What To Do When You Can’t Ride Your Mule

Nilla developed a very minor girth gall after the Weaverville endurance ride. The swelling didn’t show up until the next day and it was gone within a day of that. I figured I should get a new girth for her endurance saddle – I’m going to try a mohair girth – but didn’t think it needed to happen ASAP given how minor the swelling was. I added a sheepskin girth cover to cover us (ha ha ha) until I could get a new girth.

I couldn’t get the sheepskin on my shaped TSF girth so I left it off for our lesson. Turns out that was a bad idea. The next day she had a huge swelling. On both side this time. Which figures, because we finally had a good dressage lesson. Of course she needed to injure herself; we can’t actually have progress.

Since I want the gall to heal fully this time, I stopped riding her. In one day of poulticing, I got the swelling down to almost nothing and 48 hours later it was basically gone. However, if I poke around there, I can feel some very slight sub-dermal swelling. I know that galls really need a few weeks to fully heal even if they look fine on the surface, so she’s getting some time off.

While I rode her bareback the first few nights, she now has way too much energy for that. So now I’m looking for new ways to occupy myself while my husband is riding.

On Saturday, my husband and I rode over to the winery. I rode Shasta who was like a lit wire so I was unable to hunt Pokemon on our ride over. She did double duty as a pack horse and brought our picnic with us.

This is how professionals pack food, right?

This is how professionals pack food, right?

I do love this little cooler lunch bag. It has lots of slots and compartments to keep all your cheese, crackers, and chocolate separate. And it comes with a built in ice pack to keep everything cool. Which comes in handy when it’s 95 freaking degrees out.


We did a wine tasting and then had a picnic at the tables outside the winery with a glass of wine. The wine tasting and picnic were a test to see how Eugene would do with being tied up as my husband planned to ride him to a restaurant on Sunday.

I’m in a few horseback riding meetups and one of them was doing a ride through Wunderlich to Alice’s Restaurant for lunch. The ride was a bit too long for Shasta’s current fitness level so my husband went without me. I met the group at the restaurant for lunch. My husband said that Eugene was great. He minded his manners and wasn’t bothered by riding with new horses or being tied up next to them.

tied up

Eugene was even feeling so relaxed that he rolled with his tack on while tied up. My husband had to run over and re-tie him tighter. In the future we’ll take his tack off and just let him have a roll before getting tied up. I’m really hoping my husband and I can do this ride again sometime when I have a functioning equine.

PC: The Waitress whose name I do not remember

PC: The waitress whose name I do not remember

After the rousing weekend of Pokemon hunting and not really riding, I topped it off by not riding on Monday either. Instead, I dragged Nilla up to the arena to work on her ground tying skills. She used to stand pretty well if I needed to set jumps or poles, but she’s been getting progressively worse. Last week she just walked herself right out of the arena while I was setting some cones for my husband. So we had a practice session.



Watching the mule stand still was predictably boring (although I did have to frequently catch her and return her to her spot), so I started looking for other things to do.

Remember Nilla’s lizard phobia? I found a little baby lizard and put it on her. Officially not scary.


The lizard was returned to his hiding place in the jump standard and no lizards were harmed in the making of this photo.

Then I figured, why not see if Nilla will do some coon jumping. That’s what mules are supposed to be good at, right? Turns out she will. Although she was honestly pretty baffled as to why I wanted her to do this.


We’ll have to try some higher jumps another night.

What do you do with your horse when you can’t ride? And if you have any great girth gall healing tips, please feel free to share those as well.

26 thoughts on “What To Do When You Can’t Ride Your Mule

  1. Kaisa Määttänen

    Could you possible make a post how to train a mule to ground tie? Because I can not ride my mule yet, I just take her out for a walk. Yesterday we walked 3 kilometers and were doing some train spotting. Pokemon doesn’t work on my old shitty phone but If it would, we would walk 13 kilometers with Muuli to catch them all!

    1. Olivia Post author

      If we had cell service at my barn, I would totally have taken her for a long walk looking for Pokemon. Unfortunately, my post on how to teach your mule to ground tie would go along the lines of step 1. ask mule to ground to. step 2. mule moves. step 3. put mule back. step 4. move to set a jump and turn around to watch mule walking away across the arena. If I ever actually solve it, I’ll let you know.

