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MULE CROSSING: Shoulder-In and Lengthening the Trot

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By Meredith Hodges

In order to perform the shoulder-in properly, it is important to understand its purpose. The shoulder-in causes the equine to engage his hindquarters so that they carry the bulk of his weight, giving him more freedom and suppleness in his shoulders and front quarters. A strong base must be established to carry this weight forward while the shoulders remain light and free to proceed forward while tracking laterally.

The shoulder-in is done on a straight line. Normally, an animal traveling in a straight line makes two tracks in the dirt behind him, because the front legs are positioned directly in front of the back legs. In the shoulder-in, the shoulders are positioned so that they cause a three-track pattern behind—the inside front foot makes one track, the outside front foot and the inside hind foot make one track, and the outside hind foot makes one track.

Begin by walking your equine around the perimeter of the arena. When you reach the corner before the long side, make a ten-meter (30-foot) circle. As you close your circle at the start of the long side of the arena, maintain the bend that you had for the circle, using steady pressure on your inside rein. At the same time, nudge your equine with alternate leg pressure in synchronization with his hind legs as they each go forward. Squeeze your outside rein at the same time that you squeeze with your outside leg, and then release the outside rein. Ride the hindquarters straight forward from your seat and legs, as you offset the shoulders with your hands. Be careful that your inside rein is not so tight that your animal bends only his neck to the inside. As you squeeze with the outside aids, feel your equine rock his balance back to the hindquarters, giving you the sensation of pedaling backward on a bicycle. Simultaneously, you should feel the front quarters begin to lighten and become supple.

Take your time and don’t try too hard. Be content at first with two or three steps of shoulder-in and then straighten him down the long side of the arena. After a few accurate steps of shoulder-in, as he straightens his body, you will feel him surge forward with more energy. Collect and slow your equine’s gait through the short side of the arena and then repeat the exercise on the next long side. As your equine begins to understand the concept of rocking his balance to the hindquarters, the surge of energy that you feel when he straightens will become more and more powerful.

Much body strength and coordination is involved in this exercise and at first, you may feel like you are all thumbs. Time, patience and practice will bring about positive results, so stay with it. Over time, do this exercise at the walk, the trot and the canter, and do it the same way in both directions in the arena. Don’t forget to praise your animal for each correct step that he gives you.

The next exercise to enhance hindquarter engagement and lengthen the stride is quite simple, yet still a little tricky because lengthening your mule’s stride means covering more distance yet maintaining the same rhythm and cadence. It does not mean speed up, although that is what most equines will try to do. Track the perimeter of the arena again. This time, collect the trot on the short sides, and then urge your equine to lengthen his trot down the long sides. To add variation, ask him to lengthen across the diagonals (from corner to corner) as well. Your equine’s first impulse will probably be to shift his weight to the forehand and just speed up. For this reason, do not push him too hard too soon. At first, just ask for a little more energy—be aware that your rhythm and cadence will not be lost as his stride increases. He will just be spending more time in suspension. Keep the forehand light and free while you ride the hindquarters. Let your hand open slightly with the foreleg going forward on the same side, and close as the leg comes back. This will help you to determine how far you can let that stride go before the balance begins to shift forward. It will also allow you to check the balance with your hands before it begins to shift. If he has too much difficulty, you should go back and practice lengthening over ground rails again to gain more strength and coordination.

As your equine gains strength in the hindquarters and is better able to carry your weight, his lengthened gaits will continue to improve until, perhaps a year or so later, he will be able to fully extend his stride at the walk, trot and canter. I caution you, however, that if your animal begins to rush, ask for less.

Another exercise that is helpful in lengthening the trot is to canter your equine around the arena, then cross half of your diagonal at the canter. Break to the posting trot and finish the diagonal. After the diagonal, sit the trot through the short side of the arena, pick up the canter on the long side again, and then cross the next available diagonal again and repeat the pattern. The drive that an equine gets from his hindquarters in the canter will carry through into the trot for the few strides on the diagonal and will create the true lengthening. This also holds true when teaching the lengthened walk (add trot work and back to walk) and the lengthened canter (add galloping and back to canter). This is your opportunity to tell your equine, “Yes, yes, this is what I want when I urge you on!”

Learning to ride from back to front (from the hindquarters forward) will greatly improve the harmony between you and your equine. Loss of balance seems to be the single most common cause of disobedience and problems with riding and driving animals. Carrying your weight and his in a properly balanced posture minimizes the chance for a loss of balance, and recovery from such a loss is much easier. Your equine will soon discover that your aids are indeed for his benefit as well as for your own, and he will become more accepting of them over time. As he becomes more balanced, you will find a world of different activities that you and your equine can do!

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.

This article is an excerpt from the book, Training Mules and Donkeys by Meredith Hodges, 2013.

 

TT 64

LTR Training Tip #64: When Ground Driving Lateral Obstacles Aren’t Working

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Ground driving helps your equine to understand the rein cues coming from the drive lines. When working through lateral obstacles, your equine may be unsure or fearful. Be sure to work patiently on your verbal commands and take obstacles slowly, while being willing to gently help him through. And don’t forget the reward for good behavior.

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After The Winter Break 3 29 21 29

CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: After the Winter Break: 3-29-21

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Due to the colder and more inclement weather here in Colorado, Chasity has been off her exercise program for about three months. It was time to get back to work! No matter how long it has been between lessons, when you have a specific routine, the equines seem to comply easily because they know what to expect, beginning with going to their regular work station to be groomed and tacked up. In order to keep upper respiratory disease at bay, eye infections and ear problems to a minimum, it is advisable to clean these areas with a damp towel regularly. Be polite and wipe the towel in the direction that the hair lays and clean the nostrils with a circular motion. This repetition will prevent them from getting head shy.

