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MULE CROSSING: The Road to Success with your Mule!

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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 FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2010, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Training Longears: What’s the Difference? Part 1

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By Meredith Hodges

At first glance, it seems those of us who train equines have very similar methods. This is not unusual considering we build our programs on time tested techniques and only make changes in approach when certain things are not working well. We often begin to interact with equines at a very young age and are the product of what we learn from others, and from our own mistakes. The things we learn shape our attitude and approach to riding equines, and riding is first and foremost in our minds right from the beginning. Growing up, we rarely hear anything about groundwork training and when we do, we don’t usually want to spend too much time with it.

Our youthful exposure is limited to the equine trend of the decade and popular breeds of horses unless we are fortunate enough to be the son, daughter or friend of a diverse trainer…and the first thing most people learn about mules is usually negative. Mules have taught me to be kind, respectful, patient and logical in my approach to elicit the best response. When problems arise, I don’t need to fix them, only myself! And when I do, they do the right thing.

When working with horses, we get away with shortcuts in training because the horse is more easily manipulated than the mule or donkey. After training horses for many years before riding Longears I really thought I knew how to ride and train. Much to my chagrin, my introduction to mules showed me just how much more I had to learn to be a truly competent and humane equestrian! I could get a lot from mules and donkeys with horse training techniques, but they did not seem to be as energetic, engaged and consistent. As the level of difficulty increased, I got less and less compliance with my “horse” approach and in time, I was truly humbled! I knew I had to modify my techniques!

I realized that if I wanted to improve my skills and get a better response from my long-eared equine partners, I had to go back to the beginning, start over and pay closer attention to what they needed from me in order to do what I asked. They say there are multiple ways available to the same end, which is true, but what I discovered in my years of training mules and donkeys is that there really is only one BEST way for the best results…their way! This applies to all my equines though my horses tend to be less confident and assertive than the Longears.

Training begins with nutrition and the way your equine is fed. An equine that is fed at a specific time each day is far less stressed than those with inconsistent feeding times and will learn easier. What you feed and how is critical. Equines should be fed in stalls and runs, or in dirt pens and then have monitored turnout times during the day for good health. There are various feeds today designed for the performance equine, researched by scientists in laboratories who seldom see the long-term results of these feeds. These feeds often produce faster growth and give the young equine an appearance of adulthood. When they are not allowed to grow at their natural pace (phases that often make them look awkward and gangly) the bones grow too fast and do not have the chance to harden the way they should.

For optimum bone growth, they need to grow a little and be stressed for awhile before the next burst of growth to become hard. The most obvious example of this can be witnessed in yearling halter classes at today’s shows. Equines used to exhibit very high haunches and low withers as yearlings, lacked muscle tone and were quite awkward looking. They did eventually evolve into beautiful animals, but it took time. These days, you generally see what appears to be a young, but very adult-looking horse with relatively even growth front and back and unusual muscle tone. As they age, bones and soft tissue are not as easily sustained, they become arthritic or have other old-age problems and their longevity of use is compromised. Those equines whose growth has not been artificially accelerated tend to do better and live longer.

Many of today’s feeds can cause hypertension, an inability to concentrate on their job and more frequent occurrences of colic and founder. This is why we feed a crimped oats mixture and good quality grass hay only. Any elaborated products and alfalfa hay can create problems later.

Why feed the oats in the evening? In the spring, your equines should be introduced to new pasture grass slowly. This means you feed in a dry area or small pen and let them out for limited periods of time. For instance, if they were going to be fed at 5P.M., you would only let them out at 3-4P.M. to start. When they know they will have oats, they will come back much easier.

Can I leave my longears on pasture? The answer is no, you really shouldn’t. Donkeys are desert animals and can subsist on practically nothing. The mule is half donkey and has the same trait. If left on pasture, Longears gain weight quickly that can lead to obesity and eventually colic or founder. This is also true of horses that are easy keepers. It’s better to be safe than sorry and monitor feeding more carefully. This includes where you place their feed. If multiple animals are together in a dry pen, use feed buckets or pans and keep them at least 16 feet apart to avoid fighting and possible injury. Don’t feed on the ground. Keep hay in bunks, racks or over matted or other clean, hard surface areas to minimize ingestion of sand and dirt.

