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Wrangler had his first sarcoid removal on 7-20-18, but we found another one just a few weeks ago starting under his right side. It looked like he had been rubbing it as it was a bit crusty. I had a mule that did that to a sarcoid and it eventually disappeared as did the other two that were on his body. He apparently built immunity against the sarcoids. So, we opted to wait and see if this one on Wrangler would also just go away. It didn’t and it was now the size of a golf ball and would need to be removed. We treated Wrangler’s prior sarcoid with Xterra because of its location in a vascular area, but this one could safely be surgically removed.
Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand, shaved the area for the IV catheter.
We opted to do the surgery in our tack and groom area where things could be kept clean. Kim handed Greg the catheter while I kept Wrangler steady. He wasn’t exactly thrilled, but he was a good boy!
In order to make sure he landed on his left side so Greg could reach the sarcoid that was on the right side, Chad and Steve took their positions on each side and guided him to the floor.
I shaved off the long, thick shaggy hair from his barrel around the sarcoid with my #10 blade and then Greg came back over the area with his closer cut blade. We put a fleece saddle pad under his head and covered his eyes with a bath towel.
Kim prepped the area while Steve held the rope that was anchored around his hind leg to prevent any kicking if he began to wake up. Chad held the IV drip while I watched his head for unnatural breath and movement. But Wrangler just snored!
Greg carefully removed the sarcoid paying attention to getting it all. Wrangler just kept snoring!
After the sarcoid was removed, we opted not to do stitches and Greg used his Hyper Thermic machine that would trigger his immune system to fight any cells that might have not been removed. It could even cause the old sarcoid that was now dormant to drop off later if it worked to that extent. This treatment is one that replaced the old injections that used to be the follow-up treatment in sarcoid surgeries.
Kim cleaned the area afterwards and blotted the sponge onto the area to help the blood to clot.
The she removed the IV drip system from the catheter in his neck. It wasn’t long after before Wrangler began to wake up.
We kept him on his sternum and patiently waited until he was ready to try to get up. At first, he was a bit wobbly and stayed in a sitting position for a few seconds before rising to all four legs.
Once he was on all fours, we held the sponges up against his belly to further stop the blood until it could lot. Wrangler just “hung loose!”
When the blood finally clotted, we pulled the IV needle from his neck and then held sponges on that until it stopped bleeding. Wrangler was grateful to be awake again…well, sort of awake!
When he was showing some stability on his feet, we took a few circles around the room to get his circulation going again. We kept him walking intermittently around the room for about 30 minutes before putting him back in his stall and run. We removed all the bedding for a few days so it would not get stuck in the open wound that we would clean twice a day and treat once a day with Panalog until it is healed.
Wrangler didn’t have the where-with-all to be able to let out a full-fledged bray, but he did let out several grunts of appreciation to Dr. Greg as he left!
After doing her Hourglass Pattern exercises, first one way and then the other, we opted to add some variety to the workout by adding some straight forward obstacles. In our indoor arena, I have an open space of 60’ X 120’ and a 45’ round pen at the end of the arena in another 60’ X 60’ fenced off space. Around the outside perimeter of the round pen in that area, I put my obstacles. I have found that there is less margin of error learning obstacles in a confined space to add coordination to their core strength in good equine posture. They can learn to pay more attention and to be more meticulous in their execution of the obstacles. This is a helpful way to begin with obstacles. The first obstacle for Chasity was the gate!
After going through the gate and standing stock still while I latched it, we proceeded to the bridge. I was pleasantly surprised when she allowed me to stop her with only her front feet on the bridge. This is generally a Stage Two move in my program since obstacles are used for coordination. Most equines are so uncoordinated that they just want to keep walking over and through the obstacles without stopping at first. Good for Chasity!
Chasity then carefully walked up onto the bridge with all four feet and halted on command! This was going much better than I had expected!
When I asked her to square up, she got a bit skewed to the side on the bridge, but she was nevertheless squared up, just not in line with the bridge. So I took it and rewarded her effort.We can do better the next time.
Then we got off the bridge and I squared her up again. Then…I introduced her to the tractor tire.
She looked at it…wasn’t afraid of it…walked around it…
…and looked at it again. She was clearly NOT going to put her foot in the middle of that tire! I decided to quit while we were ahead and try again next time. Because I didn’t push her, she consented to walking through the smaller tires…
…tentatively, but she did it! And then she walked around the barrels with no trouble at all!
Just having Chasity navigate these obstacles without being afraid of them was a major accomplishment. We then walked into the back-through “L” and I decided to make it a little bit tougher.
After walking through the “L” forward, I asked Chasity to back through where she had come.
She was a bit perplexed, but slowly backed between the rails, made the turn at the elbow, and went straight back from there with very little forcible encouragement.
Once at the end of the back-through “L,” we headed for the tarp. She followed me obediently, but was so silly…
When we got to the tarp, she wanted to walk EXACTLY where I walked! I guess she KNEW it was safe there! Too funny!
I gave her a reward because she really didn’t balk and we proceeded out of the obstacle area.
As we left, we executed the gate correctly and she was rewarded again. She stood quietly until I was ready to move.
Then we proceeded down the arena wall towards the exit gate and stopped to turn off the lights. She was a little surprised that the wall opened up, but stood still while I opened the door and turned off the lights.
Then I closed the door and we exited the arena. Adding obstacles and simple expectations to her regular work in the Hourglass Pattern made the experience more interesting and engaging to Chasity. When you add new things to their lessons, you shouldn’t feel like the equine has to do it right the first time. Just quit while you are ahead and your equine WILL do better the next time! There is no battle to remember!
Beginning by negotiating obstacles in larger areas makes for a larger margin for error. Too many things can go wrong and lead to an unpleasant chain of negative events that suck you and your equine into unnecessary altercations. There is plenty of time to do them in the more open spaces once they have learned how to negotiate them in the smaller spaces. I first school green animals during ground driving and under saddle in the small open area of my indoor arena (60’ X 120” – Standard Small Dressage Arena Size) before I take them into the larger outside arenas. This has resulted in a decrease of bolting and running. When you set up your training environment, it is always optimal to set up the equine for success!
By Meredith Hodges
Before most of us learn anything about horses, mules and donkeys, we tend to initially perceive them as large, strong and durable animals that can safely carry us anywhere we want to go and can participate in any number of equine events. This is essentially true. However, there can be a number of pitfalls along the way if you do not educate yourself and practice good maintenance, feeding and training practices.
Equines, like people, are comprised of living tissue, bones, muscles and tendons that can often experience improper growth and development, which can compromise their performance. This is why it is important to feed your equine’s living tissue, bones, muscles and tendons a healthy diet and exercise him in a way that builds these elements using natural and non-stressful techniques that will help your equine to strengthen properly in the right frame, or posture.
It is also important to make sure the tack you use fits well and is adjusted properly. An equine that is experiencing soreness from ill-fitting tack will be distracted from his best performance. Improve your own skills by taking care of your own body as you observe and condition your equine. The person who eats healthy food, exercises in good posture and improves his or her own general conditioning, coordination and Horsemanship skills will not be out of balance and will not compromise the equine’s ability to perform.
