A mule who was once terrified of raincoats and refused to load has become a waste-busting warrior in Wales.
Marty and his owner Sari Maydew go litter-picking weekly in Carmarthenshire, sometimes for three hours at a time, returning with panniers packed with rubbish.
Sari told H&H Marty came into her life as a three-year-old six years ago, when a trainer her husband knows was downsizing his herd.
“There was this little mule – and the owner said if we could get him to load, we could have him,” she said.
“We spent a weekend teaching him about loading, then we took him home.”
Sari knew nothing of mules but thought it would be fun to have one, which it was, although she says it has not been without its challenges.
“There were so many things I couldn’t do with him; I couldn’t catch him, and he didn’t like certain noises. I couldn’t wear a raincoat near him as he didn’t like the rustling so I’d have to strip off in the rain to catch him – but it was very rewarding.”
Sari always walked Marty out in hand, and her long-term plan is to take him on long-distance hikes with overnight stays.
“We did a lot of miles and I started noticing all the rubbish,” she said. “I thought, he’s got packs, I might as well pick it up and take it back – and we’d come back with his packs full. I think people who see me probably think I’m a bit mad, but in a good way.”
Sari hopes her work with Marty, who is an ambassador for Mule Welfare UK, will help raise mules’ profile.
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“I think some people think they’re novelty animals and not very smart but they’re the opposite; they’re incredibly intelligent,” she said. “They’re great to work with but you have to have a lot of patience and be a certain way. My favourite quote is ‘you can’t have a mule and an ego’, as they’ll always knock you down a peg or two.”
Sari also wants to make the point that non-ridden equines can have a range of worthwhile jobs; Marty’s being that he helps improve her area.
“If everyone did a little bit, it would be so much nicer,” she said. “And Marty loves it; mules love having a job and once they can see the purpose, they’re amazing.
“From a mule who was terrified of raincoats to a mule who will now stand nonchalantly by while I stuff rubbish into plastic bags on his back, he’s done really well. He’s taught me a lot.”
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