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By Meredith Hodges
In the beginning, my home, Lucky Three Ranch was a 10-acre sheep ranch with a small house and hay barn, an old Quonset hut, a feed barn, four three-sided sheds, and a perimeter fence made from sheep fencing with barbed wire on top. It was crossed-fenced around the sheds with some heavily chewed board fences and anything else the previous owner thought could be used for fencing. I’d already had experience with horses, but it wasn’t until my first mule, Lucky Three Sundowner and my first donkey jack, Little Jack Horner, finally arrived at the new Lucky Three Ranch that my lessons with Longears really began!
One of the first things I found out about Longears is that they are incredible artists, and they will “sculpt” anything and everything they can get their teeth, rumps or hooves on! My Longears immediately set to work sculpting the posts on three sheds that were near the house and the fence posts around them. We tried everything to get this to stop, but to no avail, and in three short years, we ended up with posts that were no bigger than toothpicks in some places and marvelously contoured from top to bottom, into all kinds of remarkable shapes. We hated to put a cramp in our mules’ artistic style but, clearly, the wooden posts and sheds had to be replaced.
By now, we had bred three more mules, so while we were working on replacing the three sheds, we put the whole herd of mules and mares into a five-acre pasture. One day, while we were working on the new sheds, the whole herd suddenly showed up behind us! Apparently, one of our equines had pulled a “Houdini,” opening the gate and letting everyone out of the pasture. Being the affectionate and curious animals they are, our Longears (and horses) then decided they’d better come see if we needed any help.
When we rounded up the herd and took them back to the pasture, we almost fell over! The herd had sculpted all three support posts on the last existing shed that was in the pasture, so it now looked just like the other three sheds we had just replaced!
With all this creative woodworking going on, we realized the new barn would have to be made of steel. We built a 14-stall, Port-A-Stall barn with steel panels in the runs, and stall floors six inches higher than the floor of the barn alleyway to help keep it from flooding. We added four inches of pea gravel in the runs for good drainage but, after several seasons, the runs on the north side of the barn began to get soft and muddy again and more pea gravel was needed. Rather than doing the runs one run at a time, the seven mules on the north side of the barn were turned out, and we took down only the panels on the north side, so the delivery truck could dump the pea gravel directly on the site. The remaining mules on the south side of the barn were left in their stalls and runs.
It took us all day long to take down the panels, and by the end of the day, we were pretty exhausted. The truck would be bringing the additional pea gravel the next day, so we wrapped up the chores and went to bed. What I didn’t know was that Lucky Three Eclipse (aka “Ely” in the last stall on the south side) had been watching us all day long through the openings in the barn doors. When we came out in the morning, we found that Ely had pulled the pins from the side panels, and by putting his head through the bars of each panel, had arranged them into a huge pen for himself that ran the full length of the barn, trapping the other mules and the stallion in their stalls! Now that the south side pens were also opened up, we decided to use the first truckload of pea gavel on the south side pens and ordered yet another load of pea gravel for the north side pens. After we got the pea gravel in place on the south side, we put the panels back where they belonged, freeing the other mules and stallion on the south side from their stalls. We then put Ely back where he belonged in his stall and pen on the far end, finished the north side pens, returned all the mules from the north side of the barn back into their stalls and runs, and finally got things settled down. I can guarantee you we all had a new appreciation for Ely’s ingenuity!
We spent the next several years taking down barbed wire, mending old field fences and replacing the old sheds with steel Port-A-Stall sheds, replacing cross fences with vinyl, building two more steel barns and lining our indoor arena with steel. As we all know, Longears are very intelligent, and they will use their “smarts” to figure out a way to simplify a task. If you want to step over a fence but it’s a little too high, what do you do? Well, if you’re a mule, you sit on it to push it down, and then you can step over it. Although the horse fencing we used to replace the sheep fencing was fairly high, my Longears still managed to sit on the middle of it, bowing it out into incredible, irregular shapes…after they had first shorted out the hotwire, of course. This was their daily ritual. Maybe they had a crew meeting first thing every morning and planned how they’d do it. Who knows?
