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By Meredith Hodges
Just how sensitive is a mule about having his ears touched? If a mule is handled often and properly, he should be no more sensitive about his ears than he is about any other part of his body. However, if he is rarely handled, mishandled or handled roughly, he can become quite sensitive about any part of his body and in particular, his ears. Bearing this in mind, take the time to desensitize your mule to touch and handling by paying attention to how he likes to be touched in any given area, and then by being polite about handling those more sensitive areas. This is an important part of any training program, both for general management and for safety purposes. This is the heart of imprinting.
The mule that has an aversion to having his ears handled poses a problem with management convenience, but more than that, he can be a safety hazard in many situations. Here are some examples of lack of desensitization causing inconvenience and possibly, a dangerous situation. Inconvenient: Your mule does not want his ears touched, so you have to disassemble his bridle each time you put it on him. Dangerous: Should you accidentally touch his ears while putting the bridle on him, he could possibly thrash his head around and knock you silly! Inconvenient: If you get into a difficult spot on a trail where you have to dismount and move quickly, you may be unable to take the reins over your mule’s head in order to safely lead him. Dangerous: While you try to get the reins over his head without touching his ears, your mule could inadvertently knock you down or lose his balance and fall down while trying to avoid you. The moral is this: If your mule is to be a completely safe riding animal, he must be appropriately desensitized all over his head and body—including his ears—and trust that you will not harm him.
Desensitization should be humane and considerate—never abusive. When we say we want to desensitize an animal, it simply means that we want him to become accustomed to touch and handling all over his body, particularly in areas such as his head, legs and rear quarters, where he is apt to be the most sensitive. An animal that has not been politely desensitized will tend to react more violently to touch. When properly teaching your mule to become desensitized, your touch should be presented in a pleasurable way, so that your mule not only learns to tolerate it, but to actually enjoy it and look forward to it. An old-time method such as “sacking out” is a somewhat crude technique that is used to desensitize an animal by tying the mule in a corner where he cannot flee, and then flinging a tarp or large canvas all over his body, including the head. Often times, it creates more problems than it can solve because it is rarely done politely. A mule that has been “sacked” about the head can actually become more sensitive because this inconsiderate approach teaches him that humans cannot be trusted. He perceives that they will fling things over his head, blinding him and causing him anxiety for no apparent reason. The mule will stand still only because he cannot move, but if he is given the opportunity to flee or fight back, he will more than likely do so. Thus, the old “obstinate mule” myths are actually most often the result of some fault of the trainer, and not the mule. Sacking out more politely will eliminate these kinds of potential bad habits.
Desensitizing a mule that is sensitive about his ears is a long-term process. First, you must maintain a firm, quiet and tolerant attitude. Nothing your mule does should make you angry enough to lose your temper or your patience. Make sure your mule is tacked with a stout, non-breakable halter and rope. While stroking his nose in a polite and soothing manner, ask your mule to come forward, one step at a time, to a stout hitch rail. If he won’t come easily, just snub your lead on the hitch rail so he cannot go backwards, and keep coaxing him forward until he comes. Take up the slack with each step and then hold until he takes another step forward toward the hitch rail. Wait as long as it takes for him to gain confidence enough to come forward. Do not get into a pulling or pushing match with him—you will only create resistance in him and perpetuate avoidance behaviors—and he will win because he is stronger and he weighs more!
When his nose is finally up to the rail, run your lead around the post and come through the noseband on his halter and around the post again. Then tie him off snugly, so that his nose is tied as closely as possible to the hitch rail, making sure there is no slack. Now begin softly stroking your mule’s nose, using gentle yet firm strokes. Next, work your way up his forehead, and finally toward his ears. NOTE: Remember to use soft, gentle yet firm strokes, going with the grain of the hair and never against it. Do not “pat” your mule—it’s too threatening.
Let the tips of your fingers find the base of your mule’s ear (away from the open side) and stroke upward, toward the tip. At this point, he will probably thrash his head back and forth to avoid your touch—just remain slow, deliberate, reassuring and gentle about your approach. When he has allowed you to stroke the ear, even if for only a couple of seconds, leave your hand resting on the ear and use your free hand to feed him an oats reward. Don’t take your hand away from the ear until he is chewing calmly and no longer worried about your hand on his ear. Do this with each ear no more than one or two times each session and then go to his shoulder and work your hand in a massaging fashion over his neck, toward his ears. While your thumb cradles an ear, let your fingers move over his poll. With your thumb, gently stroke upward on the back of his ear, while leaving the rest of your hand over his poll. If he jerks away, just keep going back to the same position of thumb cradling the ear and fingers moving over the poll.
When he will tolerate this, you can then cradle the ear in your fingers and with your thumb, begin to gently rub upward on the inside of the edge of his ear. Do not go too deep into the ear at first. After he is calm with this, you can begin rubbing downward into the ear with your fingers, while cradling the ear in your opposite hand, being very careful not to go too deep. Watch his eyes and allow him to “tell” you how deep to go. If it feels good, his eyebrows will raise and flicker. If he doesn’t like it, he will simply jerk his head away and that is your cue to lighten up. Most mules love to have the insides of their ears rubbed, so find the areas inside your mule’s ear that actually give him pleasure. Each individual mule will be different.
In the next step, you will be in the same position, but you will close your hand around your mule’s ear and hold it with just enough pressure that he cannot jerk your hand loose. Do not hold too tight, grab or pull the ear—just maintain a quiet, gentle hold on the ear and go with his movement. If he pulls away, just slightly tighten your grip on the ear until he stops pulling and then lighten your grip again. Tighten only when he pulls away, and then immediately release when he stops resisting—tighten and loosen your grip as needed, and be sure to follow his movement. He will soon learn that if he doesn’t fight it, there is no discomfort. Never tightly grip his ear and do not tighten your grip any more than you need to in order to hold onto the ear—you never want to induce pain. Once your mule is tolerant of you holding his ear in this fashion, you can introduce the clippers, should you desire, using the same guidelines of tightening gently yet firmly when he pulls and releasing when he submits. However, introduce the clippers only after he has completely accepted you holding his ears.
Introduce the bridle by holding your right hand flat on the poll between your mule’s ears, and by using your left hand to raise the crown piece over his nose and up to his forehead. Slide your right hand down his forehead a little to meet your left hand. When your hands meet, transfer the crown piece into your right hand, insert the bit with your left hand, and then raise the crown piece up to the base of his ears. Slowly transfer the crown strap back to your left hand. Gently cup the fingers of your right hand around the base of his right ear. Now bend the ear forward and under the crown piece and slide it over your hand (and the ear) into its position behind the ear. While keeping your palm firmly on your mule’s poll, slowly move to the left ear and repeat the same movements.
The bridle should now be in place and you can reward your mule. Do not put on and remove the bridle any more than once per session. Your mule needs to clearly know that this is not just some annoying past time you have discovered, but an act of necessity. He will soon learn that if he cooperates, it won’t take too long. Once the bridle is on, get right to the business at hand and forget the ears for a while.
When you return with the difficult mule, tie him as before, stand directly in front of him (with the hitch rail between you) and gently remove the bridle with both hands lifting and sliding the crown piece over both of his ears simultaneously, so there is little pressure on his ears as it slides over them. If he still holds the bit in his mouth, hesitate for a minute when the bridle is off his ears and allow HIM to drop the bit. Removing the bridle this way will help to avoid chafing the ears and will avoid the bit hitting his teeth before you remove the bridle the rest of the way. Always removing the bridle in this fashion will encourage him to drop his head and will prevent bad habits such as pulling away or flinging his head.
When your mule gets used to having his ears handled and being bridled while snubbed and haltered, you can then begin dropping the halter and loosely tying him while he is being bridled. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks before you can drop the halter—this will vary depending on the individual mule, so just be patient. Your quiet, gentle perseverance will eventually win out and your mule’s ears will be desensitized and quite manageable. After you have mastered his outer ear and inner ear, you may find that your mule actually enjoys having his inner ear stroked or scratched, and bridling becomes easy. Integrating washing his face and cleaning his nostrils and ears during the grooming process should further help him to accept having his ears handled. Handling your mule’s ears can actually become a truly pleasurable experience for your Longears.
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.
© 1992, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Although we were working on uneven ground in Chasity’s last lesson which made getting in sync very difficult, it was clear that it was time for a chiropractic adjustment of her skeletal system. Doing chiropractic adjustments can put the practitioner in very precarious positions, so it is wise to build trust with the animal before attempting to do these kinds of adjustments to their body. After more than a month of intensive care, Chasity has learned that we have her best interest at heart and is more than willing to cooperate with anything we want to do with her. Even though she is perfect about walking in sync, it is clear that her left hip is locked up, highly immobile and chiropractic adjustment is in now desperately needed!
