Chasity continues to improve. We have cut the size of her obese, cresty neck by 70%. Her back is finally elevated. The spinal and abdominal muscles are much better conditioned and support her good posture. She has come a long way. She is submissive to the “Elbow Pull” and ready to begin her combination exercises in Lunging and Ground Driving. Chasity is happy that she gets to do these exercises with her “boyfriend,” Wrangler! He is her inspiration. They are so funny together!
Chasity executes the gate perfectly and then stops to pose for a picture with me. Then we adjust her “Elbow Pull” and make sure she flexes at the poll to submit. This self-correcting restraint will provide resistance if she tries to carry her head too high which would result in hollowing her neck and back, and thus, compromising her good equine posture.
Once everything is adjusted on Chasity and Wrangler, we pose for a picture. Then they both go obediently to the rail and begin work at the walk. I have added the reins to Wrangler’s bridle to keep him from carrying his head too low. That is not an issue with Chasity. It is not usually a problem with with Wrangler either, but it is in the nineties today and very hot. Wrangler gets very lazy in the heat!
They are both stepping out nicely and exhibiting a pretty fair “working walk.” After five rotations at the walk, I ask for the trot. They are both stepping well underneath their centers of gravity and Chasity is submitting to the pressure from the “Elbow Pull.” This means she is in better equine posture with improving self-carriage.
After five rotations at the trot, I ask them for a halt and they are prompt in their response. They are rewarded and then proceed forward and after one rotation, I ask them to reverse. It is the best reverse yet!
I am so proud of Chasity! She is really holding her good posture nicely for prolonged periods of time now, even at the trot!
Chasity is gaining a lot of core strength and power to her gaits. The halts are mostly square on the landing and do not need to be corrected. Chasity is finally learning to use her hindquarters properly and she is no longer getting locked up in the right hip joint. It is now adequately supported symmetrically by the core elements: muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissue. Her joints operate correctly and will not wear irregularly.
After five rotations at walk and then trot in the opposite direction, Chasity was finally ready for her first Ground Driving lesson! When asked, she walked off nicely.
I had Ground Driven Wrangler first, so Chasity got to see what this was all about. She submitted softly to the lines and remained “on the bit” as we walked along. She turned easily when asked to do the “S” turn through the middle of the Round Pen.
But suddenly, we had a “Donkey Moment” when she abruptly bolted toward Wrangler! I let the lines slide through my hands, hoping she would slow down…but she didn’t! I dug my heels into the ground to try to stop her, holding the lines with just one hand so I wouldn’t lose my balance. Wrangler just dropped in behind her at the walk.
Chasity was at a fast trot around Wrangler when he decided to help me by leaning his body into the lines. This put more pressure on her bit and helped me to get her slowed down…Thanks, Wrangler!!!
Once she had slowed down, Wrangler moved away and allowed me to turn her into the rail and ask for a reverse to the right. Chasity calmed down immediately and decided to comply with my wishes… thankfully!
Chasity was still full of energy, but submitted to the pressure on the lines as I walked behind her in sync with her hind legs. I slowly crept back up the lines with my hands and got a bit closer to her hindquarters
Then I asked Chasity for the halt and a few steps of the reinback…not too many steps at first. I rewarded her efforts with a handful of crimped oats. Her first time on the drive lines had gone very well indeed… even WITH the “Donkey Moment!” It’s always good to keep your sense of humor when working with donkeys and be ready to be VERY patient! Donkeys need to process things THEIR WAY!
If there’s one thing we’ve proven through our national awareness campaign this year ➡️ It’s that once people hear about the tragedies our cherished wild horses and burros face, they are angry, they are energized, and they are ready to take action!
Among the individuals joining AWHC in our efforts are TV personality Kaitlynn Carter; shoe designer Chloe Gosselin; Olympic equestrian Jessica Springsteen;Brandi Cyrus, DJ and co-host of the iHeart Radio podcast Your Favorite Thing; Cobra Kai actress Alicia Hannah-Kim; fashion designer and lifestyle guru Jenni Kayne; and renowned celebrity fine-art photographerBrian Bowen Smith.
