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By Meredith Hodges
The Work Station
It is important that your equine feels safe and comfortable in his surroundings. For this reason, you should use the same place each day to groom and prepare him for his lessons. In the beginning, use a small pen (approximately 400 to 500 square feet) that allows you access to your equine for imprinting, tying, leading and grooming, as described in DVDs #1 and #8 of my series, Training Mules & Donkeys (plus disc #9 when dealing with donkeys), and in Part 1 of Equus Revisited. All the while, you will also be teaching him good ground manners. Remember, routine fosters confidence and trust.
Once your equine has mastered tying and leading in the small pen, he can then move on to a designated work station where he will not only be groomed, but will also learn to accept tack in preparation for the round pen. This should be a place that has a good stout hitch rail and easy access to your tack and grooming equipment.
When working around your equine at the work station, pay special attention to his body language. If he becomes tense or skittish, acknowledge his concerns with a stroke on his neck, supportive words to him and a reward of crimped oats when he settles down. Always learn to wait for him to settle down before you proceed.
Don’t make too much out of unimportant details. For instance, if your equine is pawing the ground, don’t insist that he be still unless you need to approach him and do something specific with him. Many of your animal’s anxious behaviors get unintentionally rewarded by giving him too much attention, which can actually cause the behaviors to escalate. If you ignore pawing, cribbing, throwing of the head, pushing with the nose, stomping and other anxious behaviors, they will lessen over time, provided that you step in, ask him to stop and reward your animal, but only when he is being quiet.
Before you begin to groom your equine—whether you’re going to brush, vacuum or clip him—make sure you give him the time to figure out what you are going to do. He will exhibit his acceptance with a sigh, relaxation of his musclesor with a turn or dropping of the head. Once he has accepted the presence of the item to be used, such as a brush, vacuum or clippers, you can begin. Don’t forget to always start at the front and work your way back to the tail.
Keep an eye on the pressure you apply whenever using these various grooming tools. Different animals will have different sensitivity to these tools and will tolerate them better if they know you are not going to cause undue pressure or pain. Learn to brush the mane and tail starting at the bottom and working upward, and use a conditioner such as baby oil to keep from pulling or breaking the hair. (Baby oil will also keep other equines from chewing on the tail.) A shedding blade can be an uncomfortable grooming tool when used improperly. When using a shedding blade to remove mud around the head and ears and even on your animal’s body, be careful to minimize his discomfort by monitoring the pressure you apply to each area and working VERY slowly. When bathing him, be extra careful not to get water in his eyes or ears. These types of consideration for your equine’s comfort will help build his trust and confidence in you, and it will help make training easier and more enjoyable for both of you.
Tack and Equipment
In order to elicit the correct response from your equine, always make sure you are using the correct tack for whatever you are doing. If you are not sure about what tack to use when, go to the Lucky Three Ranch website for more detailed information, or ask the experts in your area. Make sure all tack and equipment fits your animal properly. If it doesn’t, it can cause adverse behaviors during training.
In the Round Pen
Once your equine is leading well in the small pen, he should be in consistently good posture with square halts, easily negotiating trail obstacles in the open and relatively relaxed while at the work station, he is ready to move to the round pen.
Once in the round pen, you will have an opportunity to assess your animal’s progress so you can begin work on balancing on the circle in good posture and conditioning the hard muscle masses in preparation for performance. The size of your round pen is important—45 feet in diameter is ideal. If it is any larger, as you will have difficulty reaching him with the lunging whip, which means you won’t be able to have enough control over him. If your round pen it is any smaller, it will interfere with your equine’s balance and ability to develop the right muscle groups. It should be made with relatively solid walls and be high enough so your animal cannot jump out. Your round pen can be made of a variety of different of materials, such as 2-inch by 12-inch boards and posts or stock panels. Never use electric fencing, pallets, tires or other non-solid materials. The ground surface should be a three- to four-inch–thick base of soft dirt or sand.
