- LTR Blog
- About LTRThis is the History page.
- Contact UsThis is the Contact Us page.
After doing her Hourglass Pattern exercises, first one way and then the other, we opted to add some variety to the workout by adding some straight forward obstacles. In our indoor arena, I have an open space of 60’ X 120’ and a 45’ round pen at the end of the arena in another 60’ X 60’ fenced off space. Around the outside perimeter of the round pen in that area, I put my obstacles. I have found that there is less margin of error learning obstacles in a confined space to add coordination to their core strength in good equine posture. They can learn to pay more attention and to be more meticulous in their execution of the obstacles. This is a helpful way to begin with obstacles. The first obstacle for Chasity was the gate!
After going through the gate and standing stock still while I latched it, we proceeded to the bridge. I was pleasantly surprised when she allowed me to stop her with only her front feet on the bridge. This is generally a Stage Two move in my program since obstacles are used for coordination. Most equines are so uncoordinated that they just want to keep walking over and through the obstacles without stopping at first. Good for Chasity!
Chasity then carefully walked up onto the bridge with all four feet and halted on command! This was going much better than I had expected!
When I asked her to square up, she got a bit skewed to the side on the bridge, but she was nevertheless squared up, just not in line with the bridge. So I took it and rewarded her effort.We can do better the next time.
Then we got off the bridge and I squared her up again. Then…I introduced her to the tractor tire.
She looked at it…wasn’t afraid of it…walked around it…
…and looked at it again. She was clearly NOT going to put her foot in the middle of that tire! I decided to quit while we were ahead and try again next time. Because I didn’t push her, she consented to walking through the smaller tires…
…tentatively, but she did it! And then she walked around the barrels with no trouble at all!
Just having Chasity navigate these obstacles without being afraid of them was a major accomplishment. We then walked into the back-through “L” and I decided to make it a little bit tougher.
After walking through the “L” forward, I asked Chasity to back through where she had come.
She was a bit perplexed, but slowly backed between the rails, made the turn at the elbow, and went straight back from there with very little forcible encouragement.
Once at the end of the back-through “L,” we headed for the tarp. She followed me obediently, but was so silly…
When we got to the tarp, she wanted to walk EXACTLY where I walked! I guess she KNEW it was safe there! Too funny!
I gave her a reward because she really didn’t balk and we proceeded out of the obstacle area.
As we left, we executed the gate correctly and she was rewarded again. She stood quietly until I was ready to move.
Then we proceeded down the arena wall towards the exit gate and stopped to turn off the lights. She was a little surprised that the wall opened up, but stood still while I opened the door and turned off the lights.
Then I closed the door and we exited the arena. Adding obstacles and simple expectations to her regular work in the Hourglass Pattern made the experience more interesting and engaging to Chasity. When you add new things to their lessons, you shouldn’t feel like the equine has to do it right the first time. Just quit while you are ahead and your equine WILL do better the next time! There is no battle to remember!
Beginning by negotiating obstacles in larger areas makes for a larger margin for error. Too many things can go wrong and lead to an unpleasant chain of negative events that suck you and your equine into unnecessary altercations. There is plenty of time to do them in the more open spaces once they have learned how to negotiate them in the smaller spaces. I first school green animals during ground driving and under saddle in the small open area of my indoor arena (60’ X 120” – Standard Small Dressage Arena Size) before I take them into the larger outside arenas. This has resulted in a decrease of bolting and running. When you set up your training environment, it is always optimal to set up the equine for success!
Grooming is an important activity in your equine’s life and it need not be a struggle if it is done regularly. Chasity was not real sure of us, or what to expect when she first arrived, but she is gaining confidence and calmness with each grooming session that precedes her workouts. Right off, she is rewarded for going to her designated work station. This familiarity sets the stage for the tasks to come.
I begin with a wet towel to clean her eyes, then her nose and finally her ears. When cleaning the ears, I stroke upwards with the hair and try not to go against the way it grows. Most Longears enjoy having their ears rubbed anyway, but HOW you do it can make a huge difference in their willingness to comply.
Then I begin on her forehead and along her neck with a human, multi-bristled plastic hairbrush. If she had mud on her, I would have scraped that off with the shedding blade first. The human hairbrush is much more effective in getting deep into thick donkey and mule hair and will “aerate” the coat nicely where the shedding blade will only skim the top and often break the hair.
Chasity’s teats were as hard as a rock, but were draining a milky-looking substance. At first we thought she had just weaned a foal, but we found out later, that was not the case. At any rate, during grooming, I scraped the sticky drainage from her back legs. Then I discovered some crusty spots across her chest that resembled an old bot-hatching site that had not been addressed.
I used the shedding blade to scrape off the scabs and applied Neosporin to the area. Over several days now, the scabs are beginning to go away. Chasity enjoyed the scratching! They must have been itchy!
Chasity has an enlarged, crested neck and fatty deposits over her body that will need some attention. The crest has fallen over quite a bit, but I do think it is salvagable. It will just take the right kind of feed and exercise, and some time to correct.
On her withers, Chasity has some scarring where the saddles previously used on her were rubbing and turned the hair white. She is also sporting a bit of Lordosis (sway-backed) which should not be seen in an animal of her young age of 13 years. This will undoubtedly result in irregular movement when seeing how out of alignment her spine is with these issues. Equines are not designed to carry weight on top. Rather, their structure supports carrying their weight below the spine. This is why is is so important to pay attention to core exercises to strengthen the top line and abs to prepare to support the rider’s weight. Just because they are big animals doesn’t mean they can automatically carry our weight without undue stress on their bodies.
The crusty discharge on her legs is very sticky, so I sharpen my shedding blade before going after it. It is going to pull the hairs hard enough as it is. I want the shedding blade sharp so it will come off quickly and with as little pain as possible. Chasity appreciates my consideration for her!
Last, but certainly not least, I sprinkle Johnson’s Baby oil in her mane and tail. This protects the hair from drying out during inclement weather, will promote growth and keep other animals from chewing on it. Then I square Chasity up one more time in preparation for either tacking up or for leaving the work station. Although this all seems simple enough, keeping this routine weekly will keep things from getting out of hand and grooming will remain easy each time. A reward of crimped oats from the fanny pack around my waist is always in order for standing quietly in good posture!
If you have multiple animals, just take your grooming tools in a bucket and your fanny pack full of oats with you to their stalls and do them there. If they are all in one pen in a herd situation, do not wear your fanny pack until they can all be rewarded at the same time, at the end of grooming. Body clipping is not a healthy solution and should only be done when showing. During shedding season, it is impossible to get it all done at once and still keep the hair coat healthy. It is easier if you do it weekly and take off the excess hair gradually. When grooming is done regularly and goes easily, it greatly reduces anxiety and bad behaviors.
Even though Wrangler is nearing ten years old in this post, and has been ridden before, my approach to training is always the same way with all of my animals…as if they have never been trained. They need the highly structured Core Strength Leading Exercises in the Hourglass Pattern first, followed by adding Coordination over and through obstacles, straight through them to oversome fear and build confidence, and later, broken down into very small Balancing tasks. Once they have solidified their good posture and ideal body carriage, only then are they ready to begin work in the Round Pen. Wrangler completed his Leading Exercises in the Hourglass Pattern and will do more work there, but for the sake of variety to his routine, I opted to graduate him to some work in the Round Pen. In this post, you will also see how we deal with spring shedding effectively and how we get tack and equipment to fit nicely for good health and optimum performance.
