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Chasity continues to improve, however, the drainage from her teats was not receding and began to look suspicious to me so I called our veterinarian out to take a look at her. It has been two weeks since she arrived and had it been the result of a weaned foal, she would have been drying up by now. When he arrived, I told Greg Farrand that I suspected an infection of some sort and then I went to get Chasity.
Greg took a look at the discharge and agreed that is was not as we had originally thought, This was not milk, but a small amount of pus and some very hard teats.
Chasity was a star while we poked and prodded to get a sufficient sample to test. Greg and my Ranch Manager, Chad, finally got a large enough sample to be a viable test sample.
In the light, one could see that it was clearly pus and not milk. Greg put the sample in the holding receptacle and took it with him to be tested. He would call with results.
Not all my jennets from past experience were so cooperative and we truly appreciated Chasity’s quiet demeanor! Greg commented how much better she was looking after only two short weeks!
I mentioned to Greg that I had found some spots on her chest that could have been an old bot-hatching ground. I told him that I had scraped off the crusty scabs and applied Neosporin to the affected area. Most of the scabs were gone, but he said that she probably aggravated the area by scratching her chest on the fence. Donkeys will do that! I showed him her diary. He said that doing the core exercises would also help get rid of the infection.
Greg prescribed a regimen of Uniprim for the next 14 days along with daily hot water soaking.
Chasity tolerated the water, but was not thrilled with the water continuously running down her legs.
I decided if it was going to be a prolonged therapy, I would need to modify my future soaking approach to make her more comfortable during the process. This time, despite her displeasure, Chasity had cooperated and was happy to obtain her reward of crimped oats when it was all over!
By Meredith Hodges
You can often tell a horse what to do, but you have to ask a mule. Mules and donkeys are intelligent, sensitive and affectionate animals. Although they have been stereotyped as stubborn and difficult to control, members of the equine family can actually be quite responsive and compliant when they’re handled properly. Their intelligence, strength and natural athleticism make them well suited for virtually any equine activity or sport. With proper training and care, they bond closely with humans and make wonderful companions.
To work successfully with these bright, inquisitive animals is to understand the ways in which they differ from horses. Mules derive the best physical and psychological traits from both the horse and the donkey. Once you understand both the donkey half and the horse half, you’ll be well on your way to a successful relationship with your long-eared partner.
Redeeming Characteristics of Longears
The modern donkey is descended from the Nubian Wild Ass of North Africa.
Domesticated around 3,000 B.C. and has served man well ever since. Donkeys are surefooted, durable and have incredible strength for their size. They are very sociable animals and enjoy the company of their own kind, people and some other animals. They will most likely chase an animal that is smaller than them, so management must include careful consideration when they are in close proximity to smaller animals. Unlike horses, in the face of perceived danger, donkeys are inclined to freeze or hide rather than flee. However, mules being part horse and part donkey will either freeze or flee.
Mules inherit their instinct for self-preservation from the donkey, along with their innate intelligence and a number of unique physical traits. Mules may be either male or female and are primarily sterile. Horses have 64 chromosomes and donkeys have 62 chromosomes. The resulting offspring called a mule generally has 63 chromosomes, an uneven pairing, missing the conception pair. On occasion, some molly mules have conceived to jacks and stallions and have produced offspring as was the case in America with “Old Beck” and “Krause,” but this is rare. Typically, a mule foal will grow to the size of its dam, although he may be two inches taller or two inches shorter. Both mules and horses are very strong, but the mule has smoother muscling and more endurance and strength for its size. Mules also eat less, are less susceptible to parasites and disease, and will typically live longer than horses. “Hybrid vigor” gives mules some advantages over their equine cousins, but only proper management, care and training will enable them to reach their full potential.
Physical and Mental Conditioning
Mules and donkeys will bond most closely with the person who trains them. Work with your equine one-on-one to build that critical bond of trust between the two of you. Remember that patience, kindness and consideration will determine the success or failure of your training program. Longears can be obedient and reliable when they feel you have their best interests at heart. If you treat them harshly, you’ll encounter resistance at every turn. Mules and donkeys have an incredibly strong sense of self-preservation and will not do anything that they perceive is dangerous to their health.
Ideally, you’ll have the opportunity to work with your mule or donkey from the time he is born. However, regardless of your animal’s age or ability, it is critical that you always begin your training with imprinting, carefully planned, adequate groundwork and work forward in a logical and sequential way that will naturally make sense and is doable for the equine at every stage. Be sure to work with a knowledgeable trainer and use a comprehensive training program such as I offer. Begin with the basics and don’t skip any steps. The training information included in my training and management program is geared toward mules and donkeys, but also pertains to all equines. Generally speaking, it’s best to add an extra measure of patience, creativity and good humor when you work with a donkey.
Like all children, a mule foal will take after his parents to some extent. Be careful when you select a mare for breeding. Be sure she possesses correct conformation and a nice, calm mare sets the example for a nice, calm baby. From the time of his birth, pay attention to the way you touch your foal and his mother to make them both comfortable with your presence. This is called “imprinting.” A good time to practice imprinting in the beginning is at feeding time. Pick up the foal’s feet while he is unrestrained and touch, scratch and stroke him all over to discover what he does and doesn’t like. Give him time to relax and get comfortable with you. Let him choose to be with you, and you’ll find that is where he will prefer to be.
This is also a good time to introduce the concept of the “reward.” Offer his dam a reward of crimped oats when she comes to you. Your foal will see his mother’s acceptance and will learn to do the same. He is most likely already eating the oats with his dam if he readily accepts the oats. A consistent system of appropriate and prompt reward is a crucial part of your foal’s life-long resistance-free training program. Mules and donkeys will work harder for a pleasurable payoff and a handful of crimped oats serves the purpose best for equines.
At the beginning of training, you should offer rewards often, although only after a requested task is performed or assimilated. This will strengthen the bond between you and encourage good behavior. If your equine pulls away, don’t chase him. Simply let go of the rope, reins, drivelines, etc., and offer him oats when he returns to you. Your task is to be clear in your intent, fair in your expectations and prompt with rewards when tasks or assimilations are completed. When your animal understands which behaviors result in a reward, those behaviors will be repeated. This is called “Behavior Modification.”
