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By Meredith Hodges
Just like humans, all equines have different personalities. They’re not cookie cutters and should not all be treated the same way, so observe your equine whenever possible and see what he naturally likes to do, and then adjust your training program accordingly. Although each animal must go through the same kind of basic training to make sure he is building good core muscle strength in balance and good posture, he will have his own way of learning, so your presentation of the tasks may differ from one animal to the next. When you have multiple animals, treat each one of them like he’s your favorite.
Before you invest a lot of time and effort deciding whether to continue training your equine or that he will be happier as part of the stud barn, take the time to evaluate his athletic potential. The principles discussed in this article—which are applicable to donkeys, mules or horses—were developed by my mentor, the renowned resistance-freehorse trainer, Richard Shrake.
First, let’s look at conformation. It goes without saying that your equine should appear wellbalanced and in good proportion, with flat knees and smooth joints. He should be free of unsoundness. There are published standards on most breeds, or you can pick up a good 4-H manual or a judging manual to give you an idea of what the ideal is for each breed with regard to conformation
Next, we’ll look at body measurements that are used to gauge your equine’s athletic ability. These measurements will help you assess the kinds of activities for which your animal is best suited, so you can plan whether or not to take his training beyond the basics.
Begin with a six-foot piece of baling twine or string. The first measurement is from the poll to the middle of the withers. Then measure from the middle of the withers to the loin at the base of the rump. If these measurements are the same, you have a balanced animal that will be able to perform with more ease. If the neck is slightly longer, he will still be athletic because the head and neck are used for balance. But if the neck measurement is shorter, it will be difficult for your equine to balance through certain movements and transitions during all activities.
Next, measure your equine around the throatlatch. Then measure around the collar from the withers to the chest at the point of shoulder and back to the withers. This measurement should be twice that of the throatlatch, which indicates that your equine will be better able to flex at the poll,making him easier to collect and bring into the correct framefor optimum performance.
Now measure the top of the neck from poll to withers and the bottom of the neck from throatlatch to chest. The top line should be 1.5times that of the bottom, enabling your animal to perform nice, soft movements during all activities. A “u-necked”animal cannot bend properly and will never be able to achieve good collection in balance and good posture. His neck and back will be hollow, making it difficult for him to efficiently carry a rider, which can result in future soundness problems.
Next, measure the equine’s legs from the elbow to the coronet band, and then from the stifle to the coronet band. Both measurements will be the same in an evenly
balanced animal. This means he will be a good pleasure prospect, with smooth movements at the walk and trot. If he’s a bit longer in front, he will be a good prospect for Reining, jumping or Dressage because his trot and canter will be smooth,with greater impulsion from the hindquarters with an uphill balance. An animal that is higher in the rear will find it difficult to balance, so he’s probably not going to be a good athletic prospectbecause the weight will be unevenly dumped on his front quarters.
Ideally, your prospect should also be graced with 45-degreeangles at shoulder and hip,and with the same angle at his pasterns. This ideal angle will result in softer gaits and transitions, whereas a straighter hip and shoulder will result in abrupt transitions and a rougher ride. The higher the angle (90+ degrees), the longer the stride will be; and the shorter the angle (90- degrees), the shorter and quicker the stride.
Now let’s see how your prospect moves. Stick a piece of masking tape at the point of his hip as a visual reference point. Ask someone to assist you by trotting your equine on a lead as you watch the way he moves. Does his hock reach underneath and pass in front of the tape? If it does, his hindquarters will support strenuous athletic movements, his transitions will be more fluid and smoother, and his head and neck will stay level. If his hock does not reach underneath him sufficiently, he will be out of balance and must raise his head and neck through transitions.
Finally, ask the person assisting you to lead your equine while you watch him walk through smooth sand. Does his hind hoof fall into the track made by his front hoof? If he is exact, he is graced with the smooth, fluid way of going of a world-class pleasure animal. If he over-reaches the track, he has wonderful hindquarter engagement and you may have a candidate for Reining,Dressageor jumping. If he under-reaches the track, he is out of balance, causing him to raise his headand neck. He will have difficultythrough transitions and movements, which will undoubtedly make him unsuitable for advanced athletic activities.
These measurements can be quite helpful in determining your animal’s athletic future, and they can be trusted because the laws of physics are at work. But there is more to being a great athlete than just conformation. You must also assess at the personality of each individual animal. Again—these principles apply to mules, donkeys and horses.
First, let’s look at your animal’s trainability. One of the benefits of owning a registered animal is that you will have plenty of background information regarding his gene pool. Some lines are famous for being smart, athletic and good-natured. Some are known as being high-strung and nervous, perhaps making them inappropriate for certain riders. Plan to do your research before you look at a prospective animal being sold by a private owner or at an auction.
There are some practical tests you can do to help you assess an animal’s trainability. First, ask the person assisting you to hold your equine’s lead rope while you pick up a handful of sand, and then trickle the sand through your fingers near your animal’s head. Does he turn and look at you? If so, this is a good indication that he is interested in what you’re doing, which usually means he will be more trainable than an animal that ignores you.
The next test is to run your finger lightly from your equine’s girth, across the barrel to the flank. Do this on both sides. Does he tolerate this with little movement, or does he twitch and even flinch? This test will give you an idea of how he will react to your legs when you are riding. (The animal that is less touchy will be the one who learns your cues most efficiently, whereas the one that flinches is more likely to overreact.)
