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By Meredith Hodges
Long before the Founding Fathers drafted our constitution, the roots of America were as a religious nation under God. Today’s mule also has his roots in religion. The mule’s ancestor—the donkey—is mentioned in the Bible numerous times as an animal acknowledged by God and blessed by Jesus Christ. The donkey was even chosen to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and, later, as the mount Jesus himself used for his ride into the city of Jerusalem.
Throughout the development of our country—one nation under God—the American mule has been used to pull the mighty Conestoga Wagons of the pioneering settlers moving Westward, as a pack animal for settlers, miners and traders, and as an important part of our country’s defense in times of war.
As early-nineteenth-century America continued to develop and its population grew, the American people came to depend more and more on self-sustaining agriculture. Because of the mule’s extraordinary ability to work long hours in sometimes harsh and unrelenting climates, his sure footedness which allowed them to cross terrain not accessible by any other means, and his resistance to parasites and disease, he became the prized gem of agriculture and remained so for the next hundred and fifty years.
From the day the Erie Canal first opened on October 26, 1825, mules and donkeys were always used to pull the heavy barges. Inevitably, songs like Thomas A. Allen’s “Low Bridge, Everybody Down,” which praises a mule named “Ol’ Sal,” became part of America’s folk song tradition. In the early days of the Erie Canal, men and their mules lived side by side on the barges—the mules were even brought onboard when they were not towing, and safety ramps were placed at intervals up the banks of the canals, in case an unlucky mule accidentally slipped into the canal and could not negotiate its steep walls to climb back out.
In 1882, the Harmony Borax Works opened with one big problem—how to get their product 165 miles across the treacherous Mojave Desert from Death Valley to the nearest railroad spur. The answer? Mules! “The borax wagons were built in Mojave at a cost of $900 each…When the two wagons were loaded with ore and a 500-gallon water tank was added, the total weight of the mule train was 73,200 pounds or 36 and a half tons. When the mules were added to the wagons, the caravan stretched over 100 feet. The Twenty Mule Teams hauled more than 20 million pounds of borax out of Death Valley between 1883 and 1889.” 1
When American coal mining was booming, the mule was such a valuable member of the mining process, that a good mining mule was considered to actually be more valuable than a human miner. Mining has always been a dangerous business, and the mining mule’s innate sense of self-preservation was well known. “Mules are very smart…They know what they can do and would never do anything they couldn’t or would not want to do. Mules were known to pull at least three full mine cars full of coal. If you hooked up a fourth car they would balk at any commands and just stand there. No way would they pull the fourth car!” 2
Because of their traits of strength, intelligence and loyalty, mules were a crucial part of our country’s greatest conflicts, from the Civil War through the Spanish American War, and in both World War I and World War II. A well-known tale from the Civil War states that, “In a battle at Chattanooga, a Union general’s teamsters became scared and deserted their mule teams. The mules stampeded at the sound of battle and broke from their wagons. They started toward the enemy with trace-chains rattling and wiffletrees snapping over tree stumps as they bolted pell-mell toward the bewildered Confederates. The enemy believed it to be an impetuous cavalry charge; the line broke and fled.” 3 During World War I, mules and horses were still the primary way that artillery was carried into battle. Although the 75mm Howitzers proved too heavy for most horses, it was a common sight to see the big guns strapped to the back of a sturdy mule.
One of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Grand Canyon, has been home to mules since the 1800s. First brought in by prospectors, it was soon realized that the tourists wanted a way down to the Canyon floor, and so began the Grand Canyon mule pack trips. Famous mule-riding visitors to the Grand Canyon have included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft, famed naturalist John Muir and painter/sculptor Frederic Remington.
We Americans have worked alongside our mules and donkeys for centuries and have often taken their generous contributions for granted in the course of our country’s fast-paced growth, but the mule and donkey are likely to remain with us as long as they can find a way to make their contributions to society.
Those of us who attend Bishop Mule Days every year and many longears lovers across this country are very well-acquainted with the incredible assets of the mule, and look forward to singing his praises every year on October 26th, when Mule Appreciation Day rolls around. Let us never forget to thank our trusted companions for all they have contributed to building this great country of ours!
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.
© 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
2 Mine Stories, The No. 9 Mine & Museum,Lansford, PA.
3 The Horse in the Civil War, by Deborah Grace
Wrangler always eagerly awaits his weekly lessons! When things are predictable and are not “drilled,” your equine will look forward to his time with you. I always try to keep lessons short (30-40 minutes), done in a logical order and consistent in the task executions. For instance, we always walk the same way, with the lead in my left hand, with a loose connection to his head to encourage self-carriage, repeated verbal commands and I walk with my feet in sync with his front legs. The gates are always executed the same way. He is rewarded with crimped oats from my fanny pack when halted and waits patiently while I close and latch the gate. Even though Chasity is tied outside of the Round Pen, Wrangler’s attention is 100% on me. Minimizing distractions by being consistent with the way we do things will create a solid base of habitually good behavior.
Wrangler continues to stand quietly while I make sure his saddle is centered in the middle of his back and the tension on the crupper is adequate, but not too tight. He should be able to relax his tail. I check both girths to make sure they are snug but not too tight (the front girth tighter than the rear girth), adjust the tension on the “Elbow Pull” and make sure the fleece at the poll is centered to prevent undue chafing when he has to “lean” on the “Elbow Pull.” The “Elbow Pull” will not tie his head down, but it will prevent him from raising his head so high that he inverts his neck and spine. It will assure that he is in a good balanced equine posture during his workout.
I first ask Wrangler to walk for five rotations before asking him to trot. Occasionally, he will be so full of energy that he offers the trot first. If he trots, I just adjust and let him do five rounds of trot first and let him walk five rotation afterwards. To start, I only asked for walk and trot until Wrangler began to break into canter by himself. I then added one rotation at canter after the five rotations at trot before allowing him to walk.
I will add one more rotation at canter in each of the upcoming lessons. Then his warm-ups will consist of five rotations of each…walk, trot, canter, walk…then a reverse, and the same progression in the opposite direction before mounting him. He should always slow to a walk before executing the reverse so it is done in good postural balance.
