Recapturing the Mule Nation – Southern Pines, NC

“Oh man, I’m so sunk!” I thought as I turned away from the open gate and thought of Craig.

Craig aboard his boat before she was lost at sea
(Rodrigues Island, Indian Ocean)

Craig was a mad keen Australian I’d sailed with aboard Sea Bird. He’d bought a small twenty-three foot sailboat in Australia, sailed her from there around Africa’s stormy Cape of Good Hope, then up to Cuba and on to Newfoundland.

From there, he planned to cross the Atlantic to Ireland and then back down to Cape Horn and return home to the Big Down Under.

Only the tail end of a hurricane caught him at sea hundreds of miles offshore, rolled his boat over and he was plucked from his swamped vessel by a passing freighter. He showed up in London with little more than his name.

As I turned from the empty gate I got that same sinking feeling. Dang! One moment I had mules under me. The next I was the owner of an empty field.

I gathered up my empty halters, climbed back into my pickup and started driving down May Street.

Now unlike a good shipwreck, where you have floating clues like life preservers and oil slicks to pursue, mule hunting is trickier. As I drove down May Street toward Southern Pines, my eyes combed the long leaf pines and horse pasture for clues.

Nothing. No tracks, no skid marks. Zero.

The first person I came across was Mike Plumb.

Now you have to know, Mike’s been a member of the Olympic Three-day event team five times. Three-day event. That’s where horses first have to perform a series of patterns in what’s called Dressage and then they jump their guts out for the rest of the competition.

Mule driving is the polar opposite of Three-day eventing.

Anyway, I figured it was worth a shot.

Mike was schooling one of his horses. I ambled up. “‘lost my mules. Have you seen any around here?” I asked.

“Lost, as in died?” he wanted to know. “Does this happen a lot with you?”

I explained that no, it was acually rare for me to loose my mounts in such spectacular fashion and yes, I still held out hope they were alive.

Still, I cursed myself. Between Woody and Maggie, I’d just put in a combined 7000 miles of cross country riding from North Carolina to California. Never had a spot of trouble. Now, in my own back yard, I’d left their gate open and they’d just wandered off.

I excused myself, drove another stretch down May Street and there they were.

I spotted Maggie first, her black and white hide standing out against the dead grass like an ink stain on my favorite white shirt. Aha!

Then Woody, Jack and Bill came into view, all standing very contently in a very borrowed pasture. Someone had caught them in the night (I later learned it was 3:00 AM), put them up into their field and assumed what ever idiot had lost them would eventually claim them.

They were right. Now that idiot just had to figure out how to get them home.

I’d long ago discovered that Maggie was the ringleader of the group. The mules were smitten with her so I just put on her halter, rigged the lead rope into reins and jumped on her back. The rest of the Mule Nation just followed her home as happily as they’d undoubtedly followed her off the farm.

Return of the Mule Nation

Now I’m not much of an emotional person. But as soon as I had my mounts turned loose in their pasture I walked over and gave each on a hug.

Suddenly it didn’t matter that I drove an old truck and my mules wore second hand harness that belonged in the charity league. The glorius fact remained I had close friends, a trusty Dodge, a team of mules and a pony that stirred the pot just to make things exciting.

Then, having given thanks, I went back and shut the gate.

And tied it…

Tomorrow I must call Craig.


(Thanks Mel, Beth, Peter and Suzie and everyone else who helped me re-capture my mules. Thanks also to Susan Edwards for the superb photos – Bernie)


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