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MULE CROSSING: Jumping Mules

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By Meredith Hodges

In 1986, when I first began using my mules in Dressage, you would never have convinced me that I would follow it up with jumping. I was fearful of jumping because of a few bad experiences I had with horses. However, once I took the time to learn to ride and train properly with Dressage and experienced the overall stability of a mule, my fear disappeared.

Nowadays, when people find out that I jump my mules, the response is often, “I didn’t know mules could jump!” Not only can mules jump, they are quite good at it. However, if a mule or any other equine is to have the strength and coordination they need for jumping, their training must be approached in a specific, practical and healthy way. Then they can learn to maintain good rhythm in all gaits between jumps, to jump only as high as needed to clear fences, and to adjust their strides to and away from jumps. Proper jumping training takes time and patience because there is much more to jumping than just making it over the fences.

If you speak to mule owners all over the world, you will hear at least one tale in ten about a mule jumping out of his pen. If they have the inclination, most mules have the ability to easily clear a fence up to and even over six feet high. The capability is certainly there, but in general, mules lack the motivation to expend the energy to actually jump out.

The muscle structure of a mule is a bit different than that of a horse—somewhat like the difference between the muscle structure of a ballet dancer and a weight lifter. A mule’s muscle structure (like that of a ballet dancer’s) is comprised of longer, smoother muscle with less bulky areas, a trait inherited from the donkey. This gives him a slightly more streamlined appearance than that of a horse. And like a ballet dancer, a mule can spring his body effortlessly into the air using the muscles in his hindquarters, giving him the ability to jump either from a standstill or while in motion. For the weight lifter or the horse, this maneuver is not as easy due to their particular muscle structure. So when selecting a horse for advanced jumping, it is wise to select a breed or type of horse that has less bulk muscle and more smooth muscle, like the mule.

When riding toward a jump, a mule’s approach can often interfere with his coursework because his impulse is usually to gallop to the jump, stop and then spring over the top. Horses, on the other hand, tend to naturally do their coursework more smoothly and in stride. The mule can learn to jump in stride if given the correct schooling to overcome his instinctive way of going.

Regardless of the mule’s inherent strength and endurance, in the beginning of jumping training, he will lack the muscle development and stamina required to negotiate a course of jumps effortlessly and in stride. Like any other living creature, he can only strengthen the muscles that he uses, so it is up to you to make sure he is doing specific exercises that pinpoint the correct sets of muscles so he can do his job over the jumps, between the jumps, before and after the jumps. These three tasks require different postures that need to be supported by different muscle groups, so work on training and strengthening the specific exercises as outlined in DVD #7 of my Training Mules and Donkeys series. A proper conditioning program of exercises for your mule will strengthen the muscles needed for jumping and will prepare him for a more polished performance. This is also a good opportunity to fine-tune all the muscles in your own body as you fine-tune those of your mule or any other equine.

While training your equine to jump, you must ask yourself some very important questions. Does my animal possess the strength of body to carry him from the hindquarters with sufficient impulsion, rhythm and balance? Can he readily lengthen or shorten his stride to accommodate the distance to his fences? Are these adjustments easily made, or does my equine tend to throw his weight onto his forehand during transitions between gaits and over fences? Remember, the animal that is well schooled in jumping will carry his body with ease and make smooth transitions from an uphill balance.

There are a series of exercises that will help to build your prospect into a beautiful, stylish and exciting jumper, but it will take time and patience— there just aren’t any shortcuts. Taking the time and exercising your patience will produce not only an animal that jumps properly, but one that is also strong and confident in his abilities. This can come in mighty handy later on when you find yourself in more demanding jumping situations. Having taught your equine to jump safely, you will have a more pleasurable and stress-free ride.

When initially riding a mule over jumps, you will notice the slightly “different” way that he feels in action, compared to a horse. If you are used to jumping horses, this may seem a little odd at first but you will soon find that the mule feels more sure and stable. To me, a mule seems more balanced and stronger throughout than does a horse, and so the chance of taking a misstep or crashing a jump is lessened. Should a loss of balance or error occur, the mule is usually able to more quickly recover than the horse, making for a safer ride.

For those of you who still don’t believe that mules can really jump, all I can say is, believe it! More than a few retired cavalry officers have personally told me about Hambone, the infamous jumping mule from Fort Carson, Colorado. They’ve also told me about jumping their mules Roman-style, which means standing with one foot on the rear end of each of a pair of mules while doing patterns and jumping obstacles!

Today, mules are jumped in all kinds of events, from Combined Training to Hunter/Jumper classes. Jumping mules adds excitement and variety to training events and events where mules jump in competition under saddle against each other, and even against horses. Coon hunters often display the mule’s natural ability to jump from a standstill by jumping them in-hand over fences, either on hunts or at shows, and some mule owners even try their luck at Fox Hunting. By any standards, the mule’s capacity to jump is unquestionable, and there is no doubt he will continue to climb the ladder of equine success.

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.