Let’s take this one step at a time. First, make sure that your equine is stabled in a place where he has adequate shelter from the elements, plenty of room to exercise himself when you are not there, clean water and a good feeding schedule. When an equine is nervous or high strung, it can usually be attributed to this very elemental beginning. Many show horses are kept in 12-foot by 12-foot stalls with limited turnout during the day, usually only an hour or two. Think about this for a minute. The equine is a grazing animal and his natural health is enhanced by what he eats and the fact that he is moving with his head down most of every day of his life. The only time his head is truly raised is when he is on alert.
The equine that is stabled in a stall isn’t urged to have his head down for any more time than it takes to eat up the loose hay after his feedings. His body is forced to remain in a very small range of movement and he can become stiff and sore when asked to do things that require more flexibility in his work. When fed high protein feeds in this situation, he is not able to expend the energy to burn this feed, and it can manifest itself in nervous and anxious behavior. Therefore, it is critical to your equine’s health that he is not only fed the right kinds of feeds and supplements, but that he is able to expend this energy in a healthy way for his body to grow and develop properly.
Muscles in the equine’s body, like our own, are structured in distinctive layers and are supported by ligaments and tendons. These muscles need to be strengthened in a specific order for optimum performance. Whether he is a foal or an older animal, his athletic conditioning needs this taken into consideration. The first exercises should be passive and easy to facilitate the strengthening of the core muscles closest to the bone. This is done with exercises on the lead line. It is not as important that he learns to negotiate obstacles on the lead line as it is how he negotiates the obstacles on the lead line.
On the approach to an obstacle, your equine needs to be relaxed and comfortable. It is your job as his trainer to show him how to do this. When you lead in good posture, walk straight lines and make smooth, gradual arcs and turns, you will encourage your equine to do the same. Using short pauses between changes of pace or direction will help your equine to stay calm and receptive to training.
For instance, when approaching a bridge, walk with your equine’s head at your shoulder as if you were in a showmanship class. Stop at the foot of the bridge and encourage your equine to stretch his nose down and investigate the bridge in order to allay any fears he might have. When your animal has indicated he is not afraid by once again raising his head level with his withers, you can proceed. Face the bridge straight on, looking straight ahead and, while keeping his head at your shoulder, take the first step straight forward and onto the bridge, making sure he follows and places one front foot on the bridge itself. Next, ask him to place the other front foot onto the bridge, stop, square up his four feet (as in Showmanship) and reward. Continue forward in a straight line. Once all four of his feet are on the bridge, stop, square up and give him a reward. Then continue across the bridge maintaining your own good posture, hesitate at the last step, and then step off carefully, in good balance and with a coordinated effort. Ask him to place his two front feet on the ground while leaving the back feet on the bridge, stop, square up and reward. Your equine will learn to follow your lead and execute the task in the same balanced and coordinated manner and will be able to halt on command at any location.
In the beginning, your equine may be fearful and nervous about going over the bridge or any other obstacle. It is enough at this time that he gets over his fear and just crosses it, whether it is done with finesse or not. Once he is over the fear of crossing the obstacle, you can begin working on his ability to cross with finesse, balance and coordination. The longer you work on perfecting the negotiation of an obstacle in a balanced and coordinated way, the stronger the participating muscle groups will become and the more comfortable and automatic the movement will become until it develops into a habit.
The part you play in all of this is very important. You will discover that if you are not in balance and coordinated in the way you move with your equine, the less balanced and coordinated he will be. If you don’t walk straight, then neither will he. If you are not confident in your approach, then he won’t be either. Even something as simple as the tack you use will play a big part in your equine’s performance. If the halter is too small or too large, it can cause irregular pressure on your animal, preventing him from complying with your wishes. How you move your equine’s head with the halter and lead line can affect his performance. Pay attention to how hard you need to pull to get even the smallest response and be ready to release pressure immediately upon compliance. But again, when releasing pressure, just give him enough slack to release the pressure and not so much that you have a lot to take back later. This will help him keep his attention on you and the task at hand. Keep this minimal degree of pressure-and-release throughout his work. Even if he backs away from an obstacle, just give little tugs followed by a release to allow him to back and then encourage him to re-approach the obstacle by coming from another angle or by coaxing him with the promise of a reward upon his attempt. Another approach is to go to the end of the lead rope, keep the rope taut and invite him to come forward by revealing the oats reward he will get when he complies. Take up the slack as he approaches. Avoid resistance at all costs!
Halters that are too loose allow too much lag time between the time you ask by giving a tug and the time the equine receives the message. This usually results in an over-reaction from your equine and then an over-reaction from you as you try to correct the mistake. A halter that is too tight can be a distraction because it can create sore spots—the equivalent to a headache and no one likes to perform with a headache! The lead line typically should be a length that you can easily handle and that will give your equine some room to move away, but that can be reorganized easily, usually about six to eight feet long.
No matter how careful you may be, there will always be times when your equine will experience some kind of soreness from playing too hard in the pasture or from kicking in a stall, to any number of daily hazards. How he is negotiating his obstacles and how he performs certain movements will give you clues to how he is feeling. Learn to watch every step your animal takes, how his feet are placed, how his body is moving and the look on his face as he performs a given task.
This is when it can be beneficial to know the basics of equine massage therapy. There is a lot that you, as your equine’s trainer, can do without a professional equine masseuse, but you should always consult with a professional for lessons on how you can do your part. Make sure that the equine masseuse you decide to use is a person who knows equines and has at least 500 hours experience with equine massage therapy. Once you learn some massage techniques, you can often alleviate minor soreness exhibited by your equine. When your equine senses that your goal is to make him comfortable as well as successful in his work, he will be much more willing and able to comply.
The specifics of training techniques covered in this article can be found in the Equus Revisited manual and DVD.
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, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
It was a perfect hot day for Wrangler’s yearly summer bath! We tried taking a “selfie” with a Canon camera and telephoto lens…not too bad for our first try!
He’s a real ham! He loves to smile for the camera and eat oats from the fanny pack.
Just tell him to and he perks his ears for the pictures! Wrangler is now an 11 year old gelding and softens my loss of Little Jack Horner in 2014!
Wrangler is so much like L.J.H. it’s crazy!
By Meredith Hodges
People have often asked me how on earth can only three people—my daughter, my husband and myself—manage to prepare and show as many as 18 head of mules and donkeys for one show?! They say that we must be crazy, and maybe we are a little crazy, but a few simple rules of organization have made this possible.
The first consideration is the grooming of the animals themselves. Anyone who has had to body clip an animal knows how tedious and time-consuming this can be. Mule and donkey hair does not appear to grow back as quickly, nor as radically, as does horse hair, so you can clip your mule, or donkey, as far as 2-3 weeks in advance of your show and do touch up work just before the show. If you have no shows until summer, you may want to body clip in mid-April anyway. It is at this time that the winter hair begins to shed and the summer hair starts to come in. If you clip off the winter hair and blanket him for the remainder of the spring, the hair that grows in will be much more manageable than the heavy winter hair and will greatly reduce grooming time before the show.
