Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Mule Tack Challenges - got there in the end....

Greetings Muleteers!  I think I can finally say that after much perserverance, expense (on FHs part!) and trial and error that my beautiful mule wardrobe is complete!  As those of you with long ears will know fitting tack to mules and donkeys is a little on the tricky side.

We like to challenge our humans by having the perfect physique, unfortunately this seems to mean that we can't fit in to the stuff you lot buy for your short ears.

For those of you (un)lucky enough not to have had to kit out a long ear we have the following 'issues':

A lovely flat back...
1/. Our backs are very flat and we often don't have much in the way of withers! We often take after our donkey dads which can mean that saddles have no anchoring point.  Saddles quickly end up floating forwards and the train wreck saddle on the neck is something that many mule riders will be only too aware of..... This is when you have to test out your emergency dismount, normally whilst heading down an extremely steep hill in our case!

2/ This flat back means we have less 'sway' in our backs - this means most saddles designed with a horse tree will be too curved and will pinch and rock on a mule back.  Unless you are lucky enough to get a well fitted custom mule treed saddle or have a mule with an abnormal (e.g. horselike) back then this is ever a challenge.

3/. We have much finer shoulders and tend to be narrow in our chests, again this means there is much less to hold the saddle from sliding forward.

4/. My mulificent self is quite short in the back as I'm a pony mule, this means that getting a saddle to fit me and FH is a bit tricky!

5/. Mules tend to have a very forward girth groove which again encourages saddles and girths to slide forward at every opportunity.  This can produce the semi train wreck of girth galls and rubs - ouch!

6/. My mouth is teeny weeny (hmmm FH says this is peculiar as I make a lot of noise when I feel like it!).  I only take a 4.5" bit and many types aren't available in this size.  My FH would love a Rockin S Snaffle but they only go as small as 5" - not fair!

7/. My jaw and eye brows are mulificent in their donkey dimensions which means that bridles designed for short ears are always the wrong size, I am neither pony nor cob but need both sizes put together.  FH has given up with as much bridle wear as possible - it's all too confusing!

8/. Last but not least are my mulificent ears!  Trying to squeeze those in to a normal bridle and browband just ain't happening without a lot of pain - no thank you!

So after a few train wrecks, a few semi train wrecks, some grumpy swishes from me, much expenditure from FH and lots of test riding (like this!) we are finally there.  We have passed the test!  My gear holds up to:

Steep up hills
Steep down hills
Rugged terrain
All paces
Rides of over 3 hours
Spins and spooks (when I need to check that FH is concentrating ;-)

Oh and of course most important of all, I approve, my tummy and back aren't sore and I can carry FH comfortably without her greeting my ears too quickly and closely!

So here's my get up muleteers, please excuse the dirtiness of my tack and the fact that it's all kind of thrown together and doesn't match (this is no surprise to anyone that knows my human!), FH is a useless caretaker and only cleans things when they are actually mouldy - tut tut.

This is my lovely treeless western saddle.  It has no tree so moulds perfectly to my mulificent flat back, there is a lovely channel down the middle so there are no bits digging in to my spine and it was made by a master craftsman 10 minutes from where I live which is nice :-)  It's special features are:

As with most western saddles it has a front and back cinch which is perfect for my mulish shape as this helps to stop everything sliding forward and the rear cinch helps to make sure that the front girth doesn't slide too far forward and rub my delicate tummy!

The saddle also has staying power for FH so that if I have a little spook she is nicely secure, she is also much more prone to riding on the buckle and holding the horn casually - she is not Calamity Jane but no one's told her!

The back girth is attached to the front girth by a little connector so that it can't slide back and become a buck strap which is a good thing for me and for FH..... My back girth looks a little tight on the pics because of how fluffy I am but don't worry muleteers there's lots of give in it!  FH has nice leather straps for the back but as per usual has failed to clean my tack and attach them - useless FH sort it out!