© 2016, 2017, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Longears Music Videos: Because We Can: Dressage

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MULE CROSSING: Dancing with Mules

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By Meredith Hodges

Lucky Three Sundowner was foaled at my mother’s Windy Valley Ranch in Healdsburg, California in June of 1980. Two weeks later he and his dam, Candy Etta, an AQHA registered mare, were shipped to the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, where we continued the superior mule breeding and training program that my mother had started. Sunny was a tall, gangly little bay mule foal with an affectionate and willing attitude.

His show career began at halter and progressed to Western Pleasure and Reining by the time he was three years old. He won the World Championship in Reining at Bishop Mule Days as a four year old in 1984. Although he did very well in these events, he still seemed tense and nervous. For the next two years, I decided to focus on more relaxing events for him in Western Pleasure, Trail and English Pleasure. People were not easily accepting mules in equine events that were reserved for horses and ponies. Mules were universally considered stubborn, uncooperative and only suitable for the activities of farming, packing and pulling heavy loads. I suspected that this was not true and set out to prove it by schooling my mules in every discipline possible. Sunny had won the World Championship in Reining. I believed that schooling in Dressage could only help him in other judged disciplines and I set out to prove it.

During our beginnings in Colorado, there were small mule shows and some schooling horse shows that we could attend to test our skills. However, most people really didn’t believe mules could do all the different events that horses could do and did not want us around. A picture of Colonel Alois Podhajsky hung over my bed since I was small and I have always been in awe of the supreme levels of horsemanship that Dressage horses could attain. My dream was to be able to dance with Sunny in Dressage, but without anyone to help us, how could we ever achieve that level?

In 1986, fellow mule lover Sally McClean and I attended the United States Dressage Federation Convention and asked that mules be accepted into Dressage schooling shows. We were met with resistance, but there were some who were empathetic to our plight and they agreed that we should be allowed to compete at the lower levels to be able to test our skills and be part of the Dressage community. Sunny and I began Dressage lessons with local United States Dressage Federation instructor/trainer, Melinda Weatherford in Fort Collins, Colorado. Since neither Sunny, nor I, were previously schooled in Dressage and because he was a mule, we were faced with a much harder journey than we ever imagined. Lindy certainly had her work cut out for her teaching the two of us!

With acceptance by the U.S.D.F. (United States Dressage Federation), I felt it was important that our World Mule Show in Bishop, California, offered classes in Dressage. There were now a few others who were starting their mules in Dressage and they would need a place to show their progress against their own kind. The Bishop Mule Days Committee agreed and Dressage was included as a part of this truly world-class mule show! With the addition of Dressage, Bishop Mule Days became a 5-day show. Today, Bishop boasts a full week of over 180 different mule and donkey events with over 800 entries each year. Dressage classes grew rapidly with increased interest! People were beginning to realize how much Dressage could influence their Longears’ performance in other classes. Even the donkey classes began to improve and more events were offered for them as well. My own Little Jack Horner was working at Second Level Dressage, which was unheard of for a donkey!

During Sunny’s first Training Level Dressage test in 1988, he got frustrated and ran off with me! Mules will sometimes do that! He scored 5’s and 6’s. The judge’s comment was, “This could be a nice mover if you can get his brain-by teaching him shoulder-in and leg yielding…” Unfortunately, we were eliminated. In 1988, he made his second debut at Training Level Dressage at Bishop Mule Days. He had much improved scores of 6 and 7. The comments, were, “Very pleasing ride, lovely mule, need to work on halts.” The progress Sunny made in just a month was phenomenal!

Sunny really enjoyed the predictable exercise routine and was soon much more relaxed and submissive although, we still had an occasional runaway during practice. It took me awhile to figure out just why Sunny was running off with me. During the Reining training as a three year old, Sunnyhad been forced to continue to gallop after missing his lead changes. From that time on, he would take off every time he thought he made a mistake, even when I didn’t think he had! He thought that was the right thing to do, so I patiently just rode out the runaways on a loose rein and kept asking him verbally to “Whoa.” Each time, the runaways got shorter.

I knew that it was important to make sure his foundation work was stable and consistent, so we spent 1 ½ years schooling at Training Level Dressage. I made sure that he was only schooled every other day, with a day of rest in between. This seemed to help him to relax and settle, but his rhythm and cadence were still irregular at times. Then I thought maybe riding to music might help both of us. So, I sat down in the evenings, watched his training videos and picked music that would fit his natural rhythm at all three gaits. I even wore my Top Hat for our dress rehearsals to help me to set the mood. This staging during practice sessions made a dramatic change in his attitude… and mine!

Suddenly, we both experienced the harmony that we had only heard about that could take place between rider and horse, or in our case, rider and mule! It took a bit longer than expected, but spending that extra time at Training Level really improved his forward motion with strong engagement of his hind quarters. This, in turn, enhanced the lengthening and shortening of his strides within the working and extended gaits. We were ready to ask our coach if we could proceed to the next level. We began work on Leg Yields and attempted a bit of Shoulder-in.

We continued our weekly lessons with Lindy and progressed to First Level Dressage. We learned to sustain good balance, rhythm and cadence at all three working gaits and to lengthen these gaits with alacrity and grace. People at the farm where we took lessons began to stop and watch us in awe! They had never seen such a thing! In May of 1989, he showed at Bishop Mule Days again with scores of 6 and 7. The comments, “Nice moving mule. Good impulsion, but unsteady at times. Good overall.” There were 10 entries that year and Sunny placed first! We were definitely making progress and people were beginning to notice!