We created the AWHC Ambassador program to harness our collective power and elevate the issue of America’s wild horses. AWHC Ambassadors are inspiring leaders, storytellers, creators, and doers from all around the country that care about our nation’s wild horses and the public lands they call home.
As the grassroots movement to protect these magnificent animals grows, we need your help to strengthen and amplify it. Our ambassadors serve as advocates who can inspire those around them to care and take action.
Together, we can inform the public and expand awareness around the plight of our magnificent wild horses and burros. Learn more about our newest AWHC Ambassadors at the button below!
We’ve got a lot to share with you in this week’s eNews, including:an opportunity to take action to protect America’s wild burros from the donkey skin trade, an introduction to Shaggy, one of the Virginia Range’s beloved mustangs, and an inside look at our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Program.
Read on to learn more and speak up for our cherished wild herds! >>
Each year, millions of donkeys are brutally slaughtered for the production of ejiao (eh-gee-yow), medicinal gelatin that is made from boiling the skins of these animals. The donkey skin trade is now decimating global donkey populations as well as harming the impoverished global communities that rely on them for survival. The increasing number of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) burros in kill pens and slaughter auctions raises serious concerns about burros being put at risk of entering the donkey skin trade and the production of ejiao.
Luckily, U.S. House Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) has introduced the Ejiao Act (H.R. 5203), which would ban the knowing sale or transportation of ejiao made using donkey skin, or products containing ejiao made using donkey skin, in interstate or foreign commerce. Please take action today. >>
Nevada’s 300,000-acre Virginia Range is home to an estimated 3,000 wild horses, including a stunning buckskin stallion affectionately known by locals as Shaggy.
American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) volunteer Deb Sutherland has been documenting Shaggy and his family since he was born in 2012, and her knowledge of the ongoings of his life is rich. As Deb puts it, “It’s not just the story of Shaggy — as telling the history of one wild horse always involves sharing the lives of the others on the range — they are all intertwined.”
One of the most important areas of our work at AWHC is our investigations program. The core of the work involves filing requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to gain access to public information that the federal government may be unwilling to disclose.
Read on to learn more about this critical program that allows us to uncover important and sometimes damning information about the management of our nation’s wild horses and burros, including records that expose abuse and mistreatment during roundups, in holding, or in private care.
Many of us New Englanders are already feeling the effects of the cooler temperatures, the shortening of days and the frost on the pastures in the morning before the sun comes up.
There’s been quite a bit of debate online about whether or not donkey and mule owners should blanket or not blanket their long eared family members. So we wanted to share our two cents on the topic to hopefully shed some insight to donkey owners.
The short answer to a complicated question is, it depends. It depends on where you live, how cold it is, how wet it is, the age of your donkey, if they have cushings disease or any other types of illnesses, etc.
What we normally hear is, “But my donkey gets so fluffy why would he need a blanket?” But the truth is your donkeys fluffy fur does not have the density or insulating properties that a horses natural coat provides. Not only that but donkeys lack the oil horses have in their coats that act as a natural water repellent, which in turn keeps their skin dry. This is also why horses have that sweet horse smell that we all know and love, and donkeys do not. (Sorry donkeys.)
Donkeys descend from desert species, they use dust and sand as a way to “bathe” themselves. Since it doesn’t rain often in the desert, donkeys have not evolved to have oil in their coats to protect them from our freezing rain, sleet and snow that our northern winters bring. Mixing a lack of a waterproofed coat, plus a lot of extra winter hair without insulating properties and wet weather- is a combination for a very unhappy donkey, and can sometimes even be a death sentence for an immune compromised or older donkey.
Some may say “but my donkey never acts cold!” Donkeys have evolved to freeze (no pun intended) instead of having a flight or fight response like most mammals. Donkeys stop and think through problems or how to respond to a stressful situation. Which is why they’ve unfortunately gotten the notorious title of being “stubborn.” Most donkeys will not show when they are sick or not feeling well until they are in the later stages of their illness. Which is why it is so hard to tell when they are having a bout of colic or are injured. It’s their instincts way of protecting them from being eaten by predators. Pretty fascinating, but not great for the people who love them and want to know when they’re not well.