Mule foals are not much different than human babies when it comes to their need for attention, love, guidance and praise. Giving your foal plenty of time to be a “kid” will help him as he grows, and playtime can do double duty if you play games that give him a sense of security, set boundaries and build the trust between you.
Once your foal is comfortable with being handled, you should be able to halter him with little trouble. Feeding time is a good time to start. Teach your foal about the halter and leading while he is still young. You’ll be using halters and lead ropes with him all his life and carefully planned leading exercises are critical to your equine’s core muscles development in good equine posture. The balance he attains will serve him well as his tasks become more difficult. This makes for a more pleasurable experience between you.
Tying your foal comes next and is comprised of a series of brief, methodical lessons. First, halter your foal with the mare tied nearby. Attach a thick cotton lead rope to his halter and tie him to a stout hitching post using a safety knot. Be sure to use a flat nylon webbed halter to avoid undue pressure points on his face and to prevent breakage. Approach him every 10 minutes and wait for him to slacken the rope before you release him. Keep lessons to no more than 30 minutes and repeat for as many days as necessary until he doesn’t pull back. Once he’s standing quietly, you can brush him with a soft brush and pick up his feet. He may struggle a bit at first, but as long as he isn’t hurting himself, he’ll be learning how to “stay cool.”
When you can easily halter and tie your foal, and he ceases to pull back upon your approach, untie him and ask him to follow. If he refuses, just tie him up again, wait 10 minutes, untie him and ask him again. When he finally follows you for a few steps, praise and reward him, so he knows he’s doing well. There’s no need to jerk, pull hard or hit his rump. Keep your voice calm and use the simple command to “Walk on.” Be patient, work with him and reward him when he does what you ask.
When he walks when you say, “Walk” and stops when you say, “Whoa,” you’re ready to do more. Keep verbal commands VERY SIMPLE in the beginning. Always hold the lead rope in your left hand while standing on his left side (the “near side”), and point in the direction of travel with your right hand to keep him in proper position with his head at your shoulder. Look where you are going and match your steps with his front legs. Your foal should stop when you verbally say “Whoa” and he feels the resistance of a slight drag on the lead rope. Always stop with your feet together and he will learn to do the same. When he stops, ask him to square up such that he has equal weight over all four feet with the front and rear legs standing together. He should stand straight and still on a loose lead to receive his reward.
Until now, you’ve kept your foal in a confined area such as a corral or paddock. Now you can move to a larger area, keeping in mind that this will affect his behavior. Use a calm reassuring voice to let him know that everything’s okay as you introduce him to simple obstacles. Use the lead rope to guide him through each obstacle. If he gets frightened, put yourself between the obstacle and your equine. Keep tension on the lead rope and give him plenty of time to investigate each new object. Encourage him to move forward by showing him the oats reward and then praise him with the reward when he touches the obstacle with his nose. We are trying to change his fear into curiosity. This is a time for positive interaction between the two of you. Take your foal with you often to discover new things together. Teach him to trust your judgment during training now and he will trust you always.
Once your animal will stand calmly when tied and willingly follows you over and around different obstacles, you can then introduce him to the trailer. If you’ve built a trusting relationship with him, he should load with little or no resistance. Never get in a hurry! It will only take longer. If he refuses to cooperate with a reward as an enticement, you might need to make use of a lunge line and whip used as described in my books and DVDs in conjunction with the reward.
Mules are typically about a year or more behind horses in their overall development. Even at two years of age, your mule is still growing and the cartilage in his joints is still soft and being shaped. He is a rambunctious youngster and not inclined to be easily restrained. Because the cartilage is soft, he’s more susceptible to physical and psychological injury at this stage, so proceed with caution—only the simplest of leading lessons is appropriate at this point.
Basics of Resistance-Free Training
During these early lessons, some discipline may be required. If your youngster gets a little bold and jumps or nips at you or kicks, you must correct the behavior so it doesn’t become a bad habit. With the flat of your hand, give him a brisk slap on the side of mouth if he bites or on the rump if he kicks, and in a strong voice say, “No!” Then continue to play with him so he knows that everything is okay. When an older animal tries to bite you, slap him on the side of the mouth and very loudly say, “No!” and then raise your hand like a stop sign in front of his face. He will raise his head, begin to turn to the side and be ready to leave, or simply will back up. Immediately take a step toward him, tell him, “Good boy,” and reward him for giving you your space. Be consistent and use only the word “No” to correct him. Correcting kicking through training is covered in DVD #2 of my resistance-free training series, Training Mules and Donkeys.
It’s very important to understand that negative behaviors on your part, such as yelling and hitting, when used in isolation, don’t really work with any equine. Abusive behavior will shut the animal down, pushing him into a freeze response and severing the connection between you. If there is any opportunity to do so, he will simply leave you standing alone.
In rare cases when negative reinforcement is required, always immediately follow the negative correction with positive verbal praise and a reward him when the he responds to the correction. He may test you again, but a raised hand and verbal, “No!” should curb the behavior. He should back off and wait for the reward. When being disciplined for aggressive behavior in the future, you should only have to raise your hand like a stop sign and say “No!” If the slap was done smartly the first time, he should automatically take a step back and wait for his reward.
Set the stage for success to encourage good behavior. Just as you’ve established a feeding schedule, also design a training routine. Equines will work better when they know what is expected. Set up a workstation where you start each lesson.
Each day that you train, always bring your animal to the designated work station. Tie him, then groom him and tack up. At the end of each lesson, return to the workstation to un-tack and groom.
Ideally, you should have a round pen, arena and obstacle course to work in, but whatever facilities you have, be sure that the training and grooming areas are clean and safe. The familiarity will keep him calm and receptive.
Also get in the habit of covering everything your mule or donkey has previously learned before going on to something new. A quick review will boost his confidence and prepare him to go on to the next level.
Athletic Conditioning for Optimum Performance
Training begins by building a positive relationship with your animal, establishing a consistent reward system, and maintaining a safe, comfortable environment. Another often-overlooked but critical component is the need to physically condition your equine, so he can safely do whatever you ask of him. This is probably the toughest part of training. Our inclination is to rush through the basics to get to the “fun stuff,” but without thorough athletic conditioning with balance and strength in good equine posture, your animal simply won’t have the physical capacity to properly do what you ask. On the contrary, he’ll be more prone to injury and more likely to develop behavioral problems.
