Foaled June 2, 1980, Lucky Three Sundowner was the last mule born at my mother’s Windy Valley Ranch and at two weeks old, the first mule to become part of my own Lucky Three Ranch. He showed successfully at Halter, English and Western Pleasure, and became the 1984 World Champion Reining Mule at Bishop Mule Days. However, his greatest accomplishment was to make it to Fourth Level Dressage after introducing Dressage to our Bishop Mule Days show, and after winning the World Championship at Third Level Dressage in Bishop in 1992 and 1993. (They did not offer Fourth Level.) He never really liked the Full Bridle and did all this in a Snaffle Bridle. Mules were not allowed to compete in the A.H.S.A.-sanctioned shows with horses during that time, so we were limited to schooling shows with horses to measure our progress. However, with his help, and with the help of other Dressage enthusiasts like Carole Sweet and Audrey Goldsmith, we laid a foundation with goals that were finally realized eighteen years later when mules were finally officially accepted into the Dressage Division of the United States Equestrian Federation. To date, “Sunny” is the only mule in history (that I am aware of) to be schooled at Fourth Level Dressage. He was working on Piaffe, Passage and Flying Lead Changes every two strides when he was retired at twenty-three years old…truly a remarkable friend and ambassador for his breed! This week, he finally crossed over the “Rainbow Bridge” due to a tumor that eventually prevented his ability to chew. He will be profoundly missed!
It’s hard to believe that I have already spent 35 years in the business with mules, donkeys and a vast array of equine-related activities. I have always loved horses and began riding when I was only two years old. I was about as horsey as a girl could be—when I wasn’t riding, I was reading horse books, drawing horses and engaging in anything that remotely resembled a life with equines. At one point, I even designed a 100-stall barn and vowed to rescue every horse in our country that was being abused. Little did I know then, my 100-stall barn would have been terribly inadequate.
I actually founded the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, in 1980, although I had many years working with horses and six years working with mules before then. I had moved to Colorado with the intent of going to Colorado State University to get my veterinarian credentials, so I sought out places to live in Fort Collins. It was a fluke that a contract fell through and this tiny little 10-acre sheep ranch became available. I remember standing in the driveway, my vision crystal clear in my head, and told my mother, “This place HAS LOTS of possibilities.” She gave me a bemused nod and said, “It definitely has lots of possibilities.” I don’t think she had any idea of what was to come, but, I had a vision!
Over the past 35 years, Lucky Three Ranch has slowly developed into the vision I had in my mind that day. My involvement in the equine community has grown into something much more meaningful than a 100-stall barn, as I’m now able to engage with people around the world through my equine training series, online school, and even on my Facebook page. I would love to teach all equine owners how to appreciate and enjoy their equines as much as I enjoy mine in a multitude of different ways. It is so incredibly rewarding when I see happy animals with happy owners doing the things that they love together. This is the gift that I have been given in life by my Maker to share with others and their joy is my reward! Thank you to all of my friends and fans for your loyalty and support. I couldn’t have made it 35 years without you and the magnificent equines that color my life!
A lot has changed at Lucky Three Ranch since 1980—and sometimes the only way to see all that progress is from the sky! Luckily, aerial photographer Ryan Hofmeister, of Heaven’s View Photography in Sterling, Colorado, has had his camera focused on the ranch since the very beginning, and has captured some truly amazing images from the air throughout that time.
Ryan first met Meredith shortly after she moved in to Lucky Three Ranch. He had captured an image of the young ranch on one of his routine fly-bys, and stopped by to inquire if she wanted the photo. She did, and that image became the cover of Lucky Three Ranch’s first Christmas card. Unfortunately, Ryan didn’t print Meredith’s name on the cards that first year, and she had to sign all 300 cards individually by hand. “I never made that mistake again!” he joked.
For his most recent shoot, Ryan also included a rare bonus: nighttime shots of the ranch. All photographers know how challenging it can be to capture images in low light, as even the slightest shake of the elbow can cause a blurry image—trying to do the same from the air requires a special technique. “It can be done with a tripod,” Ryan says, “but that doesn’t do much good when you’re moving 100 miles per hour through the air.” Ryan flies with another pilot, and they position the aircraft in a way that the plane is almost suspended in motion as Ryan holds his breath and takes the photo, trying to keep as still as possible. Ryan takes each and every photo himself on a handheld camera, including manually focusing it for each shot.
