Some weeks ago we had an unexpected visitor arrive at Mule Springs. Bruce was working along the banks of Kickin’ Mule Creek, and suddenly he heard a commotion in the bushes. A large horse broke through the undergrowth, sprang up from the creek, galloped past Bruce, and headed toward the barn. Bruce knew the donkeys were grazing somewhere on the property, so he called me to tell me a strange horse was on its way to the barn.
Horses react to donkeys in one of three ways—they do nothing, they befriend them, or they attack.
At the moment the horse arrived at the barn, the donkeys were grazing at the far west end of the farm.
It didn’t take me long to see the horse was a stallion, and that he was badly cut all over his body. It seemed he had been sliced by barbed wire. I noted a particularly deep gash across his rib cage, puncture wounds on his neck, and multiple lacerations on his legs. He was also thin, and looked like he’d been fending for himself for some time. Everything about him suggested “no home” except for his feet. They were neatly trimmed and perfectly smooth.
What was a stallion doing out by himself? And why did everything about him look forgotten and pathetic except for his feet?
I was worried the donkeys might come back to the barn and encounter the horse, so I opened the paddock gate as wide as possible and stood back. The stallion trotted into the yard, and I closed the gate behind him.
When the donkeys came home, I locked them in their stall away from the big horse.
I called all our neighbors, but no one knew whom, nearby, owned a stallion. A few neighbors came to see the horse, and they all agreed he had been out on his own for months – perhaps longer. A few suggested the horse might have been abandoned last year, because its owner could no longer feed the animal or afford the cost of neutering. I was beginning to feel worried about what I would do with this animal when Jason called and said he’d take a look at him.
Jason is “the” equine man in this region. He claims there isn’t a horse alive he can’t get into a trailer.
And, it turns out he isn’t a braggart.
Jason got out of his truck, and took one look at the horse and said, “You got yourself a donkey.”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“That’s what I call a mule.” “This is a mule, not a horse, that’s why his feet look so good. A mule out on the range doesn’t need his feet trimmed. They trim down naturally as he walks. If this were a horse, his feet would look like hell. They’d be cracked and overgrown. It’s the donkey part of the mule that gives him his good feet.”
“I’ll take him to my place; I think I know who might own him. Over the ridge there’s group of twenty or more mules, and I bet he came from there.”
Over the next thirty minutes Jason and his son worked a miracle. Bit by bit they coaxed and finally got the mule to jump into the trailer.
You can bet I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the thump of the mule’s feet hitting the floorboards of that trailer, and I saw Jason swing the trailer gate closed behind the butt of the mule.