Once the heavier coat is eliminated, a weekly grooming will keep his coat nicely maintained. Daily grooming before a show, or every other day, is even better. Each time you groom him before riding, check and clip as needed the muzzle hairs, around the eyes and ears, and around the coronet bands. Leave the hairs inside the ears to prevent irritation from bugs and flies, but trim the outside edges and backs of the ears. An ounce of corn oil in his feed daily will assure a healthy sheen in his coat on show day without the use of artificial highlighters. Trimming, or shoeing, your mule on a regular six-eight week schedule will assure that his feet will not need attending at the last minute. A routine vaccination, deworming, Coggins testing and a permanent brand inspection will make sure he is ready for transport to any show anywhere at any time. Then, all that remains to be done right before the show is minor clipping, bathing, and polishing hooves.
Each individual mule, or donkey, should have his own personal show halter and bridle for convenience. Driving animals should each have their own set of harness. This will help to reduce the time between tack changes while at the show.
Dress rehearsals before the show at home are quite beneficial. Prepare as if you are about to enter each class, one at a time. First, pick the clothing you will need to wear and store it in a designated place in your house. You do not have to actually wear them for the rehearsal. As you pick out the items, take note of the things that need to be cleaned or polished, and set them to the side of the rest of your other clothes.
Then, tack up your animal, checking each piece of equipment to make sure that it is in working order. Go ahead and practice the class. Then, as you unpack your mule, set the tack aside from the rest in your tack room for cleaning later. Do this for each animal in each class. Your animals will do better at the show if they get plenty of rest before the show, so it is wise to spend the day before the show cleaning your tack, clothes, and equipment. Before you begin to clean, load all the items into your trailer that are all ready to go without cleaning. Then, as you clean the remaining items, load them directly into the trailer as you finish them.
When the basic gear for you and your animal is loaded, make a checklist for feed, buckets, hoses, brushes, forks, brooms, and shovels, etc., that you will need for general care, load them, and check them off. When you have finished, lay out all the items that you will need for transport (i.e. sheets, blankets, shipping boots, etc.), so they are easily available. If you proceed in this manner, the risk of forgetting any important items is minimized. It is best to make sure that your trailer is fully loaded (except the animals) the night before you leave as this gives you overnight to think of anything you might have missed. Items such as your ice chest can be left until morning, or last minute, provided that you put them in a highly visible spot with a list of what is to be put in attached. Do not try to rely on your memory, as it will be clouded by the excitement and anticipation of the show.
If you are taking a number of mules and donkeys to the show, it is wise to bathe with soap at home the day before; then, cover the animal with a sheet or blanket and leg wraps. The day of the show, you would then only need to rinse, or vacuum, any excess dirt. This will minimize grooming time at the show.
Post the show schedule where you will be tacking up for each class and organize your clothing and equipment such that it is ready to go and easily accessible. Once the show actually begins, you will not have time to go hunting for misplaced items. Take note of your clothing changes and wear things that are easily changed. For instance, if your Western classes are before your English classes, you can wear your breeches underneath your Western slacks and chaps. Changing from English attire to Driving and Side Saddle attire is easily done by wearing your English clothing, then, simply change your headgear and add a lap rug for driving, or an apron for Side Saddle. Changes of your boots are pretty much optional, as English boots are easily hidden beneath properly fitting Western chaps and are appropriate footwear for English, Driving and Side Saddle.
If classes are spaced fairly close together and you are using more than one animal, it is wise to tack up the other animals ahead of time so they are ready to go. If you are using only one saddle for more than one animal, the other animals can still be bridled with the halter slipped over it, so they can be tied and waiting. Be sure to tie up the reins so they will not be chewed or stepped on. If you are using the same mule throughout the show, tacking and stripping should not be too time-consuming if your equipment is well organized.
Shows should be fun and exciting, but it can easily turn into a nightmare when things are out of place and chaotic. Make your motel and stabling reservations early and leave for the show well ahead of schedule to allow for breakdowns or other unforeseen emergencies. By all means, bring friends to help you, but give them a briefing and a list of jobs they can do. They won’t be much help if they have to keep asking what to do the day of the show! If you are going any distance at all, have your truck and trailer checked over thoroughly before you leave. There is nothing more frustrating than a major breakdown on the roadside with a trailer full of animals!
In summary, with routine grooming, farrier care, vet care, regular Coggins testing during the show season and permanent brand inspections, you can greatly reduce your show preparation time. Dress rehearsals, individual tack for each animal and organized loading will assure that all your tack and equipment will be readily available. Advanced motel and stabling reservations will afford you and your animals much needed rest when you arrive. Having your truck and trailer checked before you leave will make sure that you arrive in plenty of time. And, organization of tack and equipment when you do arrive will heighten the chances for an enjoyable and relaxing show!
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.
© 1991, 2016, 2019, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The “Hourglass Pattern” is an amazing therapeutic approach to conditioning that I have used with all of my equines of varying ages, sizes and breeds. It builds a foundation of symmetrical strengthening at the core involving the ligaments, tendons muscles and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame and promotes even wear of the cartilage between bones in the joints. It can prevent arthritis as the animals age. This is vital to your equine athlete’s health. Chasity and I open the gate to her rebalancing and rehabilitation exercises in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
The red “X’s” in the pattern represent the points where you are to halt, square up, reward and wait. This process becomes helpful as your equine learns to navigate gates properly and learns to wait patiently through repetition and consistency in your behavior. Always go through gates exactly the same way so your equine knows what to expect. Abrupt actions lead to chaos.
We want to promote self-carriage, so we do not hold the lead rope in the right hand when leading from the left side where it can subtlety cause movement in the head and neck from side to side, adversely affecting their balance. Rather, we hold the lead rope in the left hand when leading from the left side and in the right hand when leading from the right side. We lead from the inside of the arcs in direction through the pattern. Always, say the animal’s name, give the command to “Walk On,” look where you are going, point in the direction of travel with your other hand and walk in sync with the equine’s front legs. This facilitates good posture for both of you!
When negotiating the “Hourglass Pattern,” there is an internal pendulum that swings back and forth and comes to center each time the animal halts and is squared up. If you were to work only along straight lines there is an optical illusion that takes place along the perimeter and makes the animal’s body lean to the inside of the track, and when halted, they cannot find the center of balance. Every time you halt, square up your equine and reward with the crimped oats that you keep in your fanny pack around your waist (other “treats” will not work the same way!). Then wait until they finish chewing so they can settle into their perfect balance unobstructed.
As they progess, they learn to bend to the arc of the turns through their rib cage, carry their body erect in good posture supported by stronger ab muscles that round the back upward as they learn to give to the “Elbow Pull” such that it remains loose. When it is tight, they are simply having difficulty holding their good posture and lean on the “Elbow Pull” much like a beginning ballet dancer must use the bar on the wall. Many people think that you do your equine a favor by not putting a bit in their mouth, but you cannot affect their posture without one. The animals that are not bitted and schooled in good posture can have all kinds of postural issues as they age. Chasity is falling in and out of good posture because she is only in Week Three of her training. As she improves, she will be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose for longer periods of time until it is always loose.