Chasity walked out in the driveway so our equine chiropractor, Dave McClain, could assess her condition. She had better range of motion in the right hind leg than she did with the left. She was getting better in her spine, but her abdominal muscles still needed more work. Once the left hind leg and the rest of her body is put back in alignment, there will be more of an effect on the abdominal muscles at the walk in her lessons.
Dave agreed that the fallen crest could be straightened out, but it would take some time and serious therapy. Bailey showed Dave the progress in Chasity’s Diary that had been made already since she came to us on March 29th 2020. He was pleasantly surprised at the progress we had made considering we could not use his services during the COVID-19 shutdown. But before we could go any further successfully, we really needed to have her skeleton professionally aligned!
Dave carefully palpated both hip joints…
… and the pelvic area. She was exceptionally stiff and locked up on the left side! He rocked her pelvis to the right…
…and then rocked it to the left. Chasity yielded her hind leg and he adjusted the locked up hip joint! Chasity’s eyes lit up in pleasure immediately! It must have felt REALLY good!
Dave demonstrated to me how her hip joint was not only locked up, but completely misaligned and stuck at an upward angle. Chasity gladly leaned forward to aid in her spinal adjustment!
We then asked Chasity to engage her abdominal muscles, raise her back and then hold for sixty seconds. We will do this once per day, every day. Then it was time to adjust her neck, first on the left side…
…and then on the right side. She was stiff on that side, so I asked her to stretch her neck around my body.
Then Dave did a second adjustment on that side…it was much better! Dave watched her back up. There was marked improvement in her hind quarters and she was finally able to walk easily straight backwards. She had previously been very stiff through the back-through “L” obstacle during her workouts. She will no doubt do much better the next time!
We checked Chasity’s neck again and found that it, too, was much looser and not as hard and immobile as it was before the adjustments. As she left the Tack Barn, it was evident that she was moving much more freely and smiling to herself all the way back to the barn!
I have found that Wrangler and Chasity truly appreciate my consistent and predictable way of dealing with them. Donkeys can be very difficult sometimes, but in my experience, when they know what to expect, there is a lot less resistant behaviors. They appreciate verbal interaction and like to be told when they are doing well, and respond very well to a consistent and firm “No” when they are not doing what I ask. Donkeys do not like confusion and chaos! Lunging a donkey on a lunge line in an open area may seem like an impossible task, but when you take the time to break things down into very small steps, and do them in a logical and sequential order that they can understand, there is nothing they will not do for you. People have often told me that training donkeys is very different from training horses and mules, but I have always used the same basic approach with only a few “tweaks” here and there. I have to make those kinds of small adjustments for each individual equine anyway! So, “No,” it’s not that different!
Chasity doesn’t, but Wrangler does tend to be lazy and carry his head too low on occasion. So, when I tack him up, I add the use of the reins tied up on the saddle to encourage him to stretch and arc his back, but not to carry his head to low in the process.
The tack and equipment I use is not uncomfortable for Wrangler. It just helps him to maintain his good equine posture in an ideal balance while executing all the moves, such as the “reverse” shown here. Most disobedience is generally due to a loss of balance or just falling out of good posture!
Repetition in this tack and equipment changes their body carriage to a more ideal posture that will become their habitual way of going. This is much healthier, reduces the incidence of arthritis and allows the internal organs to operate as intended. Over the long term, this approach to training adds longevity to their use life.
I introduce the lunge line in the Round Pen so we won’t get into a pulling match. I keep it loose and only do a “squeeze-release” on the line with my fingers as the outside front foot comes forward. This becomes the “cue” to keep them on the circle in the open areas without pulling drastically on the lunge line!
Donkeys like to work with a companion, so I use a companion as much as I can. When they are all trained exactly the same way, they can help each other to do the right things while working together. When I work them on things that need to be done one at a time, I just tie the other outside the pen. They learn to stand quietly and just watch! They then learn to stand quietly anywhere without any anxiety associated with the training process.
I like my equines to be VERY LIGHT in the bridle. The equipment I use keeps them in good posture and allows me to concentrate on the symmetry and tension on the drive lines, so I do not get an over-reaction during turns, halts and rein backs. It promotes harmony between us! Wrangler stays relaxed throughout!
Chasity enjoys watching Wrangler do a halt, rein back and then they both wait quietly until I return.
Chasity waits quietly while I lead Wrangler through the gate. I always keep the ranch gate closed when I have equines tied outside of the Round Pen. With Chasity tied inside the Round Pen, Wrangler and I walk to the ranch gate at the road and open it again. I always train with safety first and a respectful, polite, considerate and consistent approach. It produces AMAZING results and HAPPY equine companions!
By Meredith Hodges
After discussing this with my veterinarian, Greg Farrand from Fort Collins, Colorado, we both agree that since horses, mules and donkeys are all equines, it would be difficult to make any distinction among these three types of animals with regard to their vital signs: pulse respiration and temperature. They would all fall within the designated ranges below that are excerpted from my book, “A Guide to Raising & Showing Equines.” The only real differences would be with regard to each individual equine and not among groups of equines. There has not been any credible scientific study to be able to differentiate the different types of equine groups in this manner and I would venture to guess that it would be the same with all equines, including zebras and hybrids. Therefore, I believe that citing the vital signs ranges would be appropriate, but not citing medians (modals).
- Daytime rectal temp mule foal/yearling 37.5C-38.5C normal range
- Pulse at rest – adult mule; normal 26-40
- Pulse at rest foals 2-4 weeks; normal range 70-90
- Pulse at rest mule 6-12 months; normal range 45-60
- Pulse at rest mule 2-3 years; 40-50
Actual differences would be as follows:
More bulk musculature
(like a weight lifter)
Awkward on uneven ground
Round platter-type hooves
Longer slope to shoulders and hips
Forgets what he learns
More reactive than intelligent
Neigh – exhale
Self-preservation not strong
Tolerant of humans
Expensive to maintain
Can have excessive vet bills
Constant hoof management needed
Cannot see their hind feet
Can only kick forward and Backwards
Colors strictly defined within the breeds
Mature at six years
Will fight if entangled
Low level training goes quickly,
but not necessarily remembered
Upper level training improves
generally at the same rate
Thinking & Reactive-freeze/flight reflexes
Tougher/more resistant to parasites
Predominantly smooth muscle with
some bulk (combination of
smooth & bulk muscle)
More sure-footed than a horse
Oval, narrow, more upright hoof
structure than a horse
Steeper shoulders and hips than horses
Remembers everything he learns
Neigh-bray or combination
thereof – inhale and exhale
Generally 63 chromosomes
Strong sense of self preservation
Suspicious, but very
affectionate toward humans
Cheaper to keep – more durable
Fewer vet bills
Tougher hooves – less management
Can see their hind feet
Can kick, forward,
backwards and sideways
More variations in color
contributed by both parents
Mature at eight years
Will wait to be rescued if entangled
Low level training take more time
Upper level training goes faster
Thinking equine-freeze reflex
Same as a mule (genetic contribution)
Predominantly smooth muscle
Oval, narrow, more upright
hoof structure than a mule
and hips than a mule
Virtually intolerant to stress
Most energy conserver
Remembers, but only
complies when he wants to
Bray-inhale and exhale
Ultimate sense of
Generally, very affectionate
Cheapest to keep – very durable
Least number of vet bills
Toughest hooves – least
Can see their hind feet
Same as the mule
Less variations in
color than the mule
Mature at eight years
Will break loose or wait
to be rescued if entangled
Low level training takes
the most time
Not necessarily interested
in upper level training
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, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
In order to perform the shoulder-in properly, it is important to understand its purpose. The shoulder-in causes the equine to engage his hindquarters so that they carry the bulk of his weight, giving him more freedom and suppleness in his shoulders and front quarters. A strong base must be established to carry this weight forward while the shoulders remain light and free to proceed forward while tracking laterally.
The shoulder-in is done on a straight line. Normally, an animal traveling in a straight line makes two tracks in the dirt behind him, because the front legs are positioned directly in front of the back legs. In the shoulder-in, the shoulders are positioned so that they cause a three-track pattern behind—the inside front foot makes one track, the outside front foot and the inside hind foot make one track, and the outside hind foot makes one track.