Now stand at your animal’s shoulder and gently put your hand over his nose, and then ask him—with a gentle squeeze and release action from your fingers—to bend his head and neck toward you. Do this on both sides. Does he bring his nose around easily or do you feel resistance? If he gives easily, it is a good indication that he is submissive and will be willing to learn more quickly.
The final check is a simple test to assess your equine’s reaction under pressure. Ask the person assisting you to hold the lead rope while you make an abrupt move, such as jumping and flapping your arms. What is your equine’s reaction? If he tries to run off, he’s probably not the best candidate for equine sports such as Side Saddle or driving, which require a steady animal. On the other hand, if he stops to look at you and tries to figure out what you’re doing, he may be a really great candidate for advanced training.
When you go through the basic exercises on the lead line and in the drivelines, there may be times when you experience resistance from your equine. Think of your animal’s resistance as a red flag that could be telling you that you either need to reassess your approach and consider a different path to the same end, or that you may simply need to break a current action down into smaller and more understandable steps. Don’t get caught up in the blame game (“It’s his fault, not mine.”) and lose your temper just because things aren’t going the way you expected. If, instead, you adopt the attitude that your equine is trying to communicate with you and that, when you meet with resistance, it is your responsibility to change what you are doing, you can avoid a lot of frustration during training and things will go more smoothly between the two of you.
And remember, just because a certain approach worked with one equine doesn’t mean it will work the same way with a different equine, so treat each animal as an individual and stay on your toes. Equines are as diverse in their personalities as humans and each individual may have a different way of learning from one to the other. Look at training as the cultivation of the relationship you want to have with each individual animal and adjust your own actions accordingly.
Keep in mind that, regardless of conformation and trainability, when you do the right kinds of exercises toward good posture and balance in their correct order—and with adequate time spent at each stage—and adjust your approach to the training of each individual, the result will be that your equine will feel much more comfortable. He will recognize your efforts on his behalf and, as he progresses, training will come more easily for both of you.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 2014, 2016 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Please enjoy this article from our friend, Josefine at the SWISS BULLETIN. Mules have made their mark helping people with their tasks all around the world and their stories are nothing short of amazing! Loving Longears is something special that we all have in common despite our different languages. Read it, below:
The last packer of Zermatt Belvedere
Mules in the service of transport and travel in ancient times
By Alban Lorenz
The Valais lies in the southwest of Switzerland and is our little California. This canton is known for much sun, little rain, high mountains, good wine, sweet fruits and many tourisms. The main valley with the river Rhône, which flows into the Mediterranean, has many side valleys. A great number of mountain villages there were still without roads until the middle of the 20th century. The inhabitants had to transport everything by their own or they used pack animals (oxen or mules). Therefore, the Valais was the region in Switzerland that had the most mules until the 1960s.
Me, Alban Lorenz (*1939) and my brother Elias (*1932) grew up in Törbel, a mountain village high above the Matter Valley. At this time there were still 40 mules living in Törbel, before motorization also arrived there in the middle of the 20th century. The last mule in Törbel, Apollo, died in spring 2010, shortly before his master Bruno Hosennen. Bruno’s girlfriend, the artist Helen Güdel, has illustrated and published a children’s book about Apollo and Bruno.
After my apprenticeship, I moved to Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, where I worked for the police until my retirement. Elias remained in his homeland and worked as a packer for many years. My family had his own mule. Some poorer families had to share a mule.
During the summer season some mules from Törbel were employed for transports up to mountain huts and hotels. The Hotel Belvedere in Zermatt is located high above the village at the foot of the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most famous mountain. From the very beginning, all material, drinks and food for the hotel had to been transported up there by mules. The stable for the animals was near Lake Black (Schwarzsee), right next to the cable car station, that led up from the village Zermatt.So the mules could be packed right next to the station and led up to the hotel.
Goods had to be transported every day in all weathers, and the climb took three hours. The track was well worked out and led through steep rocky terrain to the hotel.Thewaste and empties of the hotel had to be transported on the same route back to the cable car station.
Mid 50s, early 60s, Elias worked some summers there as a packer with two mules on contract for the municipality of Zermatt. The mules he worked with were his own and a rented one. I had to replace him once for two days in the summer of 1963 and was able to make my own experiences.
There were times when Elias managed the transports only with his mule Belli. So it happened that one autumn day an early onset of winter arrived. The snowfall was so heavy that a walk back to Zermatt with the mule was impossible. However, the cable car could still run. This made it possible to load the mule into the cabin and drive Belli and Elias down to Zermatt, where the cable cabin and its contents arrived without any damage.
With Belli, Elias was also active as a packer for various other transports. When the Dom Hut of the Swiss Alpine Club was constructed high above the village Randa, mules were also used. During the construction of the earlier Monte Rosa Hut, the building material had to be transported by mules from the Gornergratrailway station over the glacier to the construction site. Belli had no trouble crossing the ice.
In Saas Grund was a transport company that often received larger transport orders. Therefore, the boss had to rent additional mules with their packers in addition to his own animals. Elias and his Belli were also mostly involved.
Unfortunately, Elias couldn’t avoid unpleasant transports. Among those were dead people who were fatally injured on the mountain. Once he had to bring down the body of his best friend on a mule, who had worked as a hut keeper in the Hörnli Hut.