The bottom line is, just because they survive the winters or always have without being blanketed, doesn’t mean they are thriving and comfortable. This goes especially for the ones who are getting long in the tooth, are sick, injured, have cushings disease or thyroid issues. These donkeys are more vulnerable than a younger, healthier donkey and need an extra layer or two to give them a hoof up this winter to keep them cozy, safe and comfortable.
The bare minimum they should have is a 3 sided shelter that is deeply bedded with pine shavings, and cleaned daily. I would go a step further to say that warm mash soup made up of a handful of timothy pellets with their loose mineral supplement would also go a long way.
Please don’t take what we’ve said here today and use it as a blanket statement! 😁 Use your discernment and go based on the weather and your donkey. Each donkey should have a few different coats, a rain sheet, and a few coats from 200g- 800g insulation.
Other Blanketing Tips
-Blankets should be checked daily to make sure there are no rips, tears or dampness under them.
-Clips should always be clip side facing in toward the donkeys body.
-Donkeys should be groomed at minimum once a week with a ‘slicker brush’ to ensure their skin is still getting some air, so dead skin is being removed and to check their body condition.
-Blankets need to be washed and re-waterproofed every year. You can find waterproofing spray online or at any tack shop that sells horse blankets. (We like scotch guard)
-When putting on a blanket start fastening buckles and clips from the front to the back.
Have trouble fitting your donkeys for blankets? Bray Hollow Farm in NY makes blankets specifically for ponies and donkeys. If you’d like to check them out you can click the link below to check out their website!
This year we have taken on more senior animals than we ever have before in a single year. We are always happy to take on the equines who are at the last stages of their life and require a little extra TLC. Ann and I are both suckers for a grey faced sad eyed long ear. However so deserving these animals are they almost always require extensive care, vet work, and farrier work to make sure that they are able to be kept comfortable. We’ve had to let go of two friends at the end of October. As hard as the decisions were, we are honored to be able to give them that last gift of letting them go with peace and dignity.
As many of you are aware Whichahpi our Medicine hat paint horse had X-rays done of his spine. We found out that he had some more serious complications going on than met the eye. We decided the kindest thing to do was to let him go. We said goodbye to our friend on October 24th.
Harley came to us just a few short months ago underweight, confused￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ and sore. Harley gained a significant amount of weight while he was with us and made three other friends who were his herd companions.
￼￼￼Harley was loved by every single person who met him, and he loved all of them back. He started to have trouble getting up from his naps the last few days until one morning when he could not get up no matter how much he tried.￼￼￼￼ We called our vet and gave him some pain meds while we waited. He did finally get up but we still had our vet out because something was still very off with him and I just did not have a good gut feeling.
After an examination and a few tests it was determined that he was in heart failure. We decided to let Harley go.. our vet estimated Harley was at least in his late 30’s.
We are absolutely gutted over these losses.. The rescue feels so empty without him and Whichahpi. I don’t think a day will go bye where I won’t think about the animals we’ve had to let go.
Thank you to all of you who donated towards his arthritis medication, grain bill and care. It truly made a difference in his time with us and he was able to be comfortable and pain free in the end.
Rest easy buddy you are sorely, sorely missed.
Due to fundraising being so low, and having spent a very large amount of money on so many seniors this year. We are going to be more careful of the ages of animals we take in. It is not sustainable for us to take on so many seniors who are not adoptable. If we continue to do so, we will cease to exist as a rescue.
Sometimes folks are in denial about how old their animals are, sometimes they are not truthful with us when surrendering, and sometimes it is passing the buck. We LOVE the seniors but are not set up as a sanctuary. It’s not fair to us or our supporters to keep enduring one heartbreak after another. Some day in the future I would like to have a set up for the older donkeys with special needs. But that is quite a ways down the road.
Thank you all for reading this far and for your feedback every newsletter, it and you are so appreciated and valued by all of us at SYA.
