MULE CROSSING: Benefit of Organizational Skills
By Meredith Hodges
People have often asked me how on earth can only three people—my daughter, my husband and myself—manage to prepare and show as many as 18 head of mules and donkeys for one show?! They say that we must be crazy, and maybe we are a little crazy, but a few simple rules of organization have made this possible.
The first consideration is the grooming of the animals themselves. Anyone who has had to body clip an animal knows how tedious and time-consuming this can be. Mule and donkey hair does not appear to grow back as quickly, nor as radically, as does horse hair, so you can clip your mule, or donkey, as far as 2-3 weeks in advance of your show and do touch up work just before the show. If you have no shows until summer, you may want to body clip in mid-April anyway. It is at this time that the winter hair begins to shed and the summer hair starts to come in. If you clip off the winter hair and blanket him for the remainder of the spring, the hair that grows in will be much more manageable than the heavy winter hair and will greatly reduce grooming time before the show.
Once the heavier coat is eliminated, a weekly grooming will keep his coat nicely maintained. Daily grooming before a show, or every other day, is even better. Each time you groom him before riding, check and clip as needed the muzzle hairs, around the eyes and ears, and around the coronet bands. Leave the hairs inside the ears to prevent irritation from bugs and flies, but trim the outside edges and backs of the ears. An ounce of corn oil in his feed daily will assure a healthy sheen in his coat on show day without the use of artificial highlighters. Trimming, or shoeing, your mule on a regular six-eight week schedule will assure that his feet will not need attending at the last minute. A routine vaccination, deworming, Coggins testing and a permanent brand inspection will make sure he is ready for transport to any show anywhere at any time. Then, all that remains to be done right before the show is minor clipping, bathing, and polishing hooves.
Each individual mule, or donkey, should have his own personal show halter and bridle for convenience. Driving animals should each have their own set of harness. This will help to reduce the time between tack changes while at the show.
Dress rehearsals before the show at home are quite beneficial. Prepare as if you are about to enter each class, one at a time. First, pick the clothing you will need to wear and store it in a designated place in your house. You do not have to actually wear them for the rehearsal. As you pick out the items, take note of the things that need to be cleaned or polished, and set them to the side of the rest of your other clothes.
Then, tack up your animal, checking each piece of equipment to make sure that it is in working order. Go ahead and practice the class. Then, as you unpack your mule, set the tack aside from the rest in your tack room for cleaning later. Do this for each animal in each class. Your animals will do better at the show if they get plenty of rest before the show, so it is wise to spend the day before the show cleaning your tack, clothes, and equipment. Before you begin to clean, load all the items into your trailer that are all ready to go without cleaning. Then, as you clean the remaining items, load them directly into the trailer as you finish them.
When the basic gear for you and your animal is loaded, make a checklist for feed, buckets, hoses, brushes, forks, brooms, and shovels, etc., that you will need for general care, load them, and check them off. When you have finished, lay out all the items that you will need for transport (i.e. sheets, blankets, shipping boots, etc.), so they are easily available. If you proceed in this manner, the risk of forgetting any important items is minimized. It is best to make sure that your trailer is fully loaded (except the animals) the night before you leave as this gives you overnight to think of anything you might have missed. Items such as your ice chest can be left until morning, or last minute, provided that you put them in a highly visible spot with a list of what is to be put in attached. Do not try to rely on your memory, as it will be clouded by the excitement and anticipation of the show.
If you are taking a number of mules and donkeys to the show, it is wise to bathe with soap at home the day before; then, cover the animal with a sheet or blanket and leg wraps. The day of the show, you would then only need to rinse, or vacuum, any excess dirt. This will minimize grooming time at the show.
Post the show schedule where you will be tacking up for each class and organize your clothing and equipment such that it is ready to go and easily accessible. Once the show actually begins, you will not have time to go hunting for misplaced items. Take note of your clothing changes and wear things that are easily changed. For instance, if your Western classes are before your English classes, you can wear your breeches underneath your Western slacks and chaps. Changing from English attire to Driving and Side Saddle attire is easily done by wearing your English clothing, then, simply change your headgear and add a lap rug for driving, or an apron for Side Saddle. Changes of your boots are pretty much optional, as English boots are easily hidden beneath properly fitting Western chaps and are appropriate footwear for English, Driving and Side Saddle.
If classes are spaced fairly close together and you are using more than one animal, it is wise to tack up the other animals ahead of time so they are ready to go. If you are using only one saddle for more than one animal, the other animals can still be bridled with the halter slipped over it, so they can be tied and waiting. Be sure to tie up the reins so they will not be chewed or stepped on. If you are using the same mule throughout the show, tacking and stripping should not be too time-consuming if your equipment is well organized.
Shows should be fun and exciting, but it can easily turn into a nightmare when things are out of place and chaotic. Make your motel and stabling reservations early and leave for the show well ahead of schedule to allow for breakdowns or other unforeseen emergencies. By all means, bring friends to help you, but give them a briefing and a list of jobs they can do. They won’t be much help if they have to keep asking what to do the day of the show! If you are going any distance at all, have your truck and trailer checked over thoroughly before you leave. There is nothing more frustrating than a major breakdown on the roadside with a trailer full of animals!
In summary, with routine grooming, farrier care, vet care, regular Coggins testing during the show season and permanent brand inspections, you can greatly reduce your show preparation time. Dress rehearsals, individual tack for each animal and organized loading will assure that all your tack and equipment will be readily available. Advanced motel and stabling reservations will afford you and your animals much needed rest when you arrive. Having your truck and trailer checked before you leave will make sure that you arrive in plenty of time. And, organization of tack and equipment when you do arrive will heighten the chances for an enjoyable and relaxing show!
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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