One autumn day I was at home in Törbel, when my brother came home from Zermatt with the mules after a long time. By chance, I looked out the window of my parents’ house and saw Belli coming up the path. When the mule saw the house, she brayed loudly and ran the last part of the way to her place in front of the stable. This observation showed me that even a mule can be happy to finally come home after a long absence.
Photos of the Lorenz Family
In Saas Grund, in the background packer Edelbert Juon
Elias Lorenz with two mules on the way to the Hotel Belvedere
Elias Lorenz with 2 mules on the descent from Hotel Belvedere
Mule Belli with tourists in Zermatt
Parade in Törbel during a village festival in the 70s
Parade in Törbel during a village festival in the 70s
Additional photos from the internet
Riffelberg walk and view on the Matterhorn ca.1950
Photo: Fernand Perret, www.mediatheque.ch
Hotel Gornergrat with packmules
Going leisurely to Zermatt with a Mule for the luggage in the olden days.
Passage of the mules, Lomatten near Saas-Fee (1800m) 1972. The man in front, Christian Lorenz, is the father of Alban and Elias. He worked also as packer.
By Meredith Hodges
In the final part of this article, the ins and outs of riding precautions and safety will be pinpointed, along with many other crucial details and tips that will help you become not only a better rider, but a better, more understanding equine owner.
As previously discussed, it is human nature to want to just get in the saddle and ride and do all of the glamorous, exciting things with a newly purchased equine that we see others do. The good riders make riding look so easy, and there’s a reason for that—they’re good equine owners. They make sure that their equine is comfortable in what he is learning, they painstakingly go through the training processes for as long as it takes, and caution, safety and courtesy are always top priorities.
Here is a checklist to go through each time BEFORE you ride:
- When you mount your equine, do it in an open area away from buildings, fences and other animals.
- Mount with deliberate grace and don’t just plop yourself onto his back.
- After riding, take the reins over your equine’s head, always being careful to clear his ears.
- Run up your stirrup irons on English saddles when you dismount.
- If your equine is energetic, lunge him before riding.
- Know the proper use of spurs and crops and don’t use them until you’re sure that you really need them.
- Keep small animals under control around your equine.
- Wear protective gear when riding and if you ride at night make sure to have the proper reflectors and keep to the walk.
- Never ride off until ALL riders are mounted and, when mounted, never rush past other equines. If you need to pass, keep it to the walk.
- When riding in a group in an open area, you can ride abreast, but when you are riding single file, always keep an equine’s-length between you and the animal ahead of you.
- While riding, maintain a secure seat and stay in control of your equine at all times.
- Don’t ride in the open until you are familiar with the equine you are riding.
- If your equine becomes frightened, use your voice first to try to calm him. If necessary, dismount and politely introduce him to whatever is spooking him. When he calms down, you can remount.
- When riding, always watch for small children and animals.
- Hold your equine to a walk going up and down inclines, and NEVER fool around while riding.
(NOTE: I don’t recommend riding along paved roads at all these days. Although you and your equine may be in control, motorists don’t always pay attention while they are driving—which can lead to disaster.)
If you must ride along a road:
- Do not ride bareback, use good judgment, ride single file and ALWAYS use a bridle.
- If there are two or more riders, be sure to maintain sufficient space between equines.
- Avoid heavy traffic, but if you must be in heavy traffic, dismount and lead your animal.
- When riding on the shoulder of a road, remain alert for debris.
- Always obey ALL traffic laws and ride with the traffic, not against it.
When trail riding, here are some important tips to remember:
- If you are an unskilled equestrian, be sure you are riding an equine that is well trained.
- Do not engage in practical jokes or horseplay along the trail.
- Stay alert and think ahead while you ride, and avoid dangerous situations whenever possible.
- Be courteous when riding on a trail. If you meet someone on a narrow incline and cannot pass safely, the one who is coming down the trail should back up the trail to a wider spot when possible.
- Ride a balanced seat and don’t just let your equine wander along or graze while on the trail.
- If you ride alone, tell someone where you will be and bring a cell phone in your pocket—but ALWAYS keep it turned off while riding your equine—any cell phone noise could easily frighten him, possibly causing a major disaster.
- If you are going for an overnight ride, bring a halter and lead, hobbles, clean saddle blankets, horseshoe nails and matches, and make sure your equipment is all in good repair.
- Don’t offer water to your equine while he is hot and sweaty. Let him cool down first and then offer a few sips of water at a time.
- Always tie your equine in a safe place, using a halter and lead rope tied in a safety knot.
- Be very careful with cigarettes, matches and fires.
- Get to know the terrain ahead of time and bring maps with you.
- Know the laws, rules and fire regulations on government trails.
- Be sure your equine is in proper condition for the ride and is adequately trimmed or shod.
- Use extreme caution in wet or boggy areas and always ride at the safest gait.
- Avoid overhanging tree limbs and be sure to warn other riders behind you about any upcoming obstacles on the trail.
Good habits are built through repetition and reward with regard to consideration for your equine. Eventually, the good habits that are being taught will become the normal way that your animal will move and react to you and to his environment. The details outlined in this article can help contribute to the behavior shaping of your animal, which will determine, as he ages, how willing and obedient he will be in all situations.
