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Ya Need a Needle
September 30, 2018

Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
Where’s the needle in this picture? In my beard, my hat or my bandana? Why do I need it? Read on.

Out here roaming the Virginia Highlands with our mules, we’re in possession of a sliver of steel as important as lentils, hoof boots and butt cheek callouses.
That would be the humble needle. The good old fashioned, honest-as-a-Norman-Rockwell-painting needle. The humble needle that harks back to the days of mending socks and shirts and your britches when they split. Recently, that little sucker kept the mule train heading up the trail.

Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
On the road. I’m riding Brick and leading Polly. Julia is riding Dusty.

A few days ago, in a soggy Appalachian pasture, I noticed that the pastern straps on one of my Renegade hoof boots was broken. The boot had hundreds of miles on it, a real veteran of the trail. The stitching had simply worn out.

Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
Our camp. It had rained on and off for days. That didn’t keep the mules from grazing all night. They’re hungry.
Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
This is the Renegade hoof boot in its more youth full days. Here, it’s being worn by mule Brick. (Lenoir, NC)
Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
The broken stitching.

Now if I’d been back home, riding out of our barn, I would have just grabbed a spare boot and tossed the ripped one on to the repair heap. Patch it up another day. To be fair to Renegade boots, repairing them is a breeze. They include a spare strap with every new set. If I’d felt lazy, I could have just switched out the strap.

But here I was standing in a pasture a long way from home. And I hadn’t brought an extra strap with me. I needed to patch up the one I had.

With all the rain we’ve had, our mules’ hooves are soft. The trail ahead is hard. Much of the route we’re following is paved road or gravel trail. Those abrasive surfaces, up against the mules’ rain-softened hooves, means the hoof material wears away much faster than it grows back. Hitting the trail barefoot isn’t really an option.

Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
The terrain around here. This is Rich Hill Road, outside Creston, NC. Look closely and you’ll see all our mules are wearing boots.

Sure, we could have used steel shoes on our mules’ hooves. But I think it’s much better for a mule to go unshod. This allows the mule’s hoof to expand and contract, which, long term, is much healthier for the hoof and legs. In addition, these hoof boots protect the foot from undo wear and sharp objects.

Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
Mixed herd: We use 3 brands of hoof boots. They are (front to back) Renegade, Cavallo and Easy Boot. (Watauga County, NC)

Standing there in that soggy pasture, broken hoof boot in hand, it was time to get sewing. Okay, “sewing” is a grand word for what, in the end, amounted to ten stitches and as many minutes of effort. Here are some photos of my “sewing kit” and the finished repair.

Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
The needle in a hat band. No, it doesn’t stick me in the head because…
Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
….I put the sharp end behind the elastic band. When I’m feeling especially prepared – or pessimistic – I pre-thread the needles.
Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
The completed repair.
Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
Here’s what the repaired strap looks like back in action. The repaired part is under the two elastic rings.

Repair completed, I tucked my needle back in to my hat band. I clamped the hat on my head. We saddled our mules and rode off in to a new day.

Bernie Harberts, Bernie Harberts photo, Julie Carpenter, ride out the front gate, riverearth.com, mule, horse, trail ride, western North Carolina, packing, adventure, voyage, horse voyage, mule voyage, barefoot hoof trim, pack mule
Let the day begin. The boot repair got us 15 miles up the road. We reached Dasmscus, Virginia that evening.

So what else do I keep tucked up in my hat? Aha, that’s a post for another day. Until then, keep your stitches tight, your dental floss handy and your needle tucked away.

Posted Sunday September 30, 2018 by Bernie
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