It was the end of March when Chasity first arrived and the weather was much too cold to even think about giving her a bath, even with our indoor facility. Even though the equines come in to us with Health Certificates and a Coggins Test, we are still very careful about keeping them in quarantine for 30 days and bathing them for hygiene purposes. Chasity would be no exception.
Finally on April 10, it was warm enough to bath her. The water at the outside hitch rail would be too cold, so I opted to bath her in the Tack Barn where there was warm water. Chasity was about to experience her first bath at the Lucky Three Ranch! I began with the lower part of her front legs, then moved to her forehead and worked my way down her neck after spreading a line of shampoo across the full length of her body. I did not use the shampoo on her face.
Ordinarily, I do not use soap during the yearly bathing, but since she had come from another location, I used my Tres Semme Breakage Defense shampoo. It is not as drying as some shampoos and does not require any conditioning. As I sprayed her with water, the suds came up and I followed the sudsy water with my shedding blade to eradicate the dirt from her body as she was rinsed.
As I scraped her with the shedding blade, I just kept the water flowing until no more dirt and suds came from each area. Chasity was not exactly thrilled and moved into me and up against the hitch rail where I could not reach her. I just adjusted the spray to more power and aimed it at her flanks until she moved over. Then I adjusted the spray to be lighter and less penetrating again.
Once she was willing to stand still, I was able to check some questionable spots on her body. He chest had completely healed from the old bug bites, but I did notice a bald spot on her right hind leg. It didn’t look like much and I thought it would probably fill in with hair as her good hygiene was maintained. If need be, I would treat that with Neosporin, too. It works well on most things like this that donkeys seem to get quite often, including “jack sores.”
After the right side was all done, she was rewarded for being a good girl! After chewing her reward of crimped oats, we resumed first with her forehead on the left side.
I worked my way down the left side the same way as I had done on the right side…covered the length of her body with shampoo, followed by water and scraping the suds and dirt from her body with the shedding blade.
She was much better on this side! I sprayed her teats clean and she stood like a trooper!
She now knew what to expect and was amply rewarded for her efforts!
I had prepared to dry her with a hair dryer, but it was so warm, I decided to try her on the hotwalker. I wasn’t sure about how she would take it, but I took it slow, tied her with the chain looped through the ring on her halter and not under her chin. She walked right off as if she had done it all her life!
She dried much more quickly than she would have had I used the hair dryer! I was so proud of Chasity! I think she is finally beginning to trust us!!!
Today, Chasity did much better after two days of rest over the weekend. Her hair coat is much softer and her color is becoming more brilliant. She was moving around quite a bit while being groomed and had to be corrected. After being corrected and rewarded, she stood still.
Today she was much better during grooming after being corrected the last time, although she was still a bit impatient. She wanted to continue forward before she finished chewing during her lesson in the Hourglass Pattern. I expect that will change in time.
She stood still while I wiped the dried milk-like drainage from her teats and scraped off her legs.
I also found dried bug bites of some sort on her chest that I thought could be old scars from hatched bots. I scraped them off with the shedding blade and treated them with Neosporin. It worked well.
It has only been a week of lessons, but we have made some progress with her neck. It is difficult to tell much from looking at the left side of her body. But now, when you look at her neck from the right side, you can see her mane sticking up across the top. We could not see it at all before.
The neck sweat Velcro is overlapping a bit more and I am able to tighten the adjustment on the “Elbow Pull” since she is now more flexible in her neck.
Her back is beginning to look better even from the start of the lesson. Although she still leans on it, she is randomly submitting to the “Elbow Pull” and matching my steps more easily.
Chasity continues to improve. She is happy to stand quietly, is more balanced over the ground rails and squares up much more easily with only slight indications from the lead rope.
With each new lesson, Chasity continues to improve. It is only necessary to do the Hourglass Pattern once in one direction and then cross the diagonal and do it in the other direction, at least once per week and no more often than once every other day. She is now learning to bend through her rib cage while remaining erect around the turns in both directions.
Again, she is balanced over the ground rails, squares up nicely and maintains her good posture. She resumes the pattern and goes over the ground rails again for a balanced finish! There was no need for pulling on the lead rope at all, just slight indications!
Chasity’s overall balance and core strength is progressing faster than I would have thought. This is the reason I tell people that these lessons on the flat ground will need to be done for 3-6 months to gain ultimate postural balance and core strength before moving on to obstacles for the addition of coordination. Some equines do progress faster than others. Chasity appears to be one of the faster ones!
By Meredith Hodges
There has been a lot of discussion since the early nineties around using donkeys for small livestock protection and predator control. Donkeys can certainly be a formidable opponent for cats and dogs and other smaller animals. One needs to be careful about who the donkey is pastured with since it is in their nature to pursue and sometimes kill animals that are smaller and weaker than them. This is true in all donkeys, although some individual females tend to be more maternal and are not apt to go after smaller livestock. The males will always be more aggressive than the females and do not make good guardians for smaller livestock.
The other thing to consider is whether or not they have been raised with the livestock they are expected to guard. When raised with the other livestock, they will feel more a part of that “family” and are less likely to do them harm. A donkey that is going to be expected to guard livestock, but was not raised with them, should be carefully introduced to them “over the fence” for several weeks. Then if all seems to go well, you can introduce them in the same pen and watch for any signs of aggression. If there are signs of aggression after a few weeks of being separated, then they probably will never really get along. You must remember that a donkey is NOT a predator, nor a prey animal that will necessarily get along with other livestock. Donkeys prefer to be in a herd with other donkeys. They do not like being alone either. Donkeys have a strong sense of “family” and prefer to be with their own kind. When forced to be with other species, they will blend, but grudgingly.
There are three basic sizes of donkeys: Miniatures, Standard Donkeys and Mammoths. Our American donkeys are further identified by their height when being described rather than specific breeds. This is because they are so interbred from being turned loose during the time of the Spanish explorers. There are no real purebred donkeys in America other than the descendants of the original Andalusian donkeys that were bred from George Washington’s stock at Mt. Vernon. One must go to Europe to see the original BREEDS of donkeys. American donkeys are identified as: Miniature Donkeys (36” & under), Small Standard Donkeys (36.01” to 42”), Standard Donkeys (42.01” to 48”), Large Standard Donkeys (48.01” to 56”) and Mammoth Donkeys (Males 56” & over; Females 54” & over).
Miniature donkeys are not suitable guardians for livestock at all. They are too small and can fall victim to predators themselves. They simply cannot defend themselves. Standard donkey jennets are the most sought after for predator control, however, keep in mind that they are PREY animals and can fall victim to predators that are fairly large, or predators that run in packs. Mammoth donkeys are simply too slow to react. They lack the quickness and athleticism that it takes to combat a predator. Donkeys will never be able to guard against such predators as bears and mountain lions.
Good ranch dogs that are bred for guarding sheep and other livestock are a much better choice for guardianship. They are quick, clever and always on the alert. Their barking can alert the farmer as well. They can even move the livestock to a safer location on their own and will often chase off a predator pretty easily with their confusing way of attacking.