Begin by walking your equine around the perimeter of the arena. When you reach the corner before the long side, make a ten-meter (30-foot) circle. As you close your circle at the start of the long side of the arena, maintain the bend that you had for the circle, using steady pressure on your inside rein. At the same time, nudge your equine with alternate leg pressure in synchronization with his hind legs as they each go forward. Squeeze your outside rein at the same time that you squeeze with your outside leg, and then release the outside rein. Ride the hindquarters straight forward from your seat and legs, as you offset the shoulders with your hands. Be careful that your inside rein is not so tight that your animal bends only his neck to the inside. As you squeeze with the outside aids, feel your equine rock his balance back to the hindquarters, giving you the sensation of pedaling backward on a bicycle. Simultaneously, you should feel the front quarters begin to lighten and become supple.
Take your time and don’t try too hard. Be content at first with two or three steps of shoulder-in and then straighten him down the long side of the arena. After a few accurate steps of shoulder-in, as he straightens his body, you will feel him surge forward with more energy. Collect and slow your equine’s gait through the short side of the arena and then repeat the exercise on the next long side. As your equine begins to understand the concept of rocking his balance to the hindquarters, the surge of energy that you feel when he straightens will become more and more powerful.
Much body strength and coordination is involved in this exercise and at first, you may feel like you are all thumbs. Time, patience and practice will bring about positive results, so stay with it. Over time, do this exercise at the walk, the trot and the canter, and do it the same way in both directions in the arena. Don’t forget to praise your animal for each correct step that he gives you.
The next exercise to enhance hindquarter engagement and lengthen the stride is quite simple, yet still a little tricky because lengthening your mule’s stride means covering more distance yet maintaining the same rhythm and cadence. It does not mean speed up, although that is what most equines will try to do. Track the perimeter of the arena again. This time, collect the trot on the short sides, and then urge your equine to lengthen his trot down the long sides. To add variation, ask him to lengthen across the diagonals (from corner to corner) as well. Your equine’s first impulse will probably be to shift his weight to the forehand and just speed up. For this reason, do not push him too hard too soon. At first, just ask for a little more energy—be aware that your rhythm and cadence will not be lost as his stride increases. He will just be spending more time in suspension. Keep the forehand light and free while you ride the hindquarters. Let your hand open slightly with the foreleg going forward on the same side, and close as the leg comes back. This will help you to determine how far you can let that stride go before the balance begins to shift forward. It will also allow you to check the balance with your hands before it begins to shift. If he has too much difficulty, you should go back and practice lengthening over ground rails again to gain more strength and coordination.
As your equine gains strength in the hindquarters and is better able to carry your weight, his lengthened gaits will continue to improve until, perhaps a year or so later, he will be able to fully extend his stride at the walk, trot and canter. I caution you, however, that if your animal begins to rush, ask for less.
Another exercise that is helpful in lengthening the trot is to canter your equine around the arena, then cross half of your diagonal at the canter. Break to the posting trot and finish the diagonal. After the diagonal, sit the trot through the short side of the arena, pick up the canter on the long side again, and then cross the next available diagonal again and repeat the pattern. The drive that an equine gets from his hindquarters in the canter will carry through into the trot for the few strides on the diagonal and will create the true lengthening. This also holds true when teaching the lengthened walk (add trot work and back to walk) and the lengthened canter (add galloping and back to canter). This is your opportunity to tell your equine, “Yes, yes, this is what I want when I urge you on!”
Learning to ride from back to front (from the hindquarters forward) will greatly improve the harmony between you and your equine. Loss of balance seems to be the single most common cause of disobedience and problems with riding and driving animals. Carrying your weight and his in a properly balanced posture minimizes the chance for a loss of balance, and recovery from such a loss is much easier. Your equine will soon discover that your aids are indeed for his benefit as well as for your own, and he will become more accepting of them over time. As he becomes more balanced, you will find a world of different activities that you and your equine can do!
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.
© 2016, 2017, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
This article is an excerpt from the book, Training Mules and Donkeys by Meredith Hodges, 2013.
Chasity is continuing to gain core strength, balance and even has a little “prance” in her step these days. The bacterial infection is almost gone and she is eagerly waiting at the stall door for her lessons each week. She gets structured leading exercises in her proper postural “gear” and in between, she has other things happening on other days like daily “soaking” of her infection, vet appointments and the farrier. Today, we will add circles at every cone to increase the intensity of her workout. Stretching is done more frequently now.
Chasity carefully walks in sync with me, no more pulling on the lead rope or charging ahead like she did in the beginning. She is happy on her way to the outdoor dressage exercise arena. Varying the location of her postural core strength leading training keeps her fresh and engaged.
On the way to the dressage arena, we stop to visit with Augie and Spuds, our delightful little mini donkeys. Chasity is intrigued. Where she is stabled, she can only hear them. Then it’s on to the dressage arena.
Since the arena is also used as a turnout area, it is a bit bumpy and the sand is deeper than the other places where Chasity has worked. It will increase the intensity of her work. Still, she is bending nicely through her rib cage while remaining erect in her body and doing her four-square stretches very well indeed!
Chasity is bending her joints well while walking in sync with me, however, I am noticing she is a bit stiff in her left hind leg, especially around the turns to the left. We added circles at every cone in the Hourglass Pattern to help to enhance her bending technique.
She steps out nicely with her right front, but as she brings the left hip forward, her gait is stilted and limited in it’s range of motion. The abdominal muscles are only moderately engaged and she stops short of reaching underneath her body to her center of gravity.
The right hind leg moves forward into it’s correct position, but she is just lifting and swinging her left hind leg forward instead of bending adequately through her joints, particularly in her hip joint.
As she steps forward with the right hind foot, the left hind has an abnormal look to the extension of the leg. It appears stuck in the hip joint and pelvic area, and is not swinging freely. Still, she is bending fairly nicely through her spine.
Another good stretch while standing four-square was in order and Chasity let me know that it felt VERY GOOD!
On straight lines with no rails, Chasity is able to reach underneath her body to the center of gravity, but going around the turns reveals some stiffness in her pelvic area while the rest of her spine bends easily.
Chasity really enjoys her stretches and does them with no problem at all. Then we begin to track in the other direction and it is clear that bending to the right is particularly difficult for her.
As we proceed around the cones to the right, her bending gets a little better and the right leg moves easily under her center of gravity. But when she approaches the rails, her pelvis appears to stiffen and inhibit her movement again.
There is plenty of “reach” in her front legs, but the rear legs do not seem to be able to consistently follow her forward movement. Her abdominal muscles are engaged and she is attempting to round her back, but her stiff pelvic area is inhibiting the ability to reach well underneath her body.
Traversing the rails is making it apparent that she should probably have a visit from our proficient equine chiropractor. Since she just arrived a short time ago, I did not think it would be prudent to expose her to chiropractic until I could loosen her stiff body a little bit and gain her trust first.
We finished traversing the rails and she had to “lean” on the “Elbow Pull” to keep her balance. She did pretty well circling to the right for the last time, but it was now clear that she would need to be adjusted with chiropractic before any further lessons could take place and be beneficial to her.
We ended the lesson with one more four-square downward stretch, then a stretch to the right…
…then she did a stretch to the left and left the arena in perfect synchonization with each other. Still, she didn’t have the “reach” behind that I thought that she should.
Just to make things a bit more interesting, we opted to investigate the lane to the small park to look at this new area. Chasity thought the steps looked particularly strange, but she was not fearful.
She navigated the steps like a champ and stood quietly while we took in the sights. She saw Robin Laws’ “Donkey Talk” to her left and J. Payne Lara’s “Love Me Tender to her right.This was a major accomplishment for Chasity since standing still was NOT something she wanted to do when she first arrived.
Then we went back up the steps, left the area and went to see the pack mules, “A Friend to Lean On” by Robin Laws. Chasity played “cute” for the camera. Then we went to see Bonnie Shields’ “Friends,” a bronze statue of Kylie, Moxie and Jasper from our children’s series. As you can see, her posture is greatly improved…the “Elbow Pull” is staying LOOSE most of the time now!
By Meredith Hodges
Lucky Three Sundowner was foaled at my mother’s Windy Valley Ranch in Healdsburg, California in June of 1980. Two weeks later he and his dam, Candy Etta, an AQHA registered mare, were shipped to the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, where we continued the superior mule breeding and training program that my mother had started. Sunny was a tall, gangly little bay mule foal with an affectionate and willing attitude.
His show career began at halter and progressed to Western Pleasure and Reining by the time he was three years old. He won the World Championship in Reining at Bishop Mule Days as a four year old in 1984. Although he did very well in these events, he still seemed tense and nervous. For the next two years, I decided to focus on more relaxing events for him in Western Pleasure, Trail and English Pleasure. People were not easily accepting mules in equine events that were reserved for horses and ponies. Mules were universally considered stubborn, uncooperative and only suitable for the activities of farming, packing and pulling heavy loads. I suspected that this was not true and set out to prove it by schooling my mules in every discipline possible. Sunny had won the World Championship in Reining. I believed that schooling in Dressage could only help him in other judged disciplines and I set out to prove it.