Owning an equine is serious business! It is as serious as raising children. With the increase of the human population, there are a lot of metropolitan ideas and products being sold with incredibly creative marketing techniques, but choosing which ones are actually beneficial and not just a sales pitch can often be quite daunting and the wrong choice could get you in trouble with your equine. What kinds of feed work best? Does your equine need supplements or does he do better on a more basic nutrient approach? Has your veterinarian done a baseline test on your equine to determine what supplements are needed if any? What should you use for rewards? What training techniques work best? It is best to consult with rural equine professionals and people who have actually successfully worked with equines during their lives to help you make these determinations. Knowing the right things to do with your equine may seem confusing, but it is really only a matter of learning the “rules of the road.” You would need to do the same in order to be able to drive and properly maintain a car. Once you have learned the routine, it’s easy. Even with all the new and improved ways of doing things, one thing always rings true…KISS…keep it super simple!
It’s so important to have as much knowledge, information and trusted advice as you can get, so that you can make sound, informed choices for both you and your equine partner. Take things slowly and in small steps that you both can easily manage—then you will reach your goals because you’ve developed a firm foundation. When you do your homework up-front, there’s nothing to be afraid of and you’ll be graced with years of unconditional love and pleasure from your equine friend and companion.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 2012, 2016, 2018 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Roll had his summer bath yesterday and it was a great day for it! It was 100 degrees!
Today it was a little cooler, so we opted to go to the dressage arena and work in the hourglass pattern on the lead rope in his “Elbow Pull” and surcingle.
The twisting in his right hind foot was markedly better today after last week’s workout. I am glad I made the call to go back to the leading exercises after his riding experience on May 6. He felt sluggish and the right hind foot was not adequately supported and was twisting quite a bit.
Going back to his core leading exercises for the past few weeks has greatly improved the musculature and corresponding soft tissues, ligaments and tendon that support the pastern and fetlock and the twisting has substantially subsided. He now has a much more upward balance!
I find it amusing that these animals really DO mirror what we do, so it is best to pay attention to what YOU are doing as well as what your mule is doing!
Because you can’t necessarily SEE core muscle development, it is hard to tell how much it can help the equine with his overall posture, balance and performance. Once you have engaged in the exercises, you can begin to identify these very subtle nuances in the equine’s way of moving.
We often talk about “head sets” in the equine world and want our equines to be soft and supple in their poll, but what of the rest of the body? When the body is truly in good postural balance, it is easy for the equine’s WHOLE BODY to perform as it was intended.
The animal is soft and pliable throughout his body and you will begin to notice when they are using their whole body and when there are compromised segments. The easiest thing to see is how an animal with adequate core strength will use ALL his muscles such that you can actually see the muscles rippling in motion over the ribs.
The animal without core strength will be stiff and immobile over the ribs and the legs will move underneath the body, but neither adds support nor fluidity to his movement. ROLL is living proof of this drastic difference in conditioning.
We finished Roll’s lesson with some simple stretching exercises…
…then walked to the gate with the lead slung over his neck…
…and then backed a few steps, all evidence of his own good postural body carriage. I am so pleased that Roll is doing so well at 26 years old!
Swiss Mule Magazine 2018-1
This article is written by Elke Stadler and from my friend, Josefine, editor of the Swiss Mule Bulletin in Switzerland! Since we share a love for Longears, we like to share each other’s respective mule historical experiences with our friends and fans. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did! Thank you so much, Josefine! In the future, we look forward to more news from Switzerland in support of Longears:
The Theodul Pass
The name is derived from St. Theodul, the first known Valais bishop from the 4th century Walser German, it is called Theodul Yoke. From the 16th to the end of the 18th century it was called Augst Valley Pass (Augst = Aosta, Latin Augusta Praetoria), later, until the beginning of the 19th century, simply also called Valais Pass, then Matter Yoke. The special feature of the glaciated pass is its great height: 3,295 m above sea level (as of 2009). It is located in the Valais between the Matterhorn and the Breithorn. The pass, which crosses the border between Italy and Switzerland, connects Zermatt in the Matter Valley with Breuil-Cervinia in Valtournenche.
No other Alpine pass of comparable importance is higher than 2,900 m above sea level. The Theodul Pass has always been an important crossing point in the Valais Alps. A stone axe found in 1895 comes from Brittany and dates back to the Neolithic period (4000 to 3500 BC). It suggests that the pass was already in use at that time. Near the top of the pass, a Roman coin treasure dating from the 1st to 4th century AD was found. You can see it today at the Alpine Museum in Zermatt.
The Mule and the Theodul Pass
The Theodul Pass was probably commemorated with mules from the Roman period, possibly as early as the end of the late Iron Age. The oldest evidence for the use of mules in the Theodul Pass region can be found in late-medieval text sources that report on trade relations between the Matter Valley and the Aosta Valley. The “horses” repeatedly mentioned in this article can only be mules. From the early 20th century onwards, the use of the mule for the transport of goods over the Theodul Pass, represented only a rarity in view of increasingly difficult climatic conditions and the emergence of a modern transport network.
Dangerous conditions at the glacier pass
The historic pass consists of two sections: From Zermatt to the edge of the glacier a path on the grown soil; from there to the pass, as a rule, a track across the glacier. As a glacier pass, the transition to those altitudes in which passability is highly dependent on climatic conditions is sufficient. Daily fluctuations (hard snow, soft snow), seasonal influences (summer, winter, avalanches) as well as climatic changes over the centuries have an impact here.
The crossing of such a high pass was not safe for humans and animals. In the oral tradition of the Matter Valley there are numerous stories and legends that tell of mishaps of traders or farmers accompanied by their mule. In Zeneggen, for example, it is said that a farmer who went out with two mules to get wine in Italy got caught in a storm. The mules, who are known for keeping calm in all situations, came back to the village on their own and vice versa, while the owner, who was believed dead, followed a few days later.