This photo session took around three hours to complete, progressing from day to night, and resulted in more than 600 photos on Ryan’s trusty Nikon. By the end of the session, they were flying in complete darkness, but the day certainly resulted in some incredible photos.
Meredith Hodges was recently interviewed by Anna Roth for Modern Farmer, a website and magazine for people interested in global agricultural issues, as part of a series of donkey-themed articles! Meredith discussed her training methods and philosophies, and specifically how they relate to—and must sometimes be altered for—donkeys.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call equine specialist Meredith Hodges a “donkey-whisperer,” considering that she’s spent most of her life coaxing donkeys and mules into unprecedented acts. She fought to get them incorporated into competitive equine events around the world, and is a firm believer in the animals’ intelligence, thoughtfulness and the fact that a donkey or mule can do everything just as well as a horse can.
From her Lucky Three Ranch in Colorado, she’s created a small empire of books (including the influential Training Mules and Donkeys: A Logical Approach To Longears), TV shows, charitable programs, and animal welfare and advocacy groups. Her training approach — culled from other equine experts, including Richard Shrake, as well as behavior modification techniques she learned during her time as a psychiatric technician in the ‘70s — includes patience, mutual respect and plenty of oats. It works, and now Hodges is a much sought-after sage for donkey owner woes.
Modern Farmer: How did you get started with donkey training?
Meredith Hodges: I started with my mother’s ranch out in Healdsburg. That was my introduction to mules. I found out real quick that the horsemanship training techniques that I had learned before were just too expedited and not detailed enough [for donkeys].
I thought everything that everyone else does, that [donkeys] were stubborn and don’t want to do things. It took me about three months to realize that they are just simply looking out for themselves. They have a very high sense of self-preservation. They’re extremely intelligent, sure-footed, resistant to disease and when they get into a situation, get tangled into a fence or something, they won’t thrash around but wait quietly to get themselves out of it.
Mules do exactly what you teach them. If you chase them they think they’re in a game and supposed to run away. They think it’s pretty funny. They have a tremendous sense of humor and love to humiliate human beings. We’re pretty foolish, we don’t realize we’re getting sucked into a game here.
MF: How do you get them to do the things you want them to do?
MH: I realized that every equine we were working with would respond and repeat good behaviors when they were rewarded with the oats. I used to feed the animals who go for [pasture] turnout oats in the morning, and when I turned them out for an hour they wouldn’t want to come in from the pasture. I decided to shift the oats to the evening feeding, and as long as the oats were there waiting for them they always come in to the dirt pen. I never had to chase them, it was just, here they come. I thought, there’s something to this.
Earlier this week, Meredith Hodges made a special guest appearance on Jim Swanner’s All About Horses radio show on WKAC, to discuss mules, donkeys, and horses. Click here to listen to the archived show, which airs every Monday at 9:30am on WKAC or streaming online.
Check out Jim Swanner on Facebook and his radio website here!
After two years, we finally finished our latest longears sculpture, a fountain called “Dreaming of Friends” by Robin Laws of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I couldn’t wait to share this with all of you! This piece was done to accommodate the twenty LTR longears (plus one miniature horse) that were not champions and did not have their own commissioned piece. We try not to play favorites here!
Tours are currently closed for the winter season, but make sure to book your visit to see the statue in person in the new year through our website.
Small figurines of the Spuds and Augie topper may be available for public purchase—please contact us for pricing, availability, and more details.
It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our courageous and talented 34-year-old Sire-Supreme, Little Jack Horner (1980 – 2014).
He is survived by hundreds of mule and donkey offspring, leaving an amazing legacy of performance in Gymkhana events, English and Western Pleasure, Trail, Reining, Driving, Dressage Driving, Second Level Dressage and Stadium Jumping to four feet in exhibition. He was an affectionate jack with impeccable manners right to the end. On the eve of his passing, I left him standing like a statue with ears pricked and a fixed stare toward the Rocky Mountains. I glanced over my shoulder and as the sun went down, it cast a halo around his entire body as if God was beckoning him home…I knew in my heart he would not make it through the night…he will be sorely missed!
When breeding for mules, a teaser stallion is needed to get the mares to show heat, as they will not show heat to the jack. In 1988, Lucky Three Ranch needed a good teaser stallion to use in our breeding program, so we began scanning the Colorado countryside for the right horse. I went out to a huge farm in Haxton that had 50 head of assorted horses on 2000 acres. The owner said I could have any of the 20 two-year-old stallions that I could catch. I strapped on my fanny pack full of oats and started walking into the field with horses all around me running away in all directions! It didn’t take long to spot the beautiful dun stallion in the herd galloping, leaping and rearing in the middle of the excited herd. I asked the owner his name and he told me, “Kip!” I hollered and showed him the oats. He immediately stopped what he was doing and began to approach me. He was a bit suspicious and a little shy, but soon came up and took the oats from my hand. “I’ll take this one,” I told the owner. I put on the halter, loaded him easily into the trailer and took him home.