The work to develop core muscles, tendons and ligaments in good equine posture doesn’t start in the round pen—it begins on the lead line. Showmanship work on the lead line helps to develop strength and balance on the flat ground, in a controlled situation. Leading over obstacles adds coordination to the strength and balance. Take plenty of time at each leading stage of training before moving your animal to the round pen to learn balance at all three gaits on the circle. It takes months to develop muscles.
Physical loss of balance is the biggest problem in under-conditioned animals and the most common cause of bad behavior. When you design your training program to fully develop muscles, tendons and ligaments in good equine posture, your equine will feel good all over and be more willing to comply. Stretching is also important for the equine athlete—young or old. Make sure you incorporate appropriate passive and active stretches throughout your training program to protect your animal from injury. It takes years for an equine to grow and develop properly. Give him the benefit of patience, kindness, respect and proper care, and you’ll both reap the rewards.
Breeding and Training for Performance
When you think of mules and donkeys, activities such as driving, packing and trail riding probably come to mind. But these days, mules, in particular, perform in an amazing variety of events including Reining, roping, Pleasure classes, Endurance events, Hunter classes, Jumping and even Dressage and Combined Training. In fact, in 2004, the United States Equestrian Federation voted to allow mules into their Dressage Division with provisions.
Better breeding, better training and renewed interest bolstered the popularity of Longears as pets and performance animals in modern times. By selecting your mare carefully, you can help to determine your animal’s athletic potential. Choose the breed of mare that most closely exemplifies talent in the specific events that you desire. By choosing and adhering to a comprehensive, sequential training program, you can help your equine to reach his potential in a way that keeps him healthy and happy.
Regardless of how you plan to use your mule, basic Showmanship training lays the foundation for all future training. In Showmanship, your mule or donkey must learn to follow your shoulder at a walk and a trot, stand squarely and quietly, and do a turn-on-the-haunches. Each time you lead your mule, do it as if you were in a Showmanship class. The walk to and from the barn or pasture is THE place to start.
After you and your mule master Showmanship, you can begin to vary your training routine. For example, you might practice showmanship one day, rest the next, work with obstacles the next day, rest for a day, go for a trail walk, rest and then add lunging and so on. Your mule needs time to think, so keep it fun for both of you. Keep your expectations reasonable and remember that short, frequent lessons (20-40 minutes) with a day’s rest in between are better than long, repetitive drills. Also, understand that disobedience is an honest response to YOU and what you’re asking. If you’re not getting the response you want, ask a different way.
Training for Saddle
After you have built core strength in good equine posture on the lead rope, and after your equine has finally learned to stay erect while bending his body through the rib cage during turns as he walks at your shoulder, he is now ready to move on to the round pen for lessons in lunging on the large circle. This is where he will learn more complex verbal commands and where he will begin to develop bulk muscle, balance, rhythm and cadence through the walk, trot and canter on the circle.
Begin lunging your mule in the round pen first in the bridle, and then in the bridle and saddle for ten-minute intervals. Then add the “Elbow Pull” to put him in his proper postural frame to correctly develop his muscles. Follow your trainer’s instructions about body language as you practice at all three gaits and the reverse. When you and your mule have perfected your lunging technique, you’re ready for ground driving in the round pen.
Ground driving builds your mule’s confidence and teaches him the fundamentals of riding without the stress of a rider. Here, the animal learns verbal and rein cues from the drive lines that set the stage for more advanced resistance-free training. You will begin to develop the synchronization of your own body with his by following the steps he takes with his back legs. Then when you ride, your seat will be more flexible and better able to follow the motion of your equine’s body. If your goal is to ride your Longears, keep in mind that these animals mature more slowly than horses. A Longears might not be physically or mentally ready to carry a rider until he’s four years old. When your equine is physically prepared, comfortable with the saddle and bridle, and proficient in lunging and ground driving, he will then be ready to ride.
You will need to give your animal plenty of time to adjust to new sensations and directions. Always wear a helmet and work with an assistant until you’re confident your equine can calmly walk, trot and lope with you on board, first in the round pen and then in the open arena. As your animal advances, remember to work on your own “Horsemanship” techniques and the accuracy of your aids – your hands, seat and legs.
Driving your equine can be great fun, but driving is very different from riding and the details are paramount. Driving can be hazardous for you and your animal, not to mention whatever or whomever is in your path. Choose an appropriate prospect—one who will stay fairly calm in the face of new situations. If you’re inexperienced, be sure to work with a trainer before setting off on your own.
Of course, before you tack up, you’ll need to desensitize your animal to the sound and feel of the harness, blinders and other equipment. Take your time and follow your trainer’s instructions carefully. Be careful because too much desensitization can cause your equine to become bored and disinterested. Instead, use the introductory techniques you used in leading training and appeal to his natural curiosity and sense of adventure to bolster his confidence.
Once he’s comfortable with the equipment, practice lunging and ground driving your equine in harness. Eventually, you can add a PVC pole to mimic the shaft, then a drag (such as an old tire) for weight, then a travois of two poles and a crosspiece. Clear verbal commands are positively essential here. Used in combination with the drive lines and a suitable driving whip, they will be your primary means of communication. Take your time and remember that each individual animal is different. Safety should always be your primary concern. The “fun stuff” will come in time.
Importance of Logical and Sequential Training
This article is only an overview of my resistance-free training basics for all equines and especially for mules and donkeys. If you’re serious about working with any of these smart, strong and intelligent animals, you’ll need to invest in a complete training program. Any equine training program worth its salt will address not only the exercises and assimilations required for performance, but also the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the animal.
Even abused or neglected animals can be rehabilitated using resistance-free training methods that include slow and methodical body conditioning. With love and patience, mistreated animals can learn to trust again and injured animals can recover enough to thrive. Training an equine should be like making a friend—it’s something no one else can do for you, and the experience teaches you as much about yourself as it does about your animal. So, remember to keep it fun and enjoy the journey.
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.
© 2008, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.