Later in the summer of 1989, Sunny and I began to work at Second Level Dressage and entered some local schooling shows against horses to measure our progress. He did very well and was rapidly becoming the “Dressage Spokesperson” for mules! In 1990, he took first in the Bishop Mule Days Second Level Dressage Class. He was honored by Bishop Mule Days when asked to do a special demonstration for their Sunday afternoon performance. Sunny wowed the crowd with his sensitivity, agility and graceful performance!

By May of 1991, Sunny was finally beginning to work at Third Level Dressage. Bishop had no Third Level Dressage class. So, they allowed Sunny to compete at Second Level Dressage again that year against four other mules and Dolly Barton who was rapidly becoming a Dressage champion herself – a mule bred by Bonnie Shields, the Tennessee Mule Artist!

Dolly placed first and Sunny placed second. Again, he scored 6’s and 7’s and the comments read, “Very nice ride! Needs more bending through turns and circles and scores will be higher.” Since both mules would be moving up another level by the next year, I went back to the Bishop Mule Days Committee and requested a Third Level Dressage class for 1992. They were so impressed with Lucky Three Sundowner and Dolly Barton that they agreed.

At Bishop Mule Days 1992, Sunny placed first against Dolly Barton in the Third Level Dressage class with scores of 6 and 7. I don’t think he liked being beat by a girl the year before! By 1993, Sunny was working at Fourth Level Dressage. It was at this time that I attempted to change his bridle, from the Eggbutt Snaffle Flash bridle, to a Weymouth Bridle with the curb action Weymouth and Bradoon. He reacted violently to the additional restriction from the Deluxe Weymouth Bridle. He was always compliant and responsive in his Eggbutt Snaffle Bridle, so I opted to go forward in the same bridle to keep him relaxed and happy with his work. He then competed a second year at Bishop Mule Days at Third Level Dressage, where he easily won being the only mule in the class. He had won respect from the horse community and had clearly surpassed his peers!

Quietly at home, with only a few onlookers, Sunny and I danced together to The Emperor’s Waltz by Johann Strauss with Canter Pirouettes, Half Passes, Passage and Piaffe. OUR DREAM TO DANCE TOGETHER HAD FINALLY COME TRUE! Lucky Three Sundowner passed away in October of 2015 at the age of 35 years, but his legacy remains. Dispelling all the old rumors about mules and donkeys, the memories we made together were priceless and paved the way for many more Longears athletes to “strut their stuff” in the equine industry of today! It took 18 years for mules to finally be accepted in the United States Dressage Federation Dressage Division in 2004, but nothing pleases me more than to see Longears successfully competing in the U.S.D.F. Dressage Finals against horses in Lexington, Kentucky! Long live our beloved Longears!

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.

© 2007, 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Little Jack Horner

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By Meredith Hodges


Little Jack Horner
, 13 HH Sire-Supreme of the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, was the last jack born at the famed Windy Valley Ranch in Healdsburg, California owned by my mother, Joyce Doty. He was foaled June 11, 1980, by the renowned Windy Valley Adam (14.2 HH) and out of Windy Valley Maude (15 HH). His ancestry can be traced back to the original breeding stock of George Washington’s farm at Mount Vernon, Virginia. 

In 1984 and 1985, Little Jack Horner captured second place in the Bishop Mule Days World Show Halter class for Standard Jacks. His impeccable show record consists of first and second place standings at Halter in his home state of Colorado, and in 1986, he placed first at Halter in the American Donkey and Mule Society Registered Jacks class at the A.D.M.S. Nationals in Dallas, Texas. 

In 1984, he made his debut in performance at the Colorado Classic Horse Show, placing first in Donkey Driving and Donkey Pleasure. His willing disposition held him in good stead, placing him first in Donkey Pleasure and Donkey Driving at Bishop Mule Days in 1989. Little Jack Horner (by his own enthusiastic request via running the fence) was trained in Dressage and Jumping along with his numerous offspring mules. He reached Second Level Dressage over three years and jumped four feet in exhibition at Bishop Mule Days in 1991 where he received a Specialty Award for his efforts. At Bishop Mule Days in 1993, he placed first in Donkey Pleasure, Donkey Pole Bending and Donkey Keyhole.

Although Dressage proved difficult (as it would be for any donkey), it helped to set the stage for his incredible athletic ability to jump. He soared over fences to 4’6” without a rider and worked up to 4’ with the rider on board. In keeping with traditional Dressage, Little Jack Horner worked on a Pas de Deux in Jumping with another Colorado Standard Jack, Blue Zebulon owned by Fran & Larry Howe of the Bitterroot Mule Company. Those who know the difficulty of working jacks together at all will appreciate their unique dispositions and good manners! Little Jack Horner proved himself to be not only a well-conformed breeding jack, but also a true athlete! He was inducted into the Bishop Mule Days Hall of Fame in May of 2014. 