Mule bone finds and a whole skeleton
The mules whose bones have been found in the pass region since 1985 did not have that luck. However, its skeletal parts are direct witnesses to the important role played by the animal, which is important for Alpine culture, in the regional economy. Even though the mules are known to us as indispensable human helpers until the transport connections of the mountains, little is known about the beginning of mule maintenance in Valais.
Until the discovery of a complete skeleton on the ice surface in the eastern area of the Upper Theodul glacier in autumn 2013, bone remains, i. e. individual fragments, were salvaged exclusively from the areas cleared of the ice. Most of the pieces come from the eastern edge of the Upper Theodul Glacier. From 1985 to 2013, 247 equine bones were collected, including 122 pieces belonging to the same individual.
At archaeological sites, remains of the bones of equidae are a rarity, and their identification also fails due to the extreme difficulty of distinguishing donkeys, horses and their hybrids (mules) from skeletal parts, which are usually isolated and fragmented. With the exception of the fully preserved mule skeleton discovered in 2013, every single piece of bone remains discovered in Valais was definitely assigned to a hybrid. The discovery of the complete skeleton can therefore be regarded as the first reliable evidence of mules in Valais. The Upper Theodul Glacier, was systematically prospected for the first time in 2010. This is part of a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation for the archaeological study of glaciated pass crossings between Valais and Italy.
In autumn 2015, the youngest find, belonging to a mule, was found in the interesting search area like a brown jellyfish on the ice: woven cords of a mule saddle sewn into a fine piece of leather. What will the melting glacier release in the coming years?
The archaeological discovery of the Theodul Pass is inseparable from the retreat of the Upper Theodul Glacier and the alpine, and tourist development of the Zermatt Alps from the second half of the 19th century onwards. Many objects were accidental findings of tourists. The oldest finds date back to Roman times. The numerous mule bone finds bear witness to the movement of goods and persons, which is regularly mentioned in textual sources. Up to 10,000 year old finds, in the immediate vicinity of the Theodul Pass and the Upper Theodul Glacier, indicate a prehistoric ascent of the pass. In the future, a more targeted archaeological investigation of the Theodulpass area will be possible thanks to the research project of the University of Freiburg i. Ue., which was completed in 2014 and calculates archaeological suspected find areas.
An ice free mule saddle made of cords and leather.
Sources: Mules and rock horses: animal bone remains, In: Providoli S., Curdy P. and Elsig P. (2015) 400 years in glacial ice. The Theodul Pass at Zermatt and his “mercenary”; NZZ: Glacier archaeology, stories from the freezer, Caroline Fink; www.ivs.admin.ch ; https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodulpass
“… the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five: Hardly a man is now alive …”
Yes, the famed Paul Revere set out on horseback on this day in 1775 to raise the alarm that British troops were on their way from Boston to Lexington.
Revere rode about 20 miles through what is now Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, Massachusetts, knocking on doors to raise people to defend Lexington. Another rider, William Dawes, was sent by another route to do the same thing. A third, Samuel Prescott, was also pressed into service. Only Prescott completed the night’s work and reached Concord; Revere was captured and Dawes was thrown from his horse while evading British soldiers, forcing him to walk back to Lexington.
It was a good ride for Revere, and it was good for the revolution. But a little over two years later, a 16-year-old girl did the midnight riders one better. Sybil Ludington rode twice as far as Revere did, by herself, over bad roads, and in an area roamed by outlaws, to raise Patriot troops to fight in the Battle of Danbury and the Battle of Ridgefield in Connecticut. And did we mention it was raining?
Sybil was the eldest of 12 children of Col. Henry Ludington, the commander of the militia in Dutchess County, New York. Ludington’s farm was a receiving center for information collected by spies for the American cause.
In April 1777, Colonel Ludington and the members of his militia were at their homes because it was planting season. But about 9 p.m. on the evening of April 26, he received word that the British were burning Danbury. The man who brought the news had worn out his horse and he didn’t know the area. Ludington needed to stay where he was to help arrange the troops as they arrived.
Who could he send? He turned to his daughter, who knew the area and knew where members of the militia lived. Sybil rode her horse from her father’s farm in Kent, which was then called Frederick. She first headed south to the village of Carmel and then down to Mahopac. She turned west to Mahopac Falls and then north to Kent Cliffs and Farmers Mills. From there, she rode further north to Stormville, where she turned south to head back to her family’s farm. All told, she rode nearly 40 miles through what was then southern Dutchess County (which is now mostly Putnam County).
Sybil spent the night traveling down narrow dirt roads in the rain with nothing but a stick as protection. To add another element of danger, there were many British loyalists in the area and more than a few “Skinners,” a word generally used then to describe an outlaw or ruffian who had no real loyalties to either side in the war. One account of her ride says that Sybil used her stick to pound on a Skinner who accosted her.
By dawn, Sybil had made it back to her family farm where the militia men were gathering with her father. By this time, the British had gone south from Danbury to Ridgefield. The militia of Dutchess County, led by Colonel Ludington, marched 17 miles to Ridgefield and took part in the battle there, which some considered a strategic victory for the American forces.
