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By Meredith Hodges
In Part 1 of Getting Down with Minis, you learned how to begin the relationship with your miniature equine in a positive and natural way that fosters good behavior and a solid relationship between you. You also learned the importance of getting down to your mini’s eye level so that he can make eye contact with you, which discourages striking, jumping on you and other bad behaviors that are common when working with miniature equines. In Part 2, I discussed how important it is to successfully complete the tasks in Part 1 before moving on to Part 2 and explained why it is advisable to work minis in groups, as they perform better when they are with their friends. You also learned how to train minis to go over and around various obstacles. Remember that all of this is to be done with no expectations that may overwhelm your mini—it is better if you maintain an attitude of fun and games. In Part 3, we got down to some serious groundwork training so your mini can be used for the purpose of driving and showing in hand. He learned to lunge and to be ground driven in the round pen and in the open arena through the hourglass pattern and if part of a team, how to do these things as a team. In Part 4, you worked on obstacle exercises on the drive lines to increase strength and coordination.
The fifth and final part of this series will illustrate how you can keep things controlled and will help you to consistently set up an environment for success. NOTE: If you are training two minis, it is really just a matter of teaching each of them the same thing, but at each stage of the ground-driving and hitched lessons, you need to teach each mini separately first and then as a team.
These exercises will require an assistant, so ask someone you trust to help you. Make sure, each step of the way, that you tell your assistant clearly and specifically exactly what you need him or her to do. To begin, take your mini back to the round pen and review your previous ground-driving lessons (“walk,” “trot,” “whoa” and “back”) with an “S” turn through the middle in order to change directions. NOTE: Do not use the “reverse” command during these lessons. Do use the “back” command, but only to loosen the traces when detaching your mini from the tire. Attach a tire to the harness traces as a drag so your mini can get used to pulling weight behind him. To do this, first thread some baling twine through the slits at the ends of your traces to create “loops.” The slits in the traces are usually too narrow to allow a line to slide freely back and forth through them, but the baling twine will work well to accommodate this.
Next, take a piece of flat nylon stripping such as a strip of lunge line and tie it to a tire with about six to eight feet of extra line. This extra line will be threaded through the baling twine loops and then be handed back into the hands of your assistant. Now ask your assistant to walk alongside and slightly behind you, holding on to the piece of nylon stripping as you ground drive your mini. Always make sure your assistant is walking on the side away from the fence so as not to trap him or her if things go wrong. If, for any reason, your mini bolts, tell your assistant to simply let go of the nylon stripping. Your mini will quickly be released from the tire. NOTE: If training a team, do the “drag” exercise with each single mini first before exercising them as a team. Working one mini at a time first will help to avoid any major wrecks that can cause your mini(s) any anxiety or distrust.
Spend as many tire drag lessons as it takes in the round pen to be sure your mini is driving easily and smoothly before graduating him to the open arena with the tire. Just as you did with simple ground driving, once he is ready, let your mini drag the tire while ground driving him through two rotations of the hourglass pattern, and then cross the long diagonal and do two more rotations in the opposite direction. Make halts often so rewards can be dispensed for a job well done. Do not make any abrupt turns or try to add speed before you are completely competent with the lines and your mini is responding obediently. Ground driving is as much for you to learn good Reinsmanship as it is for your mini to learn to drive correctly. If training more than one mini, just tie whichever mini you’re not working with at the moment off to the side and have him wait his turn before ground driving the two as a team. The frequent halts with rewards will teach him to stay clam and remain still when asked.
Before actually hitching your mini to the vehicle, be sure to check all harness straps and make sure they are correctly adjusted. While you do this, you will also be teaching your mini (or minis if a team) to stand still in the cross ties, which will make hitching much easier. Checking all harness straps can be done anywhere that your fences or hitch rails are close enough together to accommodate the cross ties and still allow enough room for a single mini (or team) and the vehicle. During this lesson, all you need to do is put on and adjust the harness, hitch to your vehicle, have your mini (or team) stand quietly while being rewarded and then take everything back off. Before leading your mini(s) away from the vehicle, spend some time rewarding again for standing still and staying in position.
To begin the next lesson, first review the steps in the previous lesson and make sure your mini (or minis in the case of a team) is standing quietly in the crossties before harnessing to the vehicle. When ground driving a single animal, ask your assistant to stand in front and to the side of your mini with a lead rope attached to a ring on the noseband (not the bit) of your mini’s harness bridle. When ground driving a team, you will need to use two assistants. Ask each assistant to stand on either side of the team. Once your mini is harnessed, and when you are seated in the vehicle and ready to go forward, ask your assistant to unsnap the cross ties and release your mini while your assistant stands at his head. Now ask your mini to “walk on.” Let him go just a few steps and then ask him to “Whoa.” If your mini does not stop promptly, your assistant can help by pulling back on the lead rope with a pull/release motion while, at the same time, you pull back on the drive lines with a pull/release motion. When he does stop, have your assistant give him his oats reward. Let your mini settle before asking him to back a couple of steps and halt again. Reward him for halting and end the lesson there. The object is to allow your mini enough time to understand what you are trying to teach him and respond accordingly so he can be rewarded without spending so much time that he gets bored and sucks you into a confrontation.