After doing her Hourglass Pattern exercises, first one way and then the other, we opted to add some variety to the workout by adding some straight forward obstacles. In our indoor arena, I have an open space of 60’ X 120’ and a 45’ round pen at the end of the arena in another 60’ X 60’ fenced off space. Around the outside perimeter of the round pen in that area, I put my obstacles. I have found that there is less margin of error learning obstacles in a confined space to add coordination to their core strength in good equine posture. They can learn to pay more attention and to be more meticulous in their execution of the obstacles. This is a helpful way to begin with obstacles. The first obstacle for Chasity was the gate!
After going through the gate and standing stock still while I latched it, we proceeded to the bridge. I was pleasantly surprised when she allowed me to stop her with only her front feet on the bridge. This is generally a Stage Two move in my program since obstacles are used for coordination. Most equines are so uncoordinated that they just want to keep walking over and through the obstacles without stopping at first. Good for Chasity!
Chasity then carefully walked up onto the bridge with all four feet and halted on command! This was going much better than I had expected!
When I asked her to square up, she got a bit skewed to the side on the bridge, but she was nevertheless squared up, just not in line with the bridge. So I took it and rewarded her effort.We can do better the next time.
Then we got off the bridge and I squared her up again. Then…I introduced her to the tractor tire.
She looked at it…wasn’t afraid of it…walked around it…
…and looked at it again. She was clearly NOT going to put her foot in the middle of that tire! I decided to quit while we were ahead and try again next time. Because I didn’t push her, she consented to walking through the smaller tires…
…tentatively, but she did it! And then she walked around the barrels with no trouble at all!
Just having Chasity navigate these obstacles without being afraid of them was a major accomplishment. We then walked into the back-through “L” and I decided to make it a little bit tougher.
After walking through the “L” forward, I asked Chasity to back through where she had come.
She was a bit perplexed, but slowly backed between the rails, made the turn at the elbow, and went straight back from there with very little forcible encouragement.
Once at the end of the back-through “L,” we headed for the tarp. She followed me obediently, but was so silly…
When we got to the tarp, she wanted to walk EXACTLY where I walked! I guess she KNEW it was safe there! Too funny!
I gave her a reward because she really didn’t balk and we proceeded out of the obstacle area.
As we left, we executed the gate correctly and she was rewarded again. She stood quietly until I was ready to move.
Then we proceeded down the arena wall towards the exit gate and stopped to turn off the lights. She was a little surprised that the wall opened up, but stood still while I opened the door and turned off the lights.
Then I closed the door and we exited the arena. Adding obstacles and simple expectations to her regular work in the Hourglass Pattern made the experience more interesting and engaging to Chasity. When you add new things to their lessons, you shouldn’t feel like the equine has to do it right the first time. Just quit while you are ahead and your equine WILL do better the next time! There is no battle to remember!
Beginning by negotiating obstacles in larger areas makes for a larger margin for error. Too many things can go wrong and lead to an unpleasant chain of negative events that suck you and your equine into unnecessary altercations. There is plenty of time to do them in the more open spaces once they have learned how to negotiate them in the smaller spaces. I first school green animals during ground driving and under saddle in the small open area of my indoor arena (60’ X 120” – Standard Small Dressage Arena Size) before I take them into the larger outside arenas. This has resulted in a decrease of bolting and running. When you set up your training environment, it is always optimal to set up the equine for success!
The “Hourglass Pattern” is an amazing therapeutic approach to conditioning that I have used with all of my equines of varying ages, sizes and breeds. It builds a foundation of symmetrical strengthening at the core involving the ligaments, tendons muscles and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame and promotes even wear of the cartilage between bones in the joints. It can prevent arthritis as the animals age. This is vital to your equine athlete’s health. Chasity and I open the gate to her rebalancing and rehabilitation exercises in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
The red “X’s” in the pattern represent the points where you are to halt, square up, reward and wait. This process becomes helpful as your equine learns to navigate gates properly and learns to wait patiently through repetition and consistency in your behavior. Always go through gates exactly the same way so your equine knows what to expect. Abrupt actions lead to chaos.
We want to promote self-carriage, so we do not hold the lead rope in the right hand when leading from the left side where it can subtlety cause movement in the head and neck from side to side, adversely affecting their balance. Rather, we hold the lead rope in the left hand when leading from the left side and in the right hand when leading from the right side. We lead from the inside of the arcs in direction through the pattern. Always, say the animal’s name, give the command to “Walk On,” look where you are going, point in the direction of travel with your other hand and walk in sync with the equine’s front legs. This facilitates good posture for both of you!
When negotiating the “Hourglass Pattern,” there is an internal pendulum that swings back and forth and comes to center each time the animal halts and is squared up. If you were to work only along straight lines there is an optical illusion that takes place along the perimeter and makes the animal’s body lean to the inside of the track, and when halted, they cannot find the center of balance. Every time you halt, square up your equine and reward with the crimped oats that you keep in your fanny pack around your waist (other “treats” will not work the same way!). Then wait until they finish chewing so they can settle into their perfect balance unobstructed.
As they progess, they learn to bend to the arc of the turns through their rib cage, carry their body erect in good posture supported by stronger ab muscles that round the back upward as they learn to give to the “Elbow Pull” such that it remains loose. When it is tight, they are simply having difficulty holding their good posture and lean on the “Elbow Pull” much like a beginning ballet dancer must use the bar on the wall. Many people think that you do your equine a favor by not putting a bit in their mouth, but you cannot affect their posture without one. The animals that are not bitted and schooled in good posture can have all kinds of postural issues as they age. Chasity is falling in and out of good posture because she is only in Week Three of her training. As she improves, she will be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose for longer periods of time until it is always loose.
As this way of moving and standing becomes more habitual, so does their comfort in these positions. When they rest, they will stand 4-square instead of with splayed legs, or a hip dropped and a foot cocked. They are happy and deliberate in their movements and good posture continues to improve until this become their new habitual way of moving and resting. You will see marked changes in their play and rest patterns while in turnout.
Adding rails to the center of the pattern keeps them attentive, alert and teaches exact hoof placement (hoof-eye coordination). As their movement becomes more deliberate and balanced, their confidence is increased as is their trust in you for making them feel so comfortable in their own skin. They learn to wait for your command before moving. They look forward to their time with you and will gladly leave the herd to be with you! No more herdbound behaviors!
