When the man in charge of the pack and riding stock for the Wenatchee National Forest in Cle Elum, Wash., called and said he wanted me to take over the shoeing, I was delighted.
I was at the stage of my career when I considered large hoof-care accounts positive. I had shod Dick’s personal horses, so he knew my work. While my views about large accounts have changed over the years, I counted it a compliment to receive the offer at the time.
I showed up early at the compound because I knew there were 10 horses and four mules to be done. Dick requested toe and heel shoes because the terrain they worked in required them. In the years since, I have counseled my clients that a rim shoe will provide better traction without the strain of calks on those old shoes. He assigned a helper to fetch the stock, and I completed six on the first day. I finished the horses and got one mule done on day two, leaving three mules to go.
I showed up for the third day to find the three mules in the smaller catch pen next to the corral. I figured I’d finish up early. The first two went smoothly, which wasn’t a surprise. I have always found mules to be easier than horses since they are a bit smarter, and I get along fine with them. There was one mule left to go.
This mule was the last one for a good reason — she had the reputation for being particularly hard to catch. If you needed a pack animal for the day, I was told you wanted to show up early enough, so you weren’t left with this one in the corral.
I walked over to the catch pen when the helper took considerable time returning with the mule. He was making a valiant effort to corner the beast but was no match for her quickness. The mule took obvious joy in avoiding his attempts at getting a rope attached to her halter. I jumped in and figured the two of us would make quick work of cornering her. I was pretty sure there was only a horse and a jack involved in her genetic makeup, but I started to wonder that maybe some jackrabbit had gotten in there somehow the way she slipped past every effort we made at pinning her against the lodge pole fence.
“Whatcha standing there for? Go get your tools!…”
After 15 minutes of fruitless effort, I wandered over to the office and asked Dick for some help. He walked to the corral with me and said, “The three of us should get the job done.”
The catch pen was a good deal smaller than the adjacent corral and had a ramp leading up to a small gate that opened onto the loading platform that they would back the stock truck up to. The three of us entered the catch pen and started toward the placid-looking mule with thoughts that our superior numbers would prevail. She had another idea.
As we got within 10 feet of her, she whirled around and charged up the loading ramp, flew through the gate at the top of the ramp, which we hadn’t noticed was open, and sailed off the loading platform into the larger compound. Dick retrieved some sweet feed and enticed her back into the corral. The three of us managed to chase her into the catch pen, and the whole catch-me-if-you-can dance continued.
Dick had taken the precaution of closing the gate at the top of the ramp and we figured we had her at last. She figured the ramp had been her way out once and it would work again, so she went for it. She was barreling up the ramp when she saw the gate was closed. She never hesitated a moment and tried jumping the gate. Since the gate was at the top of the ramp, the attempt was made going uphill. To her credit, she nearly made it.
Most of her cleared the gate, but she didn’t have enough momentum to carry all of her over. Somehow, she wound up with one hind foot stuck between the crossbars of the gate. Being a mule, she was too smart to struggle and perhaps injure herself. Instead, she stood there with that hind foot stuck between the crossbars, looking at us to see what our next move would be.
Dick didn’t miss a beat. He looked over at me and said, “Whatcha standing there for? Go get your tools!”
It’s amazing how fast you can work when the situation requires it. I had that foot trimmed in a few minutes. Having had enough trauma for the day and knowing she was caught, we had no more trouble dealing with her and the rest of the shoeing went without incident.
I did that bunch a few more times and would always request that she be caught before I arrived, and she was at the top of the list for that day.