Sybil’s hard riding earned her the congratulations of General George Washington, but it seems she got little recognition for her feat after that. She married another revolutionary, Edmond Ogden, in 1784 and had a child. At one point she and her husband ran a tavern in Catskill, New York, but she spent the last 40 years of her life as a widow until her death in 1839. She is buried near the route of her ride in Patterson, New York, with a headstone that spells her first name as Sibbell.
So why do we all learn about Paul Revere in our American history courses and not Sybil Ludington? In more recent times, Sybil has received a bit more acclaim for the ride that she made—there have been books written about her, a postage stamp near the bicentennial honoring her, and even a board game where players follow her overnight path. And in 1961, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a larger-than-life statue of her on her horse in Carmel, New York.
Revere, of course, is justly honored as a man who served the Revolution in many capacities, including as a messenger and engraver (by trade, he was a fine silversmith). Perhaps his place in history was secured because he had Henry Wadsworth Longfellow serving as his publicist, with Longfellow’s famous (and famously inaccurate) poem—it leaves out both Dawes and Prescott—turning Revere into a legend. Sybil has no such fabled poem, no “one if by land, two if by sea” catchphrase. But perhaps as children we all should hear of the midnight ride of a teen with no fear.
All images courtesy Valerie DeBenedette.
HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017! Let’s go forward loving and learning together with our equine companions! When kindness is used in training, greatness can happen. That is the story of Beautiful Jim Key. The sickly colt was adopted by “Dr” William Key, a freed slave and self-taught veterinarian. Using his veterinary skills and training with no force, the colt grew into a healthy adult with some special abilities – he could read, write, spell, do math, tell time, sort mail, cite Bible passages, use a telephone and cash register. Together, they were seen by an estimated 10 million Americans and hailed as the “Marvel of the Twentieth Century”. Dr Key died at the age of 76, being universally praised for his service to humanity and Beautiful Jim followed three years later at the age of 23. As TIME magazine declared, “This wonderful horse has upset all theories that animals have only instinct, and do not think and reason.”
When I posted this on Facebook about mules in the Bible…
Origins: The mule is mentioned in mankind’s earliest records. Consider this passage from the Bible: “And Absolom met the servants of David. And Absolom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the Heavens and the earth, and the mule that was under him went away.” (II Samuel 18:9). If you choose to ride a mule, you will need a good sense of humor!!!
…we were asked about mules really being in the Bible. We sent an email to a Rabbi inquiring about the translation of the ancient Hebrew word for “mule” or “pered.” Here is the reply:
“Solomon rode on a mule (1Ki 1:38) because his father David told Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah to “cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule” (v 33). This is the word for a “she-mule” (BDB, TWOT). Its three Old Testament uses are all in this passage (see v 44), referring to one mule, David’s. Solomon’s riding on David’s mule in company with David’s advisors gave a clear message: he was the successor David had chosen. Years later in secular history, female mules became preferable for riding and males for bearing burdens. That may have been a factor in David’s having this special mule. Second, an observation. David’s sons all rode on (male) mules (2Sa 13:29) and Absalom rode a mule at the end of his life (2Sa 18:9). Since a mule is crossbred between a mare and a male donkey, and since crossbreeding was prohibited in Israel (Lev 19:19), mules were likely imported (TWOT), and were thus more valued. They (along with horses, silver, and gold, etc.) symbolized the wealth that other kings brought to Solomon annually (1Ki 10:25). Third, a suggestion. The greatest reason for David’s choice of a mule rather than a horse may have been God’s prohibition for kings (Deu 17:16): they were not to multiply horses to themselves. David was careful in this. Solomon, to his own destruction, was not (1Ki 10:26, 28).”
This is a repost from Brooke USA.
Lexington, Ky. – November 15, 2016 – Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer Vicky Busch and her mule “Slate” continue to spread awareness of the plight of working equines in the developing world and the work of Brooke USA. Most recently Slate and his young rider, Busch’s student Isabella Rodwig won their Training Level Test 3 class at the dressage schooling show at Amen Corner Farm in Folsom, LA.
The pair did so in style and with a nod to Brooke USA, with a large Brooke USA heart painted on the mule’s rump. Busch uses Slate’s engaging personality and the novelty of seeing him at a dressage show to educate the crowds he draws about the mission of Brooke USA. She hopes that Slate and his young rider will continue to compete in more dressage shows this year with the goal of qualifying for the USDF Region 9 Championships sponsored by the Houston Dressage Society.
Since learning about Brooke USA, Busch and her husband Eric have been generous supporters. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of equines who work in some of the poorest communities on Earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous equine welfare challenges actively improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world.
Owning Slate has made the work that Brooke USA does – helping working equines including mules around the world – a cause close to Busch’s heart. She hopes that she can use the attention that Slate attracts to bring more awareness to Brooke USA, and put a personal touch on it. Busch is eager to tell Slate’s admirers at shows about the important work of Brooke USA and how they can help improve the lives of working equines around the world who are not as lucky as Slate to have such a wonderful home.
About Brooke USA
Brooke USA is a 501(c)(3) charity located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which exists solely to support the overseas work of Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare charity. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of horses, donkeys and mules who work in some of the poorest communities on earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous welfare challenges improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world. To learn more, visit BrookeUSA.org.
