The Story of a Friendship
Make Mine a Mule
By Ann Walker
Equilibrium Books pp101 rrp $24.95
Review by Candida Baker
When I was a horse-obsessed child growing up in rural Oxfordshire, my mount was a somewhat unpredictable Arab/Fell Pony mare, who had some strange foibles. She hated pigs, for instance, and whilst my friend’s horse would walk quietly through the piggery, Hester (named after Lady Hester Stanhope), would balk, buck and bicker with me for what seemed like hours.
She was also in love with a donkey. We would pass this particular paddock on one of our rides, and I never knew whether to be amused or furious when she would literally dash across the road to his field, and stand there talking to her long-eared friend, and taking absolutely no notice of my orders to her to “walk on”. One day my friend and I talked about what would happen if she was allowed to run with the donkey. “She’d have a mule,” my friend said. “Yuk,” I shuddered. “A mule!”
Not that I knew much about them, but I knew they were stubborn, and I knew they looked, well, a bit peculiar – beyond that I didn’t ever really think about them much at all.
But that’s all changed now, thanks to Ann Walker’s splendid book, Make Mine a Mule, the remarkable true story of her twenty-eight year friendship with Pepita – a beautiful, 12 hand high mule with the largest brown eyes you ever saw.
Walker is also from a rural English background, and when she and her husband – who had owned ponies and a donkey in the UK – emigrated to Tasmania, they decided to continue their interest in donkeys, little realising that they were moving to a state where, at the time, there were none.
When Ann and her husband decided to import six donkeys as a basis for their newly-formed Keysoe Donkey Stud, the new arrivals featured in all the State’s media, quickly becoming stars of TV, radio and press. Ann, a novice breeder, became an overnight donkey ‘expert,’ somewhat to her own amusement. It just so happened that one of the numerous people who sought Ann’s advice, was a woman from Victoria who was keen to breed a mule. The woman wrote to thank her for her help, and a year later again to tell her that her mule filly had been born.
Fast forward four years, and Ann and her family had moved once more, this time to Victoria, where Ann had gathered mule experience in the form of Juanita, whom she had raised as a weanling. (Years later, Juanita, with her owner, Patsy Sinfield would become famous for being the first mule to complete the arduous 100-mile-Quilty endurance ride.) When she got a call from the woman in Victoria, offering to sell her Pepita, Ann jumped at the chance of owning her. Assured that she was quiet and had been taught all the basics, Ann decided that Pepita would make a perfect family mount.
As it turned out, Ann was right – but not before she found out to her cost that, as Ogden Nash once wrote, ‘In the world of Mules, there are no Rules’. Quiet Pepita certainly was, but mules, seemingly endowed with much more brain than either horse or donkey, need to have confidence in their owners before they will allow themselves to be persuaded to do something. But the amusing to read although no doubt les amusing to experience trials and tribulations in the end created an extraordinary bond between Ann, her family and Pepita. After a somewhat rocky start, Pepita even became a Pony Club mount, taking part in all Pony Club activities, including jumping, which she was remarkably good at – always clearing the jump by just a few centimetres – another mule trait, as Ann discovered on her mule journey.
The wonderful stories in this book will delight, entertain and enthral animal lovers everywhere. There’s the story of Pepita’s first mule class, when she realised it wasn’t her beloved Ann behind the long reins, and dashed the entire length of the ring braying the entire way, to stand beside her; or how Pepita saved Ann’s pony, Peppi, one day when Peppi fell down a steep bank, and in her anxiety was struggling so much she was in danger of falling into a ravine. Ann describes how Pepita stood there and ‘talked’ Peppi into becoming calm. Many years later Pepita saved Ann herself from a ferocious ram that was about to charge into Ann with full force.
Not that Pepita was always perfect – with her delightfully stubborn mule streak in evidence, Pepita would try and persuade Ann that she didn’t want to take a particular route by lifting a hind leg, and gently tapping Ann on the heel. If Ann persisted in her desire to go her way, Pepita would try once or twice more before reluctantly giving in.
But perhaps the two most moving messages to come through this enchanting book are the level of telepathic communication available to equine owners if they should choose to listen (and it’s something I’ve experienced myself), and the intense loving friendships that animals can have with one another (also something I’ve witnessed).
Pepita lived to the ripe old age of 32, succumbing, sadly, to colic, when Ann had to make the decision to have her put to sleep. Shortly after, she received communication from a clairvoyant with messages that Ann knew could only have come directly from Pepita.
This story of a lifelong (and beyond) friendship is heartfelt and humorous, and full of wisdom and insights into the world of mules. It’s a perfect gift for all ages.
The only problem is that now I want a mule!
Order Make Mine a Mule through Equilibrium Books: http://www.equilibriumbooks.com