Opal was our 'special' mule.
She distrusted people, was hard to catch, and was extremely ear shy.
Under saddle she was an athletic and willing partner.
She could spin on a dime, neck rein like a fool, do slide stops, climb rocks, turn a barrel, and work cattle.
I could go on filling pages of her wonderful abilities but won't.
When I first met her I thought she was 'too much' mule for me to handle. Later, when Badger became sick with equine COPD, my husband suggested that I ride Opal for my solo rides into the timber.
He assured me that she of all mules would take care of me.
But I didn't want to spend 1/2 hour each time I wanted to ride just trying to catch her. Nor did I want her to give me the 'stink eye' every time I bridled her.
After two years of hard work Opal began to actually trust. It took countless hours of patience and I never uttered a harsh word to her.
Last summer Opal would follow me around in the pasture. By fall, she would see me coming to the gate and meet me with her peculiar chortle or snuffle noise of greeting.
No longer did she look at me with a wild eye, but she was always still wary.
Winning her unwilling trust was probably the best feeling I've ever had regarding working with animals. She had been a difficult one to crack.
Opal seemed to enjoy our rides in the timber solo...and with Morris. She would walk quietly and slowly so I could look for cool things to photograph. She'd stand patiently tied to a sapling when I used her to pick wild raspberries.
At the same time, Opal gave me confidence that I could ride a 'spin on the dime' mule. She gave lessons in extreme patience and she made me a much better rider. She gave me freedom, confidence, and joy.
Opal also taught me again the pain of loss.
The Vet had come Monday as Opal was still 'off' somehow. I'd taken her vitals and all were good, even the Vet concurred. We even heard gut noises but he felt we ought to treat her for colic. Outwardly she showed no signs of illness.
Except that she wouldn't eat, barely drank, and seemed lethargic.
She allowed the vet to treat her without much ado.
This, we explained, was NOT our Opal. She would normally have never let a stranger close to her at all. Period.
Opal spent a lot of time resting. All I could think of was "please let this NOT be her time". We had come so far together and had great trails yet to travel.
I took her out in the yard and spent the day with her. She picked at grass and would perk up once in a while.
Then she'd lay down in the yard and fall asleep while I watched over her.
Wednesday I had to work the night shift. Hubby called me at work and said that Opal was showing the first signs of 'something'. She was breathing hard and emitting a small cough or gagging type sound.
At 5am I parked my car by the house and jumped out with flashlight in hand. I headed for the shed.
Opal had laid down on her fresh hay and had gone. I knelt next to her and held her beautiful head willing her just to be asleep.
But I knew by the chill in her body that it was not going to be so.
I held her that way for quite a while, my tears dropping onto her face.
The mule that never fully trusted humans finally let me embrace her tightly.
The Rainbow BridgeJust this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....