As with all livestock, donkeys need to be provided with adequate shelter from the elements, whether heat or cold, must be provided trace mineral salt blocks and clean, fresh water. Their time on pasture will need to be monitored for optimum health which will often clash with the grazing needs of sheep, goats and other smaller livestock. Donkeys are desert animals and really easy keepers. It is not uncommon when they colic or founder on too much, or too rich, grass. They cannot be on pasture 24/7.
Donkeys will need regular trims and must therefore, be reasonably trained. They will require vaccinations twice a year and regular worming. If they are not trained to accept these things, most veterinarians and farriers will be averse to handling them until they are. It takes time and patience to gain the trust of your donkey before you can actually consider him trained.
I have found it better to be smart about livestock control and not make it so easy for the predators. As I said, guard dogs bred for herd management are a much better choice. One should NEVER use mules as a guardian as they WILL be dangerous to smaller livestock and other smaller or weaker animals, even older mules! However, I have discovered that when my mules are pastured next to the smaller animals, predators give them a wide berth and thus, skirt the pens where the smaller animals are kept.
Since miniature donkeys and mules are always at risk, I add another element of safety for them by lining their pens with metal grating over the stock panels. Then, everyone is also brought in every night and turned out for a limited amount of time during the day. This gives me the opportunity to monitor their diet, check for injuries twice a day and keep them safe overnight. All my equines are taught to come in from turnout upon request. They know there is always a crimped oats reward awaiting them.
Wooden barns and wire fences can be easily torn down by larger predators. So over the years, I slowly replaced all of my wood barns and wire fences with metal barns, steel panels and vinyl fencing with hot wires on the top. I also run hotwires on the bottom of the vinyl fencing in areas where animals are likely to come through by climbing underneath. The way my barns and pens are laid out, the mule and large donkey pens surround the miniatures’ housing accommodations. It is not uncommon to see large “cats,” bears, coyotes and other predators in the foothills of Colorado where I live. It is even getting worse as more developments are built in the mountains and drive these predators off the mountains in the wintertime.
In summary, I do not recommend using donkeys as guardian animals. We need to remember that they are PREY animals themselves and can be grossly injured in any altercations with a predator. I think there are better choices for livestock guard animals and setting up the environment in which your livestock (donkeys included) is kept. These two considerations will promote the health and welfare of your livestock, and cost you a whole lot less in the long run!
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.
© 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
On November 22nd, of 2021, I posted, on my MEREDITH HODGES PUBLIC FIGURE Facebook page, information about how to maintain your tack and equipment, and how to keep a neat and tidy tack room. There were a lot of comments about it and many people indicated that they thought it would be easy if you had the staff that I have.
Just for the record, when it comes to my equines and their tack and equipment, I do most of the work myself. My TWO guys do clean the stalls and runs daily, and the larger dirt pens weekly when the animals are overnighted there, and they do feed in the mornings, midday and evenings. TWO of my girls take care of the inside and external cleaning of the multiple buildings that we have, and they condition the tack and equipment as needed, but mostly every three months because we clean things as we use them.
My THIRD girl assists me in the office checking the website and Social Media connections, making Social Media posts (with the exception of Facebook that I do myself), editing articles, advertising and the newsletter, fulfilling orders and MUCH more. TWO of the girls and I film and take photos of EVERYTHING we do so we have material for our posts, articles, video Training Tips and Documentaries. We put these together with our TWO remote videographers and we have ONE remote graphics artist that also assists with publications. Our JASPER MASCOT also doubles as a website tech person. So, we have a VERY SMALL staff to cover all the work that we do. We are prompt in doing what we do because we want to provide all of you the information that you need to have the same success with your equines that we have with ours. In this post, I will address how I efficiently keep all 17 of my equines clean and healthy.
I find that when you have a regular weekly grooming routine along with good environment cleaning practices, the animals do not seem to get as dirty as they would otherwise. Spring is obviously the most intensive time of the year because of mud and shedding, but during other times of the year, grooming can go quickly. During the summer months, they have short hair coats and will only need to have bridle paths trimmed, faces, ears and nostril cleaned, Johnson’s Baby oil in the manes and tails, Neosporin for any cuts and scratches, and a quick go-over with the Dandy brush. Since I keep them barefoot with regular trims every 6-8 weeks, they rarely need their feet cleaned. I carry the grooming tools in a bucket and visit them wherever they happen to be, either in their stalls or in turnout. Because they are all taught the same manners, they come to me and line up for their turn wherever they are.
We have had good weather this fall, but with the lack of moisture, they are all pretty dusty. Since we are using my Tack Barn as an art studio and getting the BELLE, JASPER, MOXIE & KYLIE bronzes ready to be cast for their placement in our newest project, the OLDE WESTERN TOWN OF ASSPEN here at the ranch, I opted to vacuum everyone in the alleyway of the barn.
The first thing I did was to have them exit their stalls and be tied in the alleyway. I brought in Augie, Spuds and Billy from their barn and added them to the eight mules from the South Barn. As I retrieve them, I ALWAYS open the door, ask them to come to me, reward them and then put on their halter. They learn to stand quietly and will not exit the stall until I give them permission to do so.
So I can be hands-free with the halter, I will often allow them to eat their reward directly from the fanny pack of crimped oats that I ALWAYS wear around my waist. If they get pushy, I will say, “NO!” and put my hand up like a stop sign and ask them to back off. If that doesn’t work, a quick slap to the side of their mouth after they have been asked does work. Consistency in MY behavior is key!
They have all been introduced to the vacuum cleaner and stand quietly while I go from one to the next. If they start picking at each other, I just holler the name of the perpetrator and say “NO!” VERY LOUDLY! They always stop because they know the next thing is a pop on the rump from me!
I am always aware of each animal, but I do not “move over” for them. I ask them to “move over” for ME. Then they are rewarded with crimped oats. Once they learn, for instance, that I need to return the vacuum to its spot, and that they will all get rewarded for standing quietly, they give me my space as I work around them, even during rolling up the extension cords!
Since I have so many animals, I do have to refill the fanny pack often, so I keep a full bucket available in a convenient spot for refills. Once they are all vacuumed, I ten move down the line and wipe everyone’s faces. They get their eyes, ears and noses cleaned thoroughly. They quickly learn to accept the process and then I reward them once they are all done. When I do them individually before riding, I will reward each immediately after each task. When they are all together, they will behave better when they have to wait to be rewarded when they are ALL done with each task. Then I go down the line and sprinkle Johnson’s baby oil in all their manes and tails and reward their good behavior when that is all done.
My 28 year old mule, Merlin, poked his eye on a tree branch when he was a yearling. I opted not to have his eye removed, so we have been treating it for 27 years. We keep him in a fly mask all the time to keep the dirt and debris from irritating it. Twice a day face wiping keeps it sanitary and it is easy enough to do at feeding time. We just carry a wet rag with us when we see him.
When they are all done, I lead them back to their stall, send them in while I stay at the door and ask them to turn back to me for their reward. As they chew their reward, I remove the halter and bid them a fond farewell!
With the 11 mules and mini donkeys finished in the South Barn, I next go to the North Barn to repeat the process with the remaining six animals, two Large Standard Donkeys (Wrangler & Chasity), a miniature mule (Francis), a miniature horse (Mirage) and two saddle mules (Jubilee & Brandy).
