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MULE CROSSING: Assessing Your Equine

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By Meredith Hodges

Just like humans, all equines have different personalities. They’re not cookie cutters and should not all be treated the same way, so observe your equine whenever possible and see what he naturally likes to do, and then adjust your training program accordingly. Although each animal must go through the same kind of basic training to make sure he is building good core muscle strength in balance and good posture, he will have his own way of learning, so your presentation of the tasks may differ from one animal to the next. When you have multiple animals, treat each one of them like he’s your favorite.

Before you invest a lot of time and effort deciding whether to continue training your equine or that he will be happier as part of the stud barn, take the time to evaluate his athletic potential. The principles discussed in this article—which are applicable to donkeys, mules or horses—were developed by my mentor, the renowned resistance-freehorse trainer, Richard Shrake.

First, let’s look at conformation. It goes without saying that your equine should appear wellbalanced and in good proportion, with flat knees and smooth joints. He should be free of unsoundness. There are published standards on most breeds, or you can pick up a good 4-H manual or a judging manual to give you an idea of what the ideal is for each breed with regard to conformation

Next, we’ll look at body measurements that are used to gauge your equine’s athletic ability. These measurements will help you assess the kinds of activities for which your animal is best suited, so you can plan whether or not to take his training beyond the basics.

Begin with a six-foot piece of baling twine or string. The first measurement is from the poll to the middle of the withers. Then measure from the middle of the withers to the loin at the base of the rump. If these measurements are the same, you have a balanced animal that will be able to perform with more ease. If the neck is slightly longer, he will still be athletic because the head and neck are used for balance. But if the neck measurement is shorter, it will be difficult for your equine to balance through certain movements and transitions during all activities.

Next, measure your equine around the throatlatch. Then measure around the collar from the withers to the chest at the point of shoulder and back to the withers. This measurement should be twice that of the throatlatch, which indicates that your equine will be better able to flex at the poll,making him easier to collect and bring into the correct framefor optimum performance.

Now measure the top of the neck from poll to withers and the bottom of the neck from throatlatch to chest. The top line should be 1.5times that of the bottom, enabling your animal to perform nice, soft movements during all activities. A “u-necked”animal cannot bend properly and will never be able to achieve good collection in balance and good posture. His neck and back will be hollow, making it difficult for him to efficiently carry a rider, which can result in future soundness problems.

Next, measure the equine’s legs from the elbow to the coronet band, and then from the stifle to the coronet band. Both measurements will be the same in an evenly
balanced animal. This means he will be a good pleasure prospect, with smooth movements at the walk and trot. If he’s a bit longer in front, he will be a good prospect for Reining, jumping or Dressage because his trot and canter will be smooth,with greater impulsion from the hindquarters with an uphill balance.  An animal that is higher in the rear will find it difficult to balance, so he’s probably not going to be a good athletic prospectbecause the weight will be unevenly dumped on his front quarters.

Ideally, your prospect should also be graced with 45-degreeangles at shoulder and hip,and with the same angle at his pasterns. This ideal angle will result in softer gaits and transitions, whereas a straighter hip and shoulder will result in abrupt transitions and a rougher ride. The higher the angle (90+ degrees), the longer the stride will be; and the shorter the angle (90- degrees), the shorter and quicker the stride.

Now let’s see how your prospect moves. Stick a piece of masking tape at the point of his hip as a visual reference point. Ask someone to assist you by trotting your equine on a lead as you watch the way he moves. Does his hock reach underneath and pass in front of the tape? If it does, his hindquarters will support strenuous athletic movements, his transitions will be more fluid and smoother, and his head and neck will stay level. If his hock does not reach underneath him sufficiently, he will be out of balance and must raise his head and neck through transitions.

Finally, ask the person assisting you to lead your equine while you watch him walk through smooth sand. Does his hind hoof fall into the track made by his front hoof? If he is exact, he is graced with the smooth, fluid way of going of a world-class pleasure animal. If he over-reaches the track, he has wonderful hindquarter engagement and you may have a candidate for Reining,Dressageor jumping. If he under-reaches the track, he is out of balance, causing him to raise his headand neck. He will have difficultythrough transitions and movements, which will undoubtedly make him unsuitable for advanced athletic activities.

These measurements can be quite helpful in determining your animal’s athletic future, and they can be trusted because the laws of physics are at work. But there is more to being a great athlete than just conformation. You must also assess at the personality of each individual animal. Again—these principles apply to mules, donkeys and horses.

