MULE CROSSING: Joining Up With Equines
By Meredith Hodges
The first time I ever saw a horse, I was mesmerized by its beauty and the fluidity of its motion. Watching herds of horses on television as they galloped across the plains was like watching uniquely colored rainbows in motion. Their silky manes and tails floated behind them as they ran, and my heart soared with the promise of acquiring a sense of freedom like theirs. Their long, inviting backs beckoned me to ride!
No doubt, many have experienced the same sensation while watching horses. But how many of us ever believed that we could be trainers of such a wild and unconstrained beast? I thought that only the most macho of men could tame these animals, and their secrets would never be revealed to the common person. After all, these were special people with a special talent that I could never possess…they were the “Horse Whisperers.” So, I began my equine career riding horses that were already broke by someone else. It wasn’t until I was nineteen years old that I attempted to train my first horse. This two-year-old buckskin Arabian/Quarter Horse mare bucked me off before every ride, but she eventually became the dam of five of my very best mules.
I suspect that she bucked me off because I didn’t know what she needed from me to better perform. I avidly watched the horse trainers in action, read everything I could get my hands on, took clinics from trainers and drooled at the thought of ever riding as well as the horsemen of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. I was crushed to discover that the school didn’t accept female riders.
Over the years, I was able to ride my horses in many equine activities, but my real equine education took place when I began to interact with mules and donkeys. They were the teachers that clarified my part in the equine experience. With every “Longears” interaction, I began to realize that I really could become a trainer—it was not some great mystery or talent that I would never possess. Even activities as simple as grooming or leading revealed the more intimate connections I could have with these amazing animals.
Mules have incredible strength due to the donkey influence that often leaves our most popular equine training techniques virtually ineffective when the approach is not to their liking. Their remarkable athletic ability and agility renders us helpless when we are unfairly insistent with them. It didn’t take long after my introduction to Longears before I realized that my approach to training needed to change drastically, but I was really surprised when they taught me that the way to cooperation between us was simply mutual respect, good manners, with a routinely consistent program that addressed their physical development. When this is done properly, it makes them feel good to be with you and they will actually choose to go with you over their stablemates…no herdbound problems anymore! It is a much easier approach in the long run.
Granted, we can get a mule, donkey or horse to “Join Up” in a round pen fairly quickly, but this does not always adequately address their correct physical development in good equine posture and it will still be a long road to finessed performance in any specific events. When we think of conditioning an equine’s muscles, we generally think more about bulk muscle development and not about core muscle development that supports good equine posture, allows more freedom of movement and promotes optimum functionality of internal organs. Equines that are properly physically conditioned, feel better all over and are much better able to perform the things that we ask of them. They do realize that you are the one responsible for their comfort.
True bonding is a lot more than just having them like you. True bonding is a real show of gratitude from your equine for being kind, considerate and thoughtful of his needs. Food rewards are not withheld, corrections for aggressive behaviors are handled quickly and fairly, and the equine should never be separated from his “friends”as a punishment. Isolation is not good for anyone and will only promote hostility. When you are thoughtful and kind in your approach, trust and cooperation are built and true bonding emerges.
Today, as an older and wiser equestrienne, it is my mission to share with others what Longears have taught me so they too can have a safe and satisfying relationship with the equines they love. What amazes me most? That having this kind of relationship with equines is really so simple. It just requires having the right attitude toward training and knowing what to do in an order that makes sense to the equine, an order that always has his best interests at heart. When you do, he will learn to trust and take good care of you in return.
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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