Wrangler is such a goof ball! Because Wrangler would lock up in front of the Tack Barn and not want to walk over the grate, I got smart and learned to take Chasity to the Tack Barn first. Then, he didn’t even notice the grate and walked right in! However, he gets pretty rambunctious about waiting his turn. I could lead them both at once, but he needs to learn to be by himself with me sometimes…and BEHAVE! When I first got Wrangler, he would get excited like this and then just try run over me when I opened the stall door. Through repetition and humane discipline, I changed his behavior with Behavior Modification, a systematic reward system of training. To be successful, one needs to target the behaviors that need to change, set up the equine for success and promptly reward the positive behaviors as they occur. AND, you need a specific, consistent and humane way to stop bad behaviors in their tracks when they occur. We work on the premise of POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT, but we also need to learn how to use NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT if one does not want to be hurt, or even killed, by these VERY LARGE and STRONG animals!
The negative reinforcement that I use really works. When he got aggressive the first time, I raised my hand like a stop sign and when he did not stop, he got a firm slap to the side of his mouth as I said, “NO!” as loud as I could. I promptly raised my hand like a stop sign in front of his face again after which he started to turn back around. I quickly took a handful of oats from my fanny pack, took a step forward and offered him the oats. He did a double-take and came back for the oats to which I replied, “Thank you for giving me my space!” Going forward, he still occasionally gets too aggressive, but he always stops when I put my hand up like a stop sign in front of his face and takes a step back. He won’t need to be slapped again since this was done correctly the first time. He remembers!
As soon as I open the stall door now, Wrangler immediately stops his antics and becomes a gentleman that can be rewarded. He stands stock still while I put on the halter and then drops his head at my shoulder. I hold his lead rope in my left hand while pointing in the direction of travel with my right hand. I tell him to “Walk on” and look down to see what foot he is leading with and follow his front legs, step for step. We get IN SYNC with each other and I lead him that way from the time he leaves his pen to the time he returns. I do this the very same way with ALL of my equines ALL of the time. Consistency breeds familiarity and compliance.
Donkeys have issues with chronic runny eyes and noses. The way to stave off any infection is to clean their eyes, nostrils and ears with a damp towel daily. This also encourages them to accept handling around their face in general.
Donkeys are inherently desert animals and can severely founder or colic on lush feed. Symptoms of too rich feed will be manifested in the hooves as abscesses, crusty growth, collapsed heels and frogs, or just plain stress rings. Wrangler has abnormally small rear hooves and it is important that his core strength is developed in good postural balance to make sure the weight distribution is even so none of his hooves are carrying too much weight for his size.
Wrangler is rather flat-withered and needs a saddle that will “hug” his body, leaving ample room for his spine.
I initially tighten the girth snug, but not too tight. The crupper is adjusted so the tail lies comfortably.
I gently press on the bars of his jaw to open his mouth for the bit and carefully bring the crown of the bridle over his ears, protecting them with my hand. Being polite and considerate will get much more cooperation from your equine.
I adjust all the straps on the bridle so it is comfortable, paying special attention around the ears. The drop noseband helps him learn to hold the bit properly. I always gradually tighten the girth over several times.
The walk to the Round Pen is still IN SYNC…all three of us! Wrangler’s “Elbow Pull” postural restraint is adjusted and he is reminded how to release the tension.
Wrangler’s posture has greatly improved over three years and has given him added strength, endurance, stamina and animation to his gaits. He defies the slow and pokey characterization of donkeys in general! He’s a true athlete!
Wrangler and Chasity do a very nice reverse in sync with each other. Wrangler resumes the working walk.
Five rotations at walk, five rotations at trot, reverse and repeat in the other direction. We do 3 sets with a 3-minute break in between. Rewards are in order with every halt. With every halt, Wrangler is asked to rebalance and square up!
Then I begin riding with three rotations at trot in each direction. I carry a riding crop in case he needs a little encouragement to keep going. If he gets too tired, we call it quits and will do more another day.
I always end the sessions with a halt and rein back. Then I dismount and reward him again for a job well done!