Chasity still thinks the vacuum cleaner is questionable, but she tolerates it now. Not only does it pull the dirt from the skin for healthy hair growth, it also promotes circulation better than massage and does a better job at softening her “fat roll.” I used massage in the beginning when Chasity first came here with her enlarged crest (photo below on the right).

It had become somewhat enlarged again about three weeks ago, but after two sessions with the vacuum cleaner, it has decreased substantially already.

Another valuable therapeutic grooming tool is this simple human, multi-bristled hairbrush. It is not only VERY helpful during shedding, but also works to further stimulate the hair coat and promote better circulation, as well as efficiently removing dirt from the skin. I have found it to be more helpful for healthy hair than any equine grooming tools. The long, thick hair coats of winter and spring stay soft and healthy when I use this hair brush over the entire body. I only clip bridle paths when the weather gets warmer and I leave body clipping for showing. The only other grooming tools I use are a shedding blade to remove mud and a dandy brush to finish the coat. They can have balding spots from rubbing during the shedding season and may even get sores, but I just treat those with Neosporin and they recede quickly. A healthy hair coat will insulate your equine from the heat and cold and protect them from insects better than any artificial products or practices.

Equines do like feeling clean all over and really do appreciate your efforts at keeping them this way…although, they don’t necessarily show it when the first thing they do after a good grooming is to go for a good roll in the dirt!!! Still, they do seem to realize that you care and will show their appreciation in a multitude of other ways…like being happy to leave their companions to go with YOU and stand quietly during grooming, tacking and hoof care!

Feeding is a very important consideration for healthy hooves as are regular trims when needed, usually every 8-10 weeks. For donkeys, it can even be longer between trims when they wear their hooves in good balance. Chasity had hoof issues when she first arrived, but is now sporting healthy balanced feet! Remember that Longears will be more upright and have more heel than horses and ponies…and donkeys will typically be more upright and have more heel than mules.

Fitting saddles can be tricky. Make sure the saddle makes even contact behind the withers and over the back with relief from pressure over the spine. Many saddles sit too high and cause centralized and uneven pressure across the back. Pressure points are easily identified after a workout. The back will be sweaty, but the pressure points will be dry.

Place the saddle in the center of the back, behind the shoulder blade, the girth falling 4” behind the forearm where the skin is thicker and body begins to swell. I have successfully used cruppers with the buckles set away from the tail to hold it in place. The crupper is adjusted with just enough tension so the tail will still be able to rest comfortably.

I am using the neck sweat on Chasity for lunging to promote a decrease in the crest. When bridling, I press my thumb on the bars of her mouth to get it open and protect her ears with my hands as I pull the crown piece to the poll. This promotes trust and keeps any equine from getting ear shy.

On an English saddle there is a small d-ring that I use to tie up the reins.

Then it is off to the Round Pen. I always stay in sync with their front legs when we walk and execute the gates EXACTLY the same way EVERY TIME! All movements are predictable, never abrupt. They comply due to trust.

I adjust Chasity’s postural restraint, the “Elbow Pull,” and then remind her to give to the tension to get the release with a reward of oats for flexing at the poll. Wrangler, “Mr. Curiosity” watches intently…they do learn from each other!

Chasity’s overall posture has changed dramatically as has her movement. She uses her body much more efficiently.

Chasity has strong hind quarter engagement with an uphill balance to promote enthusiasm, endurance and stamina.

A reward is always in order for a job well done. Her forward stretch has improved greatly in one short year.

The lateral stretches are also much improved. After five rotations of walk, then trot, then reverse and repeat the other direction, 3 sets with a 3 minute break in between, then stop. Done once a week is adequate to maintain conditioning.

I hold the halter crown strap in my hand and protect her ears as I remove Chasity’s bridle. Then I slip the bridle onto my left arm, bring the noseband over her nose with my left hand and fasten the halter to the strap in my right hand. This ensures that I can keep hold of her should she try to pull away. Last, I fasten the tie strap from the hitch rail.

I always unfasten the girth on the left, then tie up the girth on the right, slide the saddle back, loosen the crupper from the tail and take off the saddle on the right side. This gets the equine used to being handled from BOTH sides. I always rinse the bits and wipe any dirt from the bridles and saddles before putting them away…saves work in the long run!

I remove Chasity’s neck sweat to see how much sweat is underneath…encouraging! We are definitely making progress!

To end, we do a few more stretches in each direction. These are improving immensely, too!

Then it’s walking IN SYNC back to the barn for turnout in the larger dry lot. They enter the stall, ladies first, and then they both turn around to allow me to remove their halters and to enjoy their last reward. I keep all my donkeys off grass most of the time. I find that they stay healthier and do not run the risk of getting obese that way. They do have large dry lots for turnout on pea gravel every day and a couple of acres of dirt pen for really stretching their legs every other day. They do get some grass when we go for walks, but do not seem to miss it most of the time. They are too busy playing and resting with each other…and looking forward to our next lesson TOGETHER!

All Turnouts Must End

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The Lucky Three mules willingly come off the grass pasture at any time of the day that they are beckoned. This is the result of routine management, humane training practices and an ample reward system. Not one equine here is herd-bound as we have become as good friends with them as their equine buddies!