During our beginnings in Colorado, there were small mule shows and some schooling horse shows that we could attend to test our skills. However, most people really didn’t believe mules could do all the different events that horses could do and did not want us around. A picture of Colonel Alois Podhajsky hung over my bed since I was small and I have always been in awe of the supreme levels of horsemanship that Dressage horses could attain. My dream was to be able to dance with Sunny in Dressage, but without anyone to help us, how could we ever achieve that level?
In 1986, fellow mule lover Sally McClean and I attended the United States Dressage Federation Convention and asked that mules be accepted into Dressage schooling shows. We were met with resistance, but there were some who were empathetic to our plight and they agreed that we should be allowed to compete at the lower levels to be able to test our skills and be part of the Dressage community. Sunny and I began Dressage lessons with local United States Dressage Federation instructor/trainer, Melinda Weatherford in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since neither Sunny, nor I, were previously schooled in Dressage and because he was a mule, we were faced with a much harder journey than we ever imagined. Lindy certainly had her work cut out for her teaching the two of us!
With acceptance by the U.S.D.F. (United States Dressage Federation), I felt it was important that our World Mule Show in Bishop, California, offered classes in Dressage. There were now a few others who were starting their mules in Dressage and they would need a place to show their progress against their own kind. The Bishop Mule Days Committee agreed and Dressage was included as a part of this truly world-class mule show! With the addition of Dressage, Bishop Mule Days became a 5-day show. Today, Bishop boasts a full week of over 180 different mule and donkey events with over 800 entries each year. Dressage classes grew rapidly with increased interest! People were beginning to realize how much Dressage could influence their Longears’ performance in other classes. Even the donkey classes began to improve and more events were offered for them as well. My own Little Jack Horner was working at Second Level Dressage, which was unheard of for a donkey!
During Sunny’s first Training Level Dressage test in 1988, he got frustrated and ran off with me! Mules will sometimes do that! He scored 5’s and 6’s. The judge’s comment was, “This could be a nice mover if you can get his brain-by teaching him shoulder-in and leg yielding…” Unfortunately, we were eliminated. In 1988, he made his second debut at Training Level Dressage at Bishop Mule Days. He had much improved scores of 6 and 7. The comments, were, “Very pleasing ride, lovely mule, need to work on halts.” The progress Sunny made in just a month was phenomenal!
Sunny really enjoyed the predictable exercise routine and was soon much more relaxed and submissive although, we still had an occasional runaway during practice. It took me awhile to figure out just why Sunny was running off with me. During the Reining training as a three year old, Sunnyhad been forced to continue to gallop after missing his lead changes. From that time on, he would take off every time he thought he made a mistake, even when I didn’t think he had! He thought that was the right thing to do, so I patiently just rode out the runaways on a loose rein and kept asking him verbally to “Whoa.” Each time, the runaways got shorter.
I knew that it was important to make sure his foundation work was stable and consistent, so we spent 1 ½ years schooling at Training Level Dressage. I made sure that he was only schooled every other day, with a day of rest in between. This seemed to help him to relax and settle, but his rhythm and cadence were still irregular at times. Then I thought maybe riding to music might help both of us. So, I sat down in the evenings, watched his training videos and picked music that would fit his natural rhythm at all three gaits. I even wore my Top Hat for our dress rehearsals to help me to set the mood. This staging during practice sessions made a dramatic change in his attitude… and mine!
Suddenly, we both experienced the harmony that we had only heard about that could take place between rider and horse, or in our case, rider and mule! It took a bit longer than expected, but spending that extra time at Training Level really improved his forward motion with strong engagement of his hind quarters. This, in turn, enhanced the lengthening and shortening of his strides within the working and extended gaits. We were ready to ask our coach if we could proceed to the next level. We began work on Leg Yields and attempted a bit of Shoulder-in.
We continued our weekly lessons with Lindy and progressed to First Level Dressage. We learned to sustain good balance, rhythm and cadence at all three working gaits and to lengthen these gaits with alacrity and grace. People at the farm where we took lessons began to stop and watch us in awe! They had never seen such a thing! In May of 1989, he showed at Bishop Mule Days again with scores of 6 and 7. The comments, “Nice moving mule. Good impulsion, but unsteady at times. Good overall.” There were 10 entries that year and Sunny placed first! We were definitely making progress and people were beginning to notice!
Later in the summer of 1989, Sunny and I began to work at Second Level Dressage and entered some local schooling shows against horses to measure our progress. He did very well and was rapidly becoming the “Dressage Spokesperson” for mules! In 1990, he took first in the Bishop Mule Days Second Level Dressage Class. He was honored by Bishop Mule Days when asked to do a special demonstration for their Sunday afternoon performance. Sunny wowed the crowd with his sensitivity, agility and graceful performance!
By May of 1991, Sunny was finally beginning to work at Third Level Dressage. Bishop had no Third Level Dressage class. So, they allowed Sunny to compete at Second Level Dressage again that year against four other mules and Dolly Barton who was rapidly becoming a Dressage champion herself – a mule bred by Bonnie Shields, the Tennessee Mule Artist!
Dolly placed first and Sunny placed second. Again, he scored 6’s and 7’s and the comments read, “Very nice ride! Needs more bending through turns and circles and scores will be higher.” Since both mules would be moving up another level by the next year, I went back to the Bishop Mule Days Committee and requested a Third Level Dressage class for 1992. They were so impressed with Lucky Three Sundowner and Dolly Barton that they agreed.
At Bishop Mule Days 1992, Sunny placed first against Dolly Barton in the Third Level Dressage class with scores of 6 and 7. I don’t think he liked being beat by a girl the year before! By 1993, Sunny was working at Fourth Level Dressage. It was at this time that I attempted to change his bridle, from the Eggbutt Snaffle Flash bridle, to a Weymouth Bridle with the curb action Weymouth and Bradoon. He reacted violently to the additional restriction from the Deluxe Weymouth Bridle. He was always compliant and responsive in his Eggbutt Snaffle Bridle, so I opted to go forward in the same bridle to keep him relaxed and happy with his work. He then competed a second year at Bishop Mule Days at Third Level Dressage, where he easily won being the only mule in the class. He had won respect from the horse community and had clearly surpassed his peers!
Quietly at home, with only a few onlookers, Sunny and I danced together to The Emperor’s Waltz by Johann Strauss with Canter Pirouettes, Half Passes, Passage and Piaffe. OUR DREAM TO DANCE TOGETHER HAD FINALLY COME TRUE! Lucky Three Sundowner passed away in October of 2015 at the age of 35 years, but his legacy remains. Dispelling all the old rumors about mules and donkeys, the memories we made together were priceless and paved the way for many more Longears athletes to “strut their stuff” in the equine industry of today! It took 18 years for mules to finally be accepted in the United States Dressage Federation Dressage Division in 2004, but nothing pleases me more than to see Longears successfully competing in the U.S.D.F. Dressage Finals against horses in Lexington, Kentucky! Long live our beloved Longears!
© 2007, 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Wrangler is really beginning to enjoy his time working with me and helping with Chasity’s training! I think he is also happy to have someone he can be with in turnout after three years of being by himself… although a gelding, he’s just too rambunctious to be turned out with any of the others! They definitely form groups and it is wise to pay attention to the groups they choose…mid-aged mules together, minis together, older equines together and donkey families together. Wrangler LOVES his new friend, Chasity! They both truly enjoy the workouts we do together!
Chasity follows Wrangler around like a puppy dog! She is also very enamored with HIM! After adjusting his “Elbow Pull,” Wrangler and I watch the bicycles going by on the road. I find that it is beneficial when they see something, if you just stop waht you are doing and look at it, too. Then, there isn’t as much of a fuss.
Chasity watches as I ask Wrangler to flex at the poll with an offer of crimped oats. This reminds him about how to take the pressure off the “Elbow Pull” and keeps him relaxed. Then all three of us pose for a picture before getting to work! All my equines seem to know when it is “picture time” and they always perk their ears! They are all a bunch of “hams!”
“Well, are we going to do a proper reverse?” I ask Wrangler. He promptly turns into the fence and leads Chasity down the rail of the Round Pen at a walk.
Both donkeys are stepping well underneath their center of gravity and do five rotations at walk before I ask them to trot for five more rotations. Chasity is doing much better about submitting to the pressure of the “Elbow Pull” and is able to sustain her balanced posture and self-carriage for longer periods of time now.
Chasity doesn’t “lean” on the “Elbow Pull” nearly as much anymore. Both halt promptly upon command, they get rewarded, then proceed forward again and do a perfect reverse together.
