Braids and an old mule who was almost slaughtered

A story about braids, and an old mule who narrowly escaped being slaughtered

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Her name, as was her life story, was a mystery – but the braids on a senior mule hinted that she was cared for before being loaded into a stranger’s trailer and hauled away to auction. An auction where “kill buyers” scoop up unwanted mules and sell them for meat.

But those braids…Melissa Shelton was touched by the braids, and the love that went into the task of creating them. On November 7, Shelton penned a poignant letter to whoever took the time to braid the old mule’s mane. The following letter, shared in a public Facebook post, sheds light on something that many people never stop to think of…what happens to many horses and mules when they are no longer “needed” by their owners.


Dear unknown

Your braids did not go unnoticed.

I can only imagine the thoughts going through your mind as you combed, separated, and painstakingly braided her hair for the last time. Not just her mane. But her tail as well.

I’m sure your fingers became sore. I’m sure you talked to her while you twisted each rubber band. What did you say?

Did you tell her you loved her? Did you tell her it would all be okay? Did you tell her she was going on a journey? What does one tell their mule, horse, donkey, or pony prior to sending them to an auction?

Her eyes say she trusts. Trusts that her human will make the best decisions for her. She will be loyal to a fault, because you asked it of her. If her human says she must get in a strange trailer, with many other frightened, angry, and confused horses. Then this is what she’ll do.

For over 20 years. She’s been there for you. Maybe not all of those years with you. But certainly she’s been a good girl, worthy of braids, for a very long time. She has a blemish now. Age has caught up to her a bit. Her right front fetlock has built up boney deposits in an effort to stabilize her old joints, so that she can continue on. Continue to serve her humans.

She neck reigns. That did not go unnoticed. She’s been trained. And trained well. She’s had a lot of miles put on her. She’s been a good mule. A mule worthy of braids.

When she went to the auction, you were not there. Too painful to see your old girl sold to the highest bidder. You hoped that her braids showed what a special mule she was. That someone special would buy her. But, braids do not matter to a kill buyer. A buyer who will turn a profit based on how much they pay per pound for your old mule, and how much they can sell her for to the Mexican meat market.

Your beautiful old mule, with braids in her hair…was sold. Sold to a kill buyer.

There is a small glimmer of hope. Some kill buyers know that they can sell some of the auction horses to individuals who do not go to auctions. Do not have the time to travel to auctions far away. Do not have the ability to see the hundreds of horses that need new humans. Desperately need new humans.

That is where I saw her. I didn’t see her braids at first. I saw a picture of an old mule. A mule over 20 years old, who maybe could be a companion for another old mule. Another old mule who was sent to auction, and was destined for the slaughter house.

Her braids did not matter to me at first. I didn’t even see them until someone commented “look, someone braided her before they put her in the pen…”. I had to blow up the picture actually. Then I saw the seven braids you evenly spaced in her mane. The seven rubber bands that held each braid. Nice braids. Braids that stood up to the auction. Braids that stood up to shipping, jumbling, crowding, and now the “rescue pen”.

She gets a week at this pen. A week to attract a buyer. A week to find a home, instead of another journey. We have no idea which state she originally came from. But she is now in Minnesota. And she has until Friday to be saved. To be purchased by someone who cares. She has until Friday. And on Friday after 2pm… she will begin the journey again. From Minnesota to Mexico. Not for a home. But for a slaughter plant.

It’s very hard to decide at times if we can take on another horse. Winter is coming. Hay is scarce. We get no other information about her other than a picture and that she has a “old blemish” on her right front fetlock. The boys at the pen ride her bareback with only a halter with reins. She is such a good girl. She is very well trained. But each horse that comes from the auctions, has been exposed to hundreds of other horses. Horses that have questionable health status. Shipping fever runs through the horses like wildfire. We pray shipping fever is the only health concern we will deal with.

For days the decision weighs heavily on us. Should we take on an eleventh horse? What sort of health issues might she have? What sort of risk do we take to save a life? What financial commitments are to come? Will her ankle be a big problem? We can’t ask you. Because you are not there.

But the braids. The braids haunt everyone who sees her. The braids haunt me, once I was told they were there. I loved her before the braids. And I will love her after the braids are gone.

I just want you to know, that she will have a forever home. A home on a Sanctuary, with a loving family and a loving village of people who care. People from all over the world, who follow and care about horses and animals they have never met. People who hopefully will travel hundreds to thousands of miles some day, to visit in person, an animal they gave up their morning coffee for.

So in a way, your braids worked. They were noticed. They did help. They did haunt those who care. But if I could wish for one thing, it would be that your braided beauty would have never gone to auction in the first place. How many hours have you spent riding her? Training her? Braiding and grooming her? Was she not worth those hours back, in finding her a home?

There are rescues. There are homes looking for pasture companions. There are resources if you look. If you’d only spent the same amount of time on placing her in a forever home, as you did braiding her hair. Maybe things would be different.

I don’t wish to judge you. But I find it hard not to. I know that when I meet her later today, to load her into my trailer, to bring her to my home…I will fall head over heels in love with her. A love I’m sure you felt for her too. And I will never be able to understand how that love ended with her being at an auction.

Some people try to explain, “Maybe the owner died.” Or “maybe they couldn’t care for her anymore…”. Or “some people just don’t want to deal with selling…”. But I know that’s not true. Because the braids tell a different story. You were there for her, until you weren’t. You braided her hair, as you told her it would all be okay.

I hope there is a solution. I hope that horses and other equines can be treated with the same respect that unwanted dogs and cats are treated. At least humane euthanasia, or even humane slaughter in the U.S. instead of Canada or Mexico would be better than what these horses currently go through.

But, for now, you need to know. Your braids did not go unnoticed.


Thank you Melissa Shelton, for writing this beautiful, haunting letter.

Yesterday: Horse with broken legs abandoned and left to die

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