While dressage has long-been regarded as a horse and Pony Club sport, Meredith Hodges opened the doors to mules in dressage in the United States Dressage Federation Schooling Shows in 1986. With the help of Carole Sweet and Leah Patton of the American Donkey and Mule Society in Lewisville, Texas, they were formally accepted by the United States Equestrian Federation at their convention in Los Angeles in 2004. Laura Hermanson has since taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity. In 2015, she qualified for the United States Dressage Federation Finals with her own mule, “Heart B Dyna”, that is to be the subject of an upcoming documentary. The film is titled ”Dyna Does Dressage,” and is produced by Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser, who describe it as an “Underdog story [that] follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.” Laura Hermanson is breaking through the stigma that dressage is only for horses and ponies as was previously defined by the USEF Rulebook. Much like Meredith Hodges herself, what began as a love of horses evolved into the championing of the noble MULE, an equine ambassador that truly deserves our respect. This year, Laura is competing “Behold the Desert” (aka Beasley) owned by Troy and Carol Delfino of Bakersfield, California and bred by Candace Shauger of Genesis Farms in Bremen, Ohio, in the upcoming U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, November 10-13. Let’s all give our support to this amazing team!
A letter from George Washington, written in 1786, was recently put up for auction by bookseller William Reese. The letter is in regards to a donkey sent to Washington’s Mount Vernon ranch for the purpose of breeding. Washington is well-known for his agricultural brilliance and for breeding the first American mule. The correspondence was written a during a breif period of retirement and a few years before Washington became president.
Washington writes: “Dear Sir, When your favor of the first inst., accompanying the she ass, came to this place, I was from home – both however arrived safe; but Doct. Bowie informs me that the bitch puppy was not brought to his house. Nor have I heard any thing more of the asses at Marlbro’, nor of the grass seeds committed to the care of Mr. Digges. I feel myself obliged by your polite offer of the first fruit of your jenny. Though in appearance quite unequal to the match, yet, like a true female, she was not to be terrified at the disproportional size of her paramour; and having renewed the conflict twice or thrice it is to be hoped the issue will be favourable. My best respects attend [Mrs. Sprigg] & the rest of your family. With great esteem & regard, I am Dr. Sir Yr. most ob. serv. Go. Washington.”
The Missouri mule is a well-known symbol of American strength and perseverance, thanks to its significant contributions both within the state and throughout the country. Today, the mule still serves as Missouri’s official state animal, so the connection remains strong. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has put together a great photo slideshow about the history of these iconic equines and their role in the Show-Me State—click here to see the full slideshow!
Are equines prey or predators? Although some trainers base their methods on the idea that equines should be approached as “prey,” this blog post by Sara Annon explains that the answer may not be that simple.
The real lesson in this is that the predator/prey model of horsemanship is inaccurate. Rodents are prey animals. Horses are herd animals. Their enemy is the weather (click here and here). Horses die from hypothermia in winter, drought in summer, and starvation when grazing is scarce. Weakened animals are picked off by the occasional courageous wolf pack or lion. I say courageous because it only takes one quick smack with a hoof to break bones, and for a predator that is a death sentence.
IDAHO SPRINGS – Long ago before his long beard and long hair turned white, Bill Lee thought about what to be.
An oral storyteller, yes, because that, he felt, was a noble profession. That was needed in the ever- urbanizing West. But what to be?
“I decided on the mountain man,” said Lee, 67, reflecting in his log cabin, “because it was a really short-lived era in history.”
So he would go as the mountain man, fur coat and musket and all, to schools and libraries in towns up and down Interstate 70, to tell the kids about what used to happen in these mountains. And inevitably he would talk about the burro – Spanish for donkey – and he’d tell of the animal that was relied upon for toting supplies through the surrounding wilderness.
Toward the end, he would jump two centuries to the present. And he’d tell the kids about what they might decide to do with the burros one day:
Run with them.
Lucky Three Ranch knows a thing or two about elderly equines—miniature mule Lucky Three Franklin just celebrated his 40th birthday on April 1, and we’ve been happy to celebrate many of our other equines through their 20s and 30s.
That’s why we’re very happy to acknowledge Tootsie, a resident of the wonderful Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland, who is an incredible 54 years old—making him one of the oldest mules ever. The Donkey Sanctuary rescued Tootsie in 1992, and he is part of their “Super Grannies” group of equines that are all over 30 years old, who receive special treatment, feed, and love from the Sanctuary’s volunteers.
Curious about other historically aged equines? Longears have the opportunity to live particularly long lifespans, so there may be many out there, but here are a few we know about: Suzy, Rosie and Eeyore, donkeys who lived to be 54; Flower, who is believed to have reached the age 70; and Joe, a 45-year-old full-sized mule from Colorado Springs who’s still around today.
Wishing well to all of these sweet seniors!
West Point Military Academy Press Release
“General Caslen, on behalf of all Army Rangers and the Class of 1975 and the West Point Society of South Carolina, we present you with Paladin!” said Steve Townes ’75, CEO and Founder of Ranger Aerospace LCC, who has been West Point’s “mule donor in perpetuity” for well over a decade. ( Since 2001. )
Four-year-old Paladin, whose name refers to 1 of the 12 legendary peers or knightly champions in Charlemagne’s court, began his West Point experience on March 31, 2016, reporting to Ranger III, now gray in his muzzle.
In a ceremony to welcome the Army team’s newest mule, Director of Cadet Activities COL Tom Hansbarger ’92 officially signed in Paladin, who had two green duffel bags tied on his back. Several notable guests were on hand to witness the event, including VA Secretary Bob McDonald, another member of the Class of 1975, and LTC Anne Hessinger, an Army veterinarian who served at West Point from 2003 to 2006 and is now an equine officer at Fort Bragg, NC.
