MULE CROSSING: The Road to Success with your Mule!
By Meredith Hodges
When equines are trained in a logical, consistent and respectful way beginning with detailed lead line training, even “cycling females” is not a problem. Appropriate lessons need to have a logical beginning and be taught in a sequential fashion. The logical beginning in any athletic conditioning program should be to strengthen the core muscles that support bony columns. The length of the lesson and order in which lessons are presented facilitate strength and balance at the core. Adequate length of each stage of training and the way the lessons are delivered instill a sense of security, confidence and trust in the handler that cements the relationship and become part of the equine’s automatic behavior.
Think of it in terms of teaching children. Children have difficulty learning and paying attention when they have not been eating in a healthy way or exercising properly, when the teacher is unclear in their delivery and the material does not flow together easily, when the teacher moves along too quickly, when there is too much repetition and when they have to stay in one position too long. When the teacher is more aware of the elements of learning, delivers the information in a logical and sequential manner with attention to mental and physical health, and provides solutions, the students will thrive!
We are often in too big of a hurry to ride and do not spend enough time at the lower-level stages of training. We don’t understand the implications of moving along too fast because these animals are so much larger than we are that we can’t imagine that they would have strength, balance and coordination issues that would be counter-productive to our expectations.
How could we even know? There are multiple trainers out there who believe that an equine can be ready to ride in 60-90 days. This is highly publicized and does not afford the average person to think any further than just being able to ride. However, if you ask yourself if you could be ready for a 25-mile marathon in 60-90 days, then the picture starts to become clear…there is much more to think about and it takes much longer to be ready for such activities. You cannot strengthen muscles, balance the body and instill body awareness adequately in this short period of time, and core muscle strength might not be addressed at all!
Leading training is not just teaching to follow and many people spend too little time on leading training. In leading training, the equine gets the benefit of isometric-type exercises that strengthen the muscles closest to the bone while you work on forward and backward straight lines, smooth arcs through the turns and square halts, all facilitating good balance and proprioception (body awareness). This promotes good core muscle strength that will enable your equine to move to the round pen stage of training and do remarkably well because he won’t be fighting his own awkwardness and lack of balance while trying to balance on the circle at all three gaits.
This kind of training requires that you really pay attention to your own good posture and execution of the tasks in leading training. You must be consciously aware of your own posture. Stand straight and tall, holding the lead in your left hand while using the right to keep the animal at your shoulder, not too far forward, not crowding you and not too far back. Wear your fanny pack full of crimped oats (the reward) to keep your equine interested in staying at your shoulder and not lagging behind.
When you walk, make sure your legs are following the movement of their front legs, stepping forward with your corresponding feet and not stepping any further forward than they do. When you stop, stop with your own feet together (in a balanced fashion), turn and face the equine’s shoulder and square up his feet every single time you stop. This causes the equine to be conscious about balancing weight over all four feet evenly that will result in the balance becoming steadier as the task demands and speed increases.
You can tell your equine is ready to move from the flatwork leading training to the obstacle leading training when you can throw the lead over his neck and you receive his compliance though all he has learned without you touching him. Next, we add the element of coordination during lead line training over obstacles. The first task of lead line obstacle training would be to introduce the obstacles and ask for reasonable negotiation of the obstacle to instill confidence in the equine and trust in you. The second stage would be to break the obstacles down into smaller steps to manipulate coordination and balance and to instill adequate self carriage through the obstacles.
Taking time to do these exercises correctly at the walk and trot on the lead line will help immensely before the equine goes to round pen training where the exercises become more active and demanding. The core base from which the animal must work will be much stronger and he will be better able to stay erect and bend through his rib cage on the circle in the round pen instead of leaning like a motorcycle.
When we finally do graduate to the round pen, it will become important to maintain good equine posture and balance. When equines are allowed to run freely in the round pen, they naturally get excited and want to hollow their neck and back. This is why we employ the self-correcting device I call the “Elbow Pull.” There are separate ways to adjust this, one is for horses and one is for mules and donkeys. More details about this and leading training can be found in my manual and DVD combo, “Equus Revisited.”
By the time you finally do ride, your equine will not only be strong, balanced and coordinated enough to do more complicated activities, but if you are unbalanced at all, he will be better able to cope with that as well. This is particularly important with cycling females as they already have a marginal, but normal amount of aches and pains while they cycle. If they are to maintain a good attitude and good balance with a rider, they need good core muscle strength, so they can overcome the normal menstrual aches and pains and deal with the rider in a reasonable way. They will also be more mentally and emotionally tuned into you and less likely to become disengaged. It is my observation that most disobedience is due to a lack of balance whether it is mental, emotional or physical.
With good core muscle strength, even cycling females will be better able to perform to their full potential at the time when you lower your expectations. The level of their mediocre performance will still be higher than most of their competitors. Equine mares are difficult enough, but jennets and mollies that are not trained in this logical way will be distracted, tune you out when they are cycling and revert to their instinctual behaviors like squatting, peeing, clacking their teeth and they will remain “on alert!” This can cause a lot of problems for the handler.
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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