Back in the Tack Barn at the work station, I carefully remove the bridle. I always hold the halter crown strap in my right hand while removing the bridle. I then slip the bridle onto my left arm, pick up the nose band of the halter in my left hand, bring it over his nose and buckle the halter. This way, if he pulls away, I still have my arms (and halter) around his neck to hold on to him.
We make our way back to the barn and Wrangler waits patiently while Chasity enters the stall first (Ladies first, you know!). He follows her sedately into the stall and they both turn around to me to have their halters removed and to receive their rewards. Wrangler “suggests” to me politely that I should hurry with Chasity’s halter and get to the rewards…QUICKLY! He’s still hungry!!! Silly boy!!!
Our team at the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) does a lot of behind-the-scenes work that forms the basis of our more public actions. One critical area is our investigations program, which uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request government records.
FOIA is a federal law that empowers private citizens and groups to access public information that government offices may not publiclly disclose on their own. FOIA’s purpose is to increase government transparency and accountability and educate the public about government operations that might otherwise be shrouded in secrecy.
FOIA is a key tool in our toolbox that allows us to uncover incredibly important, and sometimes damning information about the management of our nation’s wild horses and burros. This includes records that expose abuse and mistreatment during roundups, in holding facilities, or in private care.
Right now, AWHC has over 80 active and open FOIA requests — and we are filing more every day.
Just like our observers who document violations at roundups in the field, our FOIA work sheds light on a number of other serious animal welfare issues hidden from the public. In the past two years alone, FOIA has helped us to uncover:
The terrible impact of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Adoption Incentive Program (AIP), which pays people $1,000 to adopt a wild, untamed horse or burro and has landed at least 1,100 of these cherised animals in kill pens in under two years;
The unreported mortality rate of roundups that include the deaths of scores of wild horses at holding facilities in the weeks after they are captured and removed from the range. Some of these deaths — including the 16 wild horse deaths at the U.S. Forest Service’s Double Devil Wild Horse Corrals — were never previously disclosed to the public;
The BLM’s use of IUD’s in wild mares despite the lack of scientific research about the efficacy and safety of these devices in wild populations;
And so much more.
These concerning situations would remain hidden from the American people if not for the information our team has gathered through FOIA requests. But the requests are only the beginning. In many cases, the BLM or Forest Service fails to respond within the legally-mandated time frame, forcing us to sue the agency to turn over the requested records.
As a result, we currently have 20 FOIA lawsuits against the BLM in various stages of litigation and expect to file even more suits soon.
This important work would not be possible without the support of wild horse and burro allies like you. Your donations fuel our Legal Fund and empower us to take action to reveal the truth about what is happening to our cherished wild horses and burros during roundups, in holding pens, and as a result of the adoption and sales program. We are so grateful for your commitment to standing with us as we fight for these iconic animals.
So, Meredith, on behalf of everyone here at AWHC, thank you!
After so many heartbreaks, there is finally a tiny bit of justice for Sparkles and Peanut. This is the news I promised was coming.
OUR VET BILL is EVEN HIGHER because we fought so hard for JUSTICE for her. After she passed, Chilly Pepper had to pay for her Necropsy and to have a piece of her Femur removed and shipped to Michigan State for Bone Marrow Testing. We also had to run additional bloodwork for her case. This was CRUCIAL EVIDENCE to allow her case to be fully prosecuted.
Please donate for this and know you are actually HELPING HONOR SPARKLES by letting her death mean more horses will not suffer from this man. By helping get this “gentleman” charged & prosecuted for 1st and 2nd degree Felony Animal Cruelty/Abuse charges, we can show the world we will not tolerate this type of cruelty.
I also need funds to pay the 1st Vet bill. The exams for Peanut and Sparkles and for the 1st blood draw, labs etc. was also a crucial part of the documentation for the case. I have not received the initial vet bill from the Doctor who first drew blood and did the initial reports on both her and Peanut, but need to pay it upon receipt..
As you can see by the above pictures, we are flooding and I need to get the barn fixed asap. Apparently when the buildings were moved, the roof was damaged. I need to hire someone asap to fix it. Mercedes and her (unborn) baby will need it to stay dry and warm until we can head home. The nursery building is insulated and it has to be fixed asap to avoid mold etc.
