Bronze's Expedition Log

Mules

mule-1

If it were possible to complete the trip in the way I want without the aid of an equine, I would be happy to do so. The introduction of a strong-willed yet fragile animal with which I have zero expertise seems to lend an air of doom to the whole endeavor. However, the weight and volume of the necessary gear–cooking tools, bedding, food–is far too great for me to carry with any level of comfort. Whereas I quite like the thought of pleasantly strolling along unburdened while the trusty mule lugs my supplies.

From what I can tell mules, while possibly lacking the aesthetic graces of a horse, are superior in nearly every way as pertains to my expedition. They are stronger, have more endurance, require less food and water, are more sure-footed, and are infinitely more intelligent. Not being an equestrian person in the least; appraising the creatures by utility alone, I can safely wonder aloud why anyone would want a horse in place of a mule…

The mule represents the single largest expense, the most crucial tool, and the most unknown factor in this whole expedition. If any other element or item breaks down I can likely improvise, but if the mule is injured or disagreeable or wanders off I’m sunk. I spend a lot of time worrying about having such great plans resting on one critter.

On the matter of period authenticity I draw the line at the comfort and safety of the mule. It’s one thing to subject myself to discomfort and abuse for the sake of a good yarn to spin down the line, but it doesn’t seem kind to wear down a poor mule just so my tack conforms to some 19th Century aesthetic.

Feed

It is my understanding that I need to carry 6 lbs of feed per day for my mule. This makes mule feed the single largest item by volume and weight that I will be taking on the trip! And here I thought they would just graze on shrubs the whole way… At this point I am not sure what is the best feed to bring-suggestions are welcome.

Shoeing

bootsie1I have not come to a conclusion yet on this matter. Perhaps the act of daily treading on rough terrain will naturally keep the hooves trimmed and thus my only concern will be keeping the feet healthy. If shoes are needed, they must be replaced possibly every 6 weeks. I will need to have a rough idea of farriers in each area through which I travel so as to re-shoe the mule on schedule. There are also some rubber booties that eliminate the need for shoeing but I have dismissed them as being inauthentic-not to mention silly looking.

21 Responses to “Mule”

  1. day-late says:

    There are requirements on the type of feed you can use in the backcountry. It must be sterile so non-native grasses don’t grow. There are several people that have done the PCT with pack animals. I would recommend getting in touch with one of them. They are usually very willing to share info. Check out the PCT-l archives (google search)

  2. bronze says:

    Great advice–thanks. I’ve been in contact with several folks that have done the trail with livestock, but am always interested in finding more! I was not aware of the sterile feed requirement so I’ve already learned something new.

  3. Darla J. Wright DVM says:

    Wow! What a venture you have planned. Mules ARE equines and their food/water requirements do not differ from a horse? Where did you get that misinformation?! Feed is based on pounds per day, for this you are correct, but unless your mule wheighs only 600 lbs, then it will lose a lot of weight if you don’t find other ample ‘grasses’ not shrubs for it to graze on daily! For light work you would feed 1% of body weight daily to maintain the animal, thus about 10 lbs of feed for an average 1000# equine, the amount goes up with heavy work and can push 2% of body weight (or 20lbs per 1000 lb animal). WATER IS CRUCIAL! If your animal gets dehydrated you could lose it. In other words, never pass water with your animal without stopping to let them drink. “Certified Weed Free Hay” is what was mentioned to you if you are looking for more information on “sterile” feed! :) good luck! Darla

  4. bronze says:

    I got the 6 lbs a day feed recommendation from the PCTA website–it is intended as a supplement to whatever grazing I can find. In areas when grazing is poor or not allowed I’ll have the pellets for back up. On an ideal day Bootsie will have her fill of grass in the AM and PM.

    I definitely don’t plan on passing up a watering opportunity for Bootsie, or myself! Staying hydrated will be my number one concern for us both.

    Thanks for the figures on feed consumption and the “weed free” hay info–I appreciate all the advice!