This will begin to improve his balance and build his bulk muscle symmetrically.
After checking both girths one more time, Wrangler stands stock still as I mount him. I offer his oats on both sides as I did in our first mounting session in the Tack Barn. This is to make sure I keep his attention on ME! The oats are taken politely. He fully understands that these are NOT treats, only REWARDS for good behavior.
Once mounted and and seated in balance, I ask Wrangler for a rein back with a few more steps than he had done in his previous lesson. He responds nicely to the squeeze/release motion of my lttle fingers.
I keep a very light contact with the bit as we proceed forward. We add circles at random points along the rail to add variety to the workout and keep it interesting. We work on staying erect while he bends to the arc of the circles through his rib cage.
Wrangler’s “Elbow Pull” remains consistently loose as he walks leisurely along the rail and executes the “S” turns for changes in direction.
Wrangler gives Chasity a wink as he passes the spot where she is tied along the rail. She is proud of how well her “beau” is doing and watches intently! Wrangler is soft, flexible and elastic in the bridle. This is exactly what I want from him. We will be able to graduate to a larger area next week!
Wrangler spotted a jogger coming toward us along the road and didn’t quite finish his square halt, but halted nevertheless. I prudently waited for the jogger to go by before I asked him for a rein back and he complied easily.
I think too many of us get in too much of a hurry to RIDE and forget that our equine athletes need the same consideration from us that human athletes get from their coaches. They need to do exercises that prepare their bodies for the “game.” When they are adquately prepared, their skeleton is symmetrically supported, joints are able to operate as intended and do not develop arthritis from uneven wear of the cartilage, and the internal organs can function in good health at maximum capacity. When we are patient and take the time to prepare our equines properly, there is much to be gained…a happy and willing equine companion that is capable of performing to their optimum ability. Training really CAN be safe and resistance-free! Being herdbound is not an issue because they really enjoy being with YOU as much as, if not more than, they enjoy being with their equine friends!
By Meredith Hodges
I have done extensive work in training equines for many years and it seems you can never learn enough. If you learn how to ask the right questions, there is always something more to learn just around the corner. It is no secret that things can happen when you push limits and you can get what might seem to be the right results, but then you have to ask yourself…really? You may, for instance get your young Reining prospect to do a spin, but then you should ask yourself if he is executing it correctly so as not to injure the ligaments, tendons and cartilage in his body. If he is not adequately prepared for the spin with exercises that address his core muscle strength and good posture, then he is likely to do the movement incorrectly, putting his body at risk.
Horse trainers have kept us in awe of their unique and significant talents for centuries, and now that their techniques are more public, many equine professionals will pooh-pooh those who attempt a “kinder” approach to training. Scientists who study the equine in motion—its nutrition, biomechanics, care and maintenance—have their own perceptions to offer as to what we can learn about equines. Because many of these studies and tests are done in the laboratory, scientists rarely have the opportunity to follow their subjects throughout a lifetime of activity, as well as having the opportunity to experience what it really means for you as a rider, to be in balance with your equine when you work together, whether you are leading, lunging, riding or driving. If they did, their findings would probably yield quite different results. With all this progressive scientific thought, it seems to me that common sense can often get lost in the shuffle and respect for the living creature’s physical, mental and emotional needs may not be met.
It is true that bribery never really works with an equine, and many people who attempt the “kind” approach do get caught up with bribery because they are unskilled at identifying good behaviors and waiting to reward until the task is performed. However, reinforcement of positive behaviors with a food reward does work if you can figure out how to adhere to the program, and be clear and consistent in how you behave and what you expect. In order to do this, you need to really pay attention to the whole equine, have a definite exercise program that has been proven to work in developing the equine’s good posture and strength, and be willing to work on yourself as well as your equine. A good program for your equine will require that you actively participate in the exercises as well. That way, you will also benefit while you are training your equine.
People feel better when they pay attention to their diet and are aware of their posture while practicing physical activities—and, in the same respect, an equine will perform willingly and happily if he feels good. Horses have as many different postures as do people, and there are generalized postures that you can easily notice and predict in specific breeds of horses. For instance, the American Saddlebred has a higher body carriage than that of the Quarter Horse. However, each individual within any breed is not naturally born in good posture and might need some help to get in good posture in order to exercise correctly.
There are varying levels of abuse and most abuse happens out of ignorance. Many training techniques appear to get the equine to do what you want, but the question then becomes, “How is he doing this and will it result in a good strong body or is it in opposition to what would be his best posture and condition?” Any time you take the equine out of good posture to accomplish certain maneuvers, you are abusing his body, and this can result, over time, in degenerative breakdown. For instance, those who get in a hurry in Dressage and do not take a full year at each level in order to develop their equine’s body slowly and methodically may discover, several years later, that their animal has developed ringbone, side bones, arthritis or some other internal malady. These types of injuries and malformations are often not outwardly exhibited until it is too late to do anything about them.
In my experience with my draft mule rescues, Rock and Roll, this became blatantly apparent to me. When Rock had to be euthanized in December of 2011, a necropsy was performed after his death. When the necropsy report came back and we were able to ascertain the long-term results of his years of abuse, neglect and bad posture, we found it a wonder that he was able to get up and down at all, much less rear up and play with Roll and trot over ground rails in balance.
His acetabulum (or hip socket) had multiple fractures. The upper left photo shows Rock’s normal acetabulum and the upper right photo shows Rock’s fractured acetabulum. The photo at right shows the head of each of Rock’s femurs. Rock’s left femoral head was normal, while the right, injured femoral head was virtually detached from the hip socket and contained fluid-filled cysts. There was virtually no cartilage left on the right femoral head, nor on the right acetabulum. It was the very fact that my team and I made sure that Rock was in balance and took things slowly and in a natural sequence that he was able to accomplish what he did and gain himself an extra year of quality life.
Tragically, many equines are suffering from abuse every day, while they are trying to please their owners and do what is asked of them. Their owners and trainers take shortcuts that compromise the equine’s health. It could be that these owners and trainers are trying to make choices with limited knowledge and really don’t know whom to believe. But ignorance is not a valid defense and sadly, the animal is the one that ends up suffering.
