The owner of a young mule who followed hounds for the first time on New Year’s Day joked that the “stars lined up” for his dream to come true.

Chris Cooke, owner of Cornwall Swimming Horses, had been interested in mules for some time, when a friend spotted an advertisement online for “Zeb”, near the end of last year.

He was not ideally placed – in Ipswich, some 400 miles away – but when Chris asked a friend, with whom he occasionally “goes to a sale to look at horses, bringing a trailer just in case”, if he fancied the trip, the answer was a yes, and they set off.

“One of the few things I’ve finally realised I’m good at is having the instinctive sense of a good horse – or I suppose I’ll have to say a good equine now!” Chris told H&H.

“I met him over an electric fence and thought, yes.”

Then-four-year-old Zeb had been backed, but Chris put work into him to ensure he could go hunting happily.

“All my horses hunt,” he said. “It does them the power of good in terms of education; they learn to think for themselves, and have to be clever. The country is perfect for him here; it’s not big country where you need a thoroughbred with all the stamina, they have to be tough and clever.

“So I had to get him fit – and teach him to jump!”

Chris, with a group of others from his yard, went to the New Year’s Day meet, which was in hacking distance.

“It’s always a slight risk, taking a horse out for the first time to a big meet, but I knew the ground would be suitable for him, and it wouldn’t overface him – and he just took it all in his stride,” Chris said. “His big ears were flicking here and there, taking it all in, but we’ve built up a real bond.

“He jumped a stone ‘hedge’ [wall] a good 3’6” to 4” high; he jumped up, I stopped him because there was a ditch, and then he just jumped that too – he really gets it.

“Mules are so expressive; their ears are talking to you all the time, and their tails swishing, like a dog wagging its tail or a peeved cat. You could tell he was loving it.”

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Chris said that “everything fell into place”, to allow him to buy and hunt Zeb, such as his friend’s agreeing to the drive, the buyer holding on to the mule rather than selling him before Chris could get there, and the fact the meet was so near allowing Zeb to hack there with friends from the yard.

The mule will hunt again this season, and Chris expects that by summer, he may well be joining the horses who swim with his clients in the Cornish sea.

“People are now saying: ‘I’ve got this 16hh mule I’m having trouble with’, and I’m thinking ‘do I need another horse? No. Do I want another one? Yes!” Chris said.

“There’s also a plan to go to Spain, buy a couple of mules and ride them back – but not just yet.”

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