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Since I now have 16 equines, 3 donkeys, 12 mules and a miniature horse, it is not always convenient to bring them all up to the Tack Barn work station for grooming. I used to have 32 equines! As I get older, I find myself a lot busier (One would think it would be the other way around…LOL!). I am glad I have less animals to groom each week! My show days have long since passed, so I limit the training to those who need core strength tune-ups and simple pleasure rides around the ranch. Forunately, my routine way of management and training resulted in good behaviors and a willingness to comply with my wishes. Sometimes, to save time, I just fill a bucket with my grooming tools (Plastic human hairbrush, Johnson’s Baby oil, clippers, Cool Lube, scissors for ergots, Neosporin and Tri-Tech 14 fly spray) and groom them in turnout areas, or in the stalls and runs. I call them to the gate, give them a reward for coming and begin my routine grooming.
I start by clipping their bridle paths in the summer and fall. This keeps them from getting over-heated. I will let their bridle paths grow out in the winter and spring to keep the warmth within their bodies. Grooming gives them great pleasure when it is done correctly and politely!
They are always rewarded for cooperating during grooming, so they hang around and don’t wander off. I even reward the ones in the neighboring pens to reinforce “handing out.” I always clean ears, eyes and nostrils, and will do this daily with donkeys that typically have runny eyes. It isn’t their favorite, but they will tolerate it for the crimped oats reward! They all like to SUPERVISE the grooming of each other! They are pretty funny! It makes our time together very enjoyable!
I use my multi-bristled, plastic human hairbrush both to apply the lightly-sprinkled Johnson’s baby oil AND to go over their bodies as they are shedding. It gets all the way to the roots, flips out the dirt, and promotes a well-aerated, healthy hair coat. When the coats are short, I can use a dandy brush, or bring them up for vacuuming with yearly baths in July.
A common practice is to braid manes and tails to get them to grow longer. I have found that this will often cause the hair to break. Plus, it is difficult for the animals to swat flies with braided manes and tails. Quite simply put, it hurts! I use Johnson’s Baby oil during weekly grooming, sprinkled in the manes and tails. It does a good job of protecting the hair and doesn’t get as greasy as you might think. The day before a show, I bathe them with water only over the body and scrape off the dirt with a shedding blade. I only use Tres Semme shampoo and Aussie #X conditioner in the manes and tails. If I am going to show them, I let the manes and tails partially dry and braid them for overnight. When you take out the braids the next day, their manes and tails will be much fuller! Even the thinner and wilder manes on mules will respond positively to this treatment.
Lots of my animals are older and have issues with runny eyes. If I am not showing them, I will “cut their bangs” to keep the hair from irritating their eyes. Even when showing, I can trim the bangs so they aren’t cut straight across and look funny.
The minis are much calmer when I try to stay down at their level whenever possible. I gather the excess hair and remove it from the areas where I groom. If they decide to eat it, it could cause impactions. Better to be safe than sorry!
Although they are all fine with fly spray, this time, I am going to take pictures for this article so I am haltering them and tying to the fence. Then I will just go down the line and fly spray them all at once. They are very willing to stand the way I position them for the pictures. When I am done, I release them! Grooming is FUN!!!
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.
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On November 22nd, of 2021, I posted, on my MEREDITH HODGES PUBLIC FIGURE Facebook page, information about how to maintain your tack and equipment, and how to keep a neat and tidy tack room. There were a lot of comments about it and many people indicated that they thought it would be easy if you had the staff that I have.
Just for the record, when it comes to my equines and their tack and equipment, I do most of the work myself. My TWO guys do clean the stalls and runs daily, and the larger dirt pens weekly when the animals are overnighted there, and they do feed in the mornings, midday and evenings. TWO of my girls take care of the inside and external cleaning of the multiple buildings that we have, and they condition the tack and equipment as needed, but mostly every three months because we clean things as we use them.
My THIRD girl assists me in the office checking the website and Social Media connections, making Social Media posts (with the exception of Facebook that I do myself), editing articles, advertising and the newsletter, fulfilling orders and MUCH more. TWO of the girls and I film and take photos of EVERYTHING we do so we have material for our posts, articles, video Training Tips and Documentaries. We put these together with our TWO remote videographers and we have ONE remote graphics artist that also assists with publications. Our JASPER MASCOT also doubles as a website tech person. So, we have a VERY SMALL staff to cover all the work that we do. We are prompt in doing what we do because we want to provide all of you the information that you need to have the same success with your equines that we have with ours. In this post, I will address how I efficiently keep all 17 of my equines clean and healthy.
