber automobile tire. I have asked her to revise her expectations—I promise to pull her safely at the walk and trot, in a controlled setting, with a safe vehicle. There shall be no "surging" involved, and there shall certainly be no "surging" through a "churning vortex." Just so we're clear. At this stage, the mule's mantra—"PROTECT LIFE AND LIMB"—must be our single biggest priority. Never forget.
FarmWife, though born and raised an English rider, would like to try reining. She wants, more precisely, to try bareback and bridleless reining, because she saw Stacy Westfall and Wizard's Baby Doll do it. Stacy Westfall performs a bareback reining pattern with grace, poise, harmony, and a velcro butt. "FarmWife," I said, "please practice. When you can canter bareback without yelling, 'oh no, oh no, oh no, I wish you had a mane!,' we can talk." Somehow, I don't see us wowing the crowds at Bishop with a copycat routine any time soon, but we can safely make one circuit of the pasture without tack and without injury. It's a start.
FarmWife imagined trail riding, too, and it turns out that's something we're good at. FarmWife wanted to meander down the shaded lanes of these beautiful foothills, and I wanted to plunge up the rocky hillsides of these rugged foothills, and we've been able to do some of each. I've discovered that ruffed grouse aren't as deadly as they first appear, and FarmWife has discovered that she has a better velcro butt than she thought when it comes to riding the occasional grouse-induced spook. We've both discovered that a trail ride is the perfect antidote to every stressor, every irritation, and every small disappointment. Every trail ride leaves us happy.
Of course, we have all our lives ahead of us. There's still time for everything, and surely what's important will get done. In the meantime, no ride is wasted—every mile makes us better.
Ears to you,