What do I use for rewards during training? I wear a fanny pack of crimped oats and dispense them as rewards. Crimped oats are healthy, they get the additional energy they need while they are working and above all else, they will not get sated on them like they will on carrots, apples, horse treats, etc. Diversity in the rewards will cause diversity in their behavioral responses. I strive for confidence, obedience and consistency in my equines.

What if he becomes aggressive toward the rewards? Isn’t it better to avoid this by no food rewards? The equine will give you his best if he is “paid well.” Good behaviors that are rewarded with a food reward will be more likely to be repeated. There is a very specific correction for those who become too aggressive for the oats: Say “No” very loudly. Use the flat of your hand with a well-placed slap on the side of the mouth and put your hand in front of his face like a stop sign. He will fling his head up and to the side to avoid you and start to step back at which time you take oats from the fanny pack, quickly step forward and offer the reward while saying “Thank you for giving me my space.” The next time he tests you, you will only need to put your hand up like a stop sign and say “No!” He will then step back and wait for his reward.

The equine that receives food rewards will not only offer more during training, but he will learn how to take things from a human’s hand safely. When they are regularly given rewards, equines learn how to be gentle and careful about receiving those rewards. They will avoid biting down on your hand or fingers. Those who do not get this practice are more apt to accidently bite your fingers…or the fingers of some poor unsuspecting person who naively wanted to stop and feed your animal.

What is the difference between my methods and Clicker Training? Both are based on Behavior Modification where good behaviors are rewarded and the reward used is the same healthy crimped oats that they are normally fed. Clicker Training lets the animal know by the clicker that a reward is coming before the reward is dispensed. You might use the same reward, but using your voice instead of the clicker is much more personal and communicative.

I prefer to use my voice because it is far more enticing and engaging. If you learn how to respond verbally to your equine’s good and bad behaviors instead of using a device, you will invite an intimate bond between you that is more mutually satisfying. Over time, the verbal language will continue to grow from short commands to actual conversations, very much like children learn language. Equines may not be able to learn to speak English, but if you are a good listener, calculated and consistent in your approach, they can certainly learn to understand it!

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.

© 2010, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Vet Checkup for Mastitis: 4-14-20

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4-14-20

Chasity continues to improve, however, the drainage from her teats was not receding and began to look suspicious to me so I called our veterinarian out to take a look at her. It has been two weeks since she arrived and had it been the result of a weaned foal, she would have been drying up by now. When he arrived, I told Greg Farrand that I suspected an infection of some sort and then I went to get Chasity.

Greg took a look at the discharge and agreed that is was not as we had originally thought, This was not milk, but a small amount of pus and some very hard teats.

Chasity was a star while we poked and prodded to get a sufficient sample to test. Greg and my Ranch Manager, Chad, finally got a large enough sample to be a viable test sample.

In the light, one could see that it was clearly pus and not milk. Greg put the sample in the holding receptacle and took it with him to be tested. He would call with results.

Not all my jennets from past experience were so cooperative and we truly appreciated  Chasity’s quiet demeanor! Greg commented how much better she was looking after only two short weeks!

I mentioned to Greg that I had found some spots on her chest that could have been an old bot-hatching ground. I told him that I had scraped off the crusty scabs and applied Neosporin to the affected area. Most of the scabs were gone, but he said that she probably aggravated the area by scratching her chest on the fence. Donkeys will do that! I showed him her diary. He said that doing the core exercises would also help get rid of the infection.

Greg prescribed a regimen of Uniprim for the next 14 days along with daily hot water soaking.

Chasity tolerated the water, but was not thrilled with the water continuously running down her legs.

I decided if it was going to be a prolonged therapy, I would need to modify my future soaking approach to make her more comfortable during the process. This time, despite her displeasure, Chasity had cooperated and was happy to obtain her reward of crimped oats when it was all over!