Again, I ask them to come to ME, give them their reward and then halter them as the chew. They are all happy to stand still until I tell them they can walk out the door.
I repeat the whole process with the vacuum cleaner and again, they have all been trained to accept it, so they stand quietly and happily. I do believe that they really DO enjoy being cleaned…even if they do go back and roll almost immediately…LOL!
Then comes the face-wiping followed by the Johnson’s Baby oil in the manes and tails. I do not cut their bridle paths in the winter. It gets very cold here and I don’t want them to lose heat from their bodies.
Then it is time for them to be returned to their stalls. I have two rescues (re-trains) in this group and they watch intently as the old troopers enter their stalls and behave impeccably!
When Chasity was returned to her stall, I asked her to walk through the narrow space between my truck and the wall of the barn. My assistant was filming from the bed of the truck and as I said earlier, we do not move over for them! Chasity walked quietly through the narrow space, did not rush or push me, but followed obediently. She was sent into her stall, turned around and got her reward. Then, it was Wrangler’s turn.
Francis is a mini mule that I got 10 years ago and to this day, she is still suspicious of humans, but is learning to trust. She can be fully groomed in her stall with no halter, but she can become quite a handful when outside the stall. Her natural reaction is to bolt and run any time she get the chance. When I return her to her stall, I set her up for success by looping the end of her lead rope around the stall bar so if she does bolt, she won’t be able to pull the lead rope from my hand and will be forced to turn around and face me. She didn’t even try to bolt this time, kept the rope loose and returned to me for her reward. Then I went and got Mirage, our 26-year-old miniature horse, and returned him to his stall. The grooming of all 17 animals only took me 2 hours! Organized practices and teaching good manners makes all the difference!
When Chasity first arrived, we needed to keep her in quarantine, away from the other animals for a minimum of two weeks. Over the past 41 years, we altered our facility to an all-steel facility. Reduced maintenance costs enabled us to proceed converting from wood and wire to steel until we completed the process. This has greatly reduced the overall maintenance costs for the entire ranch, enabling us to purchase steel panels for the barn runs. It was easy to quarantine Chasity safely and still allow her company (at a distance, of course!) and an introduction to her future stable mate, Wrangler. About every five years, we do have to spray paint the panels to keep them looking new, but this is a small price to pay for a happy donkey!
Once out of quarantine, Chasity and Wrangler were stabled next to each other. All of our runs are bedded with four inches of pea gravel. This promotes good drainage and keeps things from getting muddy. This, in turn, provides a hard surface for good hoof health and will not chip their feet because of its rounded shape. Each of our donkeys is given a soccer ball for play in the smaller areas. The ground surface is also soft and comfortable enough for them to lie down without causing shoe boils or sores. They learn to come by calling them to the end of the runs and rewarding with oats.
The mini donkeys’ pens are the same way, as is the road around the sandy dressage arena where they can also be turned out in the larger dirt area when it is not in use. They really enjoy a good roll in the sand.
Donkeys are desert animals and can easily become obese when exposed to green pastures. I only take my donkeys out to pasture to play with me.
My 60’ x 180’ indoor arena is lined with steel panels. I have a 45’ Round Pen at one end with obstacles inside the side gates around the south end. The enclosed area makes for good obstacle training with minimal distractions. Round Pen work and turnout in the open area during bad weather is completely safe and NON-DESTRUCTIVE!
At first, Chasity would not come to me at the stall door, but after being chased once into the stall to be haltered, she soon gave in easily. I always halter in exactly the same way, in the same place. They love routine.
The oats reward assures that she will repeat the behavior. After only one lesson, she now comes to me every time to be haltered. For clean, dry stalls, we bore a 2’ wide x 4’ deep hole in the center, fill it with 1 ½” rock, cover it with four inches of pea gravel and put rubber mats on top. The pea gravel is held in with 2” x 6” boards bordered by angle iron.
Since we had no animals in the north stalls, we took down the panels and made a large turnout area bedded in four inches of pea gravel for Wrangler and Chasity. It was plenty large enough to romp and play…and not get muddy!
When I am out and about the barn, I reinforce Wrangler and Chasity’s will, as well as all the others, to come to me for their oats reward. We keep bulk rock, pea gravel and structural fill in bays behind the indoor arena.
When the equines are in turnout, we replenish the pea gravel as needed with the Skidsteer.
Wrangler and Chasity, our miniature donkeys Augie & Spuds, miniature mule Francis and miniature horse Mirage also have alternate access to a very large 2 ½ acre dirt pen…Large Standard donkeys one day, miniatures the next.
When it is dry, they can take turns on alternate days in the larger area to stretch their legs and buck to their hearts desire. They do not seem to miss being in the pasture with this kind of management and they really do stay very healthy. We have no incidence of colic, founder, abscesses, skin irritations, rashes or obesity.
By Meredith Hodges
Most equines can be taught to carry a rider in a relatively short time. However, just because they are compliant doesn’t mean their body is adequately prepared for what they will be asked to do and that they are truly mentally engaged in your partnership. We can affect our equine’s manners and teach them to do certain movements and in most cases, we will get the response that we want…at least for the moment. Most of us grow up thinking that getting the animal to accept a rider is a reasonable goal and we are thrilled when they quickly comply. When I was first training equines, I even thought that to spare them the weight of the rider when they were younger, it would be beneficial to drive them first as this seemed less stressful for them. Of course, I was then unaware of the multitude of tiny details that were escaping my attention due to my limited education. I had a lot to learn.
Because my equines reacted so well during training, I had no reason to believe that there was anything wrong with my approach until I began showing them and started to experience resistant behaviors in my animals that I promptly attributed to simple disobedience. I had no reason to believe that I wasn’t being kind and patient until I met my dressage instructor, Melinda Weatherford. I soon learned that complaining about Sundowner’s negative response to his dressage lessons and blaming HIM was not going to yield any shortcuts to our success. The day she showed up with a big button on her lapel that said, “No Whining” was the end of my complaining and impatience, and the beginning of my becoming truly focused on the tasks at hand. I learned that riding through (and often repeating) mistakes did not pose any real solutions to our problems. I attended numerous clinics from all sorts of notable professionals and we improved slowly, but a lot of the problems were still present. Sundowner would still bolt and run when things got a bit awkward, but he eventually stopped bolting once I changed my attitude and approach, and when he was secure in his core strength in good equine posture.
I thought about what my grandmother had told me years ago about being polite and considerate with everything I did. Good manners were everything to her and I thought I was using good manners. I soon found that good manners were not the only important element of communication. Empathy was another important consideration…to put oneself in the other “person’s” shoes, and that could be attributed to animals as well. So I began to ask myself how it would feel to me if I was approached and treated the way I was treating my equines. My first epiphany was during grooming. It occurred to me that grooming tools like a shedding blade might not feel very good unless I was careful about the way I used it. Body clipping was much more tolerable for them if I did the hard-to-get places first and saved the general body for last. Standing for long periods of time certainly did not yield a calm, compliant attitude when the more tedious places were left until last. After standing for an hour or more, the animal got antsy when I was trying to do more detailed work around the legs, head, flanks and ears after the body, so I changed the order. Generally speaking, I slowed my pace and eliminated any abrupt movements on my part to give the equine adequate time to assess what I would do next and approached each task very CAREFULLY. The results were amazing! I could now groom, clip bridle paths and fly spray everyone with no halters even in their turnout areas as a herd. They were all beginning to really trust me.