While working in the round pen, be aware of how your own body language and verbal commands elicit certain behaviors in your animal. If something isn’t working right, look to yourself and ask yourself what you might be doing to cause the adverse behavior you are seeing. Equines are very honest about their responses, and if they are not doing what you expect, it has to be in the way you are asking. Also, don’t hurry your equine. When asking for the walk, make sure that the walk is even in cadence, balanced and regular—not hurried. Only after your animal is correct in his execution of one gait, should you move on to the next gait. When first introduced to the round pen, it is not uncommon for an equine to begin work at the trot and then, as he becomes more comfortable with the new area, at the walk.
If you just let your equine go in an unrestricted frame, he can build muscle incorrectly, which will most likely cause problems later on. To be sure you are building muscle evenly throughout his body, in the correct posture and on both sides, use the “Elbow Pull” self-correcting restraint I devised, as described in DVD #2 of Training Mules & Donkeys.
As explained in DVD #1 of Training Mules & Donkeys, while you were doing passive exercises on the lead rope in the small pen, you were also building the core muscle groups that are closest to the bone. Now that you are in the round pen, you will begin to build your equine’s bulk muscle in strategic areas that will strengthen him and make carrying a rider or pulling a cart a lot easier for him. It will also minimize the chance for soreness or injury, as well as resistant behaviors. Keep sessions short, 30-40 minutes, and only every other day at the most. When muscles are exercised, they need to be stressed to a point just before fatigue, and then rested afterwards for one day before repeating. This is the correct and safe way to build muscle. Any other approach will cause fatigue and actually start deteriorating muscle tissue. Remember to use relaxation techniques and warm-up and cooling down exercises with your equine before and after every workout.
In the Arena
The arena is the place to really start focusing on forward motion and lateral exercises to further strengthen your equine, and it is the place to begin fine-tuning his balance while he is carrying a rider. The arena is also a good place for you to fine-tune your own riding skills, so that you learn to help your equine maintain good balance and cadence, on straight lines and while bending through the corners. In order for your equine to correctly go through the corners, you will be asking him to bend the muscles through his ribcage so he can remain upright and balanced. Equines are not motorcycles and should not lean around the corners. The power should always come from the hindquarters to keep the front end light, supple and responsive to cues. If his front end is heavy and sluggish, your equine is not adequately stepping underneath with his hind legs and will thus, lose forward impulsion and power and will not properly condition his muscles.
Open areas are good for stretching and relaxing at all three gaits. They can be used for negotiation of obstacles and to execute large flowing patterns. You can also practice stretching exercises, as described in DVD #5 of Training Mules & Donkeys. Then proceed to working on more collection on the short sides of the arena, and go back to stretching exercises again before you quit the lesson. The open areas allow for a wide variety of training exercises by giving you the space to use numerous patterns and obstacles. Try using cones to mark your patterns—this benefits both you and your animal by helping you both stay focused. An arena without cones is like a house without furniture.
As far as the open road and in traffic, these areas are forseasoned animals only, so please do not even consider using these areas to school your equine—the results could be disastrous! With the heavy traffic these days, it is really safest to avoid heavily traveled roads entirely. For a pleasureable experience, stick to areas where you and your equine will be safe and comfortable.
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.
© 2004, 2005, 2013, 2016, 2018, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Chasity is now regularly coming to her stall door and is always anxious to see what the next challenge will be. The one thing she HAS learned is that she will never be hurt by anyone here. Cleaning her ears was a necessary evil at first, but she now enjoys the gentle cleaning as I wipe the rag with the grain of the hair to get the dirt from her ears. And she loves having clean ears! We are ALWAYS consistent and stay with the routine about everything we do with all of our equines. They appreciate knowing what comes next. Ours is a NO ANXIETY zone, but that doesn’t mean we do not challenge them and set boundaries for good behavior. Chasity is about to be tested to the max with her next new challenge!