PLEASE help if you can as diesel is off the charts and I need to get this wrapped up and get everyone home safely before winter really kicks in.
As you can also tell, Mercedes is finally looking very healthy, along with being pregnant, and she is definitely eating for 2?. Tarzan, Kaitlyn, Brad, Sundancer, and Peanut have all been adopted.
YOU have helped save 82 horses this year. THANK YOU!
Please call 509-773-0369 if you would like to help with the vet bill.
THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HAS BEEN HELPING SAVE THESE PRECIOUS LIVES
It was a rainy day, so I decided to have Chasity and Wrangler’s workout take place in the indoor arena Round Pen. I had not planned to film this workout, but since the Round Pen was a lot further from the Tack Barn than my outdoor Round Pen, I decided to take my chances and try to lead Chasity and Wrangler together! I thought that would be film-worthy for sure. Those of you that have tried to lead ONE donkey around puddles in the road and other such “scary things” know that you cannot count on their compliance. All you can do is HOPE for it! As it turned out, Chasity and Wrangler were very good all the way to the Round Pen, but there were still surprises to come!
They both stood quietly while I unlatched the gate as they had done dozens of times before, then waited patiently as I opened it.
They executed the gate perfectly together. This is a testament to my belief that when these kinds of movements are consistently done exactly the same way, it eliminates confusion and promotes compliance. They happily received their rewards of crimped oats from my fanny pack.
I then tied Wrangler to the fence with the “Elbow Pull” where he would wait while I adjusted Chasity’s “Elbow Pull.” Chasity checked out the new work space.
First I adjusted Chasity’s “Elbow Pull” and then I adjusted Wrangler’s to keep them from raising their heads too high and inverting their neck and back.
They both walked casually with no pressure from the “Elbow Pull” at all. When asked to trot, Chasity was “up against” the “Elbow Pull” at first, but was still stepping well underneath her body and striking her hind feet directly under the center of balance.
It was after the reverse that I discovered that Chasity was in heat and Wrangler decided he would like to mount her! So, I deliberately and quietly took him from the Round Pen and tied him up outside the fence. Chasity resumed her workout alone. She did lovely at the walk and kept the “Elbow Pull” loose, even throughout the reverse!
When I finally asked for trot, she was hot to trot! Chasity was definitely improving her ability to maintain her self-carriage and good posture. When the “Elbow Pull” is properly adjusted, it will encourage each individual equine’s BEST posture. It should NOT force their head down.
When asked to “Whoa,” Chasity happily complied and then turned to me for her next command. I asked for the “Reverse” and she was prompt in her response.
Then Chasity resumed her calm forward motion at the working walk, maintaining a loose “Elbow Pull.”She has made marked improvement in just 4 short weeks of Round Pen work after 3 months of leading for core strength and balance in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
When I asked for trot, she showed me she was a bit tired and was back up against the “Elbow Pull,” but she was still tracking well underneath her body and holding an acceptable posture.
When my female equines are in heat, I lighten the pressure on them and quit when I see they are tiring. This keeps them from getting “grumpy” and helps them to maintain a happy attitude toward me and the training.
Chasity and I exited the Round Pen in perfect form and then went to get Wrangler. Building a good relationship with your equine makes EVERYTHING easier!
Wrangler was standing sideways to the fence, but moved over promptly upon command. I wanted him on my right. He was still mesmerized by Chasity in heat, but he was still a gentleman and complied with my wishes! I love it when they behave so well!
Chasity flirted with Wrangler and he reciprocated while I untied his “Elbow Pull” and released him. Then we all marched together to the Tack Barn where they were untacked, then returned to the barn yard for turnout and more intense flirtation! Love was in the air!
While doing the exercises in balance by riding without the aid of your reins as described in DVD #5, you probably discovered a lot more shifting of your own balance than you imagined. This nearly imperceptible shift of balance, however, can grossly affect the balance of your equine. Until now, I have always given the rider a visual point of reference by allowing you to glance down at the outside front leg. Now you will want to be more inwardly conscious of your own body position.