We build this foundation through the “Hourglass Pattern” first during leading training, then after obstacles and lunging training during Ground Driving, and finally Under Saddle. Each stage produces new challenges to the equine’s body and mind that add to their overall development in a logical, sequential and healthy way. Because of all these small steps, with gradual difficulty, it is easy and fun for both you and your equine to do. You are never over-faced with difficulty and you learn to appreciate the little victories along the way! Chasity was somewhat of a pushy, bully to start with, but she now waits patiently when I ask and navigates movement in much better posture, even after only three short weeks! More dramatic changes to Chasity’s body and mind are still to come! It’s not just about the end result. It’s all about the journey!
By Meredith Hodges
When I was growing up, equine trainers were considered special people whose special talents were a mystery to common folk like me. Witnessing the cowboys riding the broncs in the rodeos and seeing the upper-level riders at the Olympics made me doubt my ability to ever accomplish what they could do! After all, this was their profession and I was just a young girl with a passionate love for equines. Since I thought I would never be able to train equines, I dreamed of rescuing abused horses and building a 100-stall barn for them somewhere in the Northwest, in Cowboy Country.
Even if all I was going to do was rescue equines, I knew I would have to have at least some experience in equine management and training, so I read numerous training books and attended many clinics and seminars. The more I learned, the more overwhelmed I became. There were so many vastly different ideas about how to do things with equines. Different authors wrote about different stages of training and they all had a different approach. There was no one author who produced anything with continuity from foal all the way to advanced levels of training. To make matters worse, in the early 1970s when I got involved with Longears, I found that there was virtually nothing available about training them for recreational purposes. That is when I decided to begin documenting everything I learned that worked well (and forgot about what didn’t).
Trying to decide what to feed my equines was a nightmare! The advertising for so many different kinds and brands of feeds and supplements was confusing and I had no idea where to begin, so I just did what the majority of people were suggesting and fed a grass/alfalfa hay mix. It wasn’t until nine years later and the loss of several horses that I decided that maybe the alfalfa wasn’t such a good idea, so I eliminated the use of alfalfa and other products that were exceptionally high in protein. Then, after the death of one of my donkey jacks, I also revisited my use of different types of grains and oils. I discovered that oats were always the healthiest grain and Mazola corn oil was the only oil needed for healthy coats, hooves and digestive tract regularity. The Sho Glo brand of minimal daily vitamins, along with a trace mineral salt block, provided adequate nutritional needs for all my equines, regardless of their types and tasks (from pleasure riding to Combined Training). This revised feeding program, combined with regular worming and bi-annual vaccinations, eliminated the incidence of severe colic and my equines became much healthier, performed better and have exhibited increased longevity.
Like most people, I started off thinking that leaving equines to just be equines without human interference was the ideal. Oh, how they would just love to exist in a large plot of pasture to live out their days in leisure! I soon found out how deadly that could be to an equine. Equines in the wild will travel for miles, exercising and grazing sporadically, balancing their diet and exercising themselves. Since the majority of the world’s equines are not wild and can no longer run free (no more wide-open spaces available), leaving them alone in a pasture to eat freely only results in obesity and all the ailments that go with it. In reality, allowing this “free grazing” is a passive form of neglect, and is usually the result of just plain human laziness. Equine owners may often feel like they “do not have the time” to do everything correctly, when, in actuality, it takes less time (and is less costly) to correctly feed, manage and train equines. That is how I can successfully be the sole trainer of 30 equines at this late date in my life.
When I began taking Dressage lessons in 1986, it gave me a whole new way to look at the equine, with more concern for his physical, mental and emotional well-being. Doing Dressage with horses was relatively easy, but I wanted to challenge myself to train the first mule in Dressage and see how far he could go. My first mule, Lucky Three Sundowner, must have run off with me over a hundred times in our first five years of Dressage training, which was a very humbling experience. I began to analyze everything in a more critical and logical way to determine what I was doing to make him run off. I no longer just took it for granted that the popular equine training techniques were the only way to train because they obviously didn’t always work with Sundowner. I began to ask myself, “Why?” and, “Is there a better way?” After addressing the elements of Dressage under saddle, I finally realized that not much was mentioned in the training materials about preparing the equine in good posture and balance WITHOUT a rider on board. I came to realize that the runaway incidents were the result of Sundowner and I both being out of good posture and balance. Unknowingly, we were fighting against each other’s balance to try to perform together. This is when I discovered the importance of adequately preparing the equine’s core muscles in good posture to carry a rider BEFORE attempting to ride or drive. No one is born in good posture. It is something that must be taught—to us and to equines. Just letting them run free when they are young does not address good equine posture or core muscle development.
Many equine trainers talk about disengaging the hindquarters. While practicing Dressage, I learned that, in reality, the hindquarters must be engaged and active (much like a motor) for the animal to move correctly and do what is asked of him, and why would anyone want to shut down the motor? When I employed popular equine training techniques with the halter, lead and whip and tried to keep the mule at a distance (not allowing him to come close to me), he would give a quick jerk of his head and neck, bump me with his rear end and take me “skiing” across the arena…if I was dumb enough to hang onto the rope! I thought, “Why not just let go of the rope and when he comes back, reward him for coming back with a handful of oats from my fanny pack? And, why not let him come in close and then continue the imprinting process through his adulthood, so he will get used to me touching his body?” He could then learn to move away from the pressure of my hands and negotiate groundwork obstacles more easily. When you are constantly pushing your equine away from you, you don’t have the opportunity to do much touching, and there is a crucial security and trust that your equine develops from being touched by you. Equines that are used to being touched all over their bodies on a regular basis are less likely to become spooked about things. And the equines that get practice taking those tiny little oats out of your hand are less likely to bite your fingers than those that do not get this kind of practice.
Trainers in general advise owners to set things up so it is hard for the equine to do the wrong thing. Why not just concentrate on setting him up to be able to easily do the right thing? Wouldn’t you get a better reaction from your equine if he received rewards for a job well done rather than focusing on the punishments and intimidation if he didn’t comply?
For instance, if you want him to jump a barrel, set up three barrels end-to-end and perpendicular to the fence. Now send him over the obstacle on a long lead with nowhere to go but between you and the fence. And when he succeeds, reward him for it. Once he is compliant over the three end-to-end barrels, take one barrel away and do the same thing. When he accomplishes that, then take the next barrel away and make him do the last one against the fence. Don’t forget to reward him each time he succeeds. Once he successfully completes these steps with no problem, place the barrel in the open and send him over it. He should do this confidently because he now knows it is easy and that he will get rewarded for his effort. When you break things down into small, doable steps within your equine’s capabilities that will always be rewarded, you’ll attract his full attention and training will become easy and fun! Just make sure the reward is always the same healthy oats that he loves.