As a breeding jack, Little Jack Horner produced some of the finest saddle mules in the world. Consistently, his genetic makeup was responsible for extremely attractive heads, refined straight legs and good angles in the hip and shoulder of his offspring mules and donkeys. In addition, these mules and donkeys reflected a smooth flowing topline, with depth of girth and a good length of neck for overall balance and beauty. Little Jack Horner’s mule and donkey offspring generally grew to the mare’s (or jennet’s) height or 2 inches taller despite L.J.’s own smaller size.

Lucky Three Firestorm never lost a Halter class and was an all-around English Champion Arabian mule.

It didn’t seem to matter with what breed of mare or jennet he was bred. His superior qualities shone through in his offspring, giving the mules an appearance more like really nice looking horses (and donkeys!), only with longer ears! 

Not only did Little Jack Horner seem to improve on the characteristics of the mares with which he was bred, but also with the jennets as well. At Lucky Three Ranch, we endeavored to produce a Mammoth Donkey with these same refined characteristics as Mammoth’s typically have a lot of thick bone in the joints and in their faces which I wished to refine. Little Jack Horner sired two jennets, Lucky Three Pantera and Lucky Three Serendipity, who indeed retained his refinement within a much larger frame. Pantera, as a two-year-old gray jennet, stood at 14.3 hands and Serendipity as a yearling, stood 13 hands, the very same height as her sire. Pantera matured to 15.2 hands and Serendipity matured to 14 hands. When we bred the daughters back to Blue Zebulon from the Bitterroot Mule Company, the offspring jacks did indeed retain Little Jack Horner’s refinement with no unsightly boniness in the heads and joints. His offspring were most often taller than both the mare and sire. Little Jack Horner proved time and time again that the jack is indeed responsible for the shape and thickness of bone, and not necessarily for the overall height of the offspring. 

Be it donkey or mule, Little Jack Horner’s offspring always placed at the top of the Halter classes in the early shows and in the top five when they began competing in performance classes. 

In January of 1989 at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, Little Jack Horner and nine of his offspring, both mules and donkeys, made a clean sweep at the show and won everything in every class in which they were entered. 

Appaloosa mule, Lucky Three Ciji never lost a Halter class, placed in the top five in the Western Performance divisions at multiple shows across the country and was a Side Saddle Champion, and Reserve Champion the following year, against horses in the International Side Saddle Organization. 

Appaloosa mule, Lucky Three Eclipse won the Bishop Mule Days Champion Warm-Up Hunter class in 2000. At the Lucky Three Ranch in 2017, we still have multiple Little Jack Horner offspring from various horse breeds (Appaloosa, American Quarter Horse, Arabian, Thoroughbred and Paint) including one Warm Blood mule bred from a Trakehner mare that I acquired for the expressed purpose of doing Dressage due their their extraordinary movement. Little Jack Horner’s offspring here at the ranch are all healthy and are still being used for ranch work, even though most of them are well over twenty-five years of age, and some are thirty years and over.

When I said good night to Little Jack Horner one chilly fall evening on October 5, 2014, I noticed that he was unusually calm and serene. He stood motionless with a colorful rainbow arched over his pen showering him in a surrealistic light as the sun began to set behind the Rocky Mountains that he loved. Little Jack Horner passed away quietly that night at the age of 34 years, but his legacy remains.

He set the bar exceptionally high for Longears everywhere and because he did, the interest in mules and donkeys has increased exponentially over the past 40 years. The old myths about donkeys and mules being stubborn and hard to work with are being laid to rest because of his efforts. What he taught me will go down in history to become my legacy as well. His story and that of his offspring needed to be told, so I documented everything I learned from them to pass on to future generations. I was very blessed to be the steward of such an extraordinary individual and to be able to go forward as the keeper of his children. He was a very special donkey for a very special time!

Little Jack Horner has left quite a legacy! It does my heart good to see how the quality of mule and donkeys has improved exponentially over the years with foundation sires such as Little Jack Horner and…

 Black Bart, bred by Sybil Sewell from the famed Windy Ridge Farm in Canada and owned by Don and Irma Mode of Oregon. Mules, once bred from culled mares, are now being bred from the best! Through more careful donkey selection, they have also improved substantially in conformation and have thereby produced incredible breeding jacks and jennets for the future!

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.

© 1988, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved

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MULE CROSSING: Bea’s First Combined Training Event

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By Meredith Hodges

While making the entry to our first actual Combined Training event, I was excited, apprehensive and maybe even a little afraid! Questions raced through my mind: “Are we really ready for this? How will they receive my mule in an all-horse event?” Mae Bea C.T. and I had worked three long years for this moment. We’d been taking Dressage lessons from U.S.D.F. instructor/trainer Melinda Weatherford once a week for even longer, and Stadium and Cross Country jumping lessons for the past four years. We practiced Cross Country jumping at Beebe Draw in LaSalle and at Lory State Park in Fort Collins, Colorado, not far from our ranch. Now the day for actual Combined Training competition was drawing near.

