Toni Palmateer first heard about the missing mule in Milo McIver State Park on social media Sunday night.
Palmateer, a respiratory therapist who lives nearby in Eagle Creek, knew she was in a position to help. She has a few horses of her own and a trailer, so when she woke up Monday morning she posed an easy question to her daughter, 16-year-old Winter Palmateer.
“Do you want to go get up and go to school or do you want to go find this mule?” she asked her daughter.
“Let’s go!” came the quick response, Toni Palmateer told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The pair didn’t know then that the mule in question was a bit of a hero.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said a 60-year-old man was riding his mule on trails at the state park near Estacada on Sunday afternoon when they believe he fell off and hurt himself. Authorities haven’t identified the man.
The mule began walking alone on the trail until it found two people hiking. One of the hikers, Doug Calvert, said the mule started walking back toward the direction it had come, and seemed to be watching him and his wife to make sure they were following. After about half a mile of following the mule, they came upon the injured man. At that point, Calvert said, Hickory wandered back into the woods.
Around 7 a.m. Monday, the Palmateers hooked up their trailer and loaded up a couple of their older horses. They had just entered the park when they were flagged down by a jogger who told them there was a mule that appeared to be in distress up the trail from the parking lot.
A truck, which Toni Palmateer surmised belonged to the injured rider, was still in the lot. Someone had put hay down in the hope that the mule would make its way back there, but the hay was untouched, she said.
The pair quickly unloaded their horses and headed off, Winter Palmateer not even taking the time to fit her horse with a saddle. Less than half a mile later, they came upon the mule, which had gotten tangled in its reins and was having trouble moving.
From the mule’s position, Palmateer said it looked like the animal had been trying to make its way back to the trailer.
Winter Palmateer dismounted and began working on the mule’s reins and had him untangled in minutes.
“The minute we got there and got the reins untangled, he put his head down and he just followed us in a very relaxed way,” Toni Palmateer said. “He was very gentle.”
The pair headed back up the trail with the mule in tow.
“By the time we got back to trailer, another lady had shown up,” Toni Palmateer said. “She said she knew the person and ended up taking the mule with her.”
That woman was Sandy Leicht, a neighbor and friend of the injured man. Leicht said the mule is a 6-year-old male named Hickory, and the man has had him only for a few months. She said her neighbor did not want to be publicly identified.
She took Hickory back home and said the mule is doing well after the night in the woods.
Leicht said her friend was doing better, but was still a little unsteady on his feet and wasn’t quite ready to come home from the hospital yet.
The mule and his exploits became a cause celebre after the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Sunday evening about the missing mule that had led two people to its injured owner. Several equestrian groups and local residents shared the story on social media, hoping to find someone who had spotted the animal or could help find it.
Toni Palmateer said she was glad to be part of a community that would rally to find a missing animal and she was glad her daughter got to be a part of it.
“My daughter did miss her first period class, but it was great for her to get to be a part of something more important,” Palmateer said. “Hopefully they’ll excuse her absence.”
The Oregon Horse Council is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit that works to strengthen, connect, and represent Oregon’s equine industry.