First, let’s look at your animal’s trainability. One of the benefits of owning a registered animal is that you will have plenty of background information regarding his gene pool. Some lines are famous for being smart, athletic and good-natured. Some are known as being high-strung and nervous, perhaps making them inappropriate for certain riders. Plan to do your research before you look at a prospective animal being sold by a private owner or at an auction.

There are some practical tests you can do to help you assess an animal’s trainability. First, ask the person assisting you to hold your equine’s lead rope while you pick up a handful of sand, and then trickle the sand through your fingers near your animal’s head. Does he turn and look at you? If so, this is a good indication that he is interested in what you’re doing, which usually means he will be more trainable than an animal that ignores you.

The next test is to run your finger lightly from your equine’s girth, across the barrel to the flank. Do this on both sides. Does he tolerate this with little movement, or does he twitch and even flinch? This test will give you an idea of how he will react to your legs when you are riding. (The animal that is less touchy will be the one who learns your cues most efficiently, whereas the one that flinches is more likely to overreact.)

Now stand at your animal’s shoulder and gently put your hand over his nose, and then ask him—with a gentle squeeze and release action from your fingers—to bend his head and neck toward you. Do this on both sides. Does he bring his nose around easily or do you feel resistance? If he gives easily, it is a good indication that he is submissive and will be willing to learn more quickly.

The final check is a simple test to assess your equine’s reaction under pressure. Ask the person assisting you to hold the lead rope while you make an abrupt move, such as jumping and flapping your arms. What is your equine’s reaction? If he tries to run off, he’s probably not the best candidate for equine sports such as Side Saddle or driving, which require a steady animal. On the other hand, if he stops to look at you and tries to figure out what you’re doing, he may be a really great candidate for advanced training.

When you go through the basic exercises on the lead line and in the drivelines, there may be times when you experience resistance from your equine. Think of your animal’s resistance as a red flag that could be telling you that you either need to reassess your approach and consider a different path to the same end, or that you may simply need to break a current action down into smaller and more understandable steps. Don’t get caught up in the blame game (“It’s his fault, not mine.”) and lose your temper just because things aren’t going the way you expected. If, instead, you adopt the attitude that your equine is trying to communicate with you and that, when you meet with resistance, it is your responsibility to change what you are doing, you can avoid a lot of frustration during training and things will go more smoothly between the two of you.

And remember, just because a certain approach worked with one equine doesn’t mean it will work the same way with a different equine, so treat each animal as an individual and stay on your toes. Equines are as diverse in their personalities as humans and each individual may have a different way of learning from one to the other. Look at training as the cultivation of the relationship you want to have with each individual animal and adjust your own actions accordingly.

Keep in mind that, regardless of conformation and trainability, when you do the right kinds of exercises toward good posture and balance in their correct order—and with adequate time spent at each stage—and adjust your approach to the training of each individual, the result will be that your equine will feel much more comfortable. He will recognize your efforts on his behalf and, as he progresses, training will come more easily for both of you.

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 FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2014, 2016 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

MCOwningEquinePT 2

MULE CROSSING: Owning an Equine Is Serious Business, Part 4

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By Meredith Hodges

 

In the final part of this article, the ins and outs of riding precautions and safety will be pinpointed, along with many other crucial details and tips that will help you become not only a better rider, but a better, more understanding equine owner.

As previously discussed, it is human nature to want to just get in the saddle and ride and do all of the glamorous, exciting things with a newly purchased equine that we see others do. The good riders make riding look so easy, and there’s a reason for that—they’re good equine owners. They make sure that their equine is comfortable in what he is learning, they painstakingly go through the training processes for as long as it takes, and caution, safety and courtesy are always top priorities.