The Preliminary and Training Levels were A.H.S.A. recognized. Would they even let us in the show at the U.S.C.T.A. recognized Novice level? After all, I was to be riding a mule! What would they think of her? Would she annoy anyone with her presence? Would she do anything to embarrass me? Would I do anything to embarrass myself? I desperately wanted to be able to test my skills under the real conditions that those with horses could do on a fairly regular basis. There were no Combined Training events strictly for mules. There just weren’t enough folks doing Combined Training with mules in any one area to warrant such a show. I had to rely on the generosity and kindness of those in the Mountain States Combined Training Association. Would they let us in? I didn’t know for sure, but I had nothing to lose by asking. All they could say was, “No!

Weeks passed as I waited to hear from them. I was on pins and needles! There had been so much talk and discrimination against mules competing in American Horse Show Association recognized events that I just didn’t know what to think. Clearly, they were not allowed by the A.H.S.A. and I understood that they did not want interference in competition for A.H.S.A. Championships.

However, the decision of whether they could compete in non-A.H.S.A. divisions was generally left to local show committees and technical delegates. I could stand it no longer! A week and a half before the competition I had to know, so I called Susan Robinson-Farmer, owner of Abbe Ranch and operator of the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials in Larkspur, Colorado, that was to be held on June 28-29, 1991. What a nice person she was!

Susan told me they had discussed the mule issue and asked me if there had been a mule that competed in the United States Combined Training Association earlier in the East somewhere? “Yes!” I replied enthusiastically. “That was Maryster Farm’s Kit, owned by Edith Conyers of Kentucky!” It was Kit who had inspired me to try Combined Training with a mule! We spoke for about twenty minutes and Susan kindly put my fears to rest. I assured her that we would do anything necessary to keep from interfering with the other competitors. All we wanted to do was to test our skills and to learn all we could from those with similar interests. The next day our ride times came in the mail and we were in!

The day before the show, I bathed and brushed Mae Bea C. T. until she shined! I braided her mane and tail, wrapped her legs and polished her hooves. I covered her with a light sheet, hoping that she wouldn’t get too dirty overnight. My excitement afforded me little sleep. The next morning Mae Bea C. T. reminded me that, first and foremost, she was a mule and loved dust baths! She was a disheveled mess, so again we bathed, brushed, braided, and polished!

During the drive from Loveland to Larkspur, I went over my Dressage test in my mind at least a hundred times. My daughter was going to ride her gray Hanoverian gelding, Polacca’s Prince, in the event. She thought her mother was being ridiculous to be so excited. My husband assured me that both the still-shot and video cameras had been packed and were with us to document this special event. It was still early morning and our dressage test time was not until 1:18 P.M. We arrived in plenty of time, but time flew by quickly and it was no time before we were warming up in the first practice arena. After about five minutes, the ring steward ushered us to the second practice arena. They were ahead of schedule! We were abruptly ushered out of the second practice arena and into the third, then the final arena for a last minute tune up.

Finally, we were ready! Mae Bea C. T. entered her Dressage test down the centerline with her hindquarters engaged, shoulders up and with the most active trot she has ever had! She seemed to sense that this was the time to do her very best! She halted squarely, I saluted the judge and she proceeded with the same enthusiasm. I was so excited that halfway through the test, I forgot where I was going! I couldn’t believe it! My mind just went blank! The little bell rang to remind me I was in error. It only took a few seconds to regain my composure and find my place again in the test. We were back on track and finished the test well with plenty of impulsion, rhythm with good cadence and totally relaxed for the first time ever in our Dressage experience.

As we exited the arena, I began to cry. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten my test! There were a group of seasoned riders who leapt to my rescue as I exited the arena with stories about their own stupid mistakes. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group of people! My coach, Melinda Weatherford, was also there to lend support as she did with all her students who competed. A smile once again graced my face.

Then I prepared to walk the Cross Country course for the following day’s ride with all the other student competitors. We had done a clinic on this course a few weeks before the event to familiarize all Melinda’s students with what would be expected. We had practiced specifically with water and bank jumps.

First, Melinda took all of us around the course, discussing strategy at each obstacle. Next, we all assembled for the official course walk. Dick and Susan Farmer gave us all a warm welcome and introduced us to Ground Juror, Jackie Fischer-Smith; Technical Delegate, Karen Bjorgen; Stabling Steward, Lee Thomas; Photographer, Tricia Jones; and our resident security guard. There were many other volunteers who helped the event run smoothly. I remember thinking, “What a friendly and enthusiastic group of people!” I was thrilled to be included! We took our official course walk, and then we headed to our motel for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

The next day, things were buzzing in anticipation of the Cross Country experience. We walked the course once more while the Preliminary Division riders were going out. As I took my place in the starting box at 12:18 P.M., people threw encouraging remarks our way, “Looking good! Good luck! Have a great ride! Now there’s class!”

“You are the classy ones for giving us such a warm welcome!” I thought silently.

Mae Bea C. T. came out of the starting box as she had seen the horses do before her. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was supposed to do. She jumped clean over the first two fences, but unsure of the rocks and railroad ties, she skidded to a halt at the third fence. We re-approached and cleared the third fence on the second attempt, after which she galloped freely and jumped the remaining fifteen fences with no problem. She finally figured it out and she loved it! So did I!