A.Q.H.A. ROM registered, in his first two years here Kip received all the same kind of core muscle conditioning as the other Lucky Three equines, and at three years old began saddle training. When he was four, he became the teaser stallion for Little Jack Horner’s mares. At first, I had Kip and L.J. separated from all the other equines, but they both seemed lonesome, so I decided to see if stallion and jack could be penned next to each other. Lo and behold, my good manners training not only held true between me and the equines, but among the equines themselves as well! Kip and Little Jack Horner were both happier in each other’s company and would even play respectfully with each other over the fence. One day I came out and Kip had jumped into L.J.’s pasture and they were romping around, but clearly not hurting each other at all. I just called Kip, he came and I put him back into his own pen.
I realized then that a lot of the old stories I had heard about stallion management were not necessarily true. Eventually I had to move Little Jack Horner elsewhere during construction, and ran out of space near the other equines for Kip. But he was so stressed in this lonely living situation that he wouldn’t stop running the fence and was losing weight rapidly. I decided to reinforce the fence between a small pasture and the larger pen and pasture where we kept the mares, and put Kip in the small pasture. He calmed right down, and has been there ever since—a complete joy to be around now. Previously, he had been a little rambunctious during the teasing of our mares and the breeding of our neighbor’s mares, but once pastured next to the mares, his entire demeanor immediately changed.
No longer in solitary confinement, he appreciates the company of his girls and is not averse to leaving them to come with us upon request. His manners are always impeccable. He was trained the same way I trained the mules, and to this day, he is a perfect gentleman. I recently posted the first picture in this piece on Facebook and people seemed to think that the dangling lead rope was somehow attached to his feet, hobbling him to make him manageable. No such thing! We were doing some filming for our Equus Revisited manual and DVD and I left the lead rope on him so I could easily grab him when we were finished filming, and not have to fumble with catching him and putting on the halter. The entire film crew was in the background around him while he created his dramatic teasing segment upon command. When we were done, I just called his name and he stopped the drama immediately and waited for me to come and collect his lead rope.
Patience, kindness, respect and good manners go a long way! Your equines will mirror your demeanor and will behave in a confrontational way only if you do. When you treat the relationship with your equine as an equal partnership (with both of you taking turns being the leader), there is no end to what you can learn together and the joy of the relationship deepens with each new experience. It is not unusual for me to go out and stand between Kip and the mares while we all enjoy the “OATS FEST” and each other’s company!
Even though I know how well trained my equines are, they never cease to amaze me! I can be dog tired and know that this is the day they must be groomed, wormed and vaccinated…all thirty of them! The very thought is quite literally exhausting on occasion. Though my staff helps with maintenance doctoring what are now mostly older and geriatric individuals, I still basically train and manage all my equines by myself. When I am tired and a job must be done, I am repeatedly reminded of how well I have done with all of them. All the worry and stress about having to go out and work is washed away the minute I get out to the barn with their never ending affection, interactive neighs and brays and ultimate compliance.
Lucky Three Cyclone is a thirty-one year old, 14.2 hand Arabian mule, the very first mule born here at the Lucky Three Ranch. When he was first born, his mother dropped him on the ground and turned to look at him in total puzzlement. He had long fuzzy ears that she certainly did not recognize that caused Angelique to bolt away from him. Being her very first foal and a mule at that, she was not interested in him at all. I had to restrain her to get her to allow him to nurse. This was his first introduction to LIFE!
Cyclone was trained in English and Western Pleasure, Reining, Second Level Dressage and even carried my185-pound husband over two and eventually three-foot jumps for several years. He was kind of a spooky “Little Feller” as I affectionately called him and he used to scare our farrier half to death when he went to trim the back feet. Cyclone had a ticklish butt, so if you touched him on his behind and he wasn’t expecting it, he would quickly tuck his butt and scoot out of the way. Of course the farrier thought he was getting ready to kick, but he never kicked anyone ever. He was just trying to be polite and get out of the way.