Again, we do five rotations at walk and make sure they are in a regular rhythm, cadence and are submitting nicely to the “Elbow Pull” before I ask them to trot. Wrangler has really good balance and posture and is always happy to lead the way!
Now Wrangler is going to show Chasity what Ground Driving is all about. This will help them both to learn how to stay in good posture while rein cues are being given. The result will be an animal who is exceedingly light in the bridle when you finally ride them. Wrangler executes a very smooth change of direction with the “S” turn through the middle of the Round Pen. Chasity follows obediently behind her “boyfriend!”
We track left for a while in the same form, then do one more reverse and after one more rotation at the walk, we come to a halt. Then I ask Wrangler to execute a proper reinback which he does willingly with no resistence at all. I just make sure to pull and release with the corresponding line as he takes each step backwards. He is then PROMPTLY rewarded with his favorite crimped oats!
When you are consistent, polite, respectful, reward for good behaviors, make sure tack and equipment fits comfortably and always do things exactly the same way, your animal will come to know what to expect and there will be minimal resistant behaviors, if any, because they will know what to expect from you and will act accordingly. Your time together will always be fun for everyone!
By Meredith Hodges
The old saying, “No foot, no mule” is literally true, as it is in any nomadic animal. If the hooves are not trimmed and balanced properly, it will offset the balance of the equine’s entire body and can compromise longevity in the animal because his entire internal structure will be compromised. Most equines will need to be trimmed or shod every 6-8 weeks whether horse, mule or donkey.
Horse’s hooves in general are proportionately larger, rounder and more angled than that of the donkey or mule. The sole of the foot is flat on the ground promoting good circulation in the foot through the frog.
Regardless of the size of the animal, the hooves of the mule will be smaller and more upright than that of a horse of equal size, and should be well sprung and supported, not contracted. They should have a smooth appearance and look sleek and oily. No ribbing should be apparent and the frog should be well extended, healthy and make adequate contact with the ground for good circulation to the hooves. The shape of the mule or donkey foot is more oval and the bottom of the foot is slightly “cupped” which accounts for the surefootedness in the mule and donkey. When being trimmed, the mule should be left with more heel than the horse to maintain the often more upright position that complements the shoulders and hips. If the mule or donkey has a better slope to the shoulders, he might have an angle that is similar to the horse, but he will still grow more heel than the horse. The shape and condition of the hooves of the jack and the mare are both equally important when considering foot development in the mule.
Because donkey and mule hooves are different from a horse’s hoof in that they are more oblong, cupped in the sole, they need more heel left during a trim than the round, flat sole and low heels on a horse. There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule as there are in most generalizations. Most donkeys are relatively inactive and live on moderate ground, so they do grow out in that time period. Some donkeys, like my own Little Jack Horner, are much more active and will wear their feet down naturally.
Of course, those that do not have the benefit of good training and conditioning would still wear unevenly and would still need to be trimmed, however, with the correct training and conditioning, they may wear evenly and may not need to be trimmed more than once a year! The same goes for those who would live in rough terrain. They may wear their feet down, but they would still need to be trimmed for balance. Those who are moving correctly may wear down evenly and would not require trims as often.
Failure to have your mule’s hooves regularly trimmed in order to maintain their balance and shape can result in an imbalance in your mule’s feet, which will then cause an imbalance throughout his entire body, inhibiting his performance. However, if trimming is done consistently, the risk of imbalance, accident or injury will be greatly reduced.
There are a lot of things to consider when trimming and shoeing all equines. If the animal is to have shoes, for instance, then they would need to maintain the flat surface of the sole for the shoes to fit properly. It is important that the equine have relief from shoes when they are not being ridden as much. We usually take any shoes off during the winter which keeps the heels from becoming contracted from wearing shoes and promotes good circulation to the foot as the frog can then make contact with the ground more consistently than it can with shoes. A good understanding of the anatomical differences among horses, mules and donkeys is essential for healthy hoof care.
When your farrier is trimming your equine, he should take into account the angles of the shoulder, the forearm, the knees, the cannon bone, fetlock, pastern and the general angle to the entire body when at rest, not just trimming off the excess. This is an anatomical call and only people who are schooled and skilled in this profession should even attempt it or you could run the risk of injuring your animal.
It is commonly known that, when it comes to horses and mules, light-colored hooves are softer and more likely to break down under stress than are the darker, black hooves. Even though the black hoof is naturally harder than the light-colored hoof, if it does not contain sufficient moisture, it can become brittle and can chip away as destructively as can the lighter hoof. Whichever breed of equine you own and whatever the color of their feet, remember that good hoof care is essential for all domesticated equines.
For better or worse, an equine inherits his hooves through his genes. If your equine has inherited good feet—black, oily-looking, and with good shape—then you are fortunate and hoof care and maintenance should be relatively simple. If he has inherited a softer or misshapen foot, you will need to discuss more specialized care with your farrier. Beware of generalizations as they can often be misleading! Each animal should ultimately be assessed individually.
© 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Chasity was very stiff and compromised through her whole body when she first arrived. She was extremely rigid over the top line and could not flex from the poll at all, much less through her entire spine. The “Elbow Pull” self-correcting restraint and work in the Hourglass pattern has helped her to be more flexible in her head and neck, and has produced some flexion through her back. Now we are going to ask her to extend that flexion the whole length of her spine. She has been learning how to stay erect around turns while bending through her rib cage, and easily flexes her neck and back when squared up at the halt. These subtle actions have reshaped the body fat evenly over her body and reduced the size of her enlarged neck by 50% in just one month! Her posture is already greatly improved!
Chasity began by leaning on the “Elbow Pull” to keep her reasonable good equine posture. After a month of work, she is now able to sustain her own self-carriage a good part of the time. When she leans on the “Elbow Pull,” it is taut and when she is in self-carriage with good postural balance, it is loose. She started over the first pole and it was loose, then caught her balance on the second pole and it tightened…
On the third pole, she regained her balance and the “Elbow Pull” became loose again, but stepping over the last pole she allowed her balance to be too elongated and had to lean on it again.
As Chasity walked away, she again resumed her good equine balance and self-carriage and the “Elbow Pull” was loose again. We repeated the poles a little later in the Hourglass Pattern and she was then able to sustain her balance and self-carriage over the first pole…
…over the second and third poles, in good equine posture and not leaning on the “Elbow Pull”…
…and finished over the fourth pole with no loss of balance at all! As she is strengthened in good posture, her core muscles, ligaments and tendons will gain strength with symmetrical development and her time in self-carriage will increase. Ultimately, the “Elbow Pull” will remain loose at all times. She now walks in a rhythmic and cadenced fashion, matching every step that I take and halts easily upon request with no anxiety, or excess movement.
I asked her to square up and this time, instead of just flexing at the poll, I asked her to lower her head and stretch her entire spine from head to tail. Then we proceeded with more work in the Hourglass Pattern in the opposite direction and she practiced bending through her rib cage while staying erect around the corner cones.
Next, we negotiated the gate into the obstacles area, halted and squared up. I gave her a reward and asked her to stretch down again.
Chasity has been doing very well with breaking the bridge down into small steps. She halts easily, squares up and holds her balance in several new positions, with the front feet up, back feet down…
…with all four feet on the bridge and with front feet down and back feet up. She did very well at stretching her spine in all of these odd postions that added to her symmetrical core development.
Then she squared up again off the bridge and did one more deep stretch. Chasity was surprised to see the tarp where the tractor tire used to be and took exception to this “new” obstacle. The silly thing was that she side-passed the rail with her front feet on the tarp and her back feet in the sand. I thought, “Okay, now I know how to get her to side pass when I am ready! Silly Girl!” LOL!
We went back and tried again. She was hesitant, but realized what it was this time. I have to remember, Chasity has cataracts in both eyes and cannot see very well…trust is everything! There was no problem at all with the familiar smaller tires!
We reinforced her bending with the barrel exercises and practiced backing through the Back-Through “L.” She is still a bit “stuck” in reverse, but it will loosen up in time. She needs to learn to manipulate her body in a good postural balance and it is awkward for her now. It will just take patience and moving slowly. Speed will come with practice.
A nice deep spinal stretch relaxed and prepared her for the final obstacle! Chasity had been doing “Evasion Therapy” on me when I placed the tractor tire obstacle with too much open space around it. Boy, was she surprised to find out it was right there in front of her with no where to go but forward!
Chasity only put one foot inside the tire as she danced along the edge with her other three feet, so I opted to do it again the other way. This time, she put two feet into the center of the tractor tire… PROGRESS! Coming back through, she finally agreed to step through it with all four feet!