I find that when you have a regular weekly grooming routine along with good environment cleaning practices, the animals do not seem to get as dirty as they would otherwise. Spring is obviously the most intensive time of the year because of mud and shedding, but during other times of the year, grooming can go quickly. During the summer months, they have short hair coats and will only need to have bridle paths trimmed, faces, ears and nostril cleaned, Johnson’s Baby oil in the manes and tails, Neosporin for any cuts and scratches, and a quick go-over with the Dandy brush. Since I keep them barefoot with regular trims every 6-8 weeks, they rarely need their feet cleaned. I carry the grooming tools in a bucket and visit them wherever they happen to be, either in their stalls or in turnout. Because they are all taught the same manners, they come to me and line up for their turn wherever they are.
We have had good weather this fall, but with the lack of moisture, they are all pretty dusty. Since we are using my Tack Barn as an art studio and getting the BELLE, JASPER, MOXIE & KYLIE bronzes ready to be cast for their placement in our newest project, the OLDE WESTERN TOWN OF ASSPEN here at the ranch, I opted to vacuum everyone in the alleyway of the barn.
The first thing I did was to have them exit their stalls and be tied in the alleyway. I brought in Augie, Spuds and Billy from their barn and added them to the eight mules from the South Barn. As I retrieve them, I ALWAYS open the door, ask them to come to me, reward them and then put on their halter. They learn to stand quietly and will not exit the stall until I give them permission to do so.
So I can be hands-free with the halter, I will often allow them to eat their reward directly from the fanny pack of crimped oats that I ALWAYS wear around my waist. If they get pushy, I will say, “NO!” and put my hand up like a stop sign and ask them to back off. If that doesn’t work, a quick slap to the side of their mouth after they have been asked does work. Consistency in MY behavior is key!
They have all been introduced to the vacuum cleaner and stand quietly while I go from one to the next. If they start picking at each other, I just holler the name of the perpetrator and say “NO!” VERY LOUDLY! They always stop because they know the next thing is a pop on the rump from me!
I am always aware of each animal, but I do not “move over” for them. I ask them to “move over” for ME. Then they are rewarded with crimped oats. Once they learn, for instance, that I need to return the vacuum to its spot, and that they will all get rewarded for standing quietly, they give me my space as I work around them, even during rolling up the extension cords!
Since I have so many animals, I do have to refill the fanny pack often, so I keep a full bucket available in a convenient spot for refills. Once they are all vacuumed, I ten move down the line and wipe everyone’s faces. They get their eyes, ears and noses cleaned thoroughly. They quickly learn to accept the process and then I reward them once they are all done. When I do them individually before riding, I will reward each immediately after each task. When they are all together, they will behave better when they have to wait to be rewarded when they are ALL done with each task. Then I go down the line and sprinkle Johnson’s baby oil in all their manes and tails and reward their good behavior when that is all done.
My 28 year old mule, Merlin, poked his eye on a tree branch when he was a yearling. I opted not to have his eye removed, so we have been treating it for 27 years. We keep him in a fly mask all the time to keep the dirt and debris from irritating it. Twice a day face wiping keeps it sanitary and it is easy enough to do at feeding time. We just carry a wet rag with us when we see him.
When they are all done, I lead them back to their stall, send them in while I stay at the door and ask them to turn back to me for their reward. As they chew their reward, I remove the halter and bid them a fond farewell!
With the 11 mules and mini donkeys finished in the South Barn, I next go to the North Barn to repeat the process with the remaining six animals, two Large Standard Donkeys (Wrangler & Chasity), a miniature mule (Francis), a miniature horse (Mirage) and two saddle mules (Jubilee & Brandy).
Again, I ask them to come to ME, give them their reward and then halter them as the chew. They are all happy to stand still until I tell them they can walk out the door.
I repeat the whole process with the vacuum cleaner and again, they have all been trained to accept it, so they stand quietly and happily. I do believe that they really DO enjoy being cleaned…even if they do go back and roll almost immediately…LOL!
Then comes the face-wiping followed by the Johnson’s Baby oil in the manes and tails. I do not cut their bridle paths in the winter. It gets very cold here and I don’t want them to lose heat from their bodies.