When they don’t have enough time to ride, racing stables often use hot walkers in order to exercise their Thoroughbred horses. But when an equine is put on a hot walker, he is forced to walk in a circle with his head raised and his neck and back hollowed. Since we all build muscle while in motion, muscle is being built on the hot walker while the equine is out of good posture. Consequently, when the equine is ridden later, bad behaviors can arise simply because the animal is uncomfortable. It would be better to develop core muscle strength (the strength around the bones and vital organs) first in good posture before developing hard muscle strength over the rest of the body. Core muscle strength takes time, but once the animal begins to automatically move in good posture, it becomes his natural way of going.
The Lucky Three mules have always been worked in good posture, and spend only as much time on the hot walker as it takes for them to dry after a bath. They maintain their good posture while walking and rarely let the hot walker “pull” them into bad posture.
There has been a lot of scientific research done on equine biomechanics using treadmills, which is one of my pet peeves. It would seem to me that any data scientists have gathered is not viable for one reason. An equine on a treadmill will not move the same way as an equine that is moving over ground. Have you ever had the ground move backwards underneath you? What kind of an effect do you think this would have on your ability to walk, trot or run correctly and in good posture? The very motion of the treadmill throws the body balance forward while you try to keep your balance upright. It actually interferes with the ability to balance easily and therefore, does not build muscle symmetrically and correctly around the skeletal structure and vital organs.
Like many, I am of the belief that mechanical devices that force an equine into a rounded position do not necessarily put that equine in good posture. I would guess that many trainers think the “Elbow Pull” device that I use is guilty of developing this artificial posture. If that is their opinion, then they do not understand how it works. Rather than pulling the equine’s head down into a submissive position, when adjusted correctly, the “Elbow Pull” acts like a balance bar (like a ballet dancer would use) to help the equine to balance in good posture. It takes time to develop good posture. So, in the beginning, your equine can only sustain good posture for a certain number of measured steps, and then he must “lean” on the “Elbow Pull” in between these moments of sustaining his ideal balance on his own. The “Elbow Pull” simply prevents him from raising his head and neck so high that the neck becomes inverted and the back hollowed, but it does not actually pull his head down. The rope itself is very lightweight and puts virtually no weight on his head and neck at all. Note: Because horses react differently than mules and donkeys when hard-tied, a simple adjustment to allow the “Elbow Pull” to “slip” with a horse is necessary.
Like humans, when equines are encouraged and aided in developing good equine posture, core strength with adequate bulk muscle built over the top, they are healthier and better able to perform the tasks we ask of them. With this in mind and other good maintenance practices, you can enjoy the company of your equine companion for many years to come and most of all, he will enjoy being with you!
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.
© 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2020, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Chasity fully enjoys her lessons these days and waits anxiously at the stall door! She knows when I count my blessings, I count my mules (and donkeys!) TWICE! Chasity has been working in the Hourglass Pattern and through obstacles for two months now. Her posture and core strength continue to improve with her weekly lessons. Now it is time to perfect each movement and make sure they are done correctly and in complete balance.
In addition to her weekly stretching exercises, we do abdominal flexion exercises with Chasity every day at feeding time. We ask her to tighten her abdominal muscles, raise her back and hold for sixty seconds. We do this by tickling her belly firmly at the midline underneath while she is eating from her feeder. This makes for marked improvement in her sway back (Lordosis).
We have had her left hind hip adjusted twice and she is now better able to swing through the hip joint and bring her foot underneath her center of balance with each stride. Instead of simply lowering her head and neck, she is now lowering her head and neck and arching across her entire spine. Her stiffness has greatly subsided.
At every halt in the Hourglass Pattern, we stop, square up, reward, arch the spine and reward again. Chasity really enjoys this exercise!
Her movement around the cones continues to progress with the small circles at each cone. She is much more flexible, stays upright and bends to the arc of the turn through her rib cage.
Because of the overweighted crest on her neck, she has more difficulty bedding to the right, so we do a neck stretch to the right, before transversing around the cone to the right. This simple pause allows her to rebalance and keep her upright balance while bending though her rib cage on the circle around the cone.
With the stiffness in her left hip gone, she can now reach underneath, lift her her body efficiently and reach upward and forward with her front legs, adding some increased suspension to her gait.
Both hind legs are now reaching well underneath her body and provide the support she needs for her athletic performance to be much more precise and executed correctly.
When her lesson was over, we decided to make a couple of visitations with her new friends, first with Billy Bad Ass, a 26-year-old mule and then with our 10-year-old mini donkeys, Augie and Spuds. When movements are consistently done the same way whether in the training pattern or just going from one place to another, when halts are always squared up and when good behavior is consistently rewarded, there is no anxiety. Standing still and waiting patiently become the norm and this makes for a mutually satisfying relationship between you and your equine!
Wrangler has been a happy camper since we acquired Chasity. Before that, he was so rambunctious that there was no one else that could be in turnout with him and I had limited time to work with him. He and Chasity are the same size and the same age, so they do get along very well. I still have to make training judgments when working with them. He helped me to get Chasity moving freely in the Round Pen during her first lessons, but lately, he has been annoying her while lunging which does not allow her to relax in the “Elbow Pull” like she should. And, he doesn’t relax either because he is too busy showing off to her now! So, I had to modify my approach. I still take them out together and just tie one up while I am working the other. I find that this works very well. Wrangler is back to moving in a dignified manner!
I can say that showing off to her did have its benefits. It developed his agility and his eagerness to move more forward and into a canter. When working him alone, I did not have to tie his reins to the saddle to keep his head up as I did when I was working him with her, but I did leave them on the bridle and secured them around his neck in case I did need them. His trot was very nice this time, so I decided to actually give the command to “Canter” and Wrangler willingly complied!