Four years ago, Cyclone began to develop little nodules on his upper left front leg, on the right side of his neck and shoulder, and on his right cheek. The one on the cheek was the largest although with a simple application of Neosporin, they did not seem to be spreading or getting larger until just recently when four more popped up within three months. I was concerned that they could become too numerous to manage if we didn’t at least get a biopsy and find out exactly what we were dealing with. My amazing veterinarian Greg Farrand and I thought they were sarcoids and he later said he had done some research and that they could be “cattle warts” which is another name for certain sarcoids. He too was concerned that they had begun to propagate so quickly all of a sudden so we opted to do a biopsy. I apologize for not having photos of the biopsy surgery for you, but my staff photographer faints at the sight of blood!
We decided to biopsy the one on Cyclone’s cheek since it was the most mature nodule. Rather than sedate him, we opted to give Cy the opportunity to cooperate with our plan. Cyclone loves to give kisses and was busy giving me kisses in exchange for oats just before the surgery. Greg asked if I could get him to hold his head a little higher, so I carefully lifted Cy’s nose to my shoulder and set it there. He affectionately leaned his head into mine where we met eyeball to eyeball. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes as Greg approached with a syringe of Xylocaine to numb the area locally.
As Greg poked and prodded the needle into the nodule, Cy never moved a whisker. I would open my eyes at intervals to find him comfortably relaxed upon my shoulder with not a hint of stress in his body. When Greg walked away to get the scalpel, Cy gave me another kiss and I responded with another handful of oats. Greg returned and began cutting, but Cyclone was still chewing. When Greg said, “It’s a little hard to do this while you’re chewing,” Cy abruptly stopped chewing and again stood stock still, returning his chin back to its place on my shoulder. Greg had to clamp a bleeder vessel, but even that didn’t bother Cy. When that was finished, he again gave me a kiss and I gave him more oats. As soon as Greg approached with his florescent pink stitches, Cyclone again stood like a soldier while Greg carefully stitched up the wound. Another kiss…more oats…and he was happily taken back to his stall. I am so glad I took the time to train slowly and develop this mutually satisfying relationship with all my equines. Being older and much more vulnerable than I was in my youth, I truly appreciate what I have learned from my equines so we can all grow old together and be safe, happy and healthy doing it!
I have been called “the Mule Whisperer,” but I must admit that the mules have been whispering right back at me for over forty years now! Mules have taught me practically everything I know about training equines and for that, I am eternally grateful…and so are the people and their equines who learn from me! I am so proud of my fans and the successful accomplishments they’ve had with their equines! Thank you all for your kind updates and correspondence! Keep up the great work!
My good friend, Tennessee mule artist Bonnie Shields, recently introduced me to sculptor Dennis Page from the Rocking Horse Ranch in Riverton, Utah. Dennis is working on a hand-carved “rocking mule” that is modeled after Bonnie’s ceramic sculpture of Kathleen Conklin’s Champion Driving mule, John Henry. I am so impressed with Dennis’s work that I decided to purchase the wood-sculpted rocker. What an amazing addition it will be to the Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park here at Lucky Three Ranch!
Kathleen Conklin sent me some really nice pictures, his Championship cooler with his name on it, his driving harness and John Henry’s championship ribbons from the finest pleasure driving in the United States – Walnut Hill Farm Driving Competition in Pittsford, New York. These will be on display here at our Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park at Lucky Three Ranch. John Henry (1991-2011) and Kathleen Conklin competed at Walnut Hill for seven years in the Commercial carriage Division. They last showed there in 2010. John Henry died about three weeks before Walnut Hill. In the seven years they were there, John Henry was the only mule on the grounds and he had his own fan club of spectators who came to see him every year. He was Champion or Reserve Champion of the commercial Division six times showing under rated commercial driving judges from England! John Henry and Kathleen had a wonderful time together showing everyone just how great a mule can be…and he was TRULY A GREAT MULE!
Jasper the Mule stops by your TV screen once again this Christmas! Celebrate Christmas with Jasper and all his friends as Jasper: A Christmas Caper airs on Rural TV (Dishnet Channel 232) on Christmas Eve.
It’s the Christmas season and Jasper and his human family are in high spirits as they travel to visit far-away friends a few towns over. When Jasper and his pal, Moxie the dog, get out of the yard and wander down a strange alley, the two friends are headed straight for one big adventure!
Presents disappear, mysterious strangers appear and friends go missing. But junior detectives Jasper and Moxie are on the case. With the clock ticking, Jasper has to use his “mule smarts” to tackle this puzzle of a mystery and put the pieces together before the big parade. But will he solve the mystery in time?