Chasity really enjoyed the brisk brushing with the multi-bristled human hair brush. It is the only brush that I have found the really expedites shedding and leaves the coat soft and shiny. It reaches deep in the coat and aerates the hair shafts. After the brushing, it is followed with either the shedding blade to remove the loosened hair laying on top, or….there is an introduction to the VACUUM CLEANER!!! Chasity was not too sure about this BIG BLUE THING that rolled!
We always take the introduction of new things slowly. I gently coaxed Chasity toward the vacuum cleaner. This was an approach that she recognized from her obstacle training and moved furtively toward me to receive her reward of crimped oats.
She watched the cameras while I went to plug it in. The loud sucking noise startled her! I acknowledged her concern and calmed her with a soothing voice.
But then it was time for the business of vacuuming HER! I use the cotton lead rope for control, but she is prevented from going backwards with the second hitch rail tie made of a stout braided nylon rope with bull snaps on each end. The last thing you want is for the rope to break! I talked to Chasity and ask her if she would rather calm down and step forward to receive her reward…she thought about it…I waited patiently…
…and she decided that was a pretty good idea! She tentatively accepted the vacuum on her forehead. This is a spot where they generally like to be vacuumed first.
I laughed as she made a plea for help from the camera people! Then I had to straighten out the hose and she was certain that big black coiled “snake” was going to get her!
She wasn’t exactly pleased, but she allowed me to begin to vacuum her neck…and then her shoulder. I kept a hand on her so she could feel my caring support.
It didn’t take long for her to calm down and allow me to vacuum the rest of her body. She discovered that it actually felt pretty good!
Then I looped the “BIG BLACK SNAKE” over the hitch rail to prepare to do the other side. She sat back on the rope again, but was easily coaxed forward again.
Things are always different from one side of an equine to the next. So, when I approached from the other side, she again sat back on the rope, but came forward again quickly to receive her reward.
I did her forehead again while she fixated her gaze to the camera people. When I got to her body, she was fixated on the BIG BLUE BOX, but not bothered at all by the suction, or the hose.
After I finished her right side, I knelt by the BIG BLUE BOX and asked her to come and investigate which Chasity did willingly. She had conquered the challenge of the MONSTER VAC!!!
It was a gorgeous spring day and I was so pleased when Chasity came right to the door to meet me again as she had been doing consistently after only two lessons in her initial training. As I cleaned her nostrils and smelled the clean spring air, I thought it might be nice to forego the indoor arena lessons and go out and enjoy this lovely spring weather. Sometimes just doing things a little differently with the same basic lessons can give you both a new perspective on training and make it a lot more fun!
It is shedding season and the multi-bristled human hairbrush was doing its job of removing the excess hair and aerating her coat. Then, I added a sprinkle of Johnson’s baby oil to her mane and tail while she stood stock still! She was definitely learning to enjoy our time together and her friends in the barn were forgotten for the moment.
As I got her tacked up in her gear, I chatted with Chasity and told her I thought we would go for a walk outside today. She thought it would be a great idea! I noticed that her cresty neck was decreasing in size… very slowly. I put on her surcingle and only took it up a bit so it wouldn’t be too tight at the start.
I put on the bridle carefully over her ears, adjusted the “Elbow Pull” and put on her neck sweat. She even helped a bit by lowering her head. Then I did a last check on the girth of the surcingle.
I quickly washed her brushes and we were on our way down the road! Chasity was very excited!
Our first encounter was the Lucky Three Ciji Side Saddle Champion statue. And then the Lucky Three Mae Bea C.T. Combined Training Champion statue. Chasity was fearless and very curious about them!
She met the fountain statue, “Dreaming of Friends” and another “Lucky Three Ciji” statue.
She wasn’t sure about “Lasagna” lying at the base of the cottonwood tree, but she loved the OLD WESTERN TOWN that was in construction!
