What am I going to wear on my feet for this upcoming ramble? I've given it a lot of thought already, especially since we've been having a very wet summer. I like my feet to be dry but I also like comfortable boots that breath and that I know I can rely on not to rub when I have a long way to walk. I think for myself, I shall take a pair of my favorite brand of leather work boots and just give them several good coatings of silicon spray.
The mules will wear boots too. Bernie who has done so much long distance travel with equines, says that this is " the best way to go". The mules need the boots so that they don't get too foot sore from the gravel roads and to protect their feet from broken glass on the side of the roads.
The choices for equine owners when setting out on such a trip as ours are to have their mounts go barefoot, wear steel, nailed on shoes, or to wear a pair of removable hoofboots.
To read Bernie's reasons for choosing hoofboots for his trips across America click here to read Bernie's post.
Every dog I have owned has been an exceptional dog, “the best dog in the world”. I'm starting to think that any dog one gets to know really well has this potential. They are humorously carefree and endlessly full of devotion. It's so easy to make one a best friend. Sure they all have their own quirks but so do we.
This is how I find myself facing leaving “the best dog in the world” behind when I go off on our mule ramble on September 1st. Snookie can't come along. It's too far, too on the road to bring him along. He's turning 10 this October. I haven't ever left him for this long since I got him as a 3 month old puppy. I don't know if he will be as challenged by this as I shall be. I imagine that he will be. He likes to be with me no matter what I am doing or where I am going. He hates to be left especially when the bigger animals are going.
So my yellow shadow will be lost when I exit the gate and take a left on September 1st. He will miss sleeping by my side, trotting along behind the mules, accompanying me on errands and missions, begging for my dinner and partaking in just about any activity we are up to.
Lucky for him though he has two homes and two owners. He will be staying with Tom his other owner, my friend and ex husband. Snookie will stay with Tom for the 6 weeks we are gone. I imagine he and Tom will have their own adventures.
For me, with Snookie getting older and a dog's life being so short, it was hard to make the decision to go at all. But I realized that Snookie is not the only one the years are ticking by on. I am over 50 now.
I believe that we must never regret not fitting things into this ever narrowing window of time, health and energy. This dream must be seized. And the creep to stay close to home for whatever reason, pushed back.
I know my yellow shadow will be waiting for me when I return. I will be over joyed to have him again at my side. The following photos are a tribute to “the best dog in the world”, my yellow shadow.
A note to Snookie from me reads:
“Dear Snookie, Though I leave on an adventure of unknown destination, I promise to not be gone as long as Odysseus was. So please wait for me in good health and contentment. I shall return to you soon. All my love. You are truly the best dog in the world.
When I was a kid I dreamed of being a cowboy and sleeping out for endless nights under the stars with my pony beside me. I'd pretend I was taking off on him. I'd pack him up with a bedroll and fishing pole. I still harbor that dream. On September 1st a version of that dream will come true as I saddle my mount, throw on the saddle bags and head out our front gate on Zacks Fork Rd in Lenoir, NC and take a left.
Bernie and I have roughly planned a trip. It goes like this: Leave out the front gate on September 1st. Take a left and ride on. Try to avoid fast moving cars. Head for the hills. Find places as we travel that we can camp for the night with 3 mules. Return by mid October to honor some commitments. Not much more will be thought out ahead of time other than keep the packs light, the mules caught and well cared for and our attitudes positive.
As a child in Vermont I would ride for hours down dirt roads, through rivers and across a lot of country with my father. He'd carry wire cutters and pliers on his saddle so he could get us through barbwire fencing. Sometimes we'd jump the fencing with our coats laid across it. I had forgotten how fun this was. How this just getting on and going exploring on a horse can be. It seems we get so caught up in training horses to do things like jump or bend or spin or cut, that we lose sight of the true magic of just getting on a horse and wandering through a landscape on a loose rein. In my opinion that's the very best way to spend time with a horse. The real essence of our relationship with equines.
My dream was to do this trip with my friend Pickle. Pickle is my kick-ass, 8 year old Haflinger pony (although he's 14.3 hands so technically a horse) who was found in 2017, thin, frightened and just halter broke at the Tarheel Kill-pen by some kind people by the last name of Horton. It still is my dream for some day to camp under the stars for many nights with Pickle, but sadly Pickle is not going to make this trip. He's got a suspensory sprain that just has not healed enough yet.
I brought him down for a consult with Dr. Bill Hay at the Tryon Equine Hospital (a very impressive facility). Dr Hay thinks Pickle will make a full recovery but he needs a few months of rehab which have started with a month of stall rest and walking. Then he will start trotting and eventually return to full work and pasture time. But Pickle's recovery will not sadly coincide with our trip. So he will continue to convalesce with our very capable friends at Leatherwood Stables as we head out the gate on September 1st.
Lucky for me. I still have a mount to ride. Bernie's friend Ronald Hudson is generously lending me Dusty. Dusty is a 20+ year old veteran of the mule Army training core. In fact he's still working training Army recruits about mules with Ronald's supervision. I am waiting for Dusty to finish a job so that we can pick him up from Ronald to start getting him ready for our trip. Or maybe for him to start getting me ready for the trip. I need time in the saddle to toughen up and he needs time with me in the saddle to soften up, get used to the commands of the leg and hand aids. We both need to start logging the miles together, which will happen soon.
Dusty is old. No one quite knows how old but surely over 20. He's the look out mule in the herd always watching for possible trouble. The one with the watch who knows when the food is late or the gate has not been opened on time. He's off white, some call it champagne, with yellow eyes. He likes to wear a coat of mud and even works it into his eyeball sockets. He is never clean and I don't think it's even possible to ever get him clean. He has a pink nose and always looks to be wearing a bemused smile.
Bernie, veteran of long distance travel and mule adventures will be riding his green, sleek, six year old mule Brick and using super star veteran Polly who has walked across America and Newfoundland as our pack mule. That's our team.
We just found out that the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention is that weekend of the start of our trip so I think the first destination will be the field below Laura Foster's Grave (folk legend Tom Dula's murdered girlfriend), home of the Happy Valley Fiddlers Convention. We went a few years ago by mule and had a blast. So this would be a wonderful first destination for our “ ride out the front gate” ramble. There shall be some long ears listening to fiddling soon.