Finally, SUCCESS! My patience had paid off and our relationship was still intact! We finished with another REALLY DEEP stretch. Chasity’s flexibilty and elasticity were improving rapidly! Doing obstacles in confined spaces in the beginning promotes success and I am all about setting up your equine for SUCCESS!
By Mariette Herzig and Josefine Jacksch
The idea of creating a mule museum is already old. When the association “Interessengemeinschaft für das Maultier” (IGM) was founded 30 years ago, some members wished to realize this idea at some point. They started to collect everything about the mule and they could present small exhibitions in other museums in Switzerland.
In 2007 the working group “Museum” was formed, in 2012 the association “Mule Museum Switzerland” was founded. Its task was to push the idea of a mule museum forward.
Already in 2012, a permanent exhibition was opened within the Open-Air Museum Ballenberg, which still exists today. It shows the history of the muleteers in Switzerland and a small sust (goods handling and resting place for the muleteers).
The search for a proper location and a building for an own mule museum was started. The association found a matching barn in Turtmann, a village in the Canton of Valais. It would be the ideal location, as this is where the large mule and horse markets in the canton of Valais used to be held, and it was the starting point of the mule trails into the southern side valleys and into Italy. Unfortunately the project could not be started until now for various reasons. It has been put on hold until further notice.
When it was founded in 2017, the Swiss Mule Museum Foundation was given an old barn and stable in the Valais mountain village of Törbel by three families. The barn is already 350 years old and stands in the middle of the historic village center. It is registered in the Swiss list of villages worthy of national protection.
Törbel is a real stroke of luck. It was the village with the most mules at that time; it was famous for its muleteers, who showed good handling in dealing with the animals; the artist Helen Güdel still lives here, who wrote and illustrated the children’s book about the mule “Apollo”. She also has her small Hosennen-Museum; the people of Törbel donated many objects to the museum, which were formerly used in the work with the mules; the political community and the inhabitants are fully behind the project and help everywhere; with the association and open-air museum “Urchigs Terbil” we could agree that our museum would be integrated into its tour.
The foundation started looking for sponsors. It was not easy, but little by little money came in. Not only from Switzerland, but also from abroad: Loveland Longears Museum & Sculpture Park, Meredith Hodges.
The foundation engaged the young architect Thomas Juon and various craftsmen from Törbel and the surrounding area to renovate the barn. In October 2019 the renovation plans were drawn up and fortunately the craftsmen were able to start work despite the Corona crisis. Everyone was very motivated and did a good job.
At the end of May we (Ursi, Elke, Josefine and Mariette, members of the Foundation) met for the first time with Beat Gugger in Törbel, the exhibition expert who had already helped with the exhibition at Ballenberg. He will again develop an exhibition concept.
On a short tour of the village, Beat was able to get a first impression of this mountain village high above the Visper valley. He was already impressed by the narrow road and the steep slopes just behind the crash barriers during the bus ride here. He immediately realized that up here one could only work with mules.
During a stopover in the barn, we got an idea of the progress of the renovation work and the future exhibition rooms. During the tours, the historical building (stable barn) will be shown on the one hand, and the mule and its history in the mountain region will be presented on the other.
Erich Wyss, village historian and one of the guides, accompanied us on to the baking house, where he explained how rye bread (a Valais specialty) was baked for the whole village at that time. We were all very impressed by Erich’s enormous knowledge.
In the late afternoon we had to go to the civil defense facility. The community had provided us with a room there as an intermediate depot. The numerous museum material, which had been stored in several barns until now, was collected by the volunteers Erich Wyss, Ludwig Petrig, Othmar Zuber and Thomas Juon and delivered to the intermediate depot. Elke, Ursi, Beat, Josefine and Mariette sorted the things according to origin. We were simply overwhelmed by the crowd that gathered there. Already that evening we started with the inventory. This meant that every single object had to be taken in hand, marked with an inventory number on a label, photographed and recorded in an Excel spreadsheet with details such as name, size, material, origin.
The next day, the entire Board of the Foundation met with the architect and the carpenter to inspect the construction site. The two explained the progress of the work and drew attention to new problem areas, and the next steps were discussed. In the evening, the Foundation Board discussed with the people from “Urchigs Terbil” what the future cooperation should look like in concrete terms.
The inventory could not be completed in full, so after two weeks Josefine and Mariette travelled to Törbel again for three days. In the meantime, the foundation has already received new objects from the village as gifts.
We were only allowed to use the intermediate depot for a few weeks. Therefore all material had to be transported to Turtmann, where the foundation rented an old airplane hangar as a depot. Many objects that were donated to the foundation by the IGM and private persons are already stored there.
Before the exhibition, the objects must be cleaned, greased and prepared for the return transport to Törbel. Especially the leather objects are in dire need of it, as they were exposed to dry air and dust in the barns for years. For this cleaning action we need support from volunteers and members of the IGM.
An old building often turns out to be a bag of wonders, as is our barn. Instead of renewing only a small part of the brickwork as planned, the foundation had to be renewed on three sides. It also turned out that a lot of earth had been washed up in front of the entrance, so that the lower beams rotted and had to be replaced. The budget had to be adjusted several times, resulting in additional costs of several 10’000 Swiss francs. The major renovation work could now be completed. The wooden walls still had wide gaps, which we filled ourselves with a special stuffing tape.
Meanwhile Beat has created an exhibition concept. The upper floor, where the hay was once stored, will be the actual exhibition space. One part will tell the story of the mules in the Valais mountain villages, with Törbel as a representative. The other part shows the mules in use as an all-round means of transport in the surrounding valleys and the wider surroundings.
The inventory of all museum objects from Törbel and Turtmann is now complete. The data of the Excel spreadsheet have been fed into the database of the Association of Museums of Valais. Unfortunately, some errors occurred. So now all data sets have to be rechecked and then activated individually.
The opening ceremony, which was initially planned for the end of this October, has been postponed to spring 2021. The reason for this is, as is now the case everywhere, the coronavirus. But now the Foundation is giving us more time for the preparations.
We hope you enjoy this intriguing and inspiring article that was submitted by one of our contributing writers, Tara Edwards, Trimepil:
Sometimes, miracles do happen. Such was the case in the not so distant 1976, when a proper underdog proved to be better than the competition. The competition being over 198 champion horses who were gunning for the title. A simple mule came out on top when put against some of the most treasured horses from all over the world.
But was this outcome truly miraculous, or was it a result of something else? Could this result be predicted? Let’s find out.
In the days when America enjoyed their two hundred years of independence, the beauties of the country were put on display. Simple celebration of the country and its treasures wasn’t quite enough though, because patriotism reached its peak and had to be expressed properly. This lead to the organization of a few very interesting and unique events. One of these events, or setups was the Freedom Train. This train was practically a museum which moved along on the railways. It went through 48 states on its journey across the state, allowing millions of people to see it and enjoy its presentation. Another kind of event that took place often in these times were nautical parades. Some of the most fascinating and biggest ships, along with their smaller partners set out and traveled along the coastline, all the while carrying large patriotic flags. Love for the country and its freedom didn’t end there, every company that could, tried their best to express their unwavering loyalty to the flag. Railroad companies decided to paint their entire trains into red, white and blue so that state flags could go all around the railroads, bringing joy to any who see them.
Amidst all this commotion, a competitive event took place. One which allowed anyone with a couple of horses, $500, and a resolute adventurous spirit to try their luck. The Great American Horse Race, as it was called, was brought to life by a pair of horse loving salesmen, Chuck Waggoner and Randy Scheiding. The prize was pretty generous, reaching $25,000, but that wasn’t the greatest motivation for most competitors. This was a chance to prove the worth of a horse, and to gain fame and reputation. But to achieve that, one would have to travel 3,500 miles over fourteen weeks across America on the back of their trustworthy steed. Some of the trails the contestants would experience were the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express Trail, and the Donner Party’s doomed journey. This journey presented a unique possibility to get familiar with the wild beauty of 13 states up close while enjoying a bit of healthy rivalry against the opponents.
This race turned out to be very appealing and fascinating, attracting people from all over the world, not just America. Such a result wasn’t surprising though, because this competition was in fact a chance for horse breeders of all sorts to demonstrate their horse’s worth, beauty and uniqueness. Over 90 teams applied (each allowed two horses), most of them hoping and believing they will prove that their horse was indeed, the best of the best.
Of course, some were in it just for fun, having entered without much hope of winning. Others were really serious about the race, bringing treasured horses with great heritage behind them. From 18 year old singer, to 69 year old horse trader, with pediatricians, students, cowboys, nurses, and at least one university president, they all tried their luck on this race.