During the course of the walk, we made gradual turns, straight lines and squared up at the halt at several intervals to continue her lessons in core strength and good posture. I noticed a lot of improvement in her back and her abs! She told me she thought the MULE CROSSING sign should say DONKEY CROSSING, but she posed nicely anyway!
When we got back to the work station, we did a couple of stretching exercises for her neck in one direction only, since doing them the other way would only exacerbate the present condition. When we get more of the fat off her crest, the stretches will have value in both directions.
When we were finished, we went back to her stall. She was “sent” into the stall, turned around to face me to get her halter removed and received her just reward! It was a great day!
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!
Our miniature donkeys, Spuds & Augie, have a day in the “spa”. Watch the adorable music video compilation of their grooming sessions.
Today was the perfect day for a summer bath. Roll is feeling well and his left hind foot has nearly grown out from his bout with White Line Disease. During the duration his White Line Disease that began in January, he has not spent one lame day.
Every time I clip Roll’s bridle path, it is an exercise in frustration, but he exhibits great patience with me as I stretch the skin and clip over the deep scars between his ears. Someone must have taken the idea about “hitting a mule with a two-by-four” quite literally.
The mule that used to hide behind his partner Rock, trusts me completely and even enjoys the cool water on his face on a hot day!
He knows his good behavior will always elicit an appropriate reward!
Roll likes his Wonder Blue Shampoo and doesn’t even mind a bucket of soapy water in the rear! He knows it makes his tail REALLY PRETTY and remarkably swishable!
Ours is a relationship of many negotiations. One of our regular deals is “He eats oats from the fanny pack and I spray!”
In the summer, one needs to be aware of the eggs that the flies lay in specific spots on each of the mules. They LOVE Roll’s lower legs! A Shedding blade and a Bot Block are about the only things that will remove the sticky eggs.
Using a regular hairbrush, I use Wonder Blue Shampoo to bring out the buttery whiteness in Roll’s mane and tail. In this photo, you can see how well the left hind has healed so far.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness as my grandmother used to say! Thank you, My Friend, for a lovely day together!
It was a beautiful spring day today, so I took advantage of the warm weather and washed the dirt and baby oil out of Roll’s mane and tail before our farrier, Dean Geesen began to work on him.
Then I went over his body with a regular hairbrush that pulls most of the loose underneath hair out. The hairbrush works better than any other shedding tool because it does not cut or damage the hair. We only use the shedding blades when the equines have mud on them and to scrape off excess water. He seemed to enjoy getting his mane and tail cleaned and his coat “aerated!” He sure looked amazing when I was done!
Then Dean took off the boot on his left hind so we could see how the White Line Disease was doing. He has grown substantially more hoof and is staying balanced on it with our efforts on his behalf. Dean noticed that Roll is now putting pressure on his heel and a bit of pressure on the medial side of the hoof and on the toe.
The boot, although taken off twice a day and dried out, appeared to be holding in more moisture than it was before, so Dean suggested that we let him go without the boot and see how he does. We thought he might stay drier now that the weather has been sunnier and drier overall. We are still getting intermittent rainstorms, but Roll prefers to stand inside his stall in the sawdust, so it may be that he can go without his boot…at least for a while.
We did see a drop of blood on his sole and his sole was responsive to the hoof tester, so that confirmed for us that there is still circulation in the hoof…a really good thing! We were wondering about that.
We did have to put the boot on his left hind while Dean worked on his right hind because now that he was “feeling” the sole, it was too much for him to bear all his weight on that hoof alone. We took off the boot afterwards, before we put him away.
Dean had reset the right hind foot with the borium shoe to keep him from slipping and putting undue weight on his bad foot. That also seems to be working very well to keep his weight evenly distributed over all four feet.
Brandy and Jubilee were curious about what was going on with Roll and the farrier as they passed by on the way to their lessons.
All in all, staying flexible and attentive to his needs and all your prayers are helping Roll to get through all this quite nicely. I can only hope this good fortune continues for Roll’s sake!!
