A Letter from Sonja Crago

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I have clients write me all the time and this letter is one I really wanted to share with you!

For those of you who are like me and think that because you ride very aggressively for seven months out of the year your animals are all well trained and in good shape you don’t worry about exercise the five they are not used.

Here is a lesson for us all.


Brent and I did our research, drove the 5 hours to Kentucky from Cleveland, TN, and bought a tried and true great mule in the early fall of 2010. We immediately started him on a regular riding schedule which also included training him as a pack mule. He did great all Fall and Winter long, never missed a beat. He even survived a 100ft roll down a steep mountain side in the Spring while on a pack trip and got up to pack another five days.

This past Labor Day weekend we decided to ride at Grayson Highlands State Park, Mt. Rogers, Virginia. I thought it would be a good idea for me to ride our newest mule as he is much shorter, 14hh, than our only horse, who I normally ride. Due to arm and neck problems that seem to be aggravated by working over my head, at 16.5hh Rudy makes it hard for me to ride a weekend without some neck pain .

That first day we get to Virginia on a Friday, get settled in and saddle up to take a fourteen mile ride. My mule Mingo is his same good Ol’e self, rides like a great gaited mule should and seems to have an overabundance of energy. They called him “The little mule that could” all afternoon. I never gave a thought to the fact that he hadn’t been ridden in five months, he was after all, full of energy. We did as we normally did. Finished the ride back at the barn, gave them plenty of water and hay, saving the nights grain ration for just before bed. The next morning after they mornings grain ration and more hay and water; we eat breakfast and saddle up the mules. After I saddled Mingo I lead him across the parking lot to where Brent was saddling his mule. Mingo was walking funny, legs all under himself. I ask Brent “Do you think he is lame”?! to which he said ” Maybe he needs to stretch out, they have been standing in those narrow stalls with concrete floors all night”…”Walk him around”. So I did. Now we were with friends and soon after they all started get in the saddle to hit the trail. I think Mingo has walked enough and I mount him just for him to turn around and bite my leather covered stirrup. I thought…That’s odd, he has never done that before. I ask him to move out and he rears up! What! I slide off, look at Brent and hear people saying “I can’t believe he just did that”. Brent and I check his tack, loosing up a couple of things. This time Brent’s off his mule and holding Mingo when he says “Get back on him while I hold him “. I mount for the second time. Mingo’s ears tell me he is not to hot on this idea. Brent says “Goose him a little to go forward”. When I did he reared up, bucked and then fell over on his left side, just shy of on top of me. I had been trying to dismount without good success and he caught my left leg and whipped me down to the asphalt. You could hear the sound of my head hitting the asphalt through the whole valley area. Lucky for me, I wear a helmet. I got up and by the looks on people’s faces they forgot I wore a helmet and were amazed I was up. I say “I’m done…go on and ride, we are staying here”! I left Mingo tacked up at the hitching rail, braying madly for his friends as they all rode off without him. I was mad. I came to the trailer and after about an hour decided that if he was sore I could tell if I gave him some Bute and could ride him afterward. So, I walk to the rail give him a good dose of Bute and leave him again to paw and bray after me. I was mad. I made another decision to also give him Banamine as well. I wanted to have no doubts as to his comfort level when I tried to get back on him again, if he did this again…..he would die of lead poisoning when we got home. I don’t play with my life or anyone else when it come to a dangerous animal.

Three hours later, still tacked up and tied to the hitching rail, he and I (me walking and running beside him) go down a trail for a warm up. He seems fine. We run into Brent coming back early to check on me. When we get back to the campground/barn, Brent puts on a helmet and mounts Mingo…..nothing, he rides him off in the grass. Just like normal. I get back on him, that took a lot for me, and he….asks normal. Yes! I forfeit riding for the rest of the weekend and after we got home he was taken to the vet for an exam. He past with flying colors, We have ridden or packed him near every weekend since. No problems. This was a mighty lesson for me, Listen to your mule!!! Exercise them on a regular basis after periods of inactivity… BEFORE you take off to the big ride and always wear your helmet! If I hadn’t had my helmet I wouldn’t be writing this today, of that I am sure. As it was he crushed my stirrup, skint up my Steve Edwards saddle, cost me a vet bill and put a lot of money in three doctors pockets over a few weeks’ time working on my neck pain.

I want to clarify something here. His soreness was not caused by my saddle. We have ridden him without one single issue, over hundreds of miles, in the same saddle. I was purely that he was out of shape for that type of mountainous, rocky tarain. It was our fault, plain and simple. Use better sence than we did and take a lesson while reading this story.


Sonya Cash Crago

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