Airing on Rural TV (Channel 232 on Dish Network or check your local listings).
Tuesday, December 24 at 7pm and 11pm ET (4pm and 8pm PT)
If you don’t get Rural TV or miss the airings, all Jasper episodes are also available for rental on demand.
Jasper the Mule returns to your TV screen this holiday season! Celebrate Thanksgiving with Jasper and all his friends as Jasper: A Turkey Tale airs on Rural TV (Dishnet Channel 232) this week.
As the gang prepares for the big Thanksgiving celebration, Jasper the Mule and his pal, Moxie the Dog, are hot on the trail of adventure! A mishap with a truckload of turkeys turns into a real live mystery, as the boys solve the case of “The Beady Eyes in the Bushes!”
When they make a new friend who is lost and alone, Jasper’s mule-y sense of loyalty kicks in and he is determined to help, no matter what. Will Jasper and Moxie save the day? Will their new friend find his “forever home?” All the fun and warmth of Thanksgiving come to life in Jasper: A Turkey Tale.
Airing on Rural TV (Channel 232 on Dish Network or check your local listings)
Monday, November 25 at 7pm ET
Wednesday, November 27 at 7pm and 11pm ET
If you don’t get Rural TV or miss the airings, all Jasper episodes are also available for rental on demand.
To the untrained eye, “Caramelo’s” performance might seem quite amazing! However, to those of us who know the elements of dressage training, it is evident that this jack is not doing all these amazing movements correctly. The saddle has not been placed properly over his center of balance, so the rider is putting undue stress on his front quarters. This is why you can see over-development in the neck and shoulders while the hindquarters show some comparative weakness. The rider’s position is actually prohibiting correct engagement from the hindquarters.
It is evident that Caramelo’s temperament is outstanding to be able to attempt all these moves and perform them for his handler obediently though incorrect. Because the movements are not originating from the hindquarters and ample time has not been initially taken to develop good forward impulsion with regard to rhythm, regularity and cadence, the joints and muscles in his body are being compromised and will show wear and tear as he ages. Through the movements, he is exhibiting obedience, but is very tense throughout his body.
In the Spanish Walk, Caramelo’s hind legs are coming in a split second behind the front legs and he is thus, not able to push the front legs into the uphill balance that would be a more impressive display. His body carriage is on the forehand at all three gaits and his lateral work is wobbly. Caramelo is obviously moving away from the whip in the Spanish Walk and when asked by the handler from the ground to pick up the hind feet, the handler is tapping the hind feet backwards instead of forward. The jumps he did were not initiated from the hindquarters and were therefore more of an uncontrolled launch over what should have been an easy and graceful jump. There are many more things wrong with this performance that tell me that this handler does not understand how much time and effort it takes to cultivate a strong body in good balance and posture for the movements that are being asked of him.
With proper dressage training, it took two years just to establish a good working trot with our own Little Jack Horner when he was in his prime. After establishing good forward impulsion, regularity, rhythm and cadence at all three gaits, two more years of practice insured that his lengthenings and lateral movements were done in an uphill balance with his hindquarters fully engaged.
When little Jack Horner was retired at twenty years old, he was beginning to “offer” the more complicated movements of half pass and pirouettes. He became the only formal jumping donkey to clear four feet in exhibition while jumping with the alacrity and grace of a hunter. Had I opted to continue with him, it would have taken several more years to develop these kinds of movements and many more years to go beyond to piaffe and passage as I did with Lucky Three Sundowner, Little Jack Horner’s mule half brother.
Though impressive at first sight to the untrained eye, I am making this post to warn people of the dramatic effects that incorrect and hurried training can have on the equine’s body. Be patient, take your time to do things correctly and the joy you will experience will genuinely include the health and longevity of your equine companion! Today, Little Jack Horner maintains good health with no physical problems. He and I still enjoy each other’s company at his ripe old age of 33!
The Telly Award statuette is produced by the company that makes the Oscar and Emmy awards. They receive over 13,000 entries annually from some of the finest agencies and corporations in the world, so it is a remarkable achievement to be selected for recognition by their judging committee. The Silver Telly Council is comprised of many top industry professionals, including past winners of the Silver Telly, which is their highest honor. We previously received Silver Tellys in 2005 and 2007 for the “Lucky Three Ranch” and “Walk On” episodes from our documentary series, Those Magnificent Mules.
We’re proud of you, Jasper! Make sure that you’re part of the fun by checking out all of Jasper’s adventures On Demand!