  5. Bob Mcleish says:

    Bronze, you need to learn how to reshoe your mule. do not count on being able to find a farrier when you need one. consult a farrier about Bootsie’s feet. she may not need shoes. but you will need a small farrier’s file at the very least. most mules can go barefoot. you are not riding her so the wear is different. her feet is her life. and maybe yours. you can reset a shoe with your handax hammer poll. have your farrier, if she needs shoes, make up another set for you and provide the nails. learn to do this. it’s not rocket science and you can follow the holes made by the previous shoe. bob

  6. Bob Mcleish says:

    Bronze, i don’t see anything listed on your site about ropes and such. hopefully you are learning to tie the one man diamond hitch. you should also be training your mule to stand at liberty while putting on the packs. there may be a day there is nothing to tie to. what kind of ropes are you using?
    manila is period correct after 1830, hemp is far superior if you can get it. right now i am out of stock and don’t expect any in the near future.
    you will need: a 30 ft picket rope and hobbles. put a diamond brand bull snap on one end. use grazing hobbles, strap hobbles make the animal “hop” putting stress on the pin and rope. grazing hobbles allow them to take baby steps and actually inhibit getting up to speed better than strap hobbles. do not use a single cuff. if your animal spooks and has the full 30′ of rope to run, it can injure the shoulder that’s on the cuff. hobbles take their feet out from under them together. clip the bull snap to the center link on the grazing hobbles. take two pair. tie a bowline to your picket pin. try to find a forged steel pin about two feet long or as long as your panniers. drive it as far in to the ground as you can. this will allow your mule to graze as long as you like without you having to sit over it. work with your mule on hobbles and a picket before you leave. it will save rope burns. the rope should be 5/8″ or 3/4″. you should also have a high line. i like mine to be 70′ and 3/8″ or 1/2″ is better. 70′ will reach any pair of trees if there are trees. learn to tie the dutchman? i think that’s what it is called. it is an overhand loop that you tie in front of the tree, run the rope around the tree and through the loop to pull the rope tight, then secure it with a couple of half hitches. makes tightening your rope easier. if you high line you will need tree savers to put between the rope and the tree. take an extra bull snap and run the rope through it, clip you mule to that so she can use the full length of the highline. it becomes a sliding swivel. or buy a highline swivel. mine are forged by a blacksmith.
    so you have a 30′ picket rope, 70′ highline, you need a 40′lash rope for your packs, two 12′ lead ropes. i know they are long but 9′ can come up short. and a mantee rope about as long as you can put up with. and at least 50′ of rope to be able to put up a shelter.
    one more thing, BUTE, ask your vet for a tube of it and how and when to use it. highly reccomend these books; Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails by Joe Back. take it with you on your trip. the other is; Horse Packing in Pictures by Francis Davis. these books will save you a lot of grief. Bob

  7. Richard White says:

    I don’t know shit about mules.

  8. Louie says:

    Bronze,

    Has your mule ever been shod before? My mules run in a five section pasture, that is very rough. Rocks, mountains, cactus, and more rocks, and they never need shoes. I use them for riding, and packing. It really depends on the mule’s feet. If she has a thick hoof wall, and straight hooves, she might not need shoes at all.
    How far do you plan to walk in a day? I promise you, she will be able to walk you into the ground, and never break a sweat.

    If I can be any help, or answer any questions, send me a private e-mail.

