One thing we’ve never been short of in our twenty year marriage is adventure. One of my favorites happened in the winter of 2011, and it all started with an ad spotted in the local paper: “Team of Mini-Mules, Complete with Harness and Wagon”. Our close friends, Wes and Melissa, already owned several mules, which they loved dearly and thought highly of. When Wes spotted the ad he decided this one-of-a-kind opportunity warranted investigation. So on a cold early December day the four of us packed into a vehicle and did just that.
After a long drive to a big farm in the middle of a cornfield we were greeted by the owner of said mini-mule team; an older farmer wearing bib overalls, a fairly large man, both in stature and personality. He had the matched pair of zebra-dun 40″ tall mules caught when we arrived, so we harnessed them and promptly took them out for a drive, all of us piled in the adorable and festive little green wagon. The farmer was driving the team, and they seemed to pull the wagon effortlessly but were all-too-excited to do their job, as they were a bit antsy and kept trying to go faster than they were allowed. Still, they seemed to drive fairly well, the harness was in good repair and the farmer seemed honest. With the perfect little green wagon to go with them we all envisioned parades and fun country drives on a Saturday night, so Wes opted to purchase the whole kit and kaboodle.
We couldn’t wait to take them out, and the perfect opportunity presented itself when the next weekend dawned clear and bright. It took us an hour to catch them and was a chore to get them harnessed up, since not a member of our troupe had any experience with driving, or harnesses. However, we had been given a quick rundown on the process by their previous owner and concluded we were close enough to experts. A few beers and a bit of group-wide cockiness confirmed that theory.
However, a problem cropped up when we went to bridle the pair. (For those of you non-horse people, a bridle is a piece of equipment that goes over the head, used for steering the animal by means of a “bit”, which goes in the animal’s mouth.) We were concerned to see that these bridles had a fairly severe, bicycle chain bit with rough edges, and even more dismayed that the bit was also turned on its side in a manner we considered cruel. Upon closer examination, we found that the little mules had sores on their mouths from the bits when we had test driven them a few days prior. As experienced (aka cocky) horse lovers, our group of friends immediately felt sorry for those darling little mules and now looked upon their previous owner in a decidedly negative light. Upon receiving permission from Wesley, Travis and I dismantled the entire bridle, and turned the bits around to be much more gentle. In our minds it was a new day for those little mules, they were now in a home with experienced mule people, and we would show them that their comfort was of the utmost importance. We all agreed between ourselves that the small change in tack would take care of the anticipation they had seemed to have when we test-drove them. (Can you tell we’re about to learn a hard lesson?)
Finally, after a few arguments about what strap went where, we had the team all harnessed and hitched up and it was time for some fun! My husband Travis volunteered to be the first person to drive, and Wesley graciously allowed him the honor. Four adults and several kids immediately started piling in the back of the wagon excitedly, ready to go, but were quickly disappointed when Travis asked us to climb right back out. He informed us that his plan was to take a quick spin around and make sure the harness was correct and everything was in order. That was certainly a prudent decision, because what happened next was like something straight out of a western movie.
Travis clucked to the little mules and lightly slapped the lines. There was a moment of hesitation that I liken to the calm before the storm, and in the very next instant those little mules jumped in the air simultaneously and lit out running like Kentucky Derby hopefuls!! Our jaws dropped as we watched Travis almost perform a backward somersault into the bed of the wagon, and exclamations were flying as we watched the team and wagon flying across the pasture.
Looking back, I had a rather odd reaction…I’m normally a worry wart, but at this sight, I doubled over laughing and seemed to think it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I literally could not quit laughing. But you have to understand one thing, my husband is a blacksmith who handles unruly horses all day long, and these were tiny little mules that were only waist-high. It never occurred to me he was in real trouble, I assumed this was just a hiccup in our plans, and he would soon be able to stop the little team and let us all in the wagon. But the mules were running full-tilt with the wagon bouncing crazily behind them in a 20 acre pasture. The closer they got to the far end and a four-strand barb wire fence without slowing down the more I started to worry, until it finally hit me that what I was watching was a run-away team and wagon!
Just when we were certain they were going to smash into the fence, we could see Travis hauling on one side with all his might, and the whole rig just slightly starting to turn. They barely skimmed by the right fence and made an arc along the back fence too. My previous laughter quickly turned to panic, and I desperately tried to think of a solution to stop the little mules, but quickly realized we had absolutely no options. I had been on enough run-away horses to know that only when they had run the fear out or wrecked, would they stop, and if we intervened, we would undoubtedly make the situation worse. At this point I really felt like the little team was NOT appreciating our efforts in the direction of their comfort and well-being.
As they completed their circle and Travis came past us bouncing in the little wagon, we could see him exerting every ounce of strength he had just to keep them on their slight circle, and his eyes were as big as dinner plates. Meanwhile, the little mules had their heads down, their ears flattened, and were putting every ounce of their little hearts into running as if the devil himself was in that wagon! They ran, and ran, and ran, and all the while the little wagon and Travis bounced along behind them crazily, and we all feared the wagon would fall apart and send him flying. We alternately prayed he would bail off, and hold on for dear life, and finally, as we were losing hope of them EVER stopping, he yanked them finally into a trot, and then a walk. Our sighs of relief were palpable.
Needless to say our opportunity for a wagon ride that day had vanished into thin air, and we realized our egregious mistake in making assumptions about the equipment used on the little mules. Hindsight is 20/20, but hubris is often a true blindfold, and as it turned out, the bits were there for both the safety of the people, and the mule team. The abrasions on their mouths also didn’t look quite so severe, when we compared it to the injuries that might have been sustained from the complete lack of control, and we learned a valuable lesson.
After that exciting afternoon, our little group of friends was once again content sitting on the porch for our Saturday evening fun. At least until the next time our pride and boredom got the better of us and combined to make a spectacular adventure!
Happiness and Hoofbeats,
The Gate Girl