You need to repeat many of the previous exercises to cultivate this kind of sensitivity, but this time, close your eyes for brief periods of time to get the “feel” of each movement in your own body. Do not simply allow your equine to travel freely in any direction, because this will not give you an accurate feeling for any specific gait or task—you must plan your course of action. If, for instance, you set up your equine to bend through and come out of a corner with impulsion, you can close your eyes for a few seconds down the long side and feel the balance that comes out of that corner when the movement is executed correctly. In this particular situation, once you’ve closed your eyes, you may notice that your animal is starting to lean slightly to the inside. A squeeze/release from your inside leg, sending your mule forward and catching that balance with the outside rein, corrects the balance and keeps him going straight and erect down the long side.
Your seat bones are closest to your body’s center of gravity, making them the best sensors for balance. “Feel” the weight shift from one seat bone to the other through turns and circles, and then even out as you ride straight lines and diagonals. You will soon discover that, in order to do a circle in better balance, you must have slightly more weight on the outside seat bone and leg.
This situates your weight over the outside hind leg, which is the leg that initiates impulsion. Putting the weight over the outside hind leg clears the mule’s shoulders, allowing freer movement in front. If you ride on your inside seat bone, the weight begins to fall to the inside of the circle and puts pressure on the shoulder, inhibiting the upright, forward balance and this will put your animal on the forehand instead of engaging his hindquarters.
Remember to plan your course of action and use your half-halts between changes of direction and transitions from one gait to another. You cannot expect your equine to maintain his balance when he is constantly being surprised with changes of direction or gait. Look ahead (Do not look down!) and use your eyes correctly to enhance your balance and to help you more realistically plan your course. Teach yourself to be accurate with your eyes—look well ahead at all times and try to stay exactly on the lines and the arcs of your circles. When you plan a circle, look halfway around your circle so you can plan the arc more accurately, and then you can make the next half of the circle the same as the first half, in order to complete your circle with minimal trouble. Keep your eyes on a visual horizontal line that runs parallel to the ground. Remember—you have two eyes, and any movement as slight as a tip of your head to one side or the other can affect the upright balance of your equine. Dropping your eyes to the ground shifts your animal’s balance forward and onto his shoulders, again interrupting his balance.
Do small circles, but only as small as your equine can handle without losing his balance. Once he can easily maintain his balance without interruption, you can begin to decrease the size of the circles. Keep movements planned and large. This will give your equine plenty of response time through planned movements and will allow you to ride and correct the balance with more ease. If, for some reason, your animal loses his balance, falls out or rushes, stop him by using even pressure on both reins, with a squeeze/release action. Back him up slowly and deliberately, remembering to walk backward with your seat and legs, one step at a time, and then calmly go back and try to repeat the movement. If he makes the same mistake a second time, halt, back up and then walk through the area that is giving you the problem. Resume trotting or cantering when he complies. When you approach that area again, slow him down again, go through and resume your plan.
If he “ducks out” with you and begins to run, keep your connection on the rein that he has pulled as best as you can, and try to stop him by pulling on both reins together with a light squeeze/release action. Try to verbally calm him, and when he finally stops, let the reins go loose and praise him for stopping. Then, collect your reins again, turn him with the rein that he has just pulled out of your hand, and return him to the task. Do not try to pull him around with the other rein, because this will cause him to lose his balance and will frighten him even more. If he is praised for stopping, he will not be afraid to stop. If the reins remain tight and he’s punished for running, he may never want to stop.
The main goal is to cultivate an equine that is moving calmly between your two hands and your two legs and is responsive to changes in your aids—to your seat, to your legs and to your hands. If you keep your eyes focused well ahead and your hands and legs evenly balanced over your seat bones, you can strongly affect your animal’s vertical balance. Correct and repetitive use of the aids will eventually allow your equine to become lighter in the bridle and more responsive. In addition, his muscles will begin to be properly and symmetrically conditioned. An animal that is restrained and forced will develop muscles incorrectly. In turn, this will cause him stiffness through many movements. Most commonly, you see a slight “U” in the base of the neck in front of the withers. This is caused by stiffness in the poll from riding from front to back, rather than from back to front. Actually, the stiffness will transmit to other parts of the body and can cause chronic soreness as in the croup (hunter’s bump), but the most obvious signs show in the neck and poll. Incorrect development of the muscles will undoubtedly inhibit your equine’s best performance.