What a thrill! I think I was more tired than she was when we finally finished the course and rode in for our vet check. She passed, but the vet suggested that we needed more galloping in practice to improve her respiration. I wholeheartedly agreed! I knew then I had to improve my own respiration as well!

As we walked back to the trailer, there were more votes of confidence,”I’ll take that mule as my mount anytime! Good going! Great ride!” I swelled with pride and gratitude for such a wonderful experience.

A couple of hours later, Mae Bea C. T. and I cleared the eight fences in the Stadium Jumping phase of the event and finished in 8th place in the Pre-Novice Division.

This was considered very respectable for the first time ever in a formal horse trials competition. We cordially thanked everyone for giving us the opportunity to compete, for the support to keep us going and for the time of our lives!

There was a lot of work yet to do. We had to increase our stamina and strength. I spent a lot more time at home just galloping around the perimeter of our hayfield. It was a mile all the way around. My goal was to do three miles easily, so I began with one lap every other day. Over the following months, we worked our way up to three laps with 3-minute breaks between miles. We practiced galloping in three-point at schooling shows around Colorado and Wyoming, and soon found we were gaining stamina. The courses were becoming less stressful for both of us and we were having the time of our lives!

I needed to introduce Bea to a whole lot more types of jumps so she would be confident on the Cross Country course.  We schooled at various clinics and participated in the smaller schooling shows to gain experience for another attempt at the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials at the Novice Level the next time.

By 1992, we were better prepared to again test our skills at the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials in the Novice Division. My heart was beating fast as we stood in the line-up with all those beautiful and talented horses. Our confidence and enthusiasm soared when we were placed second! The knowledge we had gleaned from the people at the first competition had paid off!

Then in 1993, Bea and I competed in the Novice Division again. They had changed the course and made it more challenging than before. There would be a water jump, bank jump and jumping over a wagon! We were lucky to have spent a lot of time practicing, so Bea and I felt more ready than ever! Still, I was a bit hesitant over the wagon jump…but I felt completely exhilarated afterwards!

We soared into the water jump with confidence, alacrity and even a bit of grace!

Bea placed first over 56 horses in the Dressage phase at her third show, and won the Novice Division overall! I couldn’t have been more pleased with my beautiful little mule! Bea was a real star! I will always remember the warmth and consideration we received from everyone at the event and how the little mule that would, became the little mule that could!

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.

© 1991, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Training Longears: What’s the Difference? Part 2

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In Part 1 of What’s the Difference? we began to define a few of the things that are unique to my training program. At the beginning of my career, it wasn’t long before 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 close attention to what they needed from me at each stage of training in order to accurately perform what I was asking. When I did, lessons truly became a resistance-free, cooperative effort!

I soon realized that leading training had more value than just teaching to lead, tie and perfect technique for a showmanship class. For instance, holding the lead rope in the left hand while pointing to where I was going with the right hand, and using the right hand to maintain the position of the equine, was an important way to allow him to be responsible for his own balance with minimal interference. When I was holding the lead in my right hand, every movement of my hand caused him to have a slight loss of balance. Having the fanny pack of crimped oats strapped to my waist kept his attention on me and prevented him from forging ahead or running off entirely. Teaching the trot on the lead rope was much easier.

I soon discovered that the equine would actually measure his stride to mine when I paid attention to my own posture during leading and kept my steps and stops rhythmic and in synchronization with his. When I kept my transitions from walk to stop smooth and fluid and stopped with my feet together, so did he. When I was consistent about asking him to square up and put equal weight over all four feet at every stop, he would soon make the adjustment himself when I turned to face him. I saw an improvement in balance and strength as I kept my walking lines straight and my turns smooth, working on a gradual arc rather than abrupt turns.

When I saw the difference in the equine’s at-rest position and play patterns, it was evident to me that the muscles at the core that surround the skeletal system were becoming stronger from these passive, isometric exercises. The mind of each animal was more alert and tuned into our tasks, and there was no real incidence of disobedience when I did my part correctly. In the quest to improve their strength and balance, I improved my own substantially.

On the obstacle course, the task is first to instill confidence and trust. When you lead, and use the crimped oats reward, it alleviates fear in the equine and gives them the motivation to explore. Over time, he begins to trust your judgment. When you put obstacles in comfort zones where they eat and rest, it will create anxiety instead of instilling confidence. In my estimation, equines aren’t really afraid of the obstacles themselves. It’s just a fear of being trapped or hurt.

But there is further value in obstacle training on the lead rope. With flatwork leading training, you have cultivated strength and balance in the equine at the core and are now ready to add coordination. Once the equine has learned to negotiate the obstacles without fear, he is then ready to go back through the obstacles and learn coordination by breaking these obstacles down into much smaller steps.

At each obstacle, approach, stop and square up in front of each obstacle. Then ask for the front feet to be placed into the obstacle, stop and square up. Then ask that all four feet be placed into the obstacle, stop and square up. Then ask for the two front feet to exit the obstacle, leave the hind feet within the obstacle, stop and square up. Then exit the obstacle, stop and square up once more before leaving the obstacle.