But to this day, I still don’t know how they shorted out the hotwire! One thing my Longears have taught me through our years together is that, if you are going to have mules, you’d better learn to have a good sense of humor or you will never survive their pranks! We learned to drill holes in the posts for a hotwire across the top of the new vinyl fencing and that worked very well, but that was only after they had removed all the vinyl rails from the fence overnight. They were delighted that I had given them their own “Tinker Toy” set. They never left the pen, although they could have! Each time our mules have made “art,” pulled pranks, or managed amazing escapes, we learned how to improve our system and materials, until finally upgrading to an all-steel facility with vinyl fencing topped with a relatively inaccessible hotwire. Now we no longer need to worry about what the mules and donkeys might do…until the next time. (PLEASE don’t tell Ely I said that!)
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, 2015, 2016, 2018 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
In the past, when equines ran free, they were unencumbered by human interaction and could build and condition their muscles naturally. Today, with increased population but reduced open lands, their activity is often restricted. It then becomes our responsibility to not only train them, but to prepare them physically to perform and keep them happy in their environment. This responsibility becomes even more important when we ask them to exert more energy than normal, in activities like long trail rides, endurance events, showing and equine-related work. Proper preparation for this modern-day lifestyle will help to minimize your equine’s stress, both physically and mentally.
Natural Horsemanship techniques, based on the equine’s natural behavior and status as a prey animal, promote an awareness we often overlook. They give us a wonderful way to learn how to connect with the equine mentally and communicate with him using our own verbal and body language. Many people get intimidated simply by the equine’s size. These techniques instill a sense of confidence and understanding, and without them, fewer people would take an interest in these animals and want to learn how to interact with them. A relationship with an equine can be incredibly satisfying, and equine companionship can enhance any life. This is why therapeutic riding programs for the disabled, at-risk youth, and those with other physical and mental disabilities are so successful.
Understanding the equine’s natural evolution and behaviors can help us give him what he needs to thrive in captivity. It would be nice if we could provide a habitat akin to what the wild equine used to enjoy: room to run, with an abundance of soft dirt and occasional hard ground under his feet. Unfortunately, today’s equine must deal with a multitude of unfamiliar challenges, including extreme activities, exposure to crowds of people, and more prolonged exposure to hard surfaces such as asphalt and cement, not withstanding the sometimes unrealistic demands that we put on him.
Understanding the prey-predator responses can help to guide us in the training of our equines, but because of the change in the environment, it shouldn’t completely define our training methods. The prey animal that is uncomfortable with making direct eye contact with the human “predator,” for instance, is virtually trapped in a confined environment in which he has no control and can therefore become anxious and difficult to handle. We are taught not to make eye contact with him until he is willing to face us. We are taught to “chase” him in a round pen until he does.
When he finally gains the confidence to approach, we are then taught to disengage his hind quarters and keep him at bay so he doesn’t breach “our space.” This can be very confusing to any intelligent being because you are telling him to “come” and then to “go away!” And, we are handicapping him by disengaging his survival ability for flight. His response over time is to give in, but under these circumstances, he will not always to learn to trust.
The equine’s natural flight reflex is strong and takes him away from conflict. However, when man intercedes without taking into consideration the physical, mental and emotional needs of the equine, it can result in resistance wherein the equine is trapped into conflict. He is then labeled disobedient and often punished for that perceived disobedience. For instance, the equine that is “trapped” on a lunge line and asked to reverse toward the handler will inadvertently be improperly set up to take the new trotting diagonal, or the new lead at canter, from a position that actually “tangles” his hind legs and causes him to fumble into the new diagonal or lead. This mistake can become painful and even detrimental to the stifles as he jumps out of the entanglement and can cause resistant behaviors which are often punished on top of the physical pain he is already experiencing.
