The Rub: Shoulda Taken a Day Off

I shouldn’t have saddled Brick the day I saw the bump on her back. But I did and she carried her pack saddle 20 miles that day. When I unsaddled her, I saw the newly balded spot on her back. Shame on me.

The spot I rubbed on Brick’s back. It’s right behind her withers.

In an ideal world, I should have given Brick a few days vacation when I first saw the bump on her back. It had just started off as a fly bite that had swollen more than the others. She got her lump while we were camped on a biting fly infested river bank. Miserable. We had to move on.

So we did.

Okay, maybe we moved on a little too much. I should have only traveled 10 miles that day. Let the bump go down. Then start upping the miles when her back smoothed out.

But I didn’t and now I had to deal with this stupid self-induced abrasion.

The good news is the rub didn’t hurt Brick. She didn’t flinch when I pressed on the bare spot. Also, I caught the rub early, before it broke the skin. It wasn’t bleeding or weeping. Just a spot of denuded black skin.

The less good news was I didn’t have access to a block of foam rubber or felt padding. With those, I could have shaped up some padding to lift the saddle off the affected spot. I’d have to fix this with whatever I had on hand.

This would take some figuring…..

Out here on the road, our options for repairing stuff is limited. (North-western Missouri)

The Fix

I looked at what I had on hand and got to work. First I took the fleecy padding off Brick and Cracker’s breast plate.

The breast plate hangs around Brick’s neck. It keeps the pack saddle from sliding back on Brick’s back while going up hills. The fleecy covering keeps the breast plate from chafing the hair off her chest and shoulders. It would soon have a new job in the saddle pressure reduction department.

I slid one fleecy in to the other to make a soft tube. Then I stuffed feed sacks in to the tube. To complete the make shift repair, I shaped the tube of padding in to a doughnut-shaped ring.

Here I am preparing to slide the feed sacks in to the fleecy. The middle third of the fleecy is not padded. I did not want to exert undo pressure on Brick’s spine, where the padding would be deployed. The red rod is the picket pin used to secure the mules. I used it to tamp the feed sacks in to the fleecy tube.
The padding ready for the saddle pad.
All saddled up. The padding now lifts the saddle off the chaffed spot.

Lesson learned, Brick, Cracker and I set out anew. The first few days, I put the pack saddle on Cracker and the riding saddle on Brick. To further reduce her load, instead of riding Brick, I led her.

This gave me plenty of time to reflect on my oversight. Nothing like leading a mule up a hot Nebraska highway to ponder why you’re marching through the heat instead of riding up the road on a perfectly good mule’s back.

Back to the way it used to be: Brick packing our gear in to Central City, Nebraska. Note how her and Cracker’s breast plate padding is missing. I’ll keep padding her back for at least another week.

Since that incident, the mules have had 3 consecutive days off. Just what they needed. Brick’s bald patch is healing up nicely. Next time Brick sprouts a lump, we’re all getting a day off…

Three Weeks Later…

Brick’s back got rubbed about 3 weeks ago. It’s healed up nicely since then. As of this posting, we’re traveling across west central Nebraska. Last night we spent the night in Mullen.


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