 

 

Here is a checklist to go through each time BEFORE you ride:

  • When you mount your equine, do it in an open area away from buildings, fences and other animals.
  • Mount with deliberate grace and don’t just plop yourself onto his back.
  • After riding, take the reins over your equine’s head, always being careful to clear his ears.
  • Run up your stirrup irons on English saddles when you dismount.
  • If your equine is energetic, lunge him before riding.
  • Know the proper use of spurs and crops and don’t use them until you’re sure that you really need them.
  • Keep small animals under control around your equine.
  • Wear protective gear when riding and if you ride at night make sure to have the proper reflectors and keep to the walk.
  • Never ride off until ALL riders are mounted and, when mounted, never rush past other equines. If you need to pass, keep it to the walk.
  • When riding in a group in an open area, you can ride abreast, but when you are riding single file, always keep an equine’s-length between you and the animal ahead of you.
  • While riding, maintain a secure seat and stay in control of your equine at all times.
  • Don’t ride in the open until you are familiar with the equine you are riding.
  • If your equine becomes frightened, use your voice first to try to calm him. If necessary, dismount and politely introduce him to whatever is spooking him. When he calms down, you can remount.
  • When riding, always watch for small children and animals.
  • Hold your equine to a walk going up and down inclines, and NEVER fool around while riding.

(NOTE: I don’t recommend riding along paved roads at all these days. Although you and your equine may be in control, motorists don’t always pay attention while they are driving—which can lead to disaster.)
If you must ride along a road:

  • Do not ride bareback, use good judgment, ride single file and ALWAYS use a bridle.
  • If there are two or more riders, be sure to maintain sufficient space between equines.
  • Avoid heavy traffic, but if you must be in heavy traffic, dismount and lead your animal.
  • When riding on the shoulder of a road, remain alert for debris.
  • Always obey ALL traffic laws and ride with the traffic, not against it.

When trail riding, here are some important tips to remember:

  • If you are an unskilled equestrian, be sure you are riding an equine that is well trained.
  • Do not engage in practical jokes or horseplay along the trail.
  • Stay alert and think ahead while you ride, and avoid dangerous situations whenever possible.
  • Be courteous when riding on a trail. If you meet someone on a narrow incline and cannot pass safely, the one who is coming down the trail should back up the trail to a wider spot when possible.
  • Ride a balanced seat and don’t just let your equine wander along or graze while on the trail.
  • If you ride alone, tell someone where you will be and bring a cell phone in your pocket—but ALWAYS keep it turned off while riding your equine—any cell phone noise could easily frighten him, possibly causing a major disaster.
  • If you are going for an overnight ride, bring a halter and lead, hobbles, clean saddle blankets, horseshoe nails and matches, and make sure your equipment is all in good repair.
  • Don’t offer water to your equine while he is hot and sweaty. Let him cool down first and then offer a few sips of water at a time.
  • Always tie your equine in a safe place, using a halter and lead rope tied in a safety knot.
  • Be very careful with cigarettes, matches and fires.
  • Get to know the terrain ahead of time and bring maps with you.
  • Know the laws, rules and fire regulations on government trails.
  • Be sure your equine is in proper condition for the ride and is adequately trimmed or shod.
  • Use extreme caution in wet or boggy areas and always ride at the safest gait.
  • Avoid overhanging tree limbs and be sure to warn other riders behind you about any upcoming obstacles on the trail.

Good habits are built through repetition and reward with regard to consideration for your equine. Eventually, the good habits that are being taught will become the normal way that your animal will move and react to you and to his environment. The details outlined in this article can help contribute to the behavior shaping of your animal, which will determine, as he ages, how willing and obedient he will be in all situations.

Owning an equine is serious business! It is as serious as raising children. With the increase of the human population, there are a lot of metropolitan ideas and products being sold with incredibly creative marketing techniques, but choosing which ones are actually beneficial and not just a sales pitch can often be quite daunting and the wrong choice could get you in trouble with your equine. What kinds of feed work best? Does your equine need supplements or does he do better on a more basic nutrient approach? Has your veterinarian done a baseline test on your equine to determine what supplements are needed if any? What should you use for rewards? What training techniques work best? It is best to consult with rural equine professionals and people who have actually successfully worked with equines during their lives to help you make these determinations. Knowing the right things to do with your equine may seem confusing, but it is really only a matter of learning the “rules of the road.” You would need to do the same in order to be able to drive and properly maintain a car. Once you have learned the routine, it’s easy. Even with all the new and improved ways of doing things, one thing always rings true…KISS…keep it super simple!

It’s so important to have as much knowledge, information and trusted advice as you can get, so that you can make sound, informed choices for both you and your equine partner. Take things slowly and in small steps that you both can easily manage—then you will reach your goals because you’ve developed a firm foundation. When you do your homework up-front, there’s nothing to be afraid of and you’ll be graced with years of unconditional love and pleasure from your equine friend and companion.

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 FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2012, 2016, 2018 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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