First and foremost, a routine grooming schedule at least every other week and preferably every week is essential for the hygiene of your equines. We use fly masks without ears on the animals that are sensitive around their faces and we spray with Tri-Tech 14 once a week for insects that will pester your equine. We NEVER clip the insides of the ears. Regular grooming once a week to remove excess hair, mud, etc. will eliminate places on the animal, including their legs, that would be subject to their laying eggs. We worm our equines in January, March, May, July and September with Farnam ivermectin and then break the cycle with Strongid in November to prevent the cycle of internal worms and parasites. Using Johnson’s baby oil in the manes and tails helps keep the flies at bay, helps to prevent “frizzies” and train manes to lay over, and will also keep other animals from chewing on them.
In order to keep flies and other insects under control, all stalls, runs and pens need to be kept free of manure and debris daily. Barns need to be cleaned periodically with disinfectant.
Fields and pastures should be harrowed in the spring, fall and between hay cuttings. Only rake hay when absolutely necessary before baling. Turnout fields should be kept separate from your hayfields. Do not use manure on your hay fields. This can cause an increase in weeds that can attract more insects since equines can pass weed seeds through their digestive tract.
Keep all tack and equipment clean so it does not attract flies to your tack room and grooming area. Spray the tack room when you leave with a household flying insect spray for any residual flies.
Here are several rules to remember for good management and insect control around your own farm:
1) Feed the right kinds of healthy feed for equines and know the differences for mules and donkeys. This requires some research on your part. Do a quick body check at each feeding.
2) Keep all stalls, pens and sheds free of manure (clean every day!) and routinely harrow your pastures.
3) Keep manure collection piles well away from your house and barns (we have ours hauled away weekly).
4) Keep all water sources clean with a weekly cleaning schedule.
5) Practice good grooming practices at least once a week. When grooming, do a complete body check on your equine to look for any oddities that might arise and treat as needed. If certain body areas begin to get sores (like Jack sores), scabs, or bumps, use Neosporin or if they are severe…Panalog, also called Animax or Dermalone by prescription from your vet. And, know WHEN to call your veterinarian.
6) Use Tri-Tech 14 by Farnam fly spray weekly for bugs and insects that can pester your equine. This seems to be the best and longest lasting. Herbal remedies and other sprays will work, but will need to be applied much more often.
7) Never clip the hair inside of the equine’s ears! The hair will keep out most insects.
8) Do not clip the hair on the legs unless you absolutely must for showing! The hair protects the legs from insect bites.
9) Use fly masks for those mules and donkeys that have sensitive skin around the face. Farnam Super Masks will usually fit most animals. You can find them in most tack and vet stores.
These simple rules will help to keep all your animals healthy and happy, and will leave you with a fresh and clean-smelling, nearly insect-free facility.
The equine vacuum cleaner is not only a way to dry clean your equine, but it can also be used as a muscle therapy tool and to promote good circulation. Of course, the first thing to do is to gently introduce the equine to the vacuum cleaner.
As you vacuum, do it slowly and purposefully. The vacuum will remove dirt and grime and leave a healthy bed for hair shafts to grow.
The suction from the vacuum cleaner grabs large patches of hide and pulls subcutaneous muscle tissue and blood vessels towards the surface. This allows more room for muscle tissue and blood vessels to expand and develop in a healthy way. Here I am vacuuming our rescue draft mule, Rock’s shattered hip where there is a lot of internal damage to the joint and severe atrophy of the muscles involved.
On the left is 39 year old mini mule, Franklin before vacuuming, and then after vacuuming on the left side only in the picture on the right. As you can see, you get measured results almost immediately. The vacuum gently shapes and molds the muscle tissue into a more uniform area.
When Rock first arrived, although being a 17 year old Belgian Draft mule, he had severe muscle atrophy throughout his entire body.
After only six months of vacuum therapy, chiropractic, massage, proper diet and only fifteen minutes a week of leading exercises, his body was completely transformed!