  9. Ray Drasher says:

    Bronze, Been looking briefly at your site, will look more as time permits. I did not see any approved food containers that are required in many areas,might have missed them. I am in Southern Ca. and take care of the trail here before you will get to Big Bear, section D. If you need assistance down here contact me. I also know many along the route that may be able to be contacted for assitance. I know another person said to learn the diamond, I use the box hitch most all the time, it is often easier for new people to learn, but it does take a longer lash rope, maybe like 55 ft and many times it can be used for highline or extending a highline and such. As they have said shoes will depend on your mule and the weight of the packs, which are critical to be balanced in weight, I do not shoe my mules or horses if the feet hold up to wear, which is what you will be worried about on the trip since being used daily the usually will wear more than growing, out which requires trimming, but wear needs more of keeping them even. Work with your shoer to know what to be aware of. Ray

  10. Ray Drasher says:

    Bronze, Acouple that did the trail a few years back usually had folks resupply them with a a thing called COB, which is a mix of corn,oats and barley, to supplyment the grazing which is pretty good from the Sierras north, but south of there and the time you are coming south there will not be much especially the desert area so you will need something there for food supplies, water will be getting scarce also. I can help in this area, south of the sierras, myself or others I know. You may want to post on the PCTA e-mail site about this and more will read of this, I watch the e-mails this time of year for trail reports and who doing what and others do also. Look under General Info on the PCTA web site and you will find a list for e-mail forum. Ray

  11. Ray Drasher says:

    Did not see what you are using to pack with on the mule?
    Ray

  12. Grannyhiker says:

    I put quite a few things about mule gear in the Gear section–I should have looked ahead!

    Lots of good advice above.

    You do need to carry at least one spare shoe (the correct size for the mule), nails, a rasp (horse version of “fingernail file” and clinchers (to cut the ends of the horseshoe nails and trim the wall of the hoof). Horseshoes have a way of breaking or coming off (often only half the shoe comes off) just at a critical time, when you’re days away from a farrier and on rocky ground where your mule can go lame in a hurry. So you need to learn how to shoe the mule yourself. Hopefully your mule has already been shod a few times and is used to having his feet handled. (On the nails–flat side to the outside and rough side to the inside–it has been 50 years since I shod a horse and I still remember that!)

    Spend lots of time learning to care for your mule who is, as you say, the most critical factor for your journey. The mule will need to be conditioned for the trip, too. I hope you’re planning a bunch of shake-down overnight trips–and some longer–before your actual trip, so the mule’s back and cinch areas will be somewhat toughened up before you leave.

    I think that for the most part you can safely use period gear; just be sure the pack saddle is well padded. Take some raw (with the lanolin in it) sheepskin for padding–we used it for the inevitable cinch sores. Use more padding under the saddle than most people think you’ll need.

    The type of hitch doesn’t matter as long as it holds the pack on the horse. Our first long pack trip (I was 9) was rather amusing. A professional wrangler went with us the first two days to teach us how to pack and care for the horses. He taught my parents the squaw hitch, probably the simplest one. The night after we left him, we camped near a ranger station. The ranger (in those days forest rangers needed horse-packing skills) taught my parents his version of the diamond hitch (there are many versions!). Two days later a rancher insisted on teaching them his own version of the diamond hitch. The next morning–well, by that time my parents were so confused they couldn’t remember any of them! Finally, after about half a day, they evolved their version of the diamond hitch. Later on they relearned the squaw hitch and used it ever after. One trick they learned–use the axe and shovel (required by the Forest Service when packing with horses, in case you meet a fire) to adjust the tightness of the ropes (manila or hemp rope is going to loosen up on a dry day, but will shrink in the rain). Stick the end of the handle under the rope and twist it. Then use a small piece of rope to fasten the other end of the axe and shovel. If you have one in the pack and one outside the pack, the outside item should be the axe. Every once in a while you’ll encounter deadfall and have to chop.

    This goes back to your itinerary, but consider that your mule’s gait will be about 4 mph. You’ll need to work at making him slow down to your walking pace!

    You need a bucket also–again, required “firefighting” gear by the USFS. The bucket is also useful for the mule to drink out of. Either canvas or rawhide should be close enough to the period. Canvas would be easier if you have to make it.

    Re the Coggins test: Since you’re starting from Bend, OR, you’ll be crossing only one state line. Perhaps a vet in Ashland can do it for you before you hit the California line? Perhaps you may even make it to the California line before the 30 days are up? You’ll need to carry a brand inspection certificate, or proof of ownership of the mule, which you can get before you leave.