As Wrangler passed Chasity, he did occasional do a little crow-hop to acknowledge her, but mostly he stayed in good balanced posture and exhibited core strength with a lot of agility and flexibility. I used to think I needed to tire my animals to make them behave, but I have since found that when I pay attention to their physical development as well as the tasks I want them to do they are much happier and willing to comply. I PREPARE them for performance and bad behaviors decrease exponentially because I make them FEEL good! Good behavior is ALWAYS rewarded!
Wrangler decided to spook at a small branch that was on the ground, so I picked it up and we played with it! Then we got Chasity after her turn at lunging and made our way to the dressage arena.
Although Wrangler does tend to get a bit distracted when I have Chasity along, he does stay in sync with my steps most of the time. This is important in order to have their full attention.
This is Wrangler’s first lunge line lesson in the open, so I began with the short line as I usually do, but when he circled around me, he got to the point where he was facing Chasity and bolted toward her!
Apparently, Wrangler did not want to jump the fence, so he headed for the opening in the fence and then ran around the dressage arena perimeter. I just let go of the lines and watched him as he ran. I stayed where I was and assessed his movement while he got his “jollies” out!
He got halfway around and decided he wanted to go back toward Chasity. I guess he is not a confident jumper because he slowed down and carefully WALKED over the fence…in good balance and then cantered in balance in her direction!
I blocked him from going to Chasity and he darted to the left and toward the other end of the dressage arena. I called his name and asked him to come back…and he did…at a full gallop!
He thought about running around me, but decided a reward was a much better idea! Chasity was impressed with his performance and so was HE! I was just happy that Wrangler had decided to go back to work!
So, we repeated the process and he did nicely tracking to the left and halted quietly upon command. I did not let the line out very far. We would add that step the next time. I rewarded his success!
We did, however, do the same thing in the opposite direction, and again, I did not press my luck and kept the line shortened and controlled. Next, Wrangler would get his ground driving lesson in the open arena…another first.
I employed my Ranch Manager, Chad, as an assistant to make certain that things did not get out of control. I wanted to set Wrangler up for success. He was just perfect through the Hourglass Pattern and over the ground rails in the middle of the pattern.
After tracking through the pattern in one direction with the halts and rein backs in their designated spots between the cones, then crossing the diagonal and completing it the same pattern in the other direction, Wrangler did a perfect halt and rein back, and was amply rewarded for his success! It was time to quit!
Having your equine stand still during mounting is the result of a calm and sensible approach to ALL phases of the preliminary groundwork. Going forward with a logical and sequential approach will help the equine to stay calm and prevent any resistance.
By Meredith Hodges
Imprinting is defined as “rapid learning that occurs during a brief receptive period, typically soon after birth or hatching, and establishes a long-lasting behavioral response to a person or object as attachment to a parent or offspring.” 1 When we speak of “imprinting” in the scientific sense, it is a reference to the way the brain accepts input. The brain compartmentalizes impressions and images, and the animal reacts to the stimulus that the image produces. A collection of “imprints and images” produces memories. Imprinting training with a foal of any breed will give him a jump-start on his life with human beings.
Imprinting is more than getting your foal used to people. He’s going to spend the rest of his life with human beings, so he should get used to your touch, your voice, your smell and, especially, your handling of him. Handling your foal the minute he is born is a wonderful way to bond with him, and you will learn how he likes to be touched in order to produce a positive response. This early imprinting lays a foundation of trust for the training to follow.
Although it is commonly accepted that initial imprinting on the foal’s brain occurs only during a brief receptive period when initial contact is made during the first few days of life, it does provide a foundation on which to expand exposure to a human being through your foal’s five senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight that leave impressions on the equine brain and will affect the way he interacts with a handler beyond what his dam may teach him. If the initial contact with humans leaves a positive impression, a foal will be more likely to be curious about humans than afraid of them. Because of this early contact, continuing imprinting then becomes an ongoing process that builds on the initial imprinting that is introduced at birth.
A calm, well-mannered mother helps produce a well-mannered foal, so if your mare or jennet is not easy to handle, she needs imprint training before the foal is born. Mares, and particularly jennets, can become very aggressive in defense of their offspring, so it is advisable to imprint even a mature mare or jennet so she will be safe to be around when she finally foals.
When imprinting your foal, think about the kind of adult you want him to be. A foal is very similar to a human baby regarding emotional needs—both need attention, love, guidance and praise to become loving, cooperative adults. Start your relationship with a positive attitude and approach your foal with love, patience, kindness and respect. Be sure to set reasonable boundaries for his behavior through the way you touch him and speak to him, the facial expressions you use, and even how you smell when you are around him so he can learn to trust and respect you and be happy at the sight of you.
It doesn’t matter if your equine is a young foal or an older animal—he needs imprint training. It will set the stage for the way he relates to humans for the rest of his life. Imprinting stimulates all of his five senses: touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight. This leaves an indelible impression on your equine’s brain as to how you expect him to behave, which—over time and with repetition—becomes his new natural way of responding.
The most important sensation to which you can expose your equine is touch. If your touch is gentle and considerate, it will feel good to him and he will be interested in your attention. When you run your fingers over his body, being careful not to press too hard on sensitive areas, he will experience pleasure and begin to look forward to your visits. Learning how your equine likes to be touched will also help things go more smoothly when you begin grooming him and tacking him up and during his training lessons, when he must learn to take his cues from your hands, legs and other aids. Even how you mount and sit down in the saddle—for instance, how your seat is placed on his back—denotes your consideration of him through touch. The wrong kind of touch, no matter how slight, can be a trigger for adverse behaviors. However, the right kind of touch—done correctly—produces pleasure in your equine and instills a willingness to perform in a positive way each time you interact with him.
To begin imprinting training, run your hands all over your equine’s body and down his legs, and put your hands in his mouth and in his ears. His reactions will help you learn how he likes to be touched. Getting your equine used to touch in this way eventually evolves into exposing him to grooming and working with tack and equipment. You are continuing to build on the initial imprinting work, but now, when you are grooming, the grooming tools will become extensions of your hands, and when you introduce various tack and equipment like clippers, they will also become an extension of your hands. Allow your equine to use his sense of touch (usually with his nose) when introducing any new object. Work toward getting your equine’s response to your touch as highly sensitive as possible, so that he can use his own body language to communicate with you. NOTE: Many owners pat their equine on the top of the head with the flat of their hand as a sign of affection, without realizing that, as a rule, most equines don’t take kindly to people patting their foreheads or faces. A pat on the forehead works if you want to distract your equine, but save it for that purpose only. It is much better to show affection by stroking your equine (always in the direction in which his hair lies), in a soothing and reassuring manner.