There was still one more thing my grandmother had said that echoed in my brain, “You are going to be a sorry old woman if you do not learn to stand up straight and move in good posture!” Good posture is not something that we are born with. It is something that must be learned and practiced repetitiously so it becomes habitual for it to really contribute to your overall health. Good posture begins at the core, “the innermost, essential part of anything.” In a human being, it lies behind the belly button amongst the vital organs and surrounded by the skeletal frame. In a biped, upon signals from the brain, energy impulses run from the core and up from the waist, and simultaneously down through the lower body and legs. The core of an equine is at the center of balance in the torso and energy runs primarily horizontally from the core in each direction. Similar to bipeds, they need the energy to run freely along the hindquarters and down through the hind legs to create a solid foundation from which to allow the energy in front to rise into suspension to get the most efficient movement. When their weight is shifted too much onto the front end, their ability to carry a rider efficiently and move correctly is compromised. To achieve correct energy flow and efficient movement, the animal’s internal supportive structures need to be conditioned in a symmetrical way around the skeletal frame. People can do this by learning to walk with a book on their head and with Pilates exercises, but how can we affect this same kind of conditioning in a quadruped?
The first thing I noticed is when we lead our animals with the lead rope in the right hand, we drop our shoulder and are no longer in good posture. When we walk, our hand moves ever so slightly from left to right as we walk. We inadvertently move the equine’s head back and forth. They balance with their head and neck and thus, we are forcing them off balance with every step that we take; and since movement builds muscle, they are being asymmetrically conditioned internally and externally with every step we take together. In order to correct this, we must allow the animal to be totally in control of his own body as we walk together. We are cultivating proprioception or “body awareness.”
During the time you do the core strength leading exercises, you should NOT ride the animal as this will inhibit the success of these preliminary exercises. It will not result in the same symmetrical muscle conditioning, habitual behavior and new way of moving. The lessons need to be routine and done in good posture from the time you take your equine from the pen until the time you put him away for the best results. Hold the lead rope in your LEFT hand keeping slack in the lead rope, keep his head at your shoulder, match your steps with his front legs, point in the direction of travel with your right hand and look where you are going. Carry his reward of oats in a fanny pack around your waist. He’s not likely to bolt if he knows his reward is right there in the fanny pack.
Plan to move in straight lines and do gradual turns that encourage him to stay erect and bend through his rib cage, keeping an even distribution of weight through all four feet. Square him up with equal weight over all four feet EVERY TIME you stop and reward him with oats from your fanny pack. Then wait patiently for him to finish chewing. We are building NEW habits in the equine’s way of moving and the only way that can change is through routine, consistency in the routine and correctness in the execution of the exercises. Since this requires that you be in good posture as well, you will also reap the benefits from this regimen. Along with feeding correctly (explained on my website at www.luckythreeranch.com), these exercises will help equines to drop fat rolls and begin to develop the top line and abdominal strength in good posture. The spine will then be adequately supported to easily accept a rider. He will be better able to stand still as you pull on the saddle horn to mount.
When the body is in good posture, all internal organs can function properly and the skeletal frame will be supported correctly throughout his entire body. This will greatly minimize joint problems, arthritis and other anomalies that come from asymmetrical development and compromises in the body. Just as our children need routine, ongoing learning and the right kind of exercise while they are growing up, so do equines. They need boundaries for their behavior clearly outlined to minimize anxious behaviors and inappropriate behavior, and the exercises that you do together need to build strength and coordination in good equine posture. The time spent together during leading training and going forward slowly builds a good solid relationship with your equine and fosters his confidence and trust in you. He will know it is you who actually helps him to feel physically much better than he ever has.
Core muscle strength and balance must be done through correct leading exercises on flat ground. Coordination can be added to his overall carriage with the addition of negotiating obstacles on the lead rope done the same way. Once familiar with the obstacles, you will need to break them down into very small segments where the equine is asked to randomly halt squarely every couple of steps through the obstacle. You can tell when you have successfully achieved core strength in good balance when your equine will perform accurately with the lead rope slung over his neck. He will stay at your shoulder, respond to hand signals and body language only and does what is expected perfectly. A carefully planned routine coupled with an appropriate feeding program is critical to your equine’s healthy development.
The task at the leading stage is not only to teach them to follow, but to have your equine follow with his head at your shoulder as you define straight lines and gradual arcs that will condition his body symmetrically on all sides of the skeletal frame. This planned course of action also begins to develop a secure bond between you. Mirror the steps of his front legs as you go through the all movements keeping your own body erect and in good posture. Always look in the direction of travel and ask him to square up with equal weight over all four feet every time he stops and reward him. This kind of leading training develops strength and balance in the equine body at the deepest level so strengthened muscles will hold the bones, tendons and ligaments and even cartilage in correct alignment. Equines that are not in correct equine posture will have issues involving organs, joints, hooves and soft tissue trauma. This is why it is so important to spend plenty of time perfecting your techniques every time you lead your equine.
The equine next needs to build muscle so he can sustain his balance on the circle without the rider before he will be able to balance with a rider. An equine that has not had time in the round pen to establish strength, coordination and balance on the circle with the help of our postural restraint called the “Elbow Pull” will have difficulty as he will be pulled off balance with even the slightest pressure. He will most likely raise his head, hollow his back and lean like a motorcycle into the turns. When first introduced to the “Elbow Pull,” his first lesson in the round pen should only be done at the walk to teach him to give to its pressure, arch his back and stretch his spine while tightening his abs. If you ask for trot and he resists against the “Elbow Pull,” just go back to the walk until he can consistently sustain this good posture while the “Elbow Pull” stays loose. He can gain speed and difficulty as his proficiency increases.
Loss of balance will cause stress, and even panic that can result in him pulling the lead rope, lunge line or reins under saddle right out of your hands and running off. This is not disobedience, just fear from a loss of balance and it should not be punished, just ignored and then calmly go back to work. The animal that has had core strength built through leading exercises, lunging on the circle and ground driving in the “Elbow Pull” before riding will not exhibit these seemingly disobedient behaviors. Lunging will begin to develop hard muscle over the core muscles and internal supportive structures you have spent so many months strengthening during leading training exrecises. It will further enhance your equine’s ability to perform and stay balanced in action, and play patterns in turnout will begin to change dramatically as this becomes his habitual way of going. Be sure to be consistent with verbal commands during all these beginning stages as they set the stage for better communication and exceptional performance later. Although you need to spend more time in his beginning training than you might want to, this will also add to your equine’s longevity and use-life by as much as 5-10 years. The equine athlete that has a foundation of core strength in good equine posture, whether used for pleasure or show, will be a much more capable and safe performer than one that has not, and he will always be grateful to YOU for his comfort.
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.