  13. Grannyhiker says:

    The sawbuck saddle with leather rigging shown on the Wyoming Gear website is exactly what my parents used in the 1940′s, and, as I mentioned earlier, was certainly in use in the later 19th century. I’m sure it was around long before that!

  14. Grannyhiker says:

    Speaking of conditioning: Consider more frequent resupply the first few weeks so you don’t have to carry more than a week’s food at a time. This will help your mule get conditioned en route. I believe there is only one stretch on the PCT–the southern Sierra–where you have to go longer than a week. By that time, Bootsie will be as tough as nails!

    Do you have people to meet you at various points? This will save many miles of extra riding/hiking into town. I doubt that hitchhiking will work with Bootsie in tow!

  15. Kayla D says:

    Hey there. Its Kayla. I met you and bootsie today through Dennis. I wish you the best of luck on your journey. I really love Boots! If you ever don’t want her anymore ill steal her from you! Hopefully we can go riding one last time before you go.

  16. bronze says:

    I had a great time too and I think another ride is definitely in order! She is a sweet gal for sure. After 5 months of non-stop contact I might find it awful hard to part with her.

  17. amanda says:

    howdy. If your in oregon I know where some pack saddles are. It is crucial to get them fit and get your mule used to it. The hardest thing for my mule to get used to is picketing. it is a good idea to do it as much as possible especially overnight. If boots is saddlebroke he should take his pack saddle well. Heay granny hiker-I would like to hear some of your packing expirences,as well as advice. good luck bronze,mabye you will have the pleasure of running into our rag-tag gypsy pack team,for we will be in the southern oregon/nor cal area!
    good luck. check with back country horesmen for good packing info.

  18. Michael Bravo says:

    Hans,

    I went to Mule Days 40th Anniversary in Bishop, CA last week. Great animals. Smarter than horses and ready for the trip. Definite survivalists. Best of luck to you. You’re gonna have a geat time. I’m envious. Take some matches. They had em’ back then. Blue tips. Let me know what you didn’t use when you get back.

    Best,

    Michael Bravo

  19. Ed Anderson/MendoRider says:

    Hello Bronze, I rode the PCT from the border of Mexico to Sisters, Oregon in 2008. I rode, solo, on an Arabian endurance horse. Primo is 14.3 hands, is very sure-footed, agile, strong, He held his weight on the 6 pounds of processed feed that I brought and gave him on an average day. I let him graze not just in camp but any time he saw something he wanted to eat along the trail. He is a desert horse by breed and by experience (in his past he ran virtually wild on the desert north of Bend with about 15 other horses}. So long as he is not sweating much he can go a long time without drinking. Sometimes you can’t find a camp with both graze and water. If I came to a place, and it was time to camp, that had good graze but no water I would camp so long as Primo had had a recent drink. He had no problem with this. I agree that mules are sometimes pretty smart. This can become a disadvantage in that they can also become “opinionated” and stubborn – - -. Your best source of info on mules would be Ray Drasher. I know him and consider him an expert. If you get a chance to connect with Ray do so. You will learn a lot. I will be returning to the PCT going north this year, hopefully to Canada. If you want me to I will email info that might be useful to you.

  20. Pat Megowan says:

    Hi Bronze,

    I’ll be heading SOBO from Ashland in the next week or so, heading to Kennedy meadows. Then I double back and wander for a while in the Sierra – maybe we’ll cross on the trail!

    I live in Corvallis – where are you putting up your mule? I’d love to have a short visit if your in town before I leave – email and I’ll send a phone number.

    Pat

  21. Kevin says:

    Bronze, I know squat about mules, I know abit about farm animals I would suggest you find a book about plant identification in the area you will be traveling. It will help you make sure Bootsie doesn’t eat something that will harm her. Just because it tastes good to them it doesn’t mean it won’t harm them.

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