As this way of moving and standing becomes more habitual, so does their comfort in these positions. When they rest, they will stand 4-square instead of with splayed legs, or a hip dropped and a foot cocked. They are happy and deliberate in their movements and good posture continues to improve until this become their new habitual way of moving and resting. You will see marked changes in their play and rest patterns while in turnout.
Adding rails to the center of the pattern keeps them attentive, alert and teaches exact hoof placement (hoof-eye coordination). As their movement becomes more deliberate and balanced, their confidence is increased as is their trust in you for making them feel so comfortable in their own skin. They learn to wait for your command before moving. They look forward to their time with you and will gladly leave the herd to be with you! No more herdbound behaviors!
We build this foundation through the “Hourglass Pattern” first during leading training, then after obstacles and lunging training during Ground Driving, and finally Under Saddle. Each stage produces new challenges to the equine’s body and mind that add to their overall development in a logical, sequential and healthy way. Because of all these small steps, with gradual difficulty, it is easy and fun for both you and your equine to do. You are never over-faced with difficulty and you learn to appreciate the little victories along the way! Chasity was somewhat of a pushy, bully to start with, but she now waits patiently when I ask and navigates movement in much better posture, even after only three short weeks! More dramatic changes to Chasity’s body and mind are still to come! It’s not just about the end result. It’s all about the journey!
By Meredith Hodges
When choosing a jack to breed to your mares and jennets, there are many important factors to consider. Conformation is the most obvious, but size, type, disposition and genetics are equally significant. As a direct result of the donkey’s evolution our choices in jacks are considerably limited these days. In the days when donkeys were widely used as beasts of burden, conformational soundness was an important consideration in their ability to do physical work. Today, the donkey is not as widely used in this manner, becoming more of an owner’s pleasure animal. In some cases, he is simply another pet. As a result, not much care has been taken to preserve his conformational integrity, thus limiting the availability of true breeding stock.
Although the conformation of the ideal jack can only be approximated, you should always try to choose a jack that is as close to the ideal as possible for your breeding programs. (Perpetuating undesirable conformation traits will only compound future breeding problems.) The first conformational consideration is the jack’s overall balance and proportion. His torso should be well connected to the front and rear quarters, with plenty of width and depth from heart girth to the flank, which allows for maximum efficiency of the heart and lungs. The topline from the withers to the tail should be relatively straight, with only a gentle slope from the withers to the croup, and neither excessively long nor short-backed. A longish back is acceptable, provided there is not a lot of distance between the last rib and the point of the hip, as this causes weakness through the loins. The unusually short-backed jack does not have adequate lateral and vertical flexibility in his movement. A rigidly straight back is discouraged, as is a back that sags too drastically in the middle (except in the case of an aged animal).
Proportionately, the jack should not be too narrow in the chest, through the rib cage and in the rear quarters—nor should he be too wide in these areas. These faults in proportion can interfere with his action, causing him to be “pin-toed” (splay-footed) or “pigeon-toed” (toed-in). The pin-toed jack will brush his knees and fetlocks together in deep footing, causing him to be a slow mover, or he may even cross his legs over one another, increasing the possibility of a fall.
The closest approximation to a 45-degree angle in the hips and shoulders is preferred, with an adequate balance of muscle and sinew in all four quarters. One of the most common faults in donkeys today is straight and slight shoulders and hips. The withers and croup should be even across the topline, and the jack with withers slightly higher than the croup is preferred over the opposite, as this could set the animal’s body weight too far on the forehand, making turns and stops more difficult. It could also increase the possibility of falling. The croup should be smooth and round over the rump, with a tail set neither too high nor too low.
The feet and legs of the jack are the foundation of his conformation. They should be straight and true, with flat bone and adequate angles at the shoulders, hips, stifles, and hock and fetlock joints. The foot should be trimmed and shaped to compliment the angles in his joints to maintain the good conformation that should be present in the four quarters of the animal. For example, on a jack with good shoulders, the slope of the pasterns should be parallel to the slope of the shoulders. When dropping a plumb line on the front legs, which should be neither too far forward nor too far underneath him, the plumb line should fall from the point of the withers to the ground, directly at the back of the front legs. When dropping a plumb line on the hind legs, it should fall from the base of the tail to the point of the hock, and straight down the back of the cannon bone to the ground.
As far as a donkey’s hoofs are concerned, the expression, “No foot, no donkey” is literally true. Faults such as buck-kneed, calf-kneed, tied-in at the knee, round bone, short straight pasterns, coon-footed, too-long cannon, sickle hocks, splay-footed, knock-kneed, bowlegged, pigeon-toed, broken forward or backward feet, or too straight through the stifle and hock are all serious faults and should be avoided when breeding. Being slightly cow-hocked behind can be overlooked, as this usually increases maneuverability. The hoof itself should not reflect a ribbed appearance — it should be smooth and inclined to look sleek and oily. Even on the donkey, the hooves should not be contracted, but well-sprung (although less sprung than a mule or horse), and supported with a well-extended, healthy frog. Donkeys have a multi-layered hoof wall that will shed off in the event of mild or even severe trauma to the coronet or hoof wall, so many donkeys exhibit a “peeling” or “scabbing” of the hoof wall. A jack with this damage to the hoof should be inspected carefully to determine the severity of the problem and the extent of possible weakness in the hoof itself. If it is a cosmetic problem, it can often be managed successfully by adding one ounce a day of Mazola corn oil to the diet. If it is a genetic problem, a jack with hoof problems should be avoided when breeding and should probably be castrated.
The head and neck of the ideal jack should be attractive and set-in correctly, giving an overall balanced look to the animal. He should have good length to the ears, neither too far forward nor too far back, so the poll is clearly apparent. His eyes should be set so they give him a maximum field of vision forward, backward and peripherally. The eyes should not be set too high nor too low, which would offset the overall balance of the head. He should have adequate width and fine enough bone in the head, to allow for plenty of space for the brain and internal organs of the scull cavity. The length of his head should compliment the balance of his body and taper to a smaller and delicate muzzle. His jaw should be straight and aligned, showing neither a parrot mouth (under bite), nor be undershot (over bite, or buck toothed). This is critical for feeding and nutrition. The slightly dished-face, straight-faced or Roman-nosed jack should not be ruled out, provided the other criteria are met. The neck should be set in so that it flows easily into the withers and has adequate length for the ability to bend and maintain balance. He should have neither a U-neck nor an excessively crested neck. It should not be too wide, or too narrow, and should tie into the throatlatch in a trim and flexible way.