I ride my equines diagonally through the aids to get the best lateral and vertical response. I want to maintain a good forward movement, which means that the impulsion must come from the hindquarters and push forward. Think of your hands and legs as four corners of a box that contains your equine. If you push forward on one side at a time from, say, left leg to your left hand, it leaves the other whole side of the animal unchecked, and he will proceed forward with a tendency to drift into the “open” side. This is why you have to ride alternately and diagonally from the left leg to the right hand and from the right leg to the left hand. It is why you ride from back to front, leg to hand, in a diagonal fashion—it pushes your animal from the outside leg forward into a straight and balanced inside rein, and from the supportive inside leg to the outside rein—he remains upright on the arcs and sufficiently bent. The wider the space between your legs and between your hands, the more lateral “play” you will feel in your equine. If you keep your hands close together and your legs snugly around his barrel, there is a lot less lateral “play” and a great deal more accuracy when doing your patterns. Think of your legs and hands creating a “train track” with rails between which your animal must move. The wider the space between your hands and legs, the “snakier” his movements will become.
But what if he will not turn without you really pulling on the inside rein? He will turn if you do it correctly. Remember, it doesn’t matter how far you turn his head to the side. His head is not attached to the ground and he will only go where his legs go. You will be helpful to your mule and correct if you always try to keep his head and neck straight in front of his shoulders. When you wish to turn, give a slight half halt to slow for the turn. Be sure to support your equine with your legs as you do this—the inside leg should become stronger with each squeeze and give with each release. Keep your outside rein slightly checked back compared to your inside rein (which pulls and releases), and hold your hand in close to the withers on the outside. Do not check too hard or your equine will turn out instead of around the circle. Take your inside rein away from the withers a little to encourage the turn, but be careful not to take it any farther than necessary, because this will disconnect your animal’s hindquarters from his shoulders. As you repeatedly do this exercise, your equine will learn to lead with his shoulders, bend his body through his rib cage to the arc of the circle, and not just his head and neck. If necessary, you can counter bend his head and neck to move the shoulders onto the arc of the circle, but do not counter bend too much or you will get a turn instead. Hold his correct bend steady with your legs – the inside leg at the girth and the outside leg slightly back to encourage impulsion through the turn.
The finer you tune your own aids, the lighter and more responsive your equine will become. To summarize, before you begin, plan your course of action. Keep movements large and flowing, your eyes looking ahead and your aids even and close in. Employ the aids diagonally, while firmly encouraging forward energy horizontally from back to front while at the same time, encouraging vertical flexion over the topline. Do not be too concerned about where your equine’s nose is if his body movement is correct. As he becomes more confident, fit and relaxed, and as your aids become more correct, his head and neck will drop into the improved posture of their own accord. If you try to set the head and neck on the vertical before the body has been conditioned to balance and round, you will produce an animal with a hollow back and a lot of vertical and lateral stiffness. This will prevent him from correctly responding to your aids even if he wants to, because he will be physically unable to do so. It may take a little longer to correctly condition both your body and his, but the result is a sound, cooperative animal, possessing the mental and physical qualities necessary for the best performance upon your request. You may even experience the surprise of a better response to your aids and good posture, balance and strength in your own body, as well.
On behalf of all our wild horses, boo-rros, and everyone at the American Wild Horse Campaign, Happy Halloween!
This Halloween feels different though. Something is haunting our wild horses and burros, and we know just what that is:
Photo by WilsonAxpe Photography
These magnificent animals need our help to end this nightMARE before it’s too late. Your commitment to fighting for our wild herds is what powers our efforts to protect these animals from all the dangers that await them when they are removed from their homes on the range.