Saturday, August 30, 2008

Heart Connections/Doll

Something very pleasant happened yesterday morning with Doll, one of our draft mules.

While on my morning hike, it is my habit to practice T'ai Chi (Yang Long form) in different locations on the property. Sometimes it happens that as I am moving through the various movements the herd will be watching while grazing nearby. Most of the time they do not come over for attention, on occasion they will totally disrupt things and other times just one individual herd member will come over to ask for a little personal attention.

Yesterday morning, Doll determined that I should quit "Waving Hands Like Clouds" and give her some scratches instead. She was so sweet in her request (she is not always so demure!) it would have been extremely rude of me to withhold my services from her, so I went right to work, getting all the usual spots and enjoying the obvious pleasure she was having.

After a good session of itching and massaging and fawning over Doll, I thanked her for her visit and turned to go back to practicing T'ai Chi. But Doll wasn't satiated and pressed me for more. I knew what type of "more" Doll wanted. Doll wanted me to perform "mounted itches", a little game Mistral and I invented several years ago and something that Doll has an incredible desire to induce me into performing whenever she gets an opportunity.

To explain "mounted itches", I'd first like to give thanks to Carolyn Resnick for writing her book, NAKED LIBERTY, which served as my first inspiration to attempt to ride a horse completely free of tack and in a wide-open setting such as what we have here at Ravenseyrie. I felt that if Carolyn, during her childhood, could be mount a wild horse on the range at liberty and completely without tack, I surely could do the same with my horses who were not wild and were not unfamiliar with being ridden.

My first time trying such a seemingly reckless thing was on a similar morning as yesterday. I had been practicing T'ai Chi and was interrupted by Mistral. Of course, I didn't hesitate to honor the Emperor God of Ravenseyrie by giving him my best itches and massages. When I was done, he seemed unwilling to go back to grazing. My shoulders and forearms were weary from the effort I had already put in on appeasing the horse God, so another idea came to mind. I went over to a nearby rock and stood up on it. I told Mistral if he wanted more attention, he should come over to the rock. He did! And he lined himself up perfectly for me to mount up. I did! To thank him for honoring my request, I proceeded to lean down and give his neck and shoulders more itches, and in doing so, I found I could use a lot more pressure while on top, much to his added pleasure. And so...the game of "mounted itches" was born. (From this we progressed to brief rides in complete liberty but that's another story for another time.)

Back to Doll...
Now, Doll is a typical raw-boned, oddly put together mule. Her daddy was a Mammoth Jack donkey and her mother was a Belgian Draft horse. Doll is somewhere in her latter teens and measures 15.3h. We acquired Doll seven or so years ago. Doll exudes an air of crankiness, intolerance and disdain with her fellow herd mates and especially with the dogs--but she most of the time has the self-discipline to hold herself back from deploying aggressive means to show her displeasure. When her composure crumbles, however, watch out! because Doll is very deliberate and powerfully forceful in making sure her opinion is heard.

Yet Doll has a feminine, sweet element to her otherwise coarse mien...which Leslie Town captured well, when she came to photograph Altamiro last October. Wouldn't you agree?
So there is an immense gentleness within Doll and for some reason she has determined that she can indulge in being utterly adorable when I am available to have some one-on-one time with her. Because of this, I was not the least bit surprised that, when I first suggested the "mounted itches" game to her, she understood my request as if we had no language barrier whatsoever. Despite being perhaps the most cantankerous member of the herd (Mistral might have the edge) Doll is an adept at establishing a "heart connection" with me. We'll have to talk more about the "heart connection", but there isn't time for me to do so today, and anyhow, I'm still studying about this very real phenomenon.

The two occasions earlier this summer that I was fortunate to be down at the beach while the herd was also there, Doll hooked into me with great determination to induce me into some "mounted itching" games. The problem was that I didn't feel we two were in the best place for such an activity--the rocky footing, in my opinion, didn't provide Doll with a stable balance and I sure didn't want to complicate her instability by placing extra weight on her back. During both of these lake side occasions, Doll was unwilling to accept my reasons for turning away from her favorite "game" and while I hopped from rock to rock to avoid her, she step by precarious step continued to pursue me. I'm including a series of photos first from one day, and then the other, to show you the determination this long-eared equine has when she really wants something. In then end, she rather grumpily accepted that I was not going to change my mind and went off to doze with the others.

Doll tries to find a closer spot to place her foot near the rock I am standing on.
Doll, be careful!
Yikes! Doll, go'll get stuck out here!

She gave up, but wasn't happy about it!

Now, in this series, I went into the water to try to get out of playing the game...but so did Doll! She was so persistent, or "stubborn as a mule".

Stubborn, but also, very cute!