© 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Wrangler is such a goof ball! Because Wrangler would lock up in front of the Tack Barn and not want to walk over the grate, I got smart and learned to take Chasity to the Tack Barn first. Then, he didn’t even notice the grate and walked right in! However, he gets pretty rambunctious about waiting his turn. I could lead them both at once, but he needs to learn to be by himself with me sometimes…and BEHAVE! When I first got Wrangler, he would get excited like this and then just try run over me when I opened the stall door. Through repetition and humane discipline, I changed his behavior with Behavior Modification, a systematic reward system of training. To be successful, one needs to target the behaviors that need to change, set up the equine for success and promptly reward the positive behaviors as they occur. AND, you need a specific, consistent and humane way to stop bad behaviors in their tracks when they occur. We work on the premise of POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT, but we also need to learn how to use NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT if one does not want to be hurt, or even killed, by these VERY LARGE and STRONG animals!
The negative reinforcement that I use really works. When he got aggressive the first time, I raised my hand like a stop sign and when he did not stop, he got a firm slap to the side of his mouth as I said, “NO!” as loud as I could. I promptly raised my hand like a stop sign in front of his face again after which he started to turn back around. I quickly took a handful of oats from my fanny pack, took a step forward and offered him the oats. He did a double-take and came back for the oats to which I replied, “Thank you for giving me my space!” Going forward, he still occasionally gets too aggressive, but he always stops when I put my hand up like a stop sign in front of his face and takes a step back. He won’t need to be slapped again since this was done correctly the first time. He remembers!
As soon as I open the stall door now, Wrangler immediately stops his antics and becomes a gentleman that can be rewarded. He stands stock still while I put on the halter and then drops his head at my shoulder. I hold his lead rope in my left hand while pointing in the direction of travel with my right hand. I tell him to “Walk on” and look down to see what foot he is leading with and follow his front legs, step for step. We get IN SYNC with each other and I lead him that way from the time he leaves his pen to the time he returns. I do this the very same way with ALL of my equines ALL of the time. Consistency breeds familiarity and compliance.
Donkeys have issues with chronic runny eyes and noses. The way to stave off any infection is to clean their eyes, nostrils and ears with a damp towel daily. This also encourages them to accept handling around their face in general.
Donkeys are inherently desert animals and can severely founder or colic on lush feed. Symptoms of too rich feed will be manifested in the hooves as abscesses, crusty growth, collapsed heels and frogs, or just plain stress rings. Wrangler has abnormally small rear hooves and it is important that his core strength is developed in good postural balance to make sure the weight distribution is even so none of his hooves are carrying too much weight for his size.
Wrangler is rather flat-withered and needs a saddle that will “hug” his body, leaving ample room for his spine.
I initially tighten the girth snug, but not too tight. The crupper is adjusted so the tail lies comfortably.
I gently press on the bars of his jaw to open his mouth for the bit and carefully bring the crown of the bridle over his ears, protecting them with my hand. Being polite and considerate will get much more cooperation from your equine.
I adjust all the straps on the bridle so it is comfortable, paying special attention around the ears. The drop noseband helps him learn to hold the bit properly. I always gradually tighten the girth over several times.
The walk to the Round Pen is still IN SYNC…all three of us! Wrangler’s “Elbow Pull” postural restraint is adjusted and he is reminded how to release the tension.
Wrangler’s posture has greatly improved over three years and has given him added strength, endurance, stamina and animation to his gaits. He defies the slow and pokey characterization of donkeys in general! He’s a true athlete!
Wrangler and Chasity do a very nice reverse in sync with each other. Wrangler resumes the working walk.
Five rotations at walk, five rotations at trot, reverse and repeat in the other direction. We do 3 sets with a 3-minute break in between. Rewards are in order with every halt. With every halt, Wrangler is asked to rebalance and square up!
Then I begin riding with three rotations at trot in each direction. I carry a riding crop in case he needs a little encouragement to keep going. If he gets too tired, we call it quits and will do more another day.
I always end the sessions with a halt and rein back. Then I dismount and reward him again for a job well done!
Back in the Tack Barn at the work station, I carefully remove the bridle. I always hold the halter crown strap in my right hand while removing the bridle. I then slip the bridle onto my left arm, pick up the nose band of the halter in my left hand, bring it over his nose and buckle the halter. This way, if he pulls away, I still have my arms (and halter) around his neck to hold on to him.
We make our way back to the barn and Wrangler waits patiently while Chasity enters the stall first (Ladies first, you know!). He follows her sedately into the stall and they both turn around to me to have their halters removed and to receive their rewards. Wrangler “suggests” to me politely that I should hurry with Chasity’s halter and get to the rewards…QUICKLY! He’s still hungry!!! Silly boy!!!
Due to the colder and more inclement weather here in Colorado, Chasity has been off her exercise program for about three months. It was time to get back to work! No matter how long it has been between lessons, when you have a specific routine, the equines seem to comply easily because they know what to expect, beginning with going to their regular work station to be groomed and tacked up. In order to keep upper respiratory disease at bay, eye infections and ear problems to a minimum, it is advisable to clean these areas with a damp towel regularly. Be polite and wipe the towel in the direction that the hair lays and clean the nostrils with a circular motion. This repetition will prevent them from getting head shy.
Chasity still thinks the vacuum cleaner is questionable, but she tolerates it now. Not only does it pull the dirt from the skin for healthy hair growth, it also promotes circulation better than massage and does a better job at softening her “fat roll.” I used massage in the beginning when Chasity first came here with her enlarged crest (photo below on the right).
It had become somewhat enlarged again about three weeks ago, but after two sessions with the vacuum cleaner, it has decreased substantially already.
Another valuable therapeutic grooming tool is this simple human, multi-bristled hairbrush. It is not only VERY helpful during shedding, but also works to further stimulate the hair coat and promote better circulation, as well as efficiently removing dirt from the skin. I have found it to be more helpful for healthy hair than any equine grooming tools. The long, thick hair coats of winter and spring stay soft and healthy when I use this hair brush over the entire body. I only clip bridle paths when the weather gets warmer and I leave body clipping for showing. The only other grooming tools I use are a shedding blade to remove mud and a dandy brush to finish the coat. They can have balding spots from rubbing during the shedding season and may even get sores, but I just treat those with Neosporin and they recede quickly. A healthy hair coat will insulate your equine from the heat and cold and protect them from insects better than any artificial products or practices.
Equines do like feeling clean all over and really do appreciate your efforts at keeping them this way…although, they don’t necessarily show it when the first thing they do after a good grooming is to go for a good roll in the dirt!!! Still, they do seem to realize that you care and will show their appreciation in a multitude of other ways…like being happy to leave their companions to go with YOU and stand quietly during grooming, tacking and hoof care!
Feeding is a very important consideration for healthy hooves as are regular trims when needed, usually every 8-10 weeks. For donkeys, it can even be longer between trims when they wear their hooves in good balance. Chasity had hoof issues when she first arrived, but is now sporting healthy balanced feet! Remember that Longears will be more upright and have more heel than horses and ponies…and donkeys will typically be more upright and have more heel than mules.
Fitting saddles can be tricky. Make sure the saddle makes even contact behind the withers and over the back with relief from pressure over the spine. Many saddles sit too high and cause centralized and uneven pressure across the back. Pressure points are easily identified after a workout. The back will be sweaty, but the pressure points will be dry.
