From Boatsheds to Battlefields 27 Breaking in a Mule circa 1906

At the end of Entry 26 Mick was learning how to pluck an ostrich: Once plucked, quilled or branded the thong was loosened behind, the bird pulled back out of the pen and the pillowcase hauled off. A dazed look around the ostrich hurried back to his companions and another took his place.

Today Mick Osmond learns more about mules than he expected.

The Van Der Walts did a large amount of mule breeding in addition to their other activities. Now a mule is the product of a donkey stallion mated with a horse mare. The offspring resulting from the mating of ass and horse are not capable of reproducing. The mule is therefore born with a grudge against whoever was responsible for bringing it into this world of sorrow. It knows Nature had no hand in it and from the day it is able to work, it seems that Man was the cause.

Soon realising that it can never enjoy the pleasures of parentage, that only WORK spelled with capital letters is its destiny the mule feels aggrieved. Realisation soon comes that a whiplash stings, but all through life the mule feels a grudge and if given but half the opportunity uses its teeth or heels in trying to wipe out a portion of the compound interest on its debt to man.

So breaking in mules, especially the wonderful type bred in the Western Province of the Cape of Good Hope, is not a suitable pastime for any but rough hairy men possessed of iron muscles and powerful frames. Mick’s ambition was to take his full share – he had reveled again and again in Henty’s “Redskin and Cowboy, “In the Heart of the Rockies” and a score of such like books and with his sea and mountain training didn’t see why he shouldn’t fall naturally into the work.

Unfortunately for the youth, Mathew Van Der Walt considered Mr. Osmond a very important person and Mick, as the eldest son of his father, to be of some value to the world. So after Mick had been kicked senseless, trodden on, savaged and been a dozen times only saved from an untimely death by the almost miraculous interposing of Providence Mathew ruled that Mick was too young and too light to be allowed to join in catching, holding, harnessing of mules and young horses.

However, there were many compensations. The method used by the Van Der Walts in breaking in mules and horses were extremely simple. A score of animals was driven into a stone walled yard, where with much cursing and yelling, the mob of plunging kicking brutes were closely packed into a corner. Here with wonderful skill and at imminent risk halters were got on a dozen heads and the rearing frightened animals secured to older more experienced brethren.

Somehow or other the linked animals were hauled out of the crush and harness got on them. With half a dozen laughing, jeering Cape Coloureds hanging on to the rawhide halter thong the mules were dragged to a wagon and in-spanned. Each wagon was drawn by a team of sixteen, usually two horses as leaders and fourteen mules behind them.

With a team of perhaps two old wheelers, two fast well-trained leaders, probably eight half or partially broken in mules, and four wild broncos, a drive was as thrilling as any made by Buffalo Bill’s famous Deadwood coach.

Usually, Peter handled the long-handled bamboo whip whose lash could reach all the length of the team, Mick soon trusted would hold the four reins – the two from the wheelers and the long one from the near leader gathered in his left hand, the one from the off leader in his right.

The last struggling fighting mule in-spanned Peter would send the lash swishing through the air a dozen men hanging like madmen to the heads of half a dozen rearing mules would let go and the heavy wagon would go flying down the road with all the noise and dust of a battery of Royal Horse Artillery going into action.

The pace at first would be tremendous but the grades were steep, the wagon solid and heavy, the mules fat from soft living in the lucerne fields –  soon the novices weary of the frantic gallop especially as their more experienced mates strove to hinder them – the pace would slacken – but an unkind lash stung rapidly and hardly. Away the youngsters tore dragging their load and companions but soft muscles soon tired the whip spared not until four saddened humbled mules began to realise that discretion was less painful than valour.

A load of three tons besides the weight of wagon and harness, a stinging whip-lash and six hours of hauling would bring much chastened, already half trained young mules home too tired to object to being led to a stable and fastened up. A few days and the youngsters were taking their part in helping to train the others.

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The horses were Mick’s greatest joy – Luba and Wanda two purebred three-year-old Hackneys were his chief affection and Mick joined poor old Hans MacKenzie, the black groom in a fit of weeping when Mathew sold the pair for £100 cash. Golddust another mare – half Irish thoroughbred, half Hackney purebred was another favourite and great was Mick’s indignation when the dainty alluring mare was in-spanned into a team before a heavy plough – Golddust had won a dozen races some against well-known track horses and Mathew was damned forever in Mick’s estimation when the indignity was forced on his idol.

Tomorrow:“But of all the horses, Mick hated Nikola.”

If anyone reading this knows where Struan early 1900s is please email me: patleffler7@gmail.com

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