The basic conformation for the breeding jack should be the same regardless of size, although there are specific considerations with regard to type and use. The jack generally contributes more to the thickness of bone in his offspring, but not necessarily to their height. Therefore, when breeding for saddle mules and donkeys, the more refined-boned Standard or Large Standard jacks are preferred. On the other hand, when breeding for a draft mule or donkey, you would want to preserve more thickness of bone and use a stockier jack, such as a Large Standard or Mammoth. Use the same guidelines when breeding for miniatures; stocky begets stocky and refined begets refined. When breeding for saddle mules, you may want to keep the refinement, so you would use a Standard or Large Standard jack to breed to a saddle horse mare. However, if you wish to have a pack mule that is not overly tall, you might then want to breed a Mammoth jack to a saddle horse mare.
The genetic pool is a very important consideration when breeding. A particular jack may be a beautiful specimen, but, regardless of how lovely and balanced he may be, he may possess genes that produce offspring with many conformation faults. Since donkeys have been so inbred, this can happen more frequently than you might imagine. When choosing a jack to breed to your mares and jennets, it is wise, if possible, to take a look at some of his offspring from different mares and jennets, so you can better assess his stronger traits and determine which traits appear to be pre-potent. If this is not possible, your alternative is to breed him with only the best mare or jennet you own, in order to increase the odds for positive traits to come through in the offspring. Sometimes you can try to compliment the mare with the jack, such as a long-backed mare with a short-backed jack to get a medium-backed mule, but this doesn’t always work. A reputable jack owner should have records to show how and what his jack has produced and be able to attest to the consistency of his jack’s production. Granted, in the past this was virtually impossible, but today we have the American Donkey & Mule Society registry (and other Longears registries), and many conscientious breeders who realize the importance of recording their breeding information, thereby giving us all a better understanding of Longears production. So, don’t be afraid to ask the breeder whatever questions you may have.
Disposition is of the utmost importance when choosing a jack. However, there is a difference between the jack’s natural instincts, his personality and his acquired personal attitudes, so you should learn to distinguish between a natural instinct, a distinctive personality trait and behavior that was the result of improper handling. I have found most donkeys to be quite cooperative and affectionate when patiently and fairly treated, but some can also be more obstinate about things than others. Remember, in addition to the inherited traits of the jack, it is the mare, or jennet, from which the offspring learns most of his behaviors while he is growing up. So learn to make educated choices concerning your breeding stock and, in order to maintain the integrity of the breed, use only jacks with the best conformation for breeding.
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.
© 1986, 1991, 2012, 2016, 2020, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
1) North Africa 1943 (Library of Congress)
2) Sire-Supreme Little Jack Horner and Meredith Hodges
3) Lucky Three Excalibur
4) Lucky Three Blue Baron
5) Standard Jack, Colorado D.J.
6) Foundation Sire Windy Valley Adam
7) Don Mode driving Foundation Sire Black Bart
By Meredith Hodges
A donkey jack can be your best friend or your worst enemy! Because he is a donkey, he possesses all the wonderful characteristics particular to donkeys—intelligence, strength, easy maintenance, suitability for many equine sports and, probably most important, an innate affectionate attitude. You must, however, realize that he is still an intact male, often governed by the hormones in his body. When nature takes over, the jack’s conscious thought is greatly diminished and he can become quite hazardous to your health. The jack’s aggressiveness is often masked by his sedate and affectionate attitude, but it can arise in a split second and do more damage than even a stallion. Usually, there is an awkwardness, or indecisiveness, in an agitated stallion that will allow you time to get out of the way, but the jack reacts strongly, swiftly and right on target, allowing you little or no time for retreat. By keeping a few simple things in mind, you can greatly reduce your chances of injury when handling jacks.
First, try to keep your jack in a comfortable atmosphere. Jacks can be great worriers, particularly about their mares and jennets. Ideally, you should keep the jack well out of sight and smell of the females, but this is not always practical. If he must be near females, make sure your jack has a roomy area, free of refuse and debris, and adequately fenced. The fences should be high enough to discourage his leaning over the top and strong enough to bear his weight on impact. Also, they must be constructed so that there are no protrusions that could cause him injury. If females (or other animals) are present, the jack may run back and forth along the fence and catch his head on anything that is protruding. Hot wires along the inside of a weaker fence will often serve this purpose. However, a hot wire used alone is not sufficient. If your jack becomes frightened, he could run through an electric wire before he even knows that it is there. Giving him a clean, comfortable area where his limits are clearly defined will help him to be a calmer and more manageable animal.
Always make sure your jack’s pen is cleaned daily and that he has free access to clean water, a trace mineral salt block and good grass hay. If he gains too much weight with free choice grass hay, then simply limit his intake to two flakes at each feeding in the morning and evening. He can have a limited amount of oats during one feeding a day (preferably in the evenings), mixed with an appropriate vitamin supplement such as Sho Glo, and one ounce of Mazola corn oil (I suggest this particular brand—other brands of corn oils are not the same) for management of his coat, his feet and his digestive tract regularity. During feeding times, you should check him from top to bottom for any new changes to his body like cuts, bruises, lameness, etc. This is also a good way to reinforce his acceptance of being handled all over and to solidify your relationship with him. This consistent management practice paves the way for good manners in the jack, because he then knows with no uncertainty that you are a true friend and really do care about his well-being.
Many people opt to keep jacks in solitude, but this is not really good for them. Being a natural herd animal, they need social interaction. When they don’t have company nearby, jacks can become depressed (donkeys have actually been known to die from depression—they can stop eating and simply give up). To remedy this, jacks can be pastured or penned next to other animals, as long as the fencing is adequate between them. Of course, you also need to take into consideration the personality types of the animals involved, as well as being careful to make sure they are compatible. This can fulfill their need for companionship and keep them happy in confinement. As long as there are no cycling horse or donkey females around, jacks can be pastured next to mules of both genders. I had my own jack, Little Jack Horner, penned next to our teaser stallion for many years and they actually liked each other! We never had any trouble with them at all.
You can spend more time with your jack by using him for more than just breeding. Animals, like people, always do better when they have a regular job to do that affords them some purpose in life beyond propagation. Some sort of job will give your jack an alternative purpose, which can help to diffuse his obsession with the female. It will also attend to the strength of his core muscles that surround the skeletal system and vital organs and teach him self-discipline. And it affords more time for you to develop your relationship with him, have fun together and to deepen the bond between you, which helps the jack to develop a healthy mental attitude. There are many jack owners who use their jacks for riding and driving, as well as for breeding. This is an excellent and actually the best plan, but if you lack the time or inclination to use your jack this way and wish to use him exclusively for breeding, you should still take some time—at least two or three days a week—to work on halter training and groundwork, such as ground driving, for manageability. Teach your jack to walk, trot, whoa and stand still on the lead. During these sessions, keep a positive and relaxed attitude, with more emphasis on your rapport with him than on his performance. Be his friend so he has something to look forward to besides females and breeding, and he will have a much better attitude overall.
When he is flawless with his leading training, you can get him used to the bridle and a surcingle or lightweight saddle, and then move on to ground driving. Lunging is not as important, since most donkeys do not like to lunge. I suppose they don’t see much purpose in going around in a circle more than once to come back to the same place over and over again. Taking the time to properly train your donkey jack at halter and in the drivelines will enhance his obedience, and will make him more comfortable and relaxed. During the breeding process, it can even speed up his readiness.