The only Russian Orlov stallion in America, called Nature’s Ballet, descendant from a horse that belonged to Nikita Kruschev entered the race, being ridden by one Californian. Iceland sent over ten Viking high born horses to compete, but only after they had altitude training in San Francisco. France sent over a dozen horsemen dressed like Marquis Lafayette’s soldiers. Competition came from Australia, Denmark and even Japan, all believing that their horses would came out on top.
One contestant was a bit different than the rest because he did not come with horses that were high born or had great descendants. All rides were allowed to enter the race with two horses, one being a backup horse in case the main steed couldn’t ride anymore. Virl Norton, a 54 year old steeplejack from San Jose, California, decided that both of his horses would be his loyal mules. He considered them precious just as much as any other contestant considered their horse to be special. With great confidence, he entered the race strongly believing that his mules were the most adequate choice for this exhausting long race. Norton was a kind hearted man, with no grudges with the other competitors. A few days before the race, he gave his second mount, Deacon, to a contestant whose horse got injured.
The race was unbelievably demanding, burning through 18,000 horseshoes in total. Despite the slow pace and the obligatory vet checks every 10 miles, some of the main mounts went lame and were swapped for the backups. Some of the backups also went lame.
Most riders considered Norton an honorable man because he wouldn’t think twice about helping other contestants when they had troubles. He let people take photos with his mule Leeroy and he’d make up the time lost by skipping water stops. Leeroy was considered a puppy dog mule due to his calm temper and composure. After some time, Norton’s backup mule Lady Eloise suffered an injury and had to withdraw from race, but Leeroy and Norton kept riding, taking it slow and easy during their journey.
Norton was the 31st rider to pass the finish line, but that didn’t mean he was far from victory. In fact, Leeroy even flapped his ears as they reached the goal, celebrating their success long before the results came out. After the judges calculated the total score of all contestants by measuring their riding time and applying the penalties, the winner was declared. Norton and Leeroy came out on top with 315.47 hours in the saddle, ahead of an Arabian in second place with 324.6 hours riding time. Top ten horses were basically show steeds, with two exceptions, Leeroy and Deacon, who were mules.
Norton wasn’t surprised by this result, stating that the other horses had no chance against his mules. He took the grand prize and henceforth called himself The Great American Horseman. Lord Fauntleroy, which was Leeroy’s full name, was known as The Great American Horse after that.
Sometimes the underdog is in fact the favorite, but only they know that. Norton and Leeroy proved that.
By Elke Stadler
The history of mankind is closely connected with the use of the working force of animals. Animal power was of special importance in transport and traffic – before motorization it was the only available movable driving force, almost at any time and versatile. What people themselves could not wear or pull; oxen, mules, horses and donkeys carried or pulled. In the past, despite their essential importance for working life and the economy, the working animals were hardly noticed in literature.
The work of the animals was so natural to the people of that time that it was not considered necessary to describe their characteristics or the circumstances of their use for people in more detail. Thus, in historical scriptures, animals appear even rarer than slaves and farmhands; they stand at the end of the hierarchy of values and remain mutely. But there is much to be learned from the late antique veterinary writings about their living conditions. The “Mulomedicina Chironis” – the most significant surviving ancient scripture about medical treatment of equids – was used until the Middle Ages and, as copies prove, further into the late Gothic period.
Cattle and Horse
At that time, cattle were the most important draft animals, less for meat production, and milk was also of little importance. Cattle were mainly used in agricultural traction work or heavy transports with wagons. Oxen were indispensable for long-distance transport. No person, no matter how much they preferred mules, camels or even elephants, could do without cattle. They were much less demanding of food and care than the sensitive horse, which was expensive to keep. The mule took a special position because of its outstanding qualities. Horses are hardly mentioned in the old writings as draft animals for heavier loads. Mostly, they were used for light wagons. Horses were the mount of the high-ranking men, both civilian and military, and also served as a pack animal.
The most important limitation of the horse’s work in the draft service was technical difficulties. The shoulders of the horse protrude only very little, thus, the use of a shoulder yoke becomes impossible; the animal must pull with a neck harness, or a yoke sitting very high at the neck. In this way, the draft-horses and mules are represented also on Roman reliefs. Larger loads were not possible since they strangled the breathing of the animal with this tension. So, the animal could only use a small part of its body weight for pulling. The collar was unknown in Antiquity and late Antiquity, it was used for the first time in the Middle Ages.
In ancient times the mule played a special role in transport and traffic. On the road, it is the most popular draft animal due to its optimal characteristics. Although it is weaker than an ox, it is much faster than the ox. At the same time, a mule requires less food and care than a horse. It is also easier to use because of its general calmness. Thus, mule breeding yielded more profit than the usual breeding of medium-value horses. Their value was even compared to that of noble racehorses.
High quality mares were used for breeding at the age of four to ten years, and donkey stallions between three and ten years. We can read that the Arcadian or Reatic donkey stallions should be preferably black or spotted, but not of grey color. Onagers, Asian wild donkeys, were also used for mating. Particularly appreciated were donkey stallions descended from a donkey that had been mated by an Onager. The wild nature was then broken and the begotten animal possessed the tameness of the mother as well as the dexterity of the Onager. The one-year old foal was separated from its mother and kept on rocky, mountainous terrain, so that it got hard hooves as a condition for profitable use in transport.
Use of Female and Male Mules
Female animals were used primarily for pulling wagons because of their agility, while male mules were used to carry loads. Various documents show this division for different purposes. Emperor Serverus Alexander gave his provincial leaders six female mules, two male mules and two horses. It is obvious that the female mules were intended for specific use as draft animals, the male mules as pack animals and the horses for mounts. The female mules were reserved for pulling which is evident from the fact that they were normally traded as a team. If one had a flaw, the seller had to take back both animals. It was especially popular when all the animals in front of a cart had the same color. The veterinarians gave recipes for dyeing the hair of the draft animals when it was not appropriate. To make white hair black, three ‘scripula’ (Roman unit of weight) cobbler’s blacks, four ‘scripula’ oleander’s juice and some goat fat are mixed, crushed and then applied. To make black hair white, a pound of wild cucumber root and twelve ‘scripula’ soda are crushed into powder, a cup of honey added, and then applied.
Most mules were not used as valuable draft animals in private passenger transport, but in public transport by rental car companies or by cargo. The provisions of Codex Theodosianus (late antiquity collection of laws) the ‘cursus publicus’, can give an approximate impression. Two car types are mentioned, the four-wheeled ‘raeda’ and the two-wheeled ‘birota’. The ‘raeda’ was fitted with eight mules in summer and ten in winter, 1000 pounds could be carried. When used by people, this corresponded to seven to eight passengers. For the ‘birota’ on the other hand, three mules and a maximum load of 200 pounds were prescribed, for a person’s use, this was two passengers.
Adventure by Road
The journey with such public transport was accompanied by wild screams, whip cracks from a drunken coachman and clouds of dust, reports a letter writer named Eustathios: A trip with mules that were boisterous by doing nothing and feeding too much he avoided – and prefered to walk.
Cross-country journeys were quite risky, as Roman poet Vergil describes, especially because of the daring overtaking maneuvers of competing truck owners. But sometimes a driver had to go under the yoke himself when a mule had got stuck in the mud of the soaked and crushed road. During overtaking maneuvers on the narrow country roads there was damage to the gravestones on the roadside, as an inscription proves. This also shows that mules were used in long-distance traffic to Gaul. Emperor Julian tells about the dangers on narrow Alpine roads, to which both passengers and draft animals were exposed, so does a rock inscription for remembering a road construction from the year 373 A.D.
In the Jungle of Cities
In the mostly narrow cities, the mule-drawn heavy wagon traffic caused great difficulties. Since the early imperial period, carriage traffic and riding in the city during the first ten hours after sunrise were therefore forbidden. Trips in connection with construction measures were permitted, and these were already enough to endanger the lives of pedestrians on the roads with their big wagons and high stacked loads.
A case story, described by a lawyer, shows what could have happened. Two mule-drawn ‘plaustra’ (load carts) drive up the Capitol slope in Rome. The mule leaders of the first one are pressing against the ‘plaustrum’ so that the mules could pull easier. However, the first carriage begins to roll back anyway, and the mule drivers jump out between the carriages. The first team then rolls onto the second, which now also rolls down backwards and crushes into a boy. The lawyer blames the leader of the first carriage for this accident, as he would be responsible for the overloading of the first carriage. Such incidents were as other sources show not uncommon.
This hard use of mules in driving is reflected in the treatment instructions of late antique veterinarians. The neck injuries caused by the yoke, which Pelagonius expressly refers only to mules, are of special importance. It was recommended that in order to prevent neck injuries of mules or to heal after damage has occurred, was to use an ointment made from fresh pig fat boiled with vinegar. For injuries of the neck and back of the mules, a remedy made of boiled wax, hot resin, verdigris and oil is used. Another remedy for neck treatment is described in this way; rotting chips from the middle of a fig tree are to be dried and burned to ashes in a clean place. This is sieved and then mixed in a mortar with wine, old oil and the protein of two eggs. To make the neck supple – this is the prerequisite for clamping it in the yoke – the neck is thoroughly washed with soap and then rubbed with a carefully beaten mixture of rainwater and protein. Mules were considered less valuable than horses or assessed to be more tolerant of injuries – such as an injury that is indicated by a crossed gait and an insecure step, where the animal trips over stones and a contracted hip.
A horse should be treated carefully and immediately to prevent major damage. However, if the suffering animal is a mule, it should first be stretched tighter in the yoke, so that sweat and pain will smash all pain. After work, it should be treated with the following remedy; twenty laurels are finely crushed with soda and heated with a handful of green rue, vinegar and laurel oil. Then they rubbed this on the center of the head between the ears, they also took a remedy-soaked piece of wool and laid it on this area. Another agent is made from barley flour and resin. These treatments are accompanied by the application of a general strengthening agent made from crushed crayfish, goat’s milk and oil.
Male mules were used to carry less extensive loads in cities and agriculture because of their greater strength. The typical work was the transport of pole wood for plantations. Traders kept their mules directly in their shops. There is a case described in the Digests (scripts of ancient legal scholars) where a horse was led into a shop and was sniffing at the mule there. It kicked and broke the back of the horse’s leader. In the troop, each centurion had one such pack mule, which had to carry the heavier parts of the equipment on the marches.
Drudgery in the mills
Mules were often used, as donkeys and horses were, to drive mills when they were no longer usable for other services. They were harnessed with a hard grass rope in front of the mill beam, the head was usually masked. They trotted in a furrow, always pushed by blows in the circle around. The bad condition of the animals corresponded to the gruelling work. In the “Methamorphoses”, Apuleius describes that the necks were swollen of wound rot, the nostrils were flaccid and dilated from coughing and dusty air. The body was disfigured by the constant blows and mange, the feet clumped by traveling permanently in a circle. These sufferings are also reflected in the veterinary writings, but the mill animals were certainly no longer treated.
The mule was used rarely for riding in Antiquity, it was the simpler mount. Horace (poet) illustrates a simple but also free life in this way: He could bridle a mule at any time and head all the way to Taranto, even if the loins of the animal were rubbed sore by the heavy coat bag and the sides by the weight of the rider. The veterinarians list these specific injuries caused by riding, as well as, by loads being too heavy. The wounds are treated with ointments mixed from salt, wine, oil, raisin wine, pork fat and onions. In more severe cases, blood is taken from the veins of the groin area and mixed with salt, pork fat and oil. This is applied, and if necessary, plastered with ointment. For wounded skin caused by pressures, a dough-like mixture made of fine wheat flour, incense dust, egg yolk and vinegar is applied to the sore spots.
A special feature in those times were dwarf mules, called ‘mulae pumilae’, a curious luxury object of which the roman poet Martialis ironically states, that one often sits higher on the floor.
In the Middle Ages
Although mules were regarded by the church leaders as originating from an unnatural connection, and thus had a bad reputation, the mule nevertheless experienced a great appreciation in the early Middle Ages. Since Spanish mules are a noble gift, Emperor Charlemagne sent them to Caliph Harun Rashid. Mules and their Saracen guardians were bestowed by Robert Guiscard (Norman leader) to the Abbot of Montecassino. The mule is often mentioned as a mount of clergy. Gallus, for example, uses a mule for his journey to the Swabian ducal court. Also, for the journey of Goar (Priest, later holy spoken) to the royal court, a mule or a donkey is intended. Bishop Gregory of Tours, mentions mules among the farm animals of the monastery St. Martin, which were obviously riding animals. Because of the clergy’s preference for mules, the devil – as Notker (poet and scholar) tells us he turns into a mule to tempt the bishop to buy him, seduces him and kills him on the way out. A degree accordingly acts against the excessive dealing of clergy with mules. Of course, mules were often used as pack animals in the early Middle Ages, just like horses. Already Isidor from Sevilla (Archbishop) speaks about the ‘mulus sagmaria’ (Latin: pack mule) beside the ‘caballus sagmarius’ (packhorse). Some of the mules and horses with which the Irish bishop Marcus returned from his trip to Rome must have been pack animals as books, gold objects and robes are mentioned as transported goods. In the Vita Hludovici (anonymous biography of Louis the Pious) mules are also mentioned beside horses, working a mission as they transported ship parts through the woods. Mules are also considered a pack animal in custom regulations.
The existence of humans and the development of all processes, political and social, were marked by the importance of the working animals, not only in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, but also far into modern times. In the beginning it was mainly cattle that carried the workload. Over time there were shifts, the cattle were substantially relieved first in later Antiquity by the mule. Finally, in the Middle Ages the horse, caused by changes in animal technology – horseshoe fittings and collar – became more universally applicable. However, the donkey’s services remained to limited use.
Excerpt from: “Animal laborans – Das Arbeitstier und sein Gebrauch im Transport und Verkehr in der späten Antike und im Mittelalter” (The work animals and its use in transport and traffic of late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages) in: L’uomo di fronte al mondo animale nell’ alto medioevo; Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull’alto medievo XXXI, 1983, 2 vol., Spoleto 1985; vol.1, p.457-578 (essay monograph)
- Mule whith neck joke – http://wwwg.uni-klu.ac.at/archeo/alltag/10vieh.htm
- Carpentum, carriege for journey – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maria_Saal_Dom_Grabbaurelief_Reisewagen_in_die_Unterwelt
- Plaustrum, wagon for load – https://www.artisanat.ch/reportages/578-histoire-des-voies-de-communication-et-moyens-de-transport-1ere-partie.html
- Cisium, light carriage – http://www.ostia-antica.org/regio2/2/2-3.htm
- Roman soldier with mule – https://www.exfabrica-miniatura.de/Auxiliar-Infanterist-mit-Maultier
- Grain mill in Pompeji, ca. 200 v. Chr – http://www.voegeles-muehle.de/geschichte
- Mule, mounts in the Middle Ages – http://www.brandenburg1260.de/pferd-im-ma.htm
- Playing card 1440-1445 – https://www.pinterest.de/pin/94646029645701226/?lp=true
- Snippet: Absalon leaves David to plan a conspiracy, Maciejowski-Bible, 13. Century – http://www.stupor-mundi.info/2016/08/22/reisen-im-mittelalter/
Please enjoy this historical post about their Longears from our friends in Switzerland!
Opening of the Swiss National Museum in 1898
By Josefine Jacksch
This year (2018) the Landesmuseum (Museum of the Country) in Zurich will be 120 years old. It is the most visited historical museum in Switzerland. Since January 2011 it has been part of the Swiss National Museum. Due to an increasing lack of space, it was extended from 2013 to 2016 with a modern extension that offers space for exhibitions, a library and a lecture hall.
A “central collection of art objects” was thought of as early as 1799, but the idea failed because of resistance from the cantons, which wanted to maintain their own historical collections. In 1890, however, the Landesmuseum was founded by law and then built as a castle-like building by Gustav Gull next to Zurich’s main railway station.
On 25 June 1898, the opening ceremonies took place, including a large parade. In 20 pictures the Swiss cantons passed by with 70 richly decorated carriages, 200 riders, groups in traditional costumes and various animals. The procession was led by a “magnificent carriage with Helvetia*”, followed by a carriage with “Turica, the protector of art”. In the group of the Canton of Valais, besides horses and Saint Bernard dogs, mules also passed by.
“It’s as if the parade of the traditional costume doesn’t want to end and the impression of the pictures is still increasing. The Valais is a true gem of a group, it shows a military picture, the festive parade in the Lötschen Valley, in addition come the women from Savièse village with her strangely (gorgeous/special) beautiful type, the gentle women from the Evolène Valley with their white delicate lace bonnets under the flat hat, the women from the Illiez Valley, who wear a dark man’s costume on Sundays, the monks of St. Bernard with their dogs and wandering people, which are today in the Rhône Valley in the vineyards, tomorrow on the mountain pasture. How the lovely little one laughs, strapped to a mule in his cradle, on which the mother rides. And everything is so wonderfully real, the pictures are talking books, the enormous originality and diversity of Swiss folk life, and the people of Valais are in first place, the strange people, where cheerfulness and deep seriousness merge into the most surprising nüances.”
* Helvetia is the female national personification of Switzerland, officially Confœderatio Helvetica, the Swiss Confederation.
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.
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.”