Bosals, side-pulls and bitless bridles can never replace the communication that can be developed through correct practice between your hands and the corners of your equine’s mouth with the direct rein action of a snaffle bit. Bitless bridles have a completely different action that can result in “kinks” in your equine’s neck. To feel this discomfort, try standing completely still and facing straight ahead. Now, without moving, just turn your head to the side. Can you feel the pull on the muscles just below your ear? This is the same action that your equine experiences when the pull comes from the higher point on his nose where the halter noseband (or bitless bridle) would sit. When a mild snaffle bit is placed in the mouth and used with a flash noseband on the bridle, the equine can be prevented from flipping his tongue over the bit and will take an easy contact with the bit, promoting a solid means of communication.
When you take contact with the reins (or, in the case of driving, the lines), the equine’s natural instinct is to initially create some resistance against your hands. He will stretch his nose out to take contact with the intent of pulling on the bit, but will eventually learn to “hold” the bit. When he does this, he elongates his neck and increases the space between his vertebrae, so when he receives the connection to your hands and is asked to stop or turn, it happens easily because it does not create soreness in his neck. Your hands need to be flexible and “giving” to avoid resistance to the bit. You can feel this difference in your own neck when you vertically round it up and out and THEN turn your head to the side…no more pulling on the muscle below the ear. This “comfortable connection” encourages a working connection from his lips to your hands.
Restraints should only be used to suggest compliance to the equine and not for complete control over any resistance. Patience, calmness and purposeful action during the use of restraints are all paramount in teaching the equine how to cope with things that are difficult for him. In the use of restraints, one runs the risk of being more severe than intended, which will have a negative impact on the equine’s response to the restraint used. I have discovered some very simple restraints that work well.
Working with your equine’s natural movements and paying attention to proper body conditioning produces comfort and ease of performance. For instance, asking your equine to turn toward you when he is being lunged causes confusion, which adversely affects his hindquarters and puts stress on his hocks and stifles. This is why lunging in a round pen or lunging in drive lines is vitally important. Your equine must be allowed to turn away from you when lunging so he can instantaneously set up his hind legs for the correct diagonal at trot and the correct canter lead, thereby avoiding potential injury to his hindquarters.
Desensitization techniques create disengagement in activities. The equine learns to “give up.” They are fearful of the consequences if they do not obey. Training with fear tactics can produce obedience, but not a viable partnership. My psychiatric nursing degree and my studies in Behavior Modification with human beings proved to be useful in understanding the use of Behavior Modification in equines. It also provided me with the basis for my resistance-free, reward-based training program. I prefer to teach my equines good manners in a polite way so that they are fully engaged, respectful, confident and eager to go with me every time I see them—in other words, resistance-free! The rewards from this kind of training are beyond any joy I could have imagined! My journey has proven to me that anyone with the will to listen, learn and question “WHY?” can become his or her own trainer—with amazing results.
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, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Wrangler came to us in 2017 and has had to be in turnout by himself because he was so rambunctious that he didn’t really fit into any of our turnout groups. He was always turned out next to “friend” like Sir Guy but never with anyone else. Mr. Moon was his stable buddy, but still, there was always a run fence between them. Mr. Moon recently turned 32 years old and developed a condition that required that he be put down. Wrangler’s “stable buddy” was now gone.
With the empty stall and run next to Wrangler, we now had space to consider getting him a new companion. I checked with my friend in Oklahoma and we found Chasity! What a lovely “Lady!” I was told she was a really FORWARD moving jennet with a lot of independence and enthusiasm. We thought she would be the perfect companion for Wrangler!
Chasity was delivered on 3-30-20 and the introductions began while she was in quarantine in a space where she could see Wrangler, but they could not reach each other. They played with excitement back and forth along the fence line for a bit! They were clearly VERY interested in each other! Love had begun to blossom!
The next day the vet came to do a health check on Chasity. She will need a lot of core strength work, but it will be a good thing to keep her occupied while she is in quarantine. Wrangler looked on with interest as the vet surveyed her condition. Two months passed before Chasity was finally put in Mr. Moon’s stall and run next to Wrangler…they eyed each other suspiciously…this was a lot closer than they had previously been!
Wrangler stuck his head through the panels to sniff and Chasity looked interested, then decided to play shy!
This only frustrated Wrangler and he began some very active male donkey antics which spooked her away from him.
She returned only to be spooked away again while Wrangler continued his antics and embarrassed himself by tripping!
Chasity thought maybe NOW he would calm down and Wrangler started up AGAIN! She thought…REALLY?!!!
I called Wrangler over and had a little talk with him about good manners and being polite to young ladies. He seemed to listen and said he was sorry. Chasity wasn’t sure if she believed him!
But after receiving their crimped oats reward for settling down…all was GOOD!!!
Selecting the right tack for your Longears is essential to success. I rigged a cob-sized English bridle for Chasity with a pony Eggbutt snaffle bit (4 ½-inch), an over-sized Warmblood brow band to accommodate her wider forehead and not pinch her ears, and normal nose band with an “O” ring installed underneath with a lead rope attached. The “Elbow Pull” is the correct length and is put in place over the crown piece of the bridle and wrapped with a halter fleece to prevent rubbing on her poll. She will begin her postural core strength leading exercises to correct her unbalanced posture, her lordosis (sway back) and the enlarged fat roll across her neck.
When first putting on the light-weight surcingle, I loosely tighten the girth at first to allow her to get used to the pressure around her middle.
Then, of course, a reward for standing still is in order and very much appreciated. And it’s always nice to receive a loving donkey head-hug!
After this appropriate show of affection, I politely ask her if she is ready to accept the bridle. Chasity truly appreciates my consideration for her.
When I put on the bridle, I make sure that her ears are protected as I pull the crown piece over her ears by covering them with the palm of my hand. Then, when it is in place, I just pull my hand away from it’s position. I center the “O” ring and lead rope underneath her chin and snugly tighten the nose band.