Place the saddle in the center of the back, behind the shoulder blade, the girth falling 4” behind the forearm where the skin is thicker and body begins to swell. I have successfully used cruppers with the buckles set away from the tail to hold it in place. The crupper is adjusted with just enough tension so the tail will still be able to rest comfortably.
I am using the neck sweat on Chasity for lunging to promote a decrease in the crest. When bridling, I press my thumb on the bars of her mouth to get it open and protect her ears with my hands as I pull the crown piece to the poll. This promotes trust and keeps any equine from getting ear shy.
On an English saddle there is a small d-ring that I use to tie up the reins.
Then it is off to the Round Pen. I always stay in sync with their front legs when we walk and execute the gates EXACTLY the same way EVERY TIME! All movements are predictable, never abrupt. They comply due to trust.
I adjust Chasity’s postural restraint, the “Elbow Pull,” and then remind her to give to the tension to get the release with a reward of oats for flexing at the poll. Wrangler, “Mr. Curiosity” watches intently…they do learn from each other!
Chasity’s overall posture has changed dramatically as has her movement. She uses her body much more efficiently.
Chasity has strong hind quarter engagement with an uphill balance to promote enthusiasm, endurance and stamina.
A reward is always in order for a job well done. Her forward stretch has improved greatly in one short year.
The lateral stretches are also much improved. After five rotations of walk, then trot, then reverse and repeat the other direction, 3 sets with a 3 minute break in between, then stop. Done once a week is adequate to maintain conditioning.
I hold the halter crown strap in my hand and protect her ears as I remove Chasity’s bridle. Then I slip the bridle onto my left arm, bring the noseband over her nose with my left hand and fasten the halter to the strap in my right hand. This ensures that I can keep hold of her should she try to pull away. Last, I fasten the tie strap from the hitch rail.
I always unfasten the girth on the left, then tie up the girth on the right, slide the saddle back, loosen the crupper from the tail and take off the saddle on the right side. This gets the equine used to being handled from BOTH sides. I always rinse the bits and wipe any dirt from the bridles and saddles before putting them away…saves work in the long run!
I remove Chasity’s neck sweat to see how much sweat is underneath…encouraging! We are definitely making progress!
To end, we do a few more stretches in each direction. These are improving immensely, too!
Then it’s walking IN SYNC back to the barn for turnout in the larger dry lot. They enter the stall, ladies first, and then they both turn around to allow me to remove their halters and to enjoy their last reward. I keep all my donkeys off grass most of the time. I find that they stay healthier and do not run the risk of getting obese that way. They do have large dry lots for turnout on pea gravel every day and a couple of acres of dirt pen for really stretching their legs every other day. They do get some grass when we go for walks, but do not seem to miss it most of the time. They are too busy playing and resting with each other…and looking forward to our next lesson TOGETHER!
The following is from All About Equine Animal Rescue:
We got some not so good news this morning. Zena’s right eye, the good eye, lost the battle with the ulcer; her right eye ruptured. As a result, she needed surgery to remove the eye. Fortunately, everything went well, and she’ll be coming home soon.
We will be happy to have her back at the barn soon to help her adjust to a new world. Her left eye is doing much better and will likely require ongoing treatment for uveitis. Fortunately, uveitis can me managed long term if it doesn’t resolve.
Please send Zena some healing thoughts!
Need to catch up on Zena’s health situation? Read about it here.
Thank you to the supporters who have already donated towards her care. We are so grateful for our community!
If you’re able to help with her surgery and additional care costs, Zena and everyone at AAE would appreciate your support.
Donate, share, follow!
We can’t do this without you!
Not only do we need your support, we need your help to spread the word.
Share our Posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!
BOOTS IS BACK!!!
We are so excited our 8th Annual Boots and Bling event is scheduled (in-person), Saturday August 21st at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds. This event will feature a BBQ dinner, DJ music, and live, silent, and dessert auctions. We hope you will be able to join us! Stay tuned for more information to come!
Would you like to help? We are looking for volunteers to help with event planning, decor, ticket sales, sponsorship, auction item donations, and more.
If you are interested in helping, please email BandB@allaboutequine.org
If you are interested in becoming an event sponsor, please email email@example.com
If you are interested in donating to the auctions, please email Dani@allaboutequine.org
NEED A LITTLE MORE
IN YOUR LIFE?
These beauties are all lookin’ for lifelong LOVE!
Learn more about each horse by clicking on its name.
If you are interested in exploring adoption,
please learn more about our adoption process
or submit an Adoption Inquiry.
For more information, click on the name to visit the horse’s or donkey’s webpage, and submit an Adoption Inquiry if you’d like to explore adoption.
Here are more ways you can help!
As a horse sponsor, your monthly or annual contribution helps support the costs of care for a specific horse.
You can sponsor at any level or any amount you choose.
Choose a horse to sponsor today!
A lot of people tell me they have problems when their jennets or molly mules are in heat. And, they expect the behaviors of their gelding to change drastically when they are castrated. In my experience, it really doesn’t make much difference if you have a fair and equitable management and training program. When their bodies are managed in a healthy way and they are consistently taught good manners, they will be willing and able to perform well regardless. I always approach training in a fair and equitable manner that does not throw too much at them all at once so as to avoid anxiety. Wrangler and Chasity both appreciate this (as did my jack, stallion and other females). It wasn’t until AFTER this lesson that I realized that Chasity was in heat and Wrangler was EXCITED about it! This program is a slow, logical and sequential approach that the equines truly appreciate and respond to positively no matter their mood. The results are miraculous!
Today, we were to begin with an interview about donkeys. Wrangler watched intently while Robbie wired me with the microphone. Then we went to the center of the Round Pen where I set him up and asked Wrangler to stand quietly while we did the interview, and he did what he was told. Such a good boy!
After the interview, Wrangler did his exercises of five rotations at walk, trot and even a little bit of canter. He is getting really good about stretching his spine from head to tail and his flexibility is greatly improved.
Since Wrangler had previously bolted with the lunge line in the dressage arena, I thought another lesson might be in order. I asked for the halt. Then we went to the open arena where I tied the end of the lunge line to the his bit with four inches to spare that I ran under his chin and snapped to the bit ring on the other side. This would prevent the bit from being pulled through his mouth.
I first lunged him to the right at walk and trot, halted him and changed the line to the other side. I gave a slight pull on the lunge line as his outside front leg was in suspension as a cue to keep him on the arc of the circle.
Wrangler did very well, so I stopped him and he stood quietly while I rolled up the lunge line. He followed me when I put away the line and stood still again while I prepared to mount.
Once mounted, the reward was in order followed by a rein back. He was offering more steps in each new lesson with only very slight squeeze/releases from my little fingers.
We did a very well-balanced turn on the haunches and made our way into the Hourglass Pattern. Wrangler proceeded forward with an energized working walk.
Wrangler remained erect in his body carriage as we made our way through the pattern, bending his body appropriately through his rib cage to the arcs of the turns and moving in good posture on straight lines.
Wrangler remained soft in his response to my hands, seat and legs. Donkeys are notorious for leaning against pressure, so it was imperative that I kept myself relaxed and “giving” to his movement.
Wrangler’s internal pendulum kept him moving through the Hourglass Pattern in a very nice balance, first through the pattern one way, across the diagonal and again in the opposite direction. My inside leg at the girth on the turns helped him to stay erect while my outside leg was well back to support the bend and encourage impulsion.
