A Letter from Sonja Crago

A Note From Steve

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.

Sincerely,

Sonya Cash Crago

The Story of Hoss

April of 2011 my sister invited me on a wagon train ride in Goldthwaite, Texas. It had been 25 plus years since I had partnered with an equine and I thought I had given up on it. But, I’d had a wonderful weekend and was amazed at how calm and steady the mules were. I thought to myself that maybe a mule was for me.

After returning home, I started my search online and I found “big boy looking for a good home” in Tennessee on Equine Now site. I called his owners and really liked what I heard. He was 8 years old, Belgian/mammoth jack cross, bay with black socks, loved to trail ride, very gentle, and needed a home.

So I set up all the travel and payment needs and waited for my delivery. When his trailer arrived in Amarillo and his huge body at 16.3 hands stepped off the trailer. I wondered, “what have I gotten myself into?” He was so handsome, alert, and eager to roll so we released him in the round pen to satisfy his urge. I spent almost everyday bonding with him and getting to know my big boy. I wanted so much to be the perfect owner and so I asked and researched how to feed and care for a mule his size. (I even registered for a mule clinic with Steve Edwards.)

His previous owners said that they fed rolled oats, 2 flakes of hay, and a salt lick. So I went shopping. Not long after that he got his right hind hoof hung in his halter and had gone down. After cutting him loose he was sore and lame. His scars healed but he continued to be lame, but on his left hind leg which was the opposite leg that had been hung. I brought him to the vet and arthritis was the diagnosis. So we drained the joints and started joint supplements. I had his hooves trimmed and when his hind leg was lifted he acted like he was in much pain and it took some time before he could lower it to the ground again.

Weeks later he started to appear thinner and continued to favor his left hind leg. More arthritis fixes and an old fracture on his fetlock was suspicious and we were sent home. Within the next weeks he began to stumble, was reluctant to go up and down inclines, and his rump muscle was appearing sunken. Many people believed that he was just a mule and that mules just had that appearance, but I was still worried. I made another appointment with the doctor, so we loaded him in the trailer, but upon loading in the trailer he showed so much pain lifting that leg into the trailer and held it up grunting after loading. At the vets he re-injured it leaving the trailer by just stepping out, what was wrong with my mule!! We had a blood test taken and some blood sent off for a Vitamin E test. Meanwhile the doctor did agree his weight and muscle mass was not looking good, so we started him on senior feed and equidyne pellets. Within a week he was found pawing his water trough, we discovered that now he was unable to lower his head to drink, eat or graze. My poor mule, what was wrong?! We gave him a round of muscle relaxers and I started massaging him as best I could. The test came back and his vitamin E level was low so we started a supplement. His diagnosis was EMND (Equine Neuron Motor Disease). I took him in to have a followup blood test, I parked the trailer in a culvert so Hoss could step into the trailer without injuring that leg and all went well until we got to the vets and I realized that he could not walk backwards to exit trailer due to the leg weakness and his muscle stiffness would not allow him to bend enough to turn around in the trailer. My big draft mule was now stuck in my trailer. After returning home, and about an hour of struggles as I used a rope around each hind leg walking him backwards, his big stiff body exited the trailer at the culvert. No more trailer for a while!

His weight began to improve and little by little so did his muscle tone. My sister noticed during this time his sheath swelled to twice it’s size and a large fluid pocket ran the length and width of his stomach, so another call to the doctor but was told not to worry about it. So I tried not to. >

Then one morning Hoss was found on his side in the pasture, unable to rise He had been down for a while and his left side was very banged up from his struggle to rise. The whole neighborhood came together to help my Hoss. Pushing, pulling and a tractor and still he lay there weak and shaking. The decision was made to roll him to his right side that was stronger and within a few tries he made it up. Very weak and banged up, but he was standing.

“Please help my big boy, Lord,” I prayed.

I called around looking for a vet that had more time to dedicate towards Hoss’ cause. After meeting Hoss Dr. B asked me how old he was and I said he was sold to me in April as an 8 year old. After a long pause he replied “are you sure they didn’t say 18?” so now I’m told he is even older than I thought, doesn’t matter I am now so attached to my gentle giant and so is my whole family. I was hoping that Hoss would heal quickly because my sister and I eagerly awaited the Steve Edwards mule clinic in October. The time came for the clinic and Hoss was doing well so we trailered up and headed to get all our answers to, “Why Does Our Mule Do That?”

The first night at the clinic I was so excited to meet Steve and get a better connection with Hoss, but as I was talking with Steve my husband came in and said “Hoss is laying down in his pen”! I tried to act calm. Now the owner of a normal mule wouldn’t blink an eye to this news, but I owned Hoss and he was far from the normal mule! So I went to see… Hoss was laying i the small pen with his head under the side panel. His breathing was shallow and gave us a scare of death. After trying to raise his head we (my family and all the clinic goers) decided we needed to disassemble the pen. My sister ran to get Steve Edwards and then the struggle to get him up began… (Thought I would let you fill this in). To this day his Vitamin E is back to normal, he has gained weight, but still is unable to lay down and then rise. We are still searching all possibilities and reasons for his troubles. We are currently deciding on having him tested for PSSM, because of other symptoms he has.

I must say that my mule is far from ordinary! “Steve why does my mule do that?” As you know by now, I lost my mule on 8000 acres of Texas ranch land.

People searched on foot, four wheeler, and horseback and no luck for most of the day. After locating my mule and joining the clinic I really enjoyed myself. I learned the importance of “ask, tell, and demand” using the come along, which helped getting what I wanted relayed to my mule and enforcing it. I had trouble keeping and getting back my mules attention until I learned the “left, right, left, right”. I love the training martingale. I is so much more effective than the bit I was using. It’s not all about in the saddle; you need to have a solid ground work foundation first! Most of all I loved being with all the other mule lovers and learning. Steve is wonderful, patient, humorous and is supported by his wife who is equally knowledgeable working with the mules and their tack. My sister and I hope to join another clinic of Steve’s if he will have Hoss (runaway) and I (Pete).

Steve, Elizabeth and I have been so busy and didn’t have a camera when we tacked up but we will get a picture of the mules in their tack to you real soon. Please let me know what else I can do to help with the story. Again we had a WONDERFUL time and look forward to another clinic.

Thank you again,

Leslie Holman