Now your mini is ready to go to the open arena to be driven for the very first time. For the sake of safety, use your assistant (or, in the case of a team, assistants) during lessons until your mini (or team) is driving easily and responding to all of your cues and verbal commands promptly and calmly. Using an assistant helps to guide your mini through his lessons when he can no longer see you out in front. Your assistant will also help your mini to drive forward with confidence, as well as being on-hand to aid you if your mini has problems with turns and backing. Using an assistant also allows you more time to perfect your Reinsmanship and your ability to plan your movements in an organized and logical way.
When your mini is hitched to a vehicle, make a very large hourglass pattern to accommodate your vehicle. His familiarity with this pattern will help him to feel calm and gain confidence while being driven. Every time you end a lesson, keep your assistant at your mini’s head until your mini is fully unhitched from the vehicle. NOTE: Always remove the harness bridle last. Once he is unhitched, make your mini stand where he is while you come to him, then reward him and lead him away. This is how he will learn to wait for you and will not become antsy and uncontrollable. Routinely practicing good manners, setting up an environment for success and approaching your mini with a calm and deliberate attitude will all help him to become a quiet, safe and reliable driving animal.
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.
© 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Roll had his summer bath yesterday and it was a great day for it! It was 100 degrees!
Today it was a little cooler, so we opted to go to the dressage arena and work in the hourglass pattern on the lead rope in his “Elbow Pull” and surcingle.
The twisting in his right hind foot was markedly better today after last week’s workout. I am glad I made the call to go back to the leading exercises after his riding experience on May 6. He felt sluggish and the right hind foot was not adequately supported and was twisting quite a bit.
Going back to his core leading exercises for the past few weeks has greatly improved the musculature and corresponding soft tissues, ligaments and tendon that support the pastern and fetlock and the twisting has substantially subsided. He now has a much more upward balance!
I find it amusing that these animals really DO mirror what we do, so it is best to pay attention to what YOU are doing as well as what your mule is doing!
Because you can’t necessarily SEE core muscle development, it is hard to tell how much it can help the equine with his overall posture, balance and performance. Once you have engaged in the exercises, you can begin to identify these very subtle nuances in the equine’s way of moving.
We often talk about “head sets” in the equine world and want our equines to be soft and supple in their poll, but what of the rest of the body? When the body is truly in good postural balance, it is easy for the equine’s WHOLE BODY to perform as it was intended.
The animal is soft and pliable throughout his body and you will begin to notice when they are using their whole body and when there are compromised segments. The easiest thing to see is how an animal with adequate core strength will use ALL his muscles such that you can actually see the muscles rippling in motion over the ribs.
The animal without core strength will be stiff and immobile over the ribs and the legs will move underneath the body, but neither adds support nor fluidity to his movement. ROLL is living proof of this drastic difference in conditioning.
We finished Roll’s lesson with some simple stretching exercises…
…then walked to the gate with the lead slung over his neck…
…and then backed a few steps, all evidence of his own good postural body carriage. I am so pleased that Roll is doing so well at 26 years old!
Roll did exceptionally well today! He was also happy that he got to work out with his little buddies, Augie and Spuds. His body is beginning to get toned up again and he is starting to shed off his winter coat.
I did a quick pass with the hairbrush and then the vacuum cleaner. Last was Johnson’s Baby Oil in his mane and tail. I noticed right away during the grooming process that he was finally put weight on his right hind foot again.
On the way to the arena, I led Roll and Steve led Augie and Spuds.
Roll executed the gate perfectly as he always has. There is really something to be said for GATE TRAINING! With routine practice, they always know exactly what is expected and respond accordingly…no fussing at all.
Roll got his turn in the hourglass pattern first and did amazingly well while Augie and Spuds waited patiently at the fence.
I never had to physically move a foot with any tugs on the rope. He responded 100% to the verbal commands to correct his stance when he was in a full stop and fully weighted all four feet this time when he was asked to do so.
To fully weight the foot in the arena, he had to push the sand down. Sometimes I asked him to do it and sometimes I did not. With the ringbone and side bones in three feet, I really did not expect him to come back to full balance, but he did! What a great surprise!
After a halt on centerline, he followed me obediently to the fence with the lead rope slung over his neck.
When I went to retrieve him he was sideways to the fence, but he moved over so I could release him from the fence on my hand signal alone.
Roll executed the gate perfectly again on the way out…
…then we proceeded down the road and back to the Tack Barn. What a guy!!!