When using your jack for breeding, develop a routine that he can count on every time. When you go to the stall or pen to catch the jack, wait for him to come to you at the gate or stall door, and then reward him with oats when he comes to you. Then put on the halter, ask him to take one step backwards, and then reward him again (which is very important to prevent him from running over you and barging through the gate or out the door). If you are going to breed him, the mare should first be prepared. Next, once you are both out the door, ask him to whoa and square up all four feet. Then you can lead him to the breeding area, where you can then tie him to the hitch rail a little ways away from the waiting mare. By being consistent in your manner of going from the stall to the breeding area, the jack will learn not to be pushy and aggressive toward you.
When in the breeding area, your jack must be taught patience and obedience. If the mare is left to stand just out of reach until he is ready to breed, he may consider this a tease and may become anxious and unruly. To clarify your intentions to him, you can take the cloth you used to clean the mare and place it over the hitch rail near your jack’s nose. This way, he can get a good, strong scent of the mare, which will more quickly ready him for breeding and substantially decrease his anxiety time. If he is an indifferent jack, this can actually increase his interest in the female and, in turn, shorten the actual breeding process time. The fact that you brought him the scent allows the jack to believe that it is your decision when to breed and not his and that he must remain obedient. Let him cover the mare only when he is fully ready and make him walk to her in a gentlemanly fashion. If he becomes too aggressive and starts to drag you just return him to his place on the hitch rail, hold him there for a minute, reward him when he stands still and then re-approach the mare.
Just to be on the safe side with your jack while breeding, use either a muzzle or a dropped noseband (snugly fit low on his nose)—this will prevent biting injuries to you or to the mare. When he is finished, make him stand quietly behind the mare while you rinse him off. Allow him that last sniff to the mare’s behind, and then take him back to his stall (or pen), ask him to stand still while you remove the halter and then let him go. That last sniff appears to be an assertion of his act and of his manhood. If you try to lead him away before he sniffs, he might not come with you and he might become even more aggressive toward the mare. Remember to do things with your jack in a routine way, and always with safety in mind—this will allow him to relax and use the manners he has learned. NOTE: Women who are menstruating should never handle jacks or stallions during that particular time, since the scent can trigger aggressive and dangerous behaviors in these animals.
When you are around a jack, you must always be alert and know what he is doing at all times. A jack can be the most adorable, loveable, obedient guy in the world, but you must realize that his natural instincts can arise at any time and, although he may not do it intentionally, he can severely hurt you just the same. And when observing a jack from the other side of the fence, always remember that he can come over the top of that fence, teeth bared, so don’t ever turn your back to him or become complacent around him!
Lastly, when putting on or taking off any of his headgear, watch your fingers—when a jack knows the bit is coming, he often opens his jaws to meet it (with anticipation of the bit on a bridle), and your fingers can easily get in the way. Rather than a standard lead rope, it is advisable to use a lead shank with stallions and jacks for the best control. However, I discourage running the chain of a lead shank either through the mouth or over the nose. The correct position for a lead shank is under the jaw. Run the end of the chain through the ring on the near side of the halter noseband, then under the jaw, then through the ring on the opposite side of the noseband, and then clip it to the ring at the throatlatch on the right side of his face. This gives you enough leverage to control him without the halter twisting on his face. If you have spent plenty of time and done your homework during his leading lessons, your jack will learn to be obedient on the lead shank, even during breeding.
Retired jacks still need regular attention and proper maintenance to stay healthy into their senior years. Donkeys that do not receive good core muscle maintenance throughout their lives will often begin to sag drastically in the spine as they age. Their gait then becomes stilted, because their balance and strength are severely compromised. They can no longer track properly while moving or square up correctly when at rest. This can lead to irregular calcification in the joints, depression because they don’t feel well and premature health problems. On the other hand, the jack who has had a consistent and healthy management and training routine will enjoy longevity. If you keep these basic management and safety factors in mind, you and your jack can have a long, happy and mutually rewarding relationship!
© 1990, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2020, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Wrangler has almost completely shed out and during my last weekly grooming, I discovered a small sarcoid on his left forearm and decided to consult with my veterinarian, Greg Farrand. Wrangler munched in the fanny pack while we talked.
Dr. Farrand Carefully inspected the sarcoid and determined that it was not a candidate for removal because of it’s precarious location. There was no way to grab loose skin around it like there was with prior sarcoids on other animals.
I shaved the area around the sarcoid so we could get a good look at it and so it would absorb the treatment the most efficiently.
In 2011, Rock had a sarcoid on his neck in front of the withers where there was a lot of fatty tissue and the skin was loose enough to pull the sarcoid away from the body. So, we shaved his neck and removed the sarcoid with surgery. We then had it biopsied to find it was not a serious sarcoid (Better to be safe than sorry!) and it eventually just went away. In the eighties, if we removed a sarcoid, it would have had a follow-up of injections to be completely rid of it. In the nineties, veterinarians discovered another way to treat sarcoids that involved taking a piece of the biopsied sarcoid and reintroducing it as an implant in the neck to prompt an immunity response. Before he could remove one of three sarcoids the from Lucky Three Eclipse, he rubbed one and tore it open. Before we had the chance to biopsy one of the sarcoids for an implant, as if a miracle, his immune system was stimulated by HIM, kicked in and all three sarcoids just disappeared…and no, they were not anything else.
Lucky Three Cyclonealso developed a sarcoid on his jaw which we successfully treated with surgery since it also was in a fatty area where we could pinch the skin around it easily. No follow up was necessary…just stitches removal.
Since Wrangler’s sarcoid was in such a delicate area, we opted to use a topical approach with Xterra, applied with a Q-Tip.
We will apply the Xterra once a day for a week, then stop for a week.
Then we will resume applying the Xterra for another week, stop after a week again and then see how it is progressing.
We will continue like this until it is gone. Xterra is surely a better way than the way we had to treat these in the eighties! Wrangler will be sure to keep you posted on his progress!
By Meredith Hodges
In the past, mares unsuitable for improved horse-breeding programs were the mares used for mule breeding. Looks and conformation were of little concern, since the animal that was produced had limited use for draft and farm work. In 1967, with the founding of the American Donkey & Mule Society, a new type of mule began to emerge—the American Saddle Mule—limited only by the imagination in his uses. As the mule’s popularity grew, so did the need for more carefully organized breeding programs to try to produce only the most superior mules in overall appearance and athletic ability.
In what I refer to as Phase I of our Lucky Three Ranch breeding program, my mother, Joyce Doty, successfully bred attractive, athletic and versatile mules at Windy Valley Mule Ranch in Healdsburg, California, between 1973 and 1979. They were bred for pleasure, work and show from 60 head of assorted breeds of mares. These mares included Arabians,
Thoroughbreds, Tennessee Walkers, Morgans and Draft horses, but no Warmbloods.
We learned that the jacks would produce a stronger and more durable offspring, but that the heavy-boned Mammoth Jacks were not necessarily producing the most athletic—or the most attractive—saddle mule offspring. It seemed that the smaller, more refined Large Standard (48″ to 56″) and Standard Jacks (40.01″ to 48″) were better for the production of Saddle Mules. This led to Phase II of our breeding program.