The tone of your voice is another important element of imprinting. If your general tone is soothing and encouraging, he is more likely to comply. Then, when he needs to be disciplined, the change in your tone of voice will convey your disapproval before you even have to touch him to make a correction—giving him the opportunity to straighten up before you actually need to apply the physical backup of negative reinforcement. If, no matter what the situation, you always speak in low tones, he will not be able to differentiate between what’s acceptable and what is not, but if you modulate your voice to clearly express what you want to convey, your equine will be much better able to understand and react appropriately.
Equines have an excellent sense of smell—for instance, they can smell danger from miles away. They can also smell people, and they are much more likely to warm up to a person who smells “good” to them. Smelling good to an equine has nothing to do with soaps or perfumes or deodorants. Oats and hay are smells that all equines immediately recognize and love, so if you dole out oats rewards correctly and you actively participate in the feeding and care of your equine, you will mostly smell like crimped oats throughout lessons, making you VERY attractive to your equine!
The next sense to which you should appeal is your equine’s sense of taste (a no-brainer). When you dispense the oats reward for all of his new positive behaviors, he associates that wonderful taste with you and will follow you to the ends of the earth to get more oats.
When the equine’s five senses are truly pleased, the very sight of you will prompt the memories and impressions on his brain that you have instilled in him during imprinting. The impression you have left with him is positive, encouraging, kind, considerate and respectful, and his reactions to you will also be positive and willing.
As you begin your equine’s imprinting, make sure you include an equal measure of fun. As with children, if you make learning fun, it comes more easily. By encouraging your young foal or older equine’s enthusiasm for learning, you’ll cultivate and enhance your equine’s desire to please and to serve.
Imprinting training is truly an ongoing learning experience. When touching a newborn foal, keep in mind that the foal is coming out of the protected environment of the womb, where he’s had pressure from the amniotic fluid over his entire body. Suddenly, he’s born into an entirely foreign environment and, soon after, a human appears out of nowhere and begins touching him. Initially, this is like being tickled all over, so at this point, imprinting serves as a desensitization technique to human touch. Desensitization doesn’t mean you want your equine to become totally desensitized to you—just that you don’t want him to jump out of his skin every time you touch him. Always strive for a positive interaction between you and your equine.
Pay attention to the way your equine’s hair lays and stroke his coat in that direction only. There is more fatty tissue down the neck and over the back, so you can press a little harder when touching these areas. Going with the hair and using the flat of your hand, learn to gauge how much pressure you can apply to the fatty areas. Then, as you work your way down to where the fatty tissue becomes thinner, be sure to ease up on the pressure over the bony areas.
Always keep an eye on your equine and watch his face—he’ll let you know if he is experiencing pleasure or displeasure. If you observe wrinkling around his mouth, if his ears are laid back flat or if he stomps a foot, he is showing displeasure. A soft eye, a relaxed, contentedly chewing mouth and an absence of tension in his body denotes pleasure. So when you are engaged in training, pay special attention to your equine’s body language and adjust your own touch accordingly.
Work on evolving your own body language as a natural and truly wonderful way to “talk” with your equine. You can also use verbal language, but body language should be your primary form of communication.
Making use of your equine’s five senses to expand the meaning and benefit of imprinting can really work in your favor and will leave an indelible impression on your equine’s brain that will engage his attention and expedite the learning process. The result will be a deep and meaningful relationship with your equine not just now, but for the rest of his life.
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, 2016, 2020, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
When Chasity first arrived, her hooves were inordinately long in front with Borium shoes and her back feet were worn unevenly and at the wrong angles. Because her body was in such bad posture and her hooves so out of balance, we knew it would take quite a while and lots of frequent trims to get her hooves balanced and aligned properly. This would have to be done in conjunction with getting her body into good posture with the core strength to support that good equine posture. This would be Chasity’s challenges!
Chasity is now standing quietly and picking up her feet easily, but she still wasn’t sure about standing still without being tied up. A small challenge for her would be to learn to stand quietly in the alleyway of the barn while our farrier, Dean Geesen works on her instead of being at her work station in the Tack Barn. Because she stood still, she was rewarded with her favorite crimped oats. The misshapen hoof is beginning to rotate into a more balanced position, but we still have a lot of work ahead before the hoof will be correct.
Dean is a therapeutic corrective farrier that is familiar with Longears. This is a critical element in your Longears’ welfare. Longears have angles and hoof construction that is quite different from a horse and it takes a knowledgeable farrier to keep from doing them harm. Chasity feels the difference in the balance of her feet, however slight, and it affects her whole body!
Chasity’s hind feet appear as if they have been done like a farrier would do a horse. Her rear hooves are not as upright as they should be with insufficient heels. Dean leaves the heels, rasps the front feet and rolls the toes a bit to promote more proper action and healthy growth. As long as I have had donkeys, I have never had to put shoes on them. It is my experience that when they are in good postural balance in their body, they generally wear their feet evenly and vice versa. When fed properly, the hooves remain hard and balanced. They don’t even need to be trimmed all that often if they are not consistently standing on soft ground, or in mud. We use pea gravel in our runs and driveways. In the runs, we put about four inches down. It drains well, is hard enough to promote hard hooves, is rounded and does not chip the feet and is soft enough for the equines to lie down comfortably.
Chasity is tolerates yielding her back feet much better after having a chiropractic adjustment in her pelvis and hip joints yesterday. This is a dramatic beginning for her toward MUCH better balance and posture. She had to be a very sore and uncomfortable animal when she first arrived. She is now feeling some relief and is much more cooperative.
The front hoof on the opposite side reveals the compromised imbalance that she had when she came to us. However, the first trim put her on the road to recovery and her feet are beginning to grow in the correct direction. She has gained a lot more heel in the rear in the past eight weeks.
Chasity has learned to be sent into her stall and then to turn and square up for her reward! Her gait has improved substantially in the past two days with chiropractic work and another trim!
By Meredith Hodges
While doing the exercises in balance by riding without the aid of your reins as described in DVD #5, you probably discovered a lot more shifting of your own balance than you imagined. This nearly imperceptible shift of balance, however, can grossly affect the balance of your equine. Until now, I have always given the rider a visual point of reference by allowing you to glance down at the outside front leg. Now you will want to be more inwardly conscious of your own body position.
You need to repeat many of the previous exercises to cultivate this kind of sensitivity, but this time, close your eyes for brief periods of time to get the “feel” of each movement in your own body. Do not simply allow your equine to travel freely in any direction, because this will not give you an accurate feeling for any specific gait or task—you must plan your course of action. If, for instance, you set up your equine to bend through and come out of a corner with impulsion, you can close your eyes for a few seconds down the long side and feel the balance that comes out of that corner when the movement is executed correctly. In this particular situation, once you’ve closed your eyes, you may notice that your animal is starting to lean slightly to the inside. A squeeze/release from your inside leg, sending your mule forward and catching that balance with the outside rein, corrects the balance and keeps him going straight and erect down the long side.
Your seat bones are closest to your body’s center of gravity, making them the best sensors for balance. “Feel” the weight shift from one seat bone to the other through turns and circles, and then even out as you ride straight lines and diagonals. You will soon discover that, in order to do a circle in better balance, you must have slightly more weight on the outside seat bone and leg.
This situates your weight over the outside hind leg, which is the leg that initiates impulsion. Putting the weight over the outside hind leg clears the mule’s shoulders, allowing freer movement in front. If you ride on your inside seat bone, the weight begins to fall to the inside of the circle and puts pressure on the shoulder, inhibiting the upright, forward balance and this will put your animal on the forehand instead of engaging his hindquarters.
Remember to plan your course of action and use your half-halts between changes of direction and transitions from one gait to another. You cannot expect your equine to maintain his balance when he is constantly being surprised with changes of direction or gait. Look ahead (Do not look down!) and use your eyes correctly to enhance your balance and to help you more realistically plan your course. Teach yourself to be accurate with your eyes—look well ahead at all times and try to stay exactly on the lines and the arcs of your circles. When you plan a circle, look halfway around your circle so you can plan the arc more accurately, and then you can make the next half of the circle the same as the first half, in order to complete your circle with minimal trouble. Keep your eyes on a visual horizontal line that runs parallel to the ground. Remember—you have two eyes, and any movement as slight as a tip of your head to one side or the other can affect the upright balance of your equine. Dropping your eyes to the ground shifts your animal’s balance forward and onto his shoulders, again interrupting his balance.
Do small circles, but only as small as your equine can handle without losing his balance. Once he can easily maintain his balance without interruption, you can begin to decrease the size of the circles. Keep movements planned and large. This will give your equine plenty of response time through planned movements and will allow you to ride and correct the balance with more ease. If, for some reason, your animal loses his balance, falls out or rushes, stop him by using even pressure on both reins, with a squeeze/release action. Back him up slowly and deliberately, remembering to walk backward with your seat and legs, one step at a time, and then calmly go back and try to repeat the movement. If he makes the same mistake a second time, halt, back up and then walk through the area that is giving you the problem. Resume trotting or cantering when he complies. When you approach that area again, slow him down again, go through and resume your plan.
If he “ducks out” with you and begins to run, keep your connection on the rein that he has pulled as best as you can, and try to stop him by pulling on both reins together with a light squeeze/release action. Try to verbally calm him, and when he finally stops, let the reins go loose and praise him for stopping. Then, collect your reins again, turn him with the rein that he has just pulled out of your hand, and return him to the task. Do not try to pull him around with the other rein, because this will cause him to lose his balance and will frighten him even more. If he is praised for stopping, he will not be afraid to stop. If the reins remain tight and he’s punished for running, he may never want to stop.
The main goal is to cultivate an equine that is moving calmly between your two hands and your two legs and is responsive to changes in your aids—to your seat, to your legs and to your hands. If you keep your eyes focused well ahead and your hands and legs evenly balanced over your seat bones, you can strongly affect your animal’s vertical balance. Correct and repetitive use of the aids will eventually allow your equine to become lighter in the bridle and more responsive. In addition, his muscles will begin to be properly and symmetrically conditioned. An animal that is restrained and forced will develop muscles incorrectly. In turn, this will cause him stiffness through many movements. Most commonly, you see a slight “U” in the base of the neck in front of the withers. This is caused by stiffness in the poll from riding from front to back, rather than from back to front. Actually, the stiffness will transmit to other parts of the body and can cause chronic soreness as in the croup (hunter’s bump), but the most obvious signs show in the neck and poll. Incorrect development of the muscles will undoubtedly inhibit your equine’s best performance.
I ride my equines diagonally through the aids to get the best lateral and vertical response. I want to maintain a good forward movement, which means that the impulsion must come from the hindquarters and push forward. Think of your hands and legs as four corners of a box that contains your equine. If you push forward on one side at a time from, say, left leg to your left hand, it leaves the other whole side of the animal unchecked, and he will proceed forward with a tendency to drift into the “open” side. This is why you have to ride alternately and diagonally from the left leg to the right hand and from the right leg to the left hand. It is why you ride from back to front, leg to hand, in a diagonal fashion—it pushes your animal from the outside leg forward into a straight and balanced inside rein, and from the supportive inside leg to the outside rein—he remains upright on the arcs and sufficiently bent. The wider the space between your legs and between your hands, the more lateral “play” you will feel in your equine. If you keep your hands close together and your legs snugly around his barrel, there is a lot less lateral “play” and a great deal more accuracy when doing your patterns. Think of your legs and hands creating a “train track” with rails between which your animal must move. The wider the space between your hands and legs, the “snakier” his movements will become.
But what if he will not turn without you really pulling on the inside rein? He will turn if you do it correctly. Remember, it doesn’t matter how far you turn his head to the side. His head is not attached to the ground and he will only go where his legs go. You will be helpful to your mule and correct if you always try to keep his head and neck straight in front of his shoulders. When you wish to turn, give a slight half halt to slow for the turn. Be sure to support your equine with your legs as you do this—the inside leg should become stronger with each squeeze and give with each release. Keep your outside rein slightly checked back compared to your inside rein (which pulls and releases), and hold your hand in close to the withers on the outside. Do not check too hard or your equine will turn out instead of around the circle. Take your inside rein away from the withers a little to encourage the turn, but be careful not to take it any farther than necessary, because this will disconnect your animal’s hindquarters from his shoulders. As you repeatedly do this exercise, your equine will learn to lead with his shoulders, bend his body through his rib cage to the arc of the circle, and not just his head and neck. If necessary, you can counter bend his head and neck to move the shoulders onto the arc of the circle, but do not counter bend too much or you will get a turn instead. Hold his correct bend steady with your legs – the inside leg at the girth and the outside leg slightly back to encourage impulsion through the turn.
The finer you tune your own aids, the lighter and more responsive your equine will become. To summarize, before you begin, plan your course of action. Keep movements large and flowing, your eyes looking ahead and your aids even and close in. Employ the aids diagonally, while firmly encouraging forward energy horizontally from back to front while at the same time, encouraging vertical flexion over the topline. Do not be too concerned about where your equine’s nose is if his body movement is correct. As he becomes more confident, fit and relaxed, and as your aids become more correct, his head and neck will drop into the improved posture of their own accord. If you try to set the head and neck on the vertical before the body has been conditioned to balance and round, you will produce an animal with a hollow back and a lot of vertical and lateral stiffness. This will prevent him from correctly responding to your aids even if he wants to, because he will be physically unable to do so. It may take a little longer to correctly condition both your body and his, but the result is a sound, cooperative animal, possessing the mental and physical qualities necessary for the best performance upon your request. You may even experience the surprise of a better response to your aids and good posture, balance and strength in your own body, as well.
© 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.
Wrangler is wondering why Augie and Spuds, the mini donkeys are here. He is usually worked with Chasity… just the two of them! Wrangler is big on being the center of attention and stands quietly while I put on his surcingle instead of his English saddle this time. He is sure something is up, but he doesn’t exactly know what it might be just yet!
Wrangler and Chasity are now getting REALLY GOOD at being led together and stay in sync with my steps. They negotiate the gate easily and obediently. This is how well things can go when you are clear and consistent about the way that you do things. The animals then know what to expect and can comply without anxiety.
I led Augie and Spuds to the Round Pen and tied them up outside so they could watch Wrangler and Chasity while they were lunging. I thought maybe I would be able to lunge all four of them together if things went well. When they have someone to watch, my animals learn to stand still when tied. They know it will soon be their turn.
Wrangler immediately noticed the mini donkeys and wondered why they were there, but when asked, I regained his attention to business. Chasity walked off to practice while I adjusted Wrangler’s “Elbow Pull.”
Wrangler stood quietly while I made some adjustments and asked him to flex at his poll to make sure it was not too restrictive. Then I sent him to thr rail for lunging. He went quietly forward in a nice working walk.
When asked, Wrangler and Chasity moved into a smart working trot. Chasity is getting better with her posture and will soon be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose throughout the entire workout like Wrangler does. It takes time to develop that kind of core strength in good balance!
I added the drive lines to Wrangler after successful lunging while Chasity stood by and watched. He was a bit hard to turn in his last lessons, but this time his turns were much improved. He stayed very light in my hands and moved at the touch of a finger. I made sure to use the verbal commands “Gee” (go right) and “Haw” (go left). It makes a huge difference!
Wrangler stayed calm as we walked around the Round Pen doing an occasional “S” turn through the middle to change directions.
Wrangler was much improved from his last lesson! I don’t “drill” them until they get it right. That would just make them tired and cranky…then they do not learn. I spend about 20-30 minutes on their lessons and quit when they have made an honest attempt. Wrangler came into a nice quiet halt and was rewarded.
Wrangler did a much better rein back than he had before and offered many more steps on a very light rein! I was extremely pleased with him! It was time to quit with him. I tied him outside the Round Pen so he could watch the others do their workouts…and learn to stay quietly tied… which he did!
Once your equine is quiet and comfortable with mounting, you’re ready to ride with an assistant at his head for safety. Just be a passenger at this stage. Stay relaxed while maintaining light pressure through your reins and legs, and let your assistant do the leading. This approach will prevent unwanted accidents.
By Meredith Hodges
Just how sensitive is a mule about having his ears touched? If a mule is handled often and properly, he should be no more sensitive about his ears than he is about any other part of his body. However, if he is rarely handled, mishandled or handled roughly, he can become quite sensitive about any part of his body and in particular, his ears. Bearing this in mind, take the time to desensitize your mule to touch and handling by paying attention to how he likes to be touched in any given area, and then by being polite about handling those more sensitive areas. This is an important part of any training program, both for general management and for safety purposes. This is the heart of imprinting.
The mule that has an aversion to having his ears handled poses a problem with management convenience, but more than that, he can be a safety hazard in many situations. Here are some examples of lack of desensitization causing inconvenience and possibly, a dangerous situation. Inconvenient: Your mule does not want his ears touched, so you have to disassemble his bridle each time you put it on him. Dangerous: Should you accidentally touch his ears while putting the bridle on him, he could possibly thrash his head around and knock you silly! Inconvenient: If you get into a difficult spot on a trail where you have to dismount and move quickly, you may be unable to take the reins over your mule’s head in order to safely lead him. Dangerous: While you try to get the reins over his head without touching his ears, your mule could inadvertently knock you down or lose his balance and fall down while trying to avoid you. The moral is this: If your mule is to be a completely safe riding animal, he must be appropriately desensitized all over his head and body—including his ears—and trust that you will not harm him.
Desensitization should be humane and considerate—never abusive. When we say we want to desensitize an animal, it simply means that we want him to become accustomed to touch and handling all over his body, particularly in areas such as his head, legs and rear quarters, where he is apt to be the most sensitive. An animal that has not been politely desensitized will tend to react more violently to touch. When properly teaching your mule to become desensitized, your touch should be presented in a pleasurable way, so that your mule not only learns to tolerate it, but to actually enjoy it and look forward to it. An old-time method such as “sacking out” is a somewhat crude technique that is used to desensitize an animal by tying the mule in a corner where he cannot flee, and then flinging a tarp or large canvas all over his body, including the head. Often times, it creates more problems than it can solve because it is rarely done politely. A mule that has been “sacked” about the head can actually become more sensitive because this inconsiderate approach teaches him that humans cannot be trusted. He perceives that they will fling things over his head, blinding him and causing him anxiety for no apparent reason. The mule will stand still only because he cannot move, but if he is given the opportunity to flee or fight back, he will more than likely do so. Thus, the old “obstinate mule” myths are actually most often the result of some fault of the trainer, and not the mule. Sacking out more politely will eliminate these kinds of potential bad habits.
Desensitizing a mule that is sensitive about his ears is a long-term process. First, you must maintain a firm, quiet and tolerant attitude. Nothing your mule does should make you angry enough to lose your temper or your patience. Make sure your mule is tacked with a stout, non-breakable halter and rope. While stroking his nose in a polite and soothing manner, ask your mule to come forward, one step at a time, to a stout hitch rail. If he won’t come easily, just snub your lead on the hitch rail so he cannot go backwards, and keep coaxing him forward until he comes. Take up the slack with each step and then hold until he takes another step forward toward the hitch rail. Wait as long as it takes for him to gain confidence enough to come forward. Do not get into a pulling or pushing match with him—you will only create resistance in him and perpetuate avoidance behaviors—and he will win because he is stronger and he weighs more!
When his nose is finally up to the rail, run your lead around the post and come through the noseband on his halter and around the post again. Then tie him off snugly, so that his nose is tied as closely as possible to the hitch rail, making sure there is no slack. Now begin softly stroking your mule’s nose, using gentle yet firm strokes. Next, work your way up his forehead, and finally toward his ears. NOTE: Remember to use soft, gentle yet firm strokes, going with the grain of the hair and never against it. Do not “pat” your mule—it’s too threatening.
Let the tips of your fingers find the base of your mule’s ear (away from the open side) and stroke upward, toward the tip. At this point, he will probably thrash his head back and forth to avoid your touch—just remain slow, deliberate, reassuring and gentle about your approach. When he has allowed you to stroke the ear, even if for only a couple of seconds, leave your hand resting on the ear and use your free hand to feed him an oats reward. Don’t take your hand away from the ear until he is chewing calmly and no longer worried about your hand on his ear. Do this with each ear no more than one or two times each session and then go to his shoulder and work your hand in a massaging fashion over his neck, toward his ears. While your thumb cradles an ear, let your fingers move over his poll. With your thumb, gently stroke upward on the back of his ear, while leaving the rest of your hand over his poll. If he jerks away, just keep going back to the same position of thumb cradling the ear and fingers moving over the poll.
When he will tolerate this, you can then cradle the ear in your fingers and with your thumb, begin to gently rub upward on the inside of the edge of his ear. Do not go too deep into the ear at first. After he is calm with this, you can begin rubbing downward into the ear with your fingers, while cradling the ear in your opposite hand, being very careful not to go too deep. Watch his eyes and allow him to “tell” you how deep to go. If it feels good, his eyebrows will raise and flicker. If he doesn’t like it, he will simply jerk his head away and that is your cue to lighten up. Most mules love to have the insides of their ears rubbed, so find the areas inside your mule’s ear that actually give him pleasure. Each individual mule will be different.
In the next step, you will be in the same position, but you will close your hand around your mule’s ear and hold it with just enough pressure that he cannot jerk your hand loose. Do not hold too tight, grab or pull the ear—just maintain a quiet, gentle hold on the ear and go with his movement. If he pulls away, just slightly tighten your grip on the ear until he stops pulling and then lighten your grip again. Tighten only when he pulls away, and then immediately release when he stops resisting—tighten and loosen your grip as needed, and be sure to follow his movement. He will soon learn that if he doesn’t fight it, there is no discomfort. Never tightly grip his ear and do not tighten your grip any more than you need to in order to hold onto the ear—you never want to induce pain. Once your mule is tolerant of you holding his ear in this fashion, you can introduce the clippers, should you desire, using the same guidelines of tightening gently yet firmly when he pulls and releasing when he submits. However, introduce the clippers only after he has completely accepted you holding his ears.
Introduce the bridle by holding your right hand flat on the poll between your mule’s ears, and by using your left hand to raise the crown piece over his nose and up to his forehead. Slide your right hand down his forehead a little to meet your left hand. When your hands meet, transfer the crown piece into your right hand, insert the bit with your left hand, and then raise the crown piece up to the base of his ears. Slowly transfer the crown strap back to your left hand. Gently cup the fingers of your right hand around the base of his right ear. Now bend the ear forward and under the crown piece and slide it over your hand (and the ear) into its position behind the ear. While keeping your palm firmly on your mule’s poll, slowly move to the left ear and repeat the same movements.
The bridle should now be in place and you can reward your mule. Do not put on and remove the bridle any more than once per session. Your mule needs to clearly know that this is not just some annoying past time you have discovered, but an act of necessity. He will soon learn that if he cooperates, it won’t take too long. Once the bridle is on, get right to the business at hand and forget the ears for a while.
When you return with the difficult mule, tie him as before, stand directly in front of him (with the hitch rail between you) and gently remove the bridle with both hands lifting and sliding the crown piece over both of his ears simultaneously, so there is little pressure on his ears as it slides over them. If he still holds the bit in his mouth, hesitate for a minute when the bridle is off his ears and allow HIM to drop the bit. Removing the bridle this way will help to avoid chafing the ears and will avoid the bit hitting his teeