Ask Meredith – Tack


Tack RoomTack is like clothing. When it doesn’t fit properly or is not cleaned properly, it can cause such actions as fidgeting, soreness, lameness and even total frustration, resulting in very bad behaviors such as bucking or running off. Still, the equine perceives these inconsistencies as a loss of balance. Balance means that everything is working together with no attention to any specific point, or area, on the body because all parts are working in harmony. This is why it is so important that all tack is adjusted properly and fits both the animal and the rider or driver. Even the weight of the reins plays an integral part in your ability to communicate effectively with your equine, so pay close attention to detail and your equine will pay close attention to you!

When using restraints, remember that they should only be used as a support during training and not a forceful method of compliance! So, learn how to use them properly and fade them out for the best results.

Click on the title below to see the complete question and answer.



Attaching Elbow Pull Draw Reins

Question: I own a four year old molly who I have been trail riding for over six months now. I am on Tape #2 of your series (the free lunging part).

When I am ready to use the elbow pull draw reins, is there a way to attach them directly to the saddle without using a surcingle?

Answer: Yes, there is a way to attach the elbow pull to almost any saddle. There should be either d-rings or a leather piece to hold the excess of the latigo strap from the girth on both sides of your saddle. You can just take the end of the elbow pull rope and pull it through the leather latigo sleeve or d-ring, adjust the length and tie, or snap it off. If the snap won’t fit through, just double the end of the rope, push that through and then tie it off.

If your saddle has neither of these (English saddles usually have small d-rings), you can just attach the elbow pull to itself in front of the saddle horn and tie it to the saddle horn so the snaps don’t rotate out of position. Hope this helps.

Crupper Used in Videos

Question: Meredith, I can’t find a source for the crupper you suggest in you videos. Where can I get one?

Answer: It seems that tack shops are not carrying horse cruppers these days as a rule where they used to have them. You can order them from saddlemaker Rusty May (970) 663-4036 or CM Tack913-631-4677.

Donkey Twisting Head on Lead Rope

Question: My donkey will lead really well most of the time, but sometimes he will twist his head, turn away from me and drag me to the point where I have to let go of the lead rope. How do I stop this behavior?

Answer: Showmanship training is not just for the showmanship class at a show. Perfecting your showmanship technique every time you have your equine on a lead line will command your equine’s attention to detail, build his confidence in you and ensure that he is strengthening his muscles properly throughout his body at a fundamental level.

Just as a baby has to learn to crawl before he can walk, your equine needs to learn to walk at your shoulder in nice straight lines with his balance equally distributed over all four feet, so that when you ask for a halt or a turn he is able to do it easily, without a loss of balance. Be conscious of your own body position when practicing. When preparing to walk off, make sure you hold the lead in your left hand, face squarely forward, extend your right arm straight forward, give the command to “Walk on,” and take a few steps forward. Make sure you walk straight forward in order to give your equine a lead to follow that is definite and not wobbly.

When you ask for a halt, stop with your weight balanced equally on both feet (still facing forward), hesitate for a second or two and turn to face your equine’s shoulder. If his legs are already square, you can then give the crimped oats reward for stopping. If they are not, take a moment to square up the legs and then give the reward. Praise him for standing quietly for a few seconds to allow him to settle. You can then turn back to your forward position, put your right arm forward again, give the command to “Walk on,” and proceed a few more steps before halting again. Each time he complies, you can add more steps before halting. When you practice the turn, he should always be turned away from you to the right, never into you while you are on the left side!

When executing the turns, ask your equine to take one step forward with the right front foot then cross the left front foot over the right to make the turn. Your own legs should execute the turn the same way, again giving your equine a good example to follow. Turns to the left should be schooled to develop the muscles equally on both sides. To do this, just change sides and execute the leading, halting and turning from the other side with the lead now held in your right hand with your left arm extended. Repeat the exact same exercise, but now from this position (though you will rarely have occasion to actually lead from this side). Be sure to dispense rewards only when he is settled and has done what you ask.

Paying attention to this kind of detail will greatly improve your animal’s conditioning, his balance and his attention to your commands over time. Equines will learn EXACTLY what you teach and will be only as meticulous as you are. Lead your animal this way every time you have him on the lead to build good habits, facilitate good posture and to give him the few seconds before each move to prepare for what comes next. The result is a relaxed, compliant and confident companion!

Running off in the Drivelines

Question: My mule is running off in the drivelines. What do I do to make her stop?

Answer: First, I have, over time, come to appreciate the fact that different equines have different personality types. It does seem that a general rule applies: the larger the animal, the more docile the personality. I’ve also learned that when a donkey or mule has a tendency to bolt and run, it’s typically because they don’t agree with what you’re trying to do, or how you are trying to do it. It is ALWAYS the handler’s fault!

I have a mule that is acting the same way. She will allow me to walk beside her and drive her that way, but if I get too far behind her, she’ll run off. I have had to deal with this problem with a few mules and donkeys in the past. What I do is continue to walk beside her and gradually lengthen the distance one inch at a time until she has accepted the drivelines correctly–no matter how long it takes. I will work her no more than 20 to 40 minutes every other day. I will make sure she gets her treats for “Whoa” and “Back.” I will do a lot of “Back” while still close in to her and repeat “Back” frequently at every increased or decreased distance behind her, and I will keep things at a very slow walk until I feel her relaxation through the drivelines (not a trace of pull). I will always be calm and slow around her, willing to take all the time in the world if necessary. I will constantly review the lessons in showmanship in Video #1, Video #8 and Video #9, going to and from the work areas, and during any ground interaction to help her really, truly bond to me on a very personal level. I will treat her as my very favorite. (I actually treat them all this way anyway, but sometimes there are those who are less confident and need this extra moral support.)

These types of personalities simply take much longer to come around, but with great patience, kindness, trust and respect, they eventually do. I just wouldn’t necessarily use them for driving, but they can be very good under saddle. In fact, once they do bond more strongly with you and look to you as their “Protector,” they are the ones who will have more “Go” and thus, more athletic aptitude and ability. Figuring out what kinds of things they like to do naturally also helps.

I have dealt with many animals that were the same way, and I know it takes tremendous patience, but I also know they can come around. You might just need to back up and do things even more slowly and more meticulously than you ever thought you needed to, but you should get positive results if you do. Lower your expectations of her for a while, and try to have more fun with the basics.

When she does bolt, never hang on to the reins, lead, or drivelines. Just let go of her if you are on the ground or let them loose if she bolts under saddle. Just make sure you work in areas that are adequately and safely fenced, so you can catch her easily again. Whether on the lead line, in the drivelines or under saddle, once she realizes that you aren’t going to play “tug-o-war,” that she will get a reward for staying, and it is a waste of her energy to keep running, she will do it less and less.

Saddles for Mules

Question: I have purchased your videos to help with my donkeys. Because of what I have learned I really value your expertise. I just recently bought a mule. She is a love. I am wondering who makes saddles to fit mules properly. I know my current saddle causes bridging.

Answer: There are certain brands of saddles that will fit mules, but a lot has to do with the way their bodies are conditioned and the shape they would be from their work. When they are not conditioned properly, they saddles tend to not fit across the board anyway. The information below should help. If not, please let me know.

The regular horse saddles I use in the TV shows and videos have been carefully selected and fitted to my own mules. Equines are similar in their structure, but just like people, there are individual differences that need to be addressed if the “clothes” are going to fit properly. How well the equine is conditioned in his body will have an effect on how the saddle fits. An animal with irregular conditioning will not maintain the same body shape.

The girths I use are cotton string girths, both English and Western types. Then, you need to make sure that the saddle is placed in the middle of the equine’s back which will allow the girth to fall 3-4 inches behind the forearm. The skin directly behind the forearm is more sensitive than that which is further back. You should use a crupper adjusted snugly to hold the saddle in place. You can have a d-ring installed in the back of your saddle tree to attach the crupper to a Western saddle and there is a metal “T” that comes with cruppers that will fit into the underside of an English saddle. If the saddle is placed properly and the crupper adjusted properly, the saddle and girth should not cause the problem. There are some mules that have enough wither to keep the saddle from slipping over the neck, but the saddle can still slip forward just enough to cause problems at the shoulders and in the sensitive girth area if a crupper is not used.

On the horse, there is an indentation in the musculature below the withers where a rider’s leg would fall if riding bareback. On a mule, this muscle is thicker and bulges. I had my saddle maker shave the convex bulge on the trees of my Western saddles to flatten this part to fit the mules and it worked very well given my mules’ shapes. Mules are often very short backed as well and the skirts of the Western saddle can interfere with the movement of the hips. In the case of a short backed mule, an Arabian saddle tends to fit better because of the rounded and shortened skirts. This is also true with smaller mules.

This isn’t a problem with a longer backed mule or donkey. Still, you need to place the saddle in the middle of his back such that the girth lies 4″-5″ behind the forearm clearing the sensitive skin area directly behind the forearm. The crupper should be adjusted snugly to keep it in place. It is common to see saddles placed too far forward on mules and donkeys causing restriction of shoulder movement which can result in bucking.

There are mules and donkeys whose backs and withers are not as horse-like and in this case, a custom-fitted mule saddle would be a better choice. So, I would suggest that you need to make an assessment as to what would fit your own particular mule, or donkey, the best. They do need to have “clothes” that fit if they are to perform to the best of their ability with no interference from ill-fitting tack. One needs to also realize that as they gain muscle tone, their overall shape will change and in most cases, the saddle will then fit better. You can consult with a reputable saddle maker to determine what your particular animal would need. You cannot, however, make a saddle fit properly with the use of pads.

I caution you, however, to be careful about thinking that the saddle will be the complete solution to any problems your mule might have. I do not like treeless saddles as they do not provide enough support for an unbalanced rider and can actually inhibit the equine’s motion and sometimes even cause sores from undue shifting and rubbing. It is always best to continue to learn and improve together. When you ride, if you do not learn to ride a balanced seat and improve your skills, this can happen again with any saddle you may get. Your mule should not have a problem with a saddle if you are riding correctly and the saddle fits properly. The goal is to improve together so the end result is that you both learn to move together in a harmonious fashion.

Skittish on the Drivelines

Question: My mule will do all the obstacles easily on the lead rope and most of the time when I am riding him, but he won’t do it on the drivelines without getting skittish and weaving. What should I do?

Answer: When doing obstacles on the lead line, keep in mind that you are not only teaching the animal to negotiate an obstacle, but you are also conditioning the muscles closest to the bone, teaching balance, coordination and control as well.

If your mule doesn’t approach the obstacle easily, do not withhold the reward until they actually negotiate the bridge, tarp, ground poles, or whatever. Lower your expectations and go back to your lead line training. Walk to the end of your lead line, hold it taut and wait for the mule to step towards you. When he does, give him a reward (crimped oats) and tell him how brave he is being and praise him for it. Let him settle, then walk to the end of the lead line again getting even closer to the obstacle and repeat the same way. When you reach the obstacle, step up onto the bridge, or over the first ground rail and ask again. Stop him if he tries to run through, or over the obstacle, and reward him for standing with front feet into the obstacle. You might even want to back him up and reward for that before proceeding forward. Then go away from the obstacle and come back, putting all four feet into the obstacle. Repeat this procedure yet again and ask him to negotiate the entire obstacle slowly and in control. Breaking the obstacle down into small steps like this will facilitate control and keep your mule’s attention on you.

After he is more willing to come through the obstacle, you can regain your showmanship position with your left hand carrying the lead line and your right arm extended in front of you pointing to the direction you are going. When the mule is finally listening and will follow your shoulder over or through the obstacle, stop or back at any point during the negotiation of the obstacle, you can then turn your attention to whether he is actually traveling forward and backing in a straight line and whether he is stopping squarely. How he negotiates the obstacle will have a direct bearing on how his muscles are conditioned and how his balance and coordination develop, so don’t be afraid to ask for more perfection! Do this the same way first on the lead line, then in the drivelines and lastly, under saddle.

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