With Chasity’s enlarged neck, I felt it would be beneficial to use a neck sweat to help to shrink the fatty deposits along her crest during her workout. I then took up more slack on the surcingle girth and loosely adjusted the “Elbow Pull” on the right side.
Next, I went around to the left side to adjust the tension on the “Elbow Pull.” Next, I went to the front, straightened her head in alignment with her spine, and checked to make sure that she could not raise her head high enough to invert her neck and back. It is tight enough to encourage her to use her abs, and raise her back. This positively affects her sloppy tendency to relax her sway back and will bring it into proper posture.
Now we are prepared to begin work in the Hourglass Pattern in the indoor arena. We begin to walk in sync.
After the workout, we go back to the designated work station to untack. I carefully remove her bridle, sliding it over her ears with one pass, lifting it upward as it goes over the ears. Then I remove the surcingle and neck sweat, and give her a generous reward for her cooperation.
The next step is to take the tack into the tack room, wipe it down and wash the bit before hanging it back up on the wall. Taking care of your tack and equipment in this manner prevents dirt build-up, chafing on the animal and weakened tack and equipment. Then, once a month, we spend time in the tack room going over all of the tack and equipment with Leathernew™ to keep it all in good condition. The cabinets where we store harness is lined with cedar to prevent mold and mildew. Once everything is back in place, I return Chasity to her stall and run. When your tack and equipment fits properly and is appropriate for the activity, it promotes success and enhances your experience together!
By Meredith Hodges
Why does Dressage training lend itself so well to training mules? In order to answer this question, we need to have a clear understanding of what Dressage really means and how it pertains to the mule’s mental and physical development in relationship to our own expectations. When most of us think of Dressage, we picture in our minds those elegant Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.
It’s easy to perceive Dressage as a more advanced form of Horsemanship, unless we realize that, in reality, it is the result of many years of intense training. It is also easy to believe that this is not the activity in which most of us see ourselves competing. Dressage requires much more well-developed skills from the rider, and the High School (known in Dressage by the French words Haute Ecole) movements exhibited are not generally used in the practical use of our animals. People may perceive these goals to be unattainable for the common horseman, and discard Dressage training for more commercial techniques that seem to give simpler and more immediate results in our English, Western and gaming mules. Surprisingly, a better understanding of the beginning levels of Dressage reveals that it is actually a preferred way to train, especially considering the mental and physical nature of mules.
At first glance, the Training Level patterns of Dressage may seem too simple to the average rider. (A Reining pattern is much more inviting because it is more stimulating and exciting.) However, Reining can be quite stressful—both mentally and physically—on a young mule unless he is brought along slowly and carefully. Because the mule is so strong and capable of running through any type of bridle arrangement, it’s best to avoid any confrontation that can cause resistance as much as possible.
I have found that my mules will exhibit resistant behavior when they are confused or frightened, but never out of “stubbornness.” Often, we take it for granted that, since a young mule can walk, trot, canter, back up, etc. by himself, he should be able to do all these things with us astride. What many people don’t realize is that mules are born with as diverse postures as humans, and there are few mules that will exhibit good equine posture without being constantly reminded. People compensate continually for deficiencies in their own body structure, and posture will vary from person to person and situation to situation. For example, a straight-backed chair will cause most of us to sit up straight, which is healthy for the spine and neck. On the other hand, the sinking comfort of a plush couch will produce a collapsed posture, which can eventually produce sore back and neck muscles. In a similar way, a mule will have to sacrifice his good posture to accommodate an unbalanced and inexperienced rider.
In the simplicity of the Training Level patterns, you will be able to address the issue of good posture. This is when you can begin to condition the necessary muscles for maintaining good posture. In the Training Level Dressage patterns, a judge will always look for “a willing, obedient mount that moves forward freely, responds to the rider’s aids and accepts the bit.” Your mule will be encouraged to maintain the best possible equine posture for his individual stage of development while you practice the same. The simple patterns will enable you to minimize any loss of balance by either of you. As his muscles are strengthened and conditioned, your mule will be better able to carry his own body as well as yours. Only then should you begin to ask for more engagement in the hindquarters, which will eventually lead make more collection possible.
By taking the time to condition and strengthen their muscles, we allow our mules to engage in physical exercise that is not taxing and painful, thus, keeping their mental attitude fresh and happy. By conditioning your mule in a carefully sequenced pattern of exercises, you will more often avoid the possibility of throwing him off balance and into the confusion and fear that will lead to resistance and disobedience. With your own posture in mind, you can develop the rider and mule as one unit. The process is slow but thorough, and mutually satisfying.
The Dressage saddle allows you the stability of a saddle, yet gives you the closest possible contact with your mule’s body (other than bareback), making your leg and seat aids clearer and more perceptible to your mule. With more clearly defined cues, the mule is better able to discern your wishes without fear or resistance. Western saddles are used more universally for training, but I believe that a lot of this is to accommodate riders with limited ability.
Equipment use plays an important part in the breaking saddle used, but many trainers today will agree that the less complicated equipment is used in the beginning, the better. The Western saddle may certainly be used for breaking but, from the mule’s standpoint, the Western saddle is heavier and there is quite a lot of leather between you and your mule, which can cause a certain amount of interference in communication. If the mule cannot “feel” his rider well, often times a leg or rein aid can come as a surprise and produce a response that is predisposed to resistance. For this reason, I prefer to start training in an all-purpose—or Dressage—saddle. However, I would recommend training in a Western saddle for the less-experienced rider, or if you are training a more easily excitable animal.
In Training Level Dressage, movements are limited to straight lines, simple transitions (i.e., walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to trot, trot to walk, and trot to walk to halt), and large 20-meter circles. This allows you to spend time working on rhythm, regularity and cadence in all three gaits, overall obedience to the aids, steadiness and learning to bend his body from head to tail through corners, while maintaining an upright posture. All this allows your mule the time to properly condition his muscles and to learn to stay between the aids in a comfortable and relaxing manner. He will also learn to move freely and easily forward, while the rider has time to develop his own muscles and perfect his own technique. Using this technique keeps stress at a minimum.