Little Jack Horner, a Large Standard, was the last jack born at Windy Valley Ranch before its dispersal in 1979. In 1980 I brought him to my new Lucky Three Ranch in Colorado to become the sire supreme. My main focus was on the production of attractive, athletic, amiable and multiple-use saddle mules that would be suitable for the widest variety of uses. Beginning in 1982, Little Jack Hornerwas used with a number of different breeds of mares, including Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and a Half-Arab/Half-Quarter Crossbred. Over the next six years, as the offspring aged and matured, their abilities were quickly recognized. They excelled in all events at the shows and gave the Lucky Three its current reputation for breeding only the best.
In late 1985 I began taking a special interest in Dressage and Combined Training—the Breed shows no longer held a challenge for me. Our Quarter Horse, Appaloosa and Arabian mules competed against horses in Dressage and Combined Training and our mules were quite competitive. They were exceptional in their gaits, responsive, submissive and lovely to watch. Only two real major problems became apparent if we were to continue on this path: 1) The mules were a little too small (only14.2 to 15.3 HH) and, 2) the Quarter Horse influence caused them to be built slightly downhill, creating problems with overall balancing. It was time again to revise our breeding program.
Midnight Victory (or “Vicki,” as she was nick-named), a Trakehner cross, was born just before midnight on June 21, 1990. I had seen only one Trakehner-bred mule in my entire life, and it was the most elegant and refined mule I had ever seen, with conformation to spare. And now I had one!
Vicki was everything I have always bred for in a mule, exhibiting quality in her looks and her movement, and in and the kind of intelligence that is exalted by horsemen and women everywhere. She was the product of 17 years of selective breeding, which, in the case of the hybrid mule, can be a very lucrative and frustrating business. Frustrating because of people’s preconceived ideas about mules, because of the close attention that must be paid to selection of the right jacks and mares, and because of genetic considerations when breeding, such as Neonatal Isoerythrolisis (a condition that occurs when the mother’s blood is incompatible with her foal’s—similar to the RH negative factor that can occur in human mothers and babies).
Why a Trakehner cross? We spent years breeding donkeys before we finally got Little Jack Horner, a sire that predictably throws refined, attractive and athletic offspring, as well as producing some of the top halter mules in the country. Crossing him on Warmblood stock seemed like the natural thing to do next. We did need to be careful in choosing the type of Warmblood mare that would make the best match.
The Trakehner horse was carefully bred as a versatile and durable animal, with refinement and elegance in mind. Today, this horse plays an important role in the evolution of the mule from an ugly duckling into another beautiful swan in the American Horse Show ring.
After careful consideration of refinement and movement, we decided that the Trakehner would be the best cross. We feared that some of the other Warmblood breeds might produce too heavy an animal, something we had spent the last 17 years breeding out. In using caution and a careful breeding program, the Lucky Three Ranch was well on its way to producing the best in Sport Mules. Heartier and more athletic than their Thoroughbred and Trakehner dams, they were capable of performing in more versatile ways than were ever before imagined.
Phase III was the most exciting phase of the Lucky Three Ranch breeding program. The size and “downhill” problems had been solved, and the offspring made our dreams come true and their “presence” known. My deepest gratitude goes to all the conscientious people in the Thoroughbred and Trakehner industries for their special attention to selective breeding programs that have made it possible for us to produce such a lovely and remarkable hybrid.
It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s just something a little more special about Vicki. She is way above average when it comes to mules and she definitely commandsyour attention. She embodies the spirit of free expression and an almost eerie reincarnation of a perfect dream…with long ears! Could this “presence” be something genetic, passed down through the ages of Trakehner (and possibly Arabian) breeding? It would seem so.
The mules of Lucky Three Ranch are living proof of what quality breeding produces. They are elegant, first-class animals that are easy keepers, inexpensive eaters and loyal, personable companions—you need only feast your eyes upon these mule offspring to be convinced!
© 1990, 2011, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Grooming is an important activity in your equine’s life and it need not be a struggle if it is done regularly. Chasity was not real sure of us, or what to expect when she first arrived, but she is gaining confidence and calmness with each grooming session that precedes her workouts. Right off, she is rewarded for going to her designated work station. This familiarity sets the stage for the tasks to come.
I begin with a wet towel to clean her eyes, then her nose and finally her ears. When cleaning the ears, I stroke upwards with the hair and try not to go against the way it grows. Most Longears enjoy having their ears rubbed anyway, but HOW you do it can make a huge difference in their willingness to comply.
Then I begin on her forehead and along her neck with a human, multi-bristled plastic hairbrush. If she had mud on her, I would have scraped that off with the shedding blade first. The human hairbrush is much more effective in getting deep into thick donkey and mule hair and will “aerate” the coat nicely where the shedding blade will only skim the top and often break the hair.
Chasity’s teats were as hard as a rock, but were draining a milky-looking substance. At first we thought she had just weaned a foal, but we found out later, that was not the case. At any rate, during grooming, I scraped the sticky drainage from her back legs. Then I discovered some crusty spots across her chest that resembled an old bot-hatching site that had not been addressed.
I used the shedding blade to scrape off the scabs and applied Neosporin to the area. Over several days now, the scabs are beginning to go away. Chasity enjoyed the scratching! They must have been itchy!
Chasity has an enlarged, crested neck and fatty deposits over her body that will need some attention. The crest has fallen over quite a bit, but I do think it is salvagable. It will just take the right kind of feed and exercise, and some time to correct.
On her withers, Chasity has some scarring where the saddles previously used on her were rubbing and turned the hair white. She is also sporting a bit of Lordosis (sway-backed) which should not be seen in an animal of her young age of 13 years. This will undoubtedly result in irregular movement when seeing how out of alignment her spine is with these issues. Equines are not designed to carry weight on top. Rather, their structure supports carrying their weight below the spine. This is why is is so important to pay attention to core exercises to strengthen the top line and abs to prepare to support the rider’s weight. Just because they are big animals doesn’t mean they can automatically carry our weight without undue stress on their bodies.
The crusty discharge on her legs is very sticky, so I sharpen my shedding blade before going after it. It is going to pull the hairs hard enough as it is. I want the shedding blade sharp so it will come off quickly and with as little pain as possible. Chasity appreciates my consideration for her!
Last, but certainly not least, I sprinkle Johnson’s Baby oil in her mane and tail. This protects the hair from drying out during inclement weather, will promote growth and keep other animals from chewing on it. Then I square Chasity up one more time in preparation for either tacking up or for leaving the work station. Although this all seems simple enough, keeping this routine weekly will keep things from getting out of hand and grooming will remain easy each time. A reward of crimped oats from the fanny pack around my waist is always in order for standing quietly in good posture!