This approach teaches the equine to stop and rebalance at every new position throughout the obstacle. It builds body awareness as well as adding coordination. You will see that they are not really as balanced as you might think when you ask them to put the two front feet off the far side of the bridge while leaving the hind feet on the bridge. The equine will generally try to keep going forward, or the hind end will pass the front end as it falls off the bridge. When he is capable of doing so, he will be able to hold the position, but you might have to provide assistance the first few times in this awkward position.

You will soon discover after this kind of training that you no longer get your feet stepped on, and that they will avoid stepping on hoses during baths, or cords during clipping. They are truly more able to effectively balance their own bodies. And when you begin lunging in the round pen, the equine is better able to comply with your wishes to balance correctly on the circle at walk and trot. Movement will be more rhythmic with smooth and fluid transitions.

When allowed to freely move in the round pen at walk and trot, the animal who has had the benefit of detailed leading training will exhibit better balance than the one who has not. When he canters, the unbalanced equine will want to raise his head, and hollow his neck and back in varying degrees. In order for him to continue to build muscle in the correct frame, I use an aid I developed called the “Elbow Pull” to help maintain good posture and balance. I was first introduced to this concept by Richard Shrake. If the equine is allowed to exercise with the head and neck raised, he would build muscle out of good equine posture. That would need to be corrected later, and would cause disobedience during the lessons due to soreness, especially if done with a rider on his back. Strengthening the equine body in the correct posture first with the “Elbow Pull” and without the rider will prevent this problem. In addition, with this device, the equine will be started in a snaffle bit with the desired direct rein communication and will learn to be submissive and light in the bridle.

This originally disturbed the Dressage community until I was able to explain its function. This is a self-correcting aid for the equine. It does not force him to keep his head down. Rather, it simply does not allow him to raise his head too high and invert his neck and back. He is free to raise his head, but if too high, it puts pressure on the poll, on the bit, behind the forearms and over the back. It suggests that he lower his head and stretch the muscles across the entire top line in correct vertical flexion. When he is in good posture, all pressure is released and muscle is built symmetrically throughout the entire body in balance and good posture.

When doing exercise in the round pen, if verbal cues and rewards are consistent, your equine actually learns verbal communication in conjunction with body language and his understanding will increase much like a child’s does in grammar school. Equines may not be able to speak English, but they can certainly learn to understand it. Being in good posture will begin to facilitate correct lateral bend to his body and build those muscles in correct posture. He will offer the canter when he is strong enough, so forcing canter is not necessary. Turning him into the fence for the reverse will set him up for the correct diagonal at trot and the correct lead at canter allowing him to make transitions easily and smoothly.

When the equine’s body is developed properly, he will be strong enough and will have the necessary control of his own body to handle the added shifting weight of the rider. Most equines struggle with their own awkwardness and before they get control of their own bodies, they are asked to deal with the awkwardness of the rider at the same time. This often results in perceived disobedience. The equine that is stable in his core muscles and body carriage will be better able to help the rider maintain and improve his own balance and control. Bucking and bolting cease to be a problem.

Learning certain moves is easy and takes much less time, but for maximum performance there is no substitute for taking the time to properly build and condition the muscles that will support your equine’s good postural frame. If you are willing to put in the time and effort necessary, the result will be an animal that is happy and comfortable in his work, light in the bridle and a beautiful mover. Your relationship and performance will soar to unimaginable levels!

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: Circles and Stretching: 5-19-20

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5-19-20

Chasity is continuing to gain core strength, balance and even has a little “prance” in her step these days. The bacterial infection is almost gone and she is eagerly waiting at the stall door for her lessons each week. She gets structured leading exercises in her proper postural “gear” and in between, she has other things happening on other days like daily “soaking” of her infection, vet appointments and the farrier. Today, we will add circles at every cone to increase the intensity of her workout. Stretching is done more frequently now.

Chasity carefully walks in sync with me, no more pulling on the lead rope or charging ahead like she did in the beginning. She is happy on her way to the outdoor dressage exercise arena. Varying the location of her postural core strength leading training keeps her fresh and engaged.

On the way to the dressage arena, we stop to visit with Augie and Spuds, our delightful little mini donkeys. Chasity is intrigued. Where she is stabled, she can only hear them. Then it’s on to the dressage arena.

Since the arena is also used as a turnout area, it is a bit bumpy and the sand is deeper than the other places where Chasity has worked. It will increase the intensity of her work. Still, she is bending nicely through her rib cage while remaining erect in her body and doing her four-square stretches very well indeed!

Chasity is bending her joints well while walking in sync with me, however, I am noticing she is a bit stiff in her left hind leg, especially around the turns to the left. We added circles at every cone in the Hourglass Pattern to help to enhance her bending technique.

She steps out nicely with her right front, but as she brings the left hip forward, her gait is stilted and limited in it’s range of motion. The abdominal muscles are only moderately engaged and she stops short of reaching underneath her body to her center of gravity.

The right hind leg moves forward into it’s correct position, but she is just lifting and swinging her left hind leg forward instead of bending adequately through her joints, particularly in her hip joint.

As she steps forward with the right hind foot, the left hind has an abnormal look to the extension of the leg. It appears stuck in the hip joint and pelvic area, and is not swinging freely. Still, she is bending fairly nicely through her spine.

