By Polly Oberosler
The first thing most people are attracted to on a horse or mule is usually the eye. Even folks who aren’t “horse people” notice the eye as it seems to draw you in. It is a deep sphere and it seems you can look right into the horse from that inch-and-a-half area and indeed it seems, into their hearts.
Not all eyes are created equal, however, and there are a few equines out there that take some time to give up their feelings and occasionally they never do. Before I was a mule owner, a friend of mine was having one or two of her mules shod (the act of putting on steel shoes) because they got more horse than mule when they were conceived. When I drove up, one of her mules was in a set of stocks the farrier trailered around for the ornery ones. We are talking about great big mules. I made the comment that the mule’s eyes were nice and seemed quiet. She off-handedly informed, “Him? He is pissed as hell!” Well okay then, maybe mules are different I thought, and I kept my mouth shut when it came to speculation.
Years later, after that mule was worn out, she gave him to me, and you know what? That mule was one of the sweetest animals I have ever been around. By the time I got him, he had some hip issues, but by and large he could be lightly packed. At the time he came to me I had owned a few mules starting with two small mules a friend of mine alerted me to; both had been abused so he bought them for a song from the hunters, then sold them to me. They were perfect for my U. S. Forest Service work as a wilderness ranger, save for the fact that it took me a six pack and about three hours before I could touch them due to their past abuse.
My husband and I always felt that the big adopted mule just didn’t feel good aside from his slight limp. One day I was hugging him and noticed an open sore on his jaw line. It was infected, so I flushed and treated that hole and talked to the veterinarian about it. She thought it was coming from inside his jaw, like a tooth infected, so I took him to the equine dentist who travels my way. Sure enough, he had a jagged broken tooth that was occasionally sawing through his gums and outer cheek. The dentist pulled the tooth out in two or three pieces and within a day the mule acted like he was feeling better than he had in a long while. His eyes were bright and enchantingly happy. I was his best friend and he let me know that from the depth of those big dark eyes.
I eventually told the former owner about the issue with the big mule and without hesitation she told me he had been that way for at least seven years. I was shocked, woefully sad, heartbroken for him and thankful for his new lease on life without that pain to deal with. I only had him a couple of years before he apparently slipped in the mud in the corral or got kicked in that same leg that he had been game on when I got him. He could hardly walk; I was heartbroken as those big eyes into his warm heart went a little dim. We tried acupuncture, electrode massage and simply TLC, but he never got better.
We gave him months to recover, just in case. You could tell when he had good days and bad just by reading his eyes. At times he would get that playful look in them and without hesitation go back to his old trick of untying himself from the rail. One day I left a halter and lead rope tied to the rail and rode off on my young horse with a neighbor. I was gone about an hour and a half. When riding back toward my place, I thought the big mule was tied up. I was wondering to myself why my husband might have done that? As I got closer, I could see he wasn’t tied at all, but was pulling on the knot with his teeth and lips trying to untie it. He was happy for the challenge.
When I was in the wilderness, what little I could use him there, I would wake up in the morning with him staring at my tent hoping I would come out soon. He had been tied when I went to bed. All he wanted in the morning, according to those eyes, was a hug. He had eaten as much as he wanted, for the grass was plentiful. He would have woken me from my sleep had he ever detected something awry in the night.
I am hearing impaired and because a horse or mule can see for miles and nearly 360 degrees, I watch them for information about my surroundings. They have evolved with awareness and speed into a flight animal, but they will stare for long minutes until they identify things, or they don’t. I notice their heads come up, ears forward and straight-away stare before I notice something myself. I can hear them in the night in normal weight-shifting stomps that reverberate to the low tones I have left of my hearing, and I sit straight up when the stomping becomes extraordinary. They take care of me, if I only let them.
That big mule never got better, so one day I had to look him in the eye and tell him I loved him and was so sorry for his young life being so hard. He knew; we saw eye to eye.
Polly writes because the dogs prefer it over her playing the piano.