Paladin, small in stature, posed calmly for a round of photos after reporting to Ranger III, the mule in the red sash, before being led across the street to the barber while onlookers cheered him on with a rousing “Beat Navy!” chant. Paladin showed his spunk though when he kicked out his left hind leg toward the barber who was trying to get close tom him in order to shave a big “A” into his hind quarters. “He’s just nervous, just like every other plebe on their R-Day,” remarked an officer in the crowd who was watching the event.
At the conclusion of the event, Ranger III and Paladin were loaded into horse trailers for a trip to Morgan Farm, where Paladin will spend his summer at his quarters. He will be officially introduced to the West Point Community and Army football fans on September 10 when Army West Point hosts Rice. The mule mascots will lead the team onto the field, carrying flags and interacting with fans.
Paladin, whose name was selected by the Corps of Cadets and approved by the Superintendent, is the third mule donated by Townes, a former mule rider and former Army officer with the 75th Ranger Regiment who has set up an endowment ensuring the Academy’s future mascots. Ranger III and his brother Stryker, Townes’s last donations, both reported for mascot duty at West Point in 2011.
First and foremost, a routine grooming schedule at least every other week and preferably every week is essential for the hygiene of your equines. We use fly masks without ears on the animals that are sensitive around their faces and we spray with Tri-Tech 14 once a week for insects that will pester your equine. We NEVER clip the insides of the ears. Regular grooming once a week to remove excess hair, mud, etc. will eliminate places on the animal, including their legs, that would be subject to their laying eggs. We worm our equines in January, March, May, July and September with Farnam ivermectin and then break the cycle with Strongid in November to prevent the cycle of internal worms and parasites. Using Johnson’s baby oil in the manes and tails helps keep the flies at bay, helps to prevent “frizzies” and train manes to lay over, and will also keep other animals from chewing on them.
In order to keep flies and other insects under control, all stalls, runs and pens need to be kept free of manure and debris daily. Barns need to be cleaned periodically with disinfectant.
Fields and pastures should be harrowed in the spring, fall and between hay cuttings. Only rake hay when absolutely necessary before baling. Turnout fields should be kept separate from your hayfields. Do not use manure on your hay fields. This can cause an increase in weeds that can attract more insects since equines can pass weed seeds through their digestive tract.
Keep all tack and equipment clean so it does not attract flies to your tack room and grooming area. Spray the tack room when you leave with a household flying insect spray for any residual flies.
Here are several rules to remember for good management and insect control around your own farm:
1) Feed the right kinds of healthy feed for equines and know the differences for mules and donkeys. This requires some research on your part. Do a quick body check at each feeding.
2) Keep all stalls, pens and sheds free of manure (clean every day!) and routinely harrow your pastures.
3) Keep manure collection piles well away from your house and barns (we have ours hauled away weekly).
4) Keep all water sources clean with a weekly cleaning schedule.
5) Practice good grooming practices at least once a week. When grooming, do a complete body check on your equine to look for any oddities that might arise and treat as needed. If certain body areas begin to get sores (like Jack sores), scabs, or bumps, use Neosporin or if they are severe…Panalog, also called Animax or Dermalone by prescription from your vet. And, know WHEN to call your veterinarian.
6) Use Tri-Tech 14 by Farnam fly spray weekly for bugs and insects that can pester your equine. This seems to be the best and longest lasting. Herbal remedies and other sprays will work, but will need to be applied much more often.
7) Never clip the hair inside of the equine’s ears! The hair will keep out most insects.
8) Do not clip the hair on the legs unless you absolutely must for showing! The hair protects the legs from insect bites.
9) Use fly masks for those mules and donkeys that have sensitive skin around the face. Farnam Super Masks will usually fit most animals. You can find them in most tack and vet stores.
These simple rules will help to keep all your animals healthy and happy, and will leave you with a fresh and clean-smelling, nearly insect-free facility.
Mules have served as the loyal mascots at the United States Military Academy at West Point since 1899, as a symbol of heartiness and durability. This great video from Army Athletics details the history of mules both as mascots to the teams, as well as in service to the army at home and abroad. The video also follows the mules that are taking their place of honor at West Point, as the previous generation of the mule corp retires.
A recent article at the Chronicle of the Horse had us excited to share the story of Buckeye, an 8 year-old Appaloosa mule who has been showing off the versatility of mules with his skills in the arena.
When Buckeye first came to owner Christina Gregory, he was a little green under the saddle after being mostly used as a driving mule for an Amish family. After some initial work with Christina, he began training with 22 year-old Samantha (Sammi) Majors.
Sammi began him with dressage and earlier in the year he was impressing judges and scoring consistently in the high 60 and low 70 percents in recognized shows. This fall she decided to add jumping in preparation for a show. “He loves jumping. For a long time we would work on dressage stuff and school him over cavalletti, and he always loved it. We’d be doing a 20-meter circle, and if we went anywhere near the cavalletti he would try to pull me to it,” said Majors. “As soon as we started jumping he took an immediate liking to it. That’s all he seems to want to do now is jump, jump, jump!”
He recently returned home from the North Carolina State Fair Mule and Donkey show with plenty of ribbons, winning Most Colorful Mule class, Hunter Hack class, Coon Jumping, Pleasure Driving-Single Mule, reserve champion Pleasure Driving, the Turnout Class and Reinsmanship.