Then it is time for them to be returned to their stalls. I have two rescues (re-trains) in this group and they watch intently as the old troopers enter their stalls and behave impeccably!
When Chasity was returned to her stall, I asked her to walk through the narrow space between my truck and the wall of the barn. My assistant was filming from the bed of the truck and as I said earlier, we do not move over for them! Chasity walked quietly through the narrow space, did not rush or push me, but followed obediently. She was sent into her stall, turned around and got her reward. Then, it was Wrangler’s turn.
Francis is a mini mule that I got 10 years ago and to this day, she is still suspicious of humans, but is learning to trust. She can be fully groomed in her stall with no halter, but she can become quite a handful when outside the stall. Her natural reaction is to bolt and run any time she get the chance. When I return her to her stall, I set her up for success by looping the end of her lead rope around the stall bar so if she does bolt, she won’t be able to pull the lead rope from my hand and will be forced to turn around and face me. She didn’t even try to bolt this time, kept the rope loose and returned to me for her reward. Then I went and got Mirage, our 26-year-old miniature horse, and returned him to his stall. The grooming of all 17 animals only took me 2 hours! Organized practices and teaching good manners makes all the difference!
By Meredith Hodges
Longears thrive with a routine management and training program. Their performance and longevity is greatly increased. Sir Lancelot is now a 27-year-old ranch mule that has had the benefit of my management and training protocol. Done over two years when he was much younger, the result of his postural core strength leading exercises, lunging, ground driving and later riding in my postural “Elbow Pull” self-correcting restraint is apparent in his youthful enthusiastic attutude and body structure. Since, I did not show Lance, I had no need to make the transition from the Eggbutt snaffle bit to the curb bit. He was extremely responsive in the snaffle bit all these years. Today, we are going to make the transition to the curb bit and document it as an addition to our training series.
Lance executes the gate perfectly! He stands quietly while I put on the “Elbow Pull with the curb bit that conveniently has a crosspiece connecting the two ends of the shanks where I can run it through (instead of running it through the snaffl rings as I did in the snaffle bridle). Commonly, the equine will raise his head during his first introducion to the curb bit. Lunging in the “Elbow Pull” will remind him of his good posture with the addition of the new bit.
Lance starts to raise his head, but almost immediately resumes his good posture. The “Elbow Pull” goes loose and he moves out nicely at the trot.
The canter poses no problem at all. Lance stands quietly after being called to halt while I change lungeline to the new side of his face.
Lance remains on the arc of the circle with a squeeze from closing my fist as his outside front leg comes into suspension, maintaining his balance and bending correctly through his rib cage as he first learned in the Round Pen.
Lance steps well underneath his body and maintains the critical upward balance intiated by hind quarter engagement.
Lance waits patiently as I roll up the lunge line, remove the “Elbow Pull” and then follows me obediently to the gate.
The mounting block was new, but he didn’t mind! He knows how to stand still. He followed my seat easily around the first turn, bending appropriately through his rib cage while staying erect in his posture around the cone.
I kept my hands in front of the saddle horn. On the straight lines I alternated leg pressure from side to side. Through the turns, I lightly squeezed/released the direct rein while continuously nudging the opposite side with leg pressure from my leg. Otherwise, I kept my hands quiet. Lance remained in good equine posture.
I verbally counted to Lance as he negotiated the Hourglass Pattern. On straight lines, I matched my alternate leg pressure with the verbal command, “One-Two, One-Two…” and on the turns, I matched the one-sided leg pressure with, “Two-two, Two-Two…” He halted with his hind quarters still engaged.
Lance kept his mouth quiet and responded well to my leg pressure with hardly any movement necessary on the reins. We finished with a bow (He really likes to bow!)! He then stoood quietly and waited for my next cue.
Lance was so proud of himself! When you take the time to break things down into very small steps so your intent is clear and concise to your equine, it is easy to successfully make the transition from one thing to the next during training, even when going from the snaffle bit to the curb while maintaining the same light and responsive contact with your equine’s mouth. Although it may take more time, the journey and the end result is much more relaxed and enjoyable. One learns to appreciate the “little” victories along the way. In turn, our equines appreciate US because they know in no uncertain terms that we have their best interest at heart and are the ones that keep them healthy and comfortable. This makes for a deep and abiding, everlasting partnership!