Yesterday's morning interlude of "mounted itches" with Doll was especially nice because it was the first time the opportunity had come since those times at the lake when I felt it was not appropriate to give-in to Doll's requests. Both her and I had a nice long time together and when I slid off and thanked her for visiting with me she thanked me back with those earnest eyes and long, velvety ears. When I suggested now that she should go rejoin the others and graze, she quietly walked back to where they were and pushing through the youngsters got straight back to nibbling the flavors of late summer.


Annemiek said...

Ok Lynne,

Now you made me laugh with your pictures of Doll trying to convince you she urgently needed “mounted itching”. The look on her face! As if she is mumbling to herself: Ooow woman, come here and do your job!!!!” I do like this mounted itching, I read about it before in you NHE diary. I hope Rudolf will invite me someday, but he is not so in to itching. He does do summersaults though to bring a persistent horsefly to my attention, that’s funny too!

eva said...

Doll is very cute. I love the donks and mules. Does she have a velvet snout and belly?

Are the two related? ziblings from the same parents?

How did they find their way into this equine paradise?

Do Mules nicker/whinney like horses or do they make the EEEEE-AAAH sound?

We have a little black donkey in our pasture. His name is Plato and he is a deep thinker. He has an extremely fast sowing-machine like trot and will plant himself to block my way to get his scratches. He makes a silly little squeak and kicks out when another horse tries to chase him away. I am always amazed how different they are from horses, but maybe Mules are more horse-like?

Lynne Gerard said...

Annemiek and Eva,
thanks for stopping by to admire Doll.

We use to have two very elderly draft mules, even more raw-boned than Doll. They were retired pulling contest mules and sure had a lot of baggage associated with that former life. Rube and Riley, they were called. They were special friends, too.

Eva you would have loved to hear the voices of Rube and Riley! It was wailsome, haunting and would give you shivers if you didn't know what was making such a noise.

Kevin used to be able to mimic their voices, but seems to have falling out of practice (both Rube and Riley are now sharing grazing space in the great beyond with Kris' horse Khemo).

The call would start out very low, like a moan...
"woo-oo-oo-ahh-AAHHH-HEE HAW, HEE HAWWWWH!!!"

We used to say that Rube and Riley sounded like creatures caught between worlds, not knowing if they were horse or donkey and so made this very sad, pitiful cry when ever they wanted to be vocal.

Dee, Doll and Jerry on the other hand, sound much more like horses, only their neigh is more hoarse and hollow sounding.

All the mules made silly little vocal squeeks and physical kicks when being bullied by the others.

They appear to be extremely deep thinkers (remember the photo of Doll looking out to sea, as if in meditation?).

Dee, Doll and Jerry belonged to some folks back in Michigan who had decided to move to the city and so sold their farm. They couldn't find anyone who wanted to buy the three mules (all non-siblings) and these folks didn't want to split them up because they'd been together for so long. Someone told them about Kevin and me and that we had a farm with old, retired mules and might want some more.

We didn't want any more mules actually and so said, "no". But the fella kept calling and lowering their price and offering a long term payment plan and pretty much begging us to give these mules a home.

Well gee...they were nice mules and we did really like next week, Kev, me and a friend rode these long-eared equines eight miles to our old farm in Michigan. They were excellent on that trek and seemed to be very intrigued to be on a journey, and when we turned them out with our other mules and the cows, they settled in right away.

Rube died while we were still in Michigan, but Riley, the old, arthritic codger made it to the island and died here at Ravenseyrie. I've got photos of him after we arrived here...I'll have to look them up.

They definitely have velvety noses and under parts.

When we first moved to the island, all the old farmers were dropping in to visit us because they wanted to see the mules. And the mules loved all that attention!

I'll be soon introducing you to a smaller mule that was given to us shortly after we moved here...what a story that is!

Leslie said...

I loved meeting your wonderful mules also last year Lynne...boy are they BIG!! Especially when they are silently moving along beside you through the woods...;o)
I wanted to show you another of my favourite mules, a Tennessee Walking Horse cross named Tazz. You can click on one of the movie clips at the bottom of his page to hear the sound he makes...quite impressive!!

Lynne Gerard said...

Hello Leslie!
Now how did I miss seeing Tazz on your Horse of the Week feature? I thought I'd drooled over all your past photos, but somehow missed Tazz. And what a very svelt and handsome mule. The do look so cultured when their manes are roached and they are under tack.

The video clip with his calling out to the crowd was a real treat. Tazz's vocalization sounds a lot like the type Dee, Jerry and Doll use...but much different than old Rube and Riley used to employ.

Great photos, as always, Leslie. I'm glad you included a mule in your "Horse of the Week" feature.