As in any exercise program, it is not advisable to drill and repeat every day. With a mule, as with any athlete, muscles need to be exercised and then allowed rest for a day or two between workouts to avoid serious injury. In between Dressage days, you can take your mule for a simple trail ride or just let him rest. The time-off and a variety of activities will keep him fresh and attentive. Three times a week is usually sufficient, with Dressage training for his proper development and conditioning, two days of simple hacking or trail riding and two days of rest. This also takes the pressure off of you. If you’re not into riding on a particular day, you won’t feel like you have to because your mule will retain his learning without the added stress of drilling day after day. Try to think of your mule’s training in terms of yourself: Would you care to be drilled to exhaustion day after day? How would you feel mentally and physically if you were? Dressage—whether it is basic or the most advanced—is a French word for training. It is thoughtful, considerate and kind, and will produce a mule that is mentally and physically capable of doing anything you might like to do with a relaxed and willing attitude. It may take a little longer, but the result speaks for itself.
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.
© 2011, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.
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.”
When I posted this on Facebook about mules in the Bible…
Origins: The mule is mentioned in mankind’s earliest records. Consider this passage from the Bible: “And Absolom met the servants of David. And Absolom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the Heavens and the earth, and the mule that was under him went away.” (II Samuel 18:9). If you choose to ride a mule, you will need a good sense of humor!!!
…we were asked about mules really being in the Bible. We sent an email to a Rabbi inquiring about the translation of the ancient Hebrew word for “mule” or “pered.” Here is the reply:
“Solomon rode on a mule (1Ki 1:38) because his father David told Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah to “cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule” (v 33). This is the word for a “she-mule” (BDB, TWOT). Its three Old Testament uses are all in this passage (see v 44), referring to one mule, David’s. Solomon’s riding on David’s mule in company with David’s advisors gave a clear message: he was the successor David had chosen. Years later in secular history, female mules became preferable for riding and males for bearing burdens. That may have been a factor in David’s having this special mule. Second, an observation. David’s sons all rode on (male) mules (2Sa 13:29) and Absalom rode a mule at the end of his life (2Sa 18:9). Since a mule is crossbred between a mare and a male donkey, and since crossbreeding was prohibited in Israel (Lev 19:19), mules were likely imported (TWOT), and were thus more valued. They (along with horses, silver, and gold, etc.) symbolized the wealth that other kings brought to Solomon annually (1Ki 10:25). Third, a suggestion. The greatest reason for David’s choice of a mule rather than a horse may have been God’s prohibition for kings (Deu 17:16): they were not to multiply horses to themselves. David was careful in this. Solomon, to his own destruction, was not (1Ki 10:26, 28).”
This is a repost from Brooke USA.
Lexington, Ky. – November 15, 2016 – Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer Vicky Busch and her mule “Slate” continue to spread awareness of the plight of working equines in the developing world and the work of Brooke USA. Most recently Slate and his young rider, Busch’s student Isabella Rodwig won their Training Level Test 3 class at the dressage schooling show at Amen Corner Farm in Folsom, LA.
The pair did so in style and with a nod to Brooke USA, with a large Brooke USA heart painted on the mule’s rump. Busch uses Slate’s engaging personality and the novelty of seeing him at a dressage show to educate the crowds he draws about the mission of Brooke USA. She hopes that Slate and his young rider will continue to compete in more dressage shows this year with the goal of qualifying for the USDF Region 9 Championships sponsored by the Houston Dressage Society.
Since learning about Brooke USA, Busch and her husband Eric have been generous supporters. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of equines who work in some of the poorest communities on Earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous equine welfare challenges actively improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world.
Owning Slate has made the work that Brooke USA does – helping working equines including mules around the world – a cause close to Busch’s heart. She hopes that she can use the attention that Slate attracts to bring more awareness to Brooke USA, and put a personal touch on it. Busch is eager to tell Slate’s admirers at shows about the important work of Brooke USA and how they can help improve the lives of working equines around the world who are not as lucky as Slate to have such a wonderful home.
About Brooke USA
Brooke USA is a 501(c)(3) charity located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which exists solely to support the overseas work of Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare charity. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of horses, donkeys and mules who work in some of the poorest communities on earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous welfare challenges improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world. To learn more, visit BrookeUSA.org.
While dressage has long-been regarded as a horse and Pony Club sport, Meredith Hodges opened the doors to mules in dressage in the United States Dressage Federation Schooling Shows in 1986. With the help of Carole Sweet and Leah Patton of the American Donkey and Mule Society in Lewisville, Texas, they were formally accepted by the United States Equestrian Federation at their convention in Los Angeles in 2004. Laura Hermanson has since taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity. In 2015, she qualified for the United States Dressage Federation Finals with her own mule, “Heart B Dyna”, that is to be the subject of an upcoming documentary. The film is titled ”Dyna Does Dressage,” and is produced by Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser, who describe it as an “Underdog story [that] follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.” Laura Hermanson is breaking through the stigma that dressage is only for horses and ponies as was previously defined by the USEF Rulebook. Much like Meredith Hodges herself, what began as a love of horses evolved into the championing of the noble MULE, an equine ambassador that truly deserves our respect. This year, Laura is competing “Behold the Desert” (aka Beasley) owned by Troy and Carol Delfino of Bakersfield, California and bred by Candace Shauger of Genesis Farms in Bremen, Ohio, in the upcoming U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, November 10-13. Let’s all give our support to this amazing team!
A letter from George Washington, written in 1786, was recently put up for auction by bookseller William Reese. The letter is in regards to a donkey sent to Washington’s Mount Vernon ranch for the purpose of breeding. Washington is well-known for his agricultural brilliance and for breeding the first American mule. The correspondence was written a during a breif period of retirement and a few years before Washington became president.
Washington writes: “Dear Sir, When your favor of the first inst., accompanying the she ass, came to this place, I was from home – both however arrived safe; but Doct. Bowie informs me that the bitch puppy was not brought to his house. Nor have I heard any thing more of the asses at Marlbro’, nor of the grass seeds committed to the care of Mr. Digges. I feel myself obliged by your polite offer of the first fruit of your jenny. Though in appearance quite unequal to the match, yet, like a true female, she was not to be terrified at the disproportional size of her paramour; and having renewed the conflict twice or thrice it is to be hoped the issue will be favourable. My best respects attend [Mrs. Sprigg] & the rest of your family. With great esteem & regard, I am Dr. Sir Yr. most ob. serv. Go. Washington.”