  2. Paola

    Ugh, I hope the gall heals soon. In the mean time, I hope you find more things to do with Nilla. It’s nice that she did the coon jumping!

  3. Sara @ The Roaming Rider

    No good advise on healing, but I hope the mohair works for you. Its the only thing that works for Gem along with a bunch of body glide.

    When I’m not in the mood to ride, but still want to work Gem I hit the trails on foot with her. Hiking and jogging on the trail with my horse is one of my favorite things to do and it taught Gem a lot about minding her own feet and having confidence out on trail. Since I’m having to pay so much attention to my own feet, she is left to herself to balance and manage her own way.

    1. Olivia Post author

      That’s really interesting. Nilla’s pretty good about managing her feet already, but I could see it helping her confidence. Unfortunately, I despise walking up hills and the only trails around me are very hilly. I might try walking her to the winery as I can at least distract myself from the hills with Pokemon catching.

  4. jenj

    You can work in-hand with no surcingle… great way to do laterals, turn on the forehand/haunches, backing, and other stuff!

  5. Lei

    If I can’t ride, we do lots and lots of walking.

    Cute lunchpack. I can already hear my mom saying “No. You’re not getting another one of those.” I’m a bento lunchbox junkie.

    1. Olivia Post author

      They’re so cute. I don’t pack lunches so it rarely gets used, but I think it’s adorable. It was only like $10 too.

  6. Sarah

    Copper’s ground tying is slacking in a big way lately too. I mostly blame it on the random hay bale we left sitting literally in the middle of the indoor…he finds it too tempting to stand still after a ride when noms are nearby. 😉

  7. Appydoesdressage

    Maybe she would “enjoy” some longer lunge sessions with canter practice, or over some jumps with lizards! Ha! I like to do a lot of groundwork, lots of yielding, tricks, dressage movements in hand, etc.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I generally don’t like to lunge her for long periods of time. She has such back hocks that I don’t want to do a lot of tiny circles. But tricks and yielding would be good work for her.

    1. Olivia Post author

      She would love some hand-grazing. Unfortunately everything is dead here in the summer, so it’s not the grass grazing east coast horses get. But she’ll eat bark off trees so she’s not picky.

  8. Heather

    Oh man, I wish there was a winery I could ride to from my barn. That would be a weekly activity, cheese and chocolate included. I do not have any suggestions for girth galls unfortunately. That’s one of the few issues I’ve never had to deal with. When I can’t do a tack ride, I do a lot of work on the longe line to keep the horse’s fitness up, or I’ll just ride bareback. Not like a puttering around ride, but a flat school just like I would with tack on. It’s great for your balance and core strength. And I’ve found I actually get some of the best work out of Val that way, because I can better feel what each of his parts are doing, and there’s nothing between my own aids and my horse.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I would like to do more bareback. Unfortunately, she’s basically a ball of energy at this time and I don’t trust her bareback.

  9. Megan

    I’m doing groundwork with the new mare. She came with too short hooves so we are taking it easy until they grow out more. Yesterday we worked on ground tying and did some easy lunging just to get her moving.

    1. Olivia Post author

      Do you have any advice for ground tying training? The trainer I talked to suggested Nilla’s probably just too smart for it and wished me good luck.

  10. kalinann

    My guy has been lame off and on for 3 weeks, I’m going crazy. We’ve been doing lots of cold hosing, and worrying. 😉 I normally just go steal another horse when I’m not sulking. 😉

    1. Olivia Post author

      I could ride Shasta, but I honestly just don’t like riding her. She has been on reduced work for a year now and has lost most of her condition and manners.

  11. KateRose

    The owl lunch kit is adorable. I rode bareback for a few weeks while Apollo had a kick laceration heal up. Did lots of ground work too.

  12. Cathryn

    Its frustrating when you can’t ride your own horse :/

    I will normally practice new braiding and such (which obv you are limited to since Nilla doesn’t have a full mane lol).

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