Another good stretch while standing four-square was in order and Chasity let me know that it felt VERY GOOD!

On straight lines with no rails, Chasity is able to reach underneath her body to the center of gravity, but going around the turns reveals some stiffness in her pelvic area while the rest of her spine bends easily.

Chasity really enjoys her stretches and does them with no problem at all. Then we begin to track in the other direction and it is clear that bending to the right is particularly difficult for her.

As we proceed around the cones to the right, her bending gets a little better and the right leg moves easily under her center of gravity. But when she approaches the rails, her pelvis appears to stiffen and inhibit her movement again.

There is plenty of “reach” in her front legs, but the rear legs do not seem to be able to consistently follow her forward movement. Her abdominal muscles are engaged and she is attempting to round her back, but her stiff pelvic area is inhibiting the ability to reach well underneath her body.

Traversing the rails is making it apparent that she should probably have a visit from our proficient equine chiropractor. Since she just arrived a short time ago, I did not think it would be prudent to expose her to chiropractic until I could loosen her stiff body a little bit and gain her trust first.

We finished traversing the rails and she had to “lean” on the “Elbow Pull” to keep her balance. She did pretty well circling to the right for the last time, but it was now clear that she would need to be adjusted with chiropractic before any further lessons could take place and be beneficial to her.

We ended the lesson with one more four-square downward stretch, then a stretch to the right…

…then she did a stretch to the left and left the arena in perfect synchonization with each other. Still, she didn’t have the “reach” behind that I thought that she should.

Just to make things a bit more interesting, we opted to investigate the lane to the small park to look at this new area. Chasity thought the steps looked particularly strange, but she was not fearful.

She navigated the steps like a champ and stood quietly while we took in the sights. She saw Robin Laws’ “Donkey Talk” to her left and J. Payne Lara’s “Love Me Tender to her right.This was a major accomplishment for Chasity since standing still was NOT something she wanted to do when she first arrived.

Then we went back up the steps, left the area and went to see the pack mules, “A Friend to Lean On” by Robin Laws. Chasity played “cute” for the camera. Then we went to see Bonnie Shields’ “Friends,” a bronze statue of Kylie, Moxie and Jasper from our children’s series. As you can see, her posture is greatly improved…the “Elbow Pull” is staying LOOSE most of the time now!








































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Laura Hermanson & “Behold the Desert” to Compete in USDF Finals

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While dressage has long-been regarded as a horse and Pony Club sport, Meredith Hodges opened the doors to mules in dressage in the United States Dressage Federation Schooling Shows in 1986. With the help of Carole Sweet and Leah Patton of the American Donkey and Mule Society in Lewisville, Texas, they were formally accepted by the United States Equestrian Federation at their convention in Los Angeles in 2004. Laura Hermanson has since taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity. In 2015, she qualified for the United States Dressage Federation Finals with her own mule, “Heart B Dyna”, that is to be the subject of an upcoming documentary. The film is titled ”Dyna Does Dressage,” and is produced by Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser, who describe it as an “Underdog story [that] follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.” Laura Hermanson is breaking through the stigma that dressage is only for horses and ponies as was previously defined by the USEF Rulebook. Much like Meredith Hodges herself, what began as a love of horses evolved into the championing of the noble MULE, an equine ambassador that truly deserves our respect. This year, Laura is competing Behold the Desert (aka Beasley) owned by Troy and Carol Delfino of Bakersfield, California and bred by Candace Shauger of Genesis Farms in Bremen, Ohio, in the upcoming U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, November 10-13. Let’s all give our support to this amazing team!

From Rescued Horse to Dressage Championships

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Kalli Graf and Soby

The following story is from the Santa Barbara Independent.

Most horses that contend at the highest level of equestrian competitions come from large ranches and carefully selective breeding. That’s not the case for Soby, the rescue horse equestrian that trainer Kaili Graf will be riding at the Western Dressage World Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this coming November.

Kaili rescued Soby back in 2010 as a baby when she was neglected and left out alone in a field. The two had an instant connection, as rider and horse developed a strong partnership in a short time that would typically take weeks for other trainers.

“As soon as I saw her, I said, ‘This is not a normal horse,’” said Graf, a trainer who has been riding horses for as long as she can remember. “Soby has a goofy personality, but she loves to work.”

Soby was one of the earliest rescue horses that Kaili ever worked with, and as such is a bit of a “poster child” for rescue horses competing in Western Dressage, having won four state titles in 2014. A new discipline, Western Dressage’s influences date back to the 1700s with the ranches of the American West and Spanish vaqueros. Western Horsemanship meets the English Classical Dressage in a style that emphasizes “lightness” and “subtle cues.”

For Kaili and Soby, the goal in competition is to execute techniques as a single unit and to make their movement as instinctive and intuitive as possible. The importance of this upcoming World Championship goes beyond personal aspirations, however, as Kaili wants to advocate for the sport and rescue horses. “I want to inspire the riders who think they could never make it,” says Graf. “There’s an existing structure that no one wants to challenge.”

If Kaili and Soby can prevail at the World Championships, it will show that rescue horses and anyone from modest means can find success with hard work. The cost of competing is not cheap, though, so the duo can use all the support they can rally.

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