Sue Field, one of our area welfare officers, received this wonderful update on two mules that recently joined their new foster home in Suffolk. Both Chestnut and Paris lived at Town Barton Farm which specialises in the care of 125 resident mules... the largest collective group in the country.
Chestnut and Paris are my two delightful mules from The Donkey Sanctuary. I can't tell you how pleased I am when I stand between my two mules. It's something that makes me so happy to be fostering Paris and Chestnut.
I remember when they arrived, both took it all in their stride when they walked of the Sanctuary's lorry as if they'd just had a short drive up the road, not a long haul on a hot day up from Devon.
Chestnut is a shade shorter and bigger round the middle than Paris, but he still keeps himself in shape. Every morning he'll do a really good stretch or so before heading out to get the morning grass. I can't deny Chestnut loves to eat. Sometimes he's not sure if he wants to be away from the field and its grass, but he can be persuaded by a bit of carrot. Though little wary at first, once he has decided you're OK, Chestnut loves scratches and fussing in general. If I want a muley hug Chestnut is my go-to guy. Even though he likes to be lead mule, he sometimes has a moment of uncertainty and lets Paris take the lead.
Paris is the diva, always wanting to be the star, impatient for the next thing. She is the activity mule - she wants to do, to explore. So when Chestnut is not sure, she takes the lead. Paris is first up when she sees me walking towards the gate, Chestnut grabbing a last mouthful of grass before following. Both of them are good to catch and very good at letting me check their feet before going out to the field and when they come in.
I'm glad they're naturally calm as the airbase near me has just restarted night manoeuvres with helicopters (including one flown by Prince Harry) and one day they had a few tornado jets for good measure. I went to see them hoping they'd done nothing silly due to the helicopter last night that was so low and loud that it sounded like it was landing on the house, having woke me up at 1.45 am. I had to grit my teeth to not go up and check. Sure enough they were calmly standing in the position I left them the night before waiting for me to let them onto their summer grazing.
We've also had a pretty impressive thunderstorm and a stray pheasant in their residence. No running around in distress. Nothing as yet seems to really phase them. There was a stationary ride-on mower that was suspicious looking enough to make Chestnut jump a short step before instantly regaining his cool, and some wheelie bins in the lane might have been daleks, but Paris didn't think so and the walk moved on.
To look at the two mules together you'd not realise that until they came here they had only known each other for a week. The two of them seem to be good company for each other and they are seldom far from each other. A certain horsey person on hearing that the two of them had only just met said "So I expect they're covered in bite marks and bruises", presumably having fought for some sort of dominance. Not so. These mules are smarter than that. At the Sanctuary when they were put together they decided they would get on and that seems to be that.
The rules are simple: Chestnut is boss as long as he does exactly what Paris tells him. With two mules one has to be seen to be fair. Paris should not get undue fusses and Chestnut should not get more food otherwise you'll find a mule standing across your path in case you'd forgotten there was two of them. You can get the feeling that mules don't automatically rate people's intelligence very highly.
As they are so smart, the main thing is to keep them occupied and I have tried to have an interesting paddock for them and am always thinking of new things for them to do. I'll soon be making them an obstacle course, but I know they'll not be phased by anything for long.
Having had them for less than a month, I have mostly just led them on short walks. Today we went out for their first walk off the property and the only problem from the mules' point of view was that they'd only started to warm up when we headed back. I've no idea how far Paris would go on before she'd had enough but I think it would be a very long way.
It seems like Chestnut and Paris have settled like they have been here for ages and not a mere matter of weeks. So far so good.