Apology time. For years I have sneered at mules and now I have ridden one. He was called Amigo and he was brilliant, the most sure-footed creature I have ever sat on. Which is just as well as we spent the morning on precipitous paths in Andalucia which would drain the colour from a mountain goat.
Amigo is just four years old, was only saddled for the first time in February is almost 16 hands high and while does react to the bridle, the steering is done rather more by consensus than instruction. Especially on those narrow mountain paths which came on the last leg of a wonderful four day trek across the High Sierra with its breath-taking views and the entrancing scent and sight of the wildflowers in May all organised – well the horse and travel part – by Ride Andalucia.
For while Amigo was clearly unfazed by the prospect of slipping hundreds of feet back down in the valley, it would have been much easier for his rider’s nerves if his method of handling the problem had not been to place himself right on the edge rather than hugging a yard or so closer to the mountainside. But mules are canny. If a predator comes they don’t run, if a fence looms, they crawl under rather than try a difficult leap – so if it worked for Amigo, best let it be.
The mule is the product of a male donkey on a female horse, the rare reverse is called a ‘Hinny’ and once you sit on Amigo you realise that this is an extraordinary machine. They don’t have the back flex of the horse, so even if they can’t keep up at the gallop their trot is a quite comfortable run, but above all they are tireless and comparatively maintenance free. They don’t need the corn or anything like the water that a horse must have, they can carry more, last longer and as for shoes, Amigo’s hard but supple feet will probably never need the farrier’s nail.
Of course the two things that shake you are his ears. The mule’s neck has nothing like the arching slab of muscle of the horse, yet at its straight and unimpressive end come this astonishing pair of lugs through which your view of proceedings will now be conducted. They swing quirkily forward and back in clear indication of the independence of their owner.
Amigo’s shift was the final push of a journey that had started at the mountain edge village of Gaucin 20 miles in from the Malaga coast and ended on the cliff top city of Ronda where the bullring still holds pride of place. A donkey had woken us that first morning and an uninhibited daytime nightingale had serenaded us on our way. Besides Amigo we rode those white sturdy but athletic Andalucian horses that bullfighters used to ride and before we stopped in hilltop villages like Benarraba, Alpandeire and Jimera de Libar. We waded through rivers, cantered up forests paths and picnicked under the cork trees shade.
It was a great trip – and Amigo was the making of it. www.rideandalucia.net