If you have multiple animals, just take your grooming tools in a bucket and your fanny pack full of oats with you to their stalls and do them there. If they are all in one pen in a herd situation, do not wear your fanny pack until they can all be rewarded at the same time, at the end of grooming. Body clipping is not a healthy solution and should only be done when showing. During shedding season, it is impossible to get it all done at once and still keep the hair coat healthy. It is easier if you do it weekly and take off the excess hair gradually. When grooming is done regularly and goes easily, it greatly reduces anxiety and bad behaviors.
Getting a “feel” for the drive lines requires patience. Begin by using the “halt” command to change direction before making any turns to prevent confusion and resistance from your equine. Progress to making “S” turns through the middle of the round pen when your animal is ready. Once he is able to remain calm and obedient through the “S” turns, you can introduce the rein cues for the “Reverse”. All these maneuvers will help your equine to understand the rein cues coming from the drivelines before he is mounted and ridden.
By Meredith Hodges
Many common horse training techniques used today work well on either horses or mules. However, being creative and using less technique with a more logical approach to training works better with donkeys. In the case of the “rein back,” the problems are universal. Some equines seem to “rein back” more easily than others. Similarities exist within the equine species regarding personality types, but there are also differences in environmental behavior during training. Horses that are resistant to backing either shake their heads violently from side to side or rear up and try to throw themselves over backwards. Resistant mules try to walk sideways or forward, and resistant donkeys are either stone statues or terrific “leaners.” All of these tendencies are an expression of discomfort in the equine and can pose serious problems for the trainer.
In order to get the best results, before teaching an equine to “rein back” you must understand the animal’s body mechanics and his mental attitude. The “rein back” is a reverse, two-beat, diagonal gait. When executing a straight “rein back,” the equine is unable to see what is directly behind him, but he can see peripherally on both sides. Because of the way the eyes are set in their head, mules can actually see all four feet when facing straight forward where a horse cannot. The depth perception of an equine is questionable at best, but when an equine must “rein back,” his vision is even more impaired because he can’t see directly behind him. This causes him to become tense because the equine must trust the trainer not to back his precious little rear into anything that might hurt him! If the trainer has been even a little abusive in the past, the equine will not be able to trust and will become resistant. On the other hand, if the animal has been brought along well and is being asked to “rein back” on the long lines, he may simply not want to “back over” the trainer. This could be perceived as disobedience when it is only consideration for the trainer.
In order to execute a straight and smooth “rein back,” the equine must be able to lower his head, round his back and step back and underneath himself easily with the power initiated from his hindquarters. If the rider has not prepared his equine for the “rein back” by allowing the animal to take one step forward first and round under his seat, the animal will be resistant. This is why one step forward before executing a “rein back” is essential. Otherwise, the equine may raise his head and hollow his back, making it very difficult, at best, to perform the “rein back.” If you have trouble visualizing this, get on your hands and knees and try it yourself to see how it feels, first with a hollowed back and then with an arched back.
Before you begin to “rein back,” take that extra couple of seconds to relax and prepare your animal. First, let him take one step forward. Then, alternately, squeeze your reins and ask him to lower his head a little (not too much at first). Keep your legs snugly hugging his barrel, and lift your seat ever so slightly by leaning forward just a little. Check over your shoulder to be sure that he won’t back into anything. Then, with corresponding rein and leg cues, squeeze and release alternately from side to side: first, right rein, right leg; then, left rein, left leg. By pulling first on one side and then the other, you actually allow him to see more directly behind, thus eliminating much of the apprehension that he feels when he cannot see. Pretend that you are pushing him backward with your legs, directly after giving a gentle tug on the corresponding rein. In the beginning, be satisfied with one or two steps, and don’t forget to praise him.
Do this exercise in a two-beat fashion, with the squeeze/release action on the rein coming only a split second sooner than the corresponding leg. This prevents the hindquarters from resisting, and it is here where most resistance in backing originates. If you pull both reins at the same time, the hindquarters are not affected and this may cause considerable resistance. Animals that learn to “rein back” correctly will eventually learn to “rein back” on a mere tug of the reins and a shift of your body weight, but that is not the way to begin. Speed comes much later.
Horses and mules learn to “rein back” more easily than donkeys. As far as donkeys are concerned, why go backward when you can turn around to go forward? Because donkeys have a natural agility, this is not such a far-out way for them to think. However, if a donkey tried to turn around on a narrow trail with a rider aboard, his balance could be severely affected. Chances are, the donkey would make it, but the rider might not. The donkey needs to learn to “rein back” on command, because safety is of the utmost importance.
The simplest way to encourage your donkey to “rein back” is to ride or drive him into a three-sided tie stall, or anywhere that he has no way to escape but backward. Ask him to “rein back” with the cues outlined, and praise him for each step backward. If you are ground driving, just alternate long line pressure while you step backwards in unison with his back legs. Keep your squeeze/release action on the long lines minimal—pulling on your donkey’s mouth too much will only defeat your purpose. If your donkey is hitched to a vehicle, make sure that the weight of the cart or carriage that he has to push is not too heavy for him to manage. Adjust the breeching tightly enough so that your donkey can lean into it with his rear, and be sure that it is not so low that it will inhibit the motion of his upper hind legs.
If you have checked all of these factors and your donkey still will not back out of the stall, ask someone to act as your assistant, and have them wave a fearful object (such as a brightly colored scarf or plastic bag) low and in front of your donkey. He should dip his head to focus on the object (arching his back) and begin to “rein back,” apply the proper squeeze/release cues and after a few steps, reward him. You have set up a situation in which you can predict that his reaction will be the correct one. Once he has done this a few times, he should begin to make the connection between your cues and his action. Always keep your cues gentle, but clear. Be prepared to immediately praise those first one or two steps, and don’t ask for too many steps too soon. Just as an animal is conditioned to perform any other maneuver, his body must also be conditioned to “rein back.” Doing a “rein back” without conditioning the muscles that will be used can cause injury. Taking it slowly and cautiously diminishes the chance for resistance. Work up your speed in the “rein back” only after your equine is backing straight and easily. When he has had time off, be sure to take the time to recondition those muscles before again asking for speed.
I can’t count the hours that I have spent sitting on-board my donkey, waiting for a foot to move, giving the cue to just one side over and over again. Patience is the key to success with any animal, but with donkeys, it’s a necessity. Be patient and deliberate with your training. Don’t get upset, and don’t try to be forceful. Remember, he has to move sometime. Even donkeys get bored standing in one place for too long!
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This article is an excerpt from the book, Training Mules and Donkeys by Meredith Hodges, 2014
Even though Wrangler is nearing ten years old in this post, and has been ridden before, my approach to training is always the same way with all of my animals…as if they have never been trained. They need the highly structured Core Strength Leading Exercises in the Hourglass Pattern first, followed by adding Coordination over and through obstacles, straight through them to oversome fear and build confidence, and later, broken down into very small Balancing tasks. Once they have solidified their good posture and ideal body carriage, only then are they ready to begin work in the Round Pen. Wrangler completed his Leading Exercises in the Hourglass Pattern and will do more work there, but for the sake of variety to his routine, I opted to graduate him to some work in the Round Pen. In this post, you will also see how we deal with spring shedding effectively and how we get tack and equipment to fit nicely for good health and optimum performance.