After much playing with my cinch / girth and trying to find the right way to 'rig' my saddle we have settled for an english girth converter.  We tried all sorts.... centre fired rigging, western neoprene cinches, western string cinches, roper cinches, leather girths, fleece lined cinches and girths and in the end FH got me a fine selection of english girths (she says her bank balance is depleted, how selfish to only think of herself).  We have discovered that the best girth for my delicate tummy is a good old fashioned cotton girth with a towelling sleeve, this is not bulky like most girths (especially western cinches) and means that I can move my elbows freely.

My final piece of saddle adornment is my Limpet Saddle Pad, this is designed to help stop saddles slipping but most importantly is like a piece of memory foam - lovely!  FH was very dismissive when we first tried one and said it would make me sweat, make me itchy and generally be useless, hmmm oh how wrong she was, this mule is not having anything else now.

Finally Muleteers my outfit is completed by my bridle.  FH really does need to sort the colour out as I would like pink but I guess that's a discussion for another day... maybe for Christmas?!  When your ears are as mulificent as mine they are very difficult to squeeze in to a bridle so FH found a 'Click Bridle' where everything can quickly be placed over my ears whilst retaining my dignity (and humour) and my bit can then be clipped on afterwards, so much easier and boy would I recommend it to any mule owner.  We've seen some lovely mule bridles in America with a clip over the browband but alas they aren't available here, I keep trying to send FH on a business trip over there, maybe next year!  Attached to my super dainty bit are my clip reins that can be detached for groundwork and leading and of course my trusty halter kindly made to fit my mulish proportions by my Aunty Di; this goes everywhere with us so I get led by my halter not my mouth and I can tie up or be ponied off a friend if needed.

So there we have it folks, we have finally solved the Callie Mule Tack Dilemma which has been an ongoing saga.... no doubt FH will still keep tinkering and changing things and one day might even get me a lovely English saddle but for the moment at least we can ride without train wrecks!  If you're a mule owner and fed up of tack woes we understand but promise that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you just keep tinkering and use a little lateral thinking.......

Now surely it must be time for another ride soon, I've heard mention of a ride on the moor at the weekend, now that really is the place to test out my equipment :-)

This mule is all tacked up and ready to ride!


  1. Love the last photo!
    Glad you got that all sorted out. . .what a lot to go through! I thought I was having difficulty with Shy! She is kind of between horse and pony/cob and her head is goofy shaped. Right now she is in an Arab sized frenh link snaffle.
    I hope your tack takes you on all kinds of fun adventures :)

    1. Thanks Allison, I'm hoping for some nice adventures this weekend! Us equines like to keep you humans on your toes and give you an excuse to spend your hard earned dollars ;-)

  2. I too like that last photo I am impressed with your bravery standing in water like that. Getting the right tack is very important luckily we seem to have human who understand this.

  3. I have noticed that you have such big, beautiful eyes. Very obvious in the penultimate photo. Wow!
    With cuddles from Judy in Cambridge

    1. Why thank you Judy! I have noticed that fluttering my eyelashes and staring solemnly at the humans with my gorgeous eyes makes them do my will, I must try this more often. Ear waves - Callie x

  4. You are so brave, Callie and FH so lovingly persistent in making you the most comfortable. I love your ears pointing forward towards adventure.

    Could you ask FH a question for me?. I wonder if she can ride upon you "a pelo", as we say in Argentina, literally "on the hair" meaning no saddle, no reins, just sitting on your coat guiding you with her hands. Or is this riding style only fit for short ears?.

    1. Oh thank you Carmen, we are so pleased to have the right equipment for the job.

      FH says that I am trustworthy bareback but we have not attained no reins yet but this is something we would love to do! Sometimes I think I can read my human's mind so one day soon we will have to give it a try. It will be good for FH to practice staying on my back without her armchair! When she was younger she used to jump and canter around without saddles or bridles, we hope that kids today still get to do such fun things :-)

    2. Thank you Callie and FH,that would be a wonderful experience!. Well, Lady Catanian is already a bareback amazona, isn't she? :-)

      In Argentina, this is the favourite way to ride our native horse, the Criollo. Here in the U.S.A., the saddle is important, hence riding bareback is not much seen.