The equine body needs to be properly prepared for his athletic endeavors, as does any athlete. We prepare our human athletes with exercises that address muscle groups throughout the whole body before they actually play the games to avoid acute injury to muscle groups that are not normally used in the game. Why would we not give our equines this same consideration? Teaching the reverse in the beginning should always be done in the round pen where you can ask him to turn away from you, which will set up his hind legs properly for the new direction and strengthen his body symmetrically in good equine posture. Once he has established good equine posture and balance over a long period of time doing appropriate exercises, he will then be better able to efficiently reverse towards you on the lunge line by changing direction from a position of balance rather than an awkward imbalance.
Despite the varied differences in personalities and approach, the one thing that we can all learn to do is to communicate with respect, set clear boundaries and apply good manners in order to make friends when we accept their true nature, respect it, understand it and negotiate rather than “command.” It really is that simple, although training ourselves to be that way isn’t always simple. Animals do this with each other all the time, but they are clear communicators where we humans are not always clear in our intent. That is why you will often see animals of completely different species getting along with each other, whether prey or predator.
By setting up our equine’s environment so he is able to relax, and by behaving in a polite, respectful and considerate way, the equine can learn to respond more appropriately. When we pay close attention to the healthy development of his body and provide the right kinds of exercises to strengthen his core muscles in good equine posture, we can ultimately gain the trust and respect from the equine that we need for him to deal with all situations and obstacles the same way every time—to trust and look to us for guidance before reacting. Everything that we do for him should make him feel good, and that is what real friends are for! The equine will bond to the person who trains him, so make sure you are honestly engaged with your equine.
Be a true leader and learn to set boundaries for your equine with appropriate corrections for bad behaviors (which can be found on our website and in our products). Make these corrections quickly and then immediately return to a clear definition of what you expect and make sure that it is easily doable for your equine at each step. Every animal on the planet will correct another’s misbehaving with a very clear and undeniable gesture that will stop the abuser promptly in their tracks. Take note. This is not abusive, but rather a very clear communication of what’s right and what’s clearly wrong. In fact, in the case of the mule attacking the puma that has circulated the internet for the past few years, it was clearly a case of the mule engaging in the hunt with his human “friend.” So, who is really prey and who is predator in this particular scenario? Sometimes we just need to change our perception or understanding of things and deny all-encompassing generalizations and stereotypes.
Reward good behaviors as per the laws of Behavior Modification, or “appropriate reward system training.” The oats reward that we use ensures that the good behaviors will be repeated and will become the animal’s new natural way of being. In the practice of true Behavior Modification, all five senses should be employed: sight, hearing (voice), smell, touch and taste. These are all innate ways to communicate effectively. Any distractions should be eliminated when communicating with your equine—put away the electronic devices, clickers and loud whips, and avoid abrupt noises.
The way that you manage and train your equine can be set up in a logical, sequential and predictable routine that your equine can rely on thereby dispelling his anxiety and maximizing his trust in you. Exercises that prepare his body slowly and over a long period of time to carry a rider ensure that he will not overexert or compromise muscles that could otherwise become sore, or worse. Interaction with him that is more conversational using the five senses will elicit a more conversational response from your equine, developing a close relationship comprised of negotiation and mutual respect where both partners participate on equal ground. We spend 12 years preparing our children to become responsible adults. How could it effectively take much less for our equines to learn to live and work in their new and more crowded environment? If you have any doubts about the real success of this kind of approach, you need only visit the Lucky Three Ranch where we all make direct eye contact with each other and see the results for yourself! When our equines are spooked into flight, they run towards us, then stop and ask, “What do we do now?!”
For more information about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive correspondence training program, Training Mules and Donkeys, please visit www.LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Also, find Meredith Hodges and Lucky Three Ranch on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t forget to check out her children’s website at www.JasperTheMule.com.
© 2016, 2019 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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.