Wrangler obediently executed a square halt followed by a nice rein back with the lightest of cues from my fingertips. When you are patient and spend the time to train your equine this way, it makes a world of difference in their gaits and produces an incredibly smooth ride!
Wrangler stood quietly during the dismount and went through the gate perfectly! It was truly a resistance-free lesson! That is what you will get when you spend time on accuracy and wait for speed to come later.
Wrangler and Chasity both stood stock still while I got Chasity untied, then we all walked happily in sync together back to the Tack Barn! Leading them together is never a problem! The boundaries to good behavior have been established from the very beginning. They both know clearly what is expected!
Chasity and Wrangler enjoy working with each other nearby and seem to learn things a lot quicker with a lot less resistance. It also affords me the ability to work more animals in less time. It’s a win-win situation. It doesn’t mean they won’t work by themselves. They will do that as well when they get to work with and without each other. This consistent routine with minimal variety greatly reduces anxiety and bad behaviors. The “Elbow Pull” is convenient for tying one while the other is working. There is no need to fuss with halters and lead ropes. I tie Wrangler while Chasity waits her turn patiently. It is a passive way to teach them to stand quietly when tied.
Today we will be going to the outdoor arena for riding in the Hourglass Pattern, but I opt to do some warm-up in the Round Pen first because I do not want to ask Chasity to trot in the Hourglass Pattern just yet. It is better to get her exercise done first, so we can then work on fine tuning her response to the aids: hands, seat and legs. Trotting will come later when she is consistent in her good posture, ultra-light in the bridle, moving off my legs easily and is following my seat.
Wrangler is tied outside the arena just as he has been tied outside the Round Pen. Chasity comes through the gate, stands squarely and receives her reward with no abrupt changes to the routine.
Chasity stands quietly as I mount, settle gently onto her back and politely receives her reward. She is enjoying being in a larger space, but is not anxious to walk off. She will do so only when I ask.
Chasity’s rein back is greatly improved and she is offering more steps upon request each time. She will only step one step at a time as I ask for them, and will also stop when I relax my seat and loosen the reins. I maintain a light connection to her mouth and I give the cue to move forward with my calves wrapped lightly around her belly. I maintain this contact with my legs and just nudge her on each side through the turns while I give a slight squeeze/ release with my little finger in the direction of travel.
Chasity enjoys the feeling of “being hugged” by my legs with only gentle nudges from each side that push her into the direction of travel, and a nudge from both sides at once should she lose energy.
Most of the time, my legs lightly hug her sides and allow her the freedom to move while they simply support the even balance through the straight lines in the pattern. As we turn, the inside leg will move forward to the girth to keep her erect while the outside leg is back further and supports the bend to the arc of the turns.
When Chasity is balanced in self-carriage, the “Elbow Pull” remains loose, she is light in the bridle and sensitive to my seat and legs. Wrangler watches her with intense interest! He knows he will soon have a turn!
Keeping lessons short, slow and accurate will enhance Chasity’s ability to learn. We track once around the Hourglass Pattern with circles at the cones, then cross the diagonal and do the same in the opposite direction.
In the beginning, I do not use the ground rails as I did for leading exercises. It is more important for Chasity to focus on balancing my newly added, shifting weight before asking her to shift her own body weight and mine over any obstacles. I want her secure in her own balance with me aboard before we do any obstacles.
Chasity is learning to execute an energetic, forward working walk in complete postural balance. She makes a smooth turn, maintains her forward energy and tracks up the centerline of the pattern.
Chasity comes to a nice, balanced halt, waits patiently for a few seconds and then reins back easily upon request.
I dismount, loosen her girth and release the “Elbow Pull.” Chasity remains attentive and then stretches her neck and spine before we exit the arena. It was a relaxing and comfortable workout for us both. Maybe next time, we will be able to add the trot…if she offers it! We want to keep things controlled and accurate so she builds up the core elements in her body symmetrically. This is vital to good health and optimum performance!
After extensive work in the Round Pen getting Chasity and Wrangler light in the bridle, we are finally ready to graduate to the Hourglass Pattern in the open arena. They enjoy working together, so I just take them both together and tie one outside the working area while I work with the other. We only do these lessons weekly, but they seem to practice good posture on their own during turnout in between lessons. Their play and rest patterns are changing and their posture is improving dramatically. They can now support my weight efficiently in the saddle, so it is now time to hone their skills in a more open setting where we can work more freely. They could trot while sustaining their good postural balance in the Round Pen without my added weight, but that is a pretty restricted place to introduce the trot with my weight in the saddle. So I will tie up Wrangler with his “Elbow Pull” while I work with Chasity.
As always, she leads easily, politely negotiates the gate and stands quietly while I adjust her “Elbow Pull” and adjust her equipment. I will tighten the girth a bit more for lunging to hold the saddle in place. I always tighten the girth a little at a time and not all at once for her comfort. She appreciates my consideration.
In preparation for riding, I will lunge Chasity first. When I ride her, I want her sufficiently warmed up and responsive to perfecting our communication skills. The five rotations at walk, then trot in each direction is sufficient exercise with some speed as she is now well-balanced while performing these tasks. The faster gaits under saddle will come later.
Chasity executes a very nice reverse and immediately slows to the walk, maintaining her good posture. When they are in a good equine posture, the entire length of the spine is stretched, causing space and elasticity between the vertebrae.
If the equine is perpetually allowed to carry their head too high, the vertebrae can become stuck and calcified too close together and over time can cause a condition called “Kissing Spine” that keeps the spine rigid and inflexible.
After a sufficient warm up with the addition of a bit of canter while tracking to the right, Chasity is ready to be ridden in the Hourglass Pattern. She obediently comes out the gate and turns to me for her reward.
I politely mount, settle onto her back softly and offer her reward as I did in the Tack Barn and then in the Round Pen. She stands absolutely still.
Then we do a rein back before moving forward into the Hourglass Pattern. Contrary to popular belief, this “pattern training” will allow Chasity to concentrate on the details of tracking forward, bending and staying light in the bridle.
The arcs and turns in the Hourglass Pattern allow Chasity’s internal pendulum to swing from side to side and come to rest at dead center when she finally halts. She maintains straight lines and bends to the arcs through her rib cage.
When an equine is perpetually schooled on the rail or in too many circles in one direction and then another, this radical movement does not allow the internal pendulum to become centered and balanced.
There is an optical illusion that takes place when riding the rail that “pushes” the balance continuously to one side. Straight lines become difficult and bending will be stiff at best.
This swaying in the Hourglass Pattern from one arc to another keeps the internal pendulum moving freely from side to side while the equine moves freely forward. It produces fluid motion and relaxation in the equine.
All of this keeps the animal responsive, light in the bridle and facilitates good postural movement that results in squared halts and straight rein backs. They enjoy their work because it FEELS good!
Chasity stands still while I fish in my pocket for her final reward for a job well done! Her balance is solid!
We then go back to the Round Pen area to retrieve Wrangler from his “spectator seat!” Wrangler and Chasity have been taught exactly and consistently the same way, so they are quite maneuverable and willing to do as I ask. I have not experienced a “balky” donkey or mule in years!