I read the ad about the mule with interest and a bit of skepticism. The ad said in bold, “Mule That Walked Across America For Sale”. The ad said that Woody, age about twenty-three, was looking for a new home. Good for riding and packing. Can also be bought with small pinto pony mare, age over twenty, named Maggie who also walked across America.
I had my doubts. How could such a small pony and mule walk all the way across this country in modern times in such a busy fast moving world? And who would be bold enough to do such a thing?
And why if they had done such a spectacular thing would the person who'd gone with them ever part with them?
I went online to see what else I could dig up about the likelihood of this event ever having taken place. I Googled “Woody the mule walks across America”. Up came a photograph of a mule tied to a Forest Service truck. The mule's eye was rolled back in his head and he was rearing. The caption said, “Mule Woody rearing in a panic as he does not like to be separated from his pony Maggie.”
There were other images, too, of the little red mule and pinto pony in the desert, on city streets, standing with interesting looking people, sculptures and other animals. Yes, it did look like they had been on quite an adventure across America. They looked like real characters. Yes, their walk across America seemed for real.
Now I wanted them. I wanted to save them, retire them and give them a nice old age together on my farm in Essex, Massachusetts. But they were far away in North Carolina. Besides they were old and the man who owned them wanted a thousand dollars for each of them.
I decided to write him an email telling him who I was, where I lived and about my experiences being raised with and taking care of animals. I promised him in my letter that if he gave Woody and Maggie to me instead of selling them I could use the money to get them to my farm. There I would keep them together in retirement for the rest of their lives. I sent pictures of my farm with the red barn sitting with its green pastures looking out over the Essex River and marsh. I also sent pictures of my shiny coated, well cared for animals, my dogs sleeping peacefully together on the couch. I told him I had grown up on a horse farm and that I'd ridden and taken care of animals since I was a child.
I didn't hear anything back for two weeks. My friends laughed and wondered what I'd expected. Someone to just hand over their accomplished animals to me for free? Ha! How likely was that?
Then on the third week an email arrived from Tasmania. Bernie Harberts, their owner and co trans America adventurer wrote a quick note.
“Dear Julia, I received your email today. Sorry for the delay. I am in Tasmania at the moment sitting in an internet cafe. I have read what you propose and think it could work out well. I shall contact you in another week when I return home. Sincerely, Bernie Harberts.”
I waited and two weeks later I got a call from Bernie in North Carolina. He told me a bit more about Woody and Maggie and we made arrangements for me to plan their shipping up to Massachusetts. Bernie told me that he'd been traveling a lot. That he did not own a place of his own where he could keep Woody and Maggie. He told me that he was taking care of older parents. Woody and Maggie were living with a friend of his named Liz Munson who was in her mid seventies. Liz had miniature horses and did all the work herself on her farm. She was ready to downsize her herd and so Woody and Maggie needed a new place to live.
When he could not find a good solution he put an ad online. But all the people who had called on them did not seem to suit what he wanted for them. They wanted to buy the mule but not the pony. Or the other way around. I think he and Liz were really reluctant to part with them and to have them separated from one another.
I contracted with a van line to have them come up to my farm in July which was a few months away. Bernie gave me Liz's number so I could get the up to date specifics on their care. Bernie also said he would send me the book he wrote about his trip with them so I could get to know them all better. The book was called “Too Proud To Ride a Cow”. (Can be ordered here at riverearth.com)
I read the book cover to cover gleaning all the information I could on them. It seemed the pony was easy but that mule! Ugg! What had I gotten myself into? The PTSD mule who ran away from Bernie once per state. That would not accept being separated from his pony for a single moment and who was hard to trim, hard to catch, hard to deworm and almost impossible to give shots to without tying him up like a pretzel first. In another phone call with Bernie he assured me that it all could be done quite easily.
He sent me a hand drawn diagram of the Scotch hobble, a way to control Woody when giving him shots. He also emailed me a video on how to trim Woody's hooves while distracting him with a bucket of grain. He said, “hold on to that pony and you will never lose that mule”.
In July Woody and Maggie arrived with a watermelon at my farm via an East Coast van line. My best friend Beth and I greeted the van at the street. Out came a pretty little pinto pony followed by a slightly taller, determined-eyed red mule. I was saying to the van driver that Bernie suggested we unload the mule first as the van driver lead Maggie out. Next thing I knew out flew Woody towing the large muscled van driver down the ramp with him to catch up with his pony.
Slowly, I figured out my own methods with Woody and Maggie. The two of them slipped into a peaceful retirement at my farm.
Bernie, Liz and I kept in touch. We talked always of our friends Woody and Maggie and how they were doing.
One day I got an email from Bernie saying he was heading up to Newfoundland with his mule Polly. Would it be alright to stop and visit us?
I hadn't given as much thought to Bernie as I had to his mule and pony. Then he showed up at my farm.
It was a raining-sideways night. He pulled up with his old Dodge truck, his old horse trailer mounted on a flat bed with his little red covered wagon. In the blowing gale, in the dark with a flood light shining on to him, in his signature hat and a rain poncho, with a huge smile on his face and open arms, was the first time my eyes had set upon him. Here stood Bernie. I knew then that this person was going to be special to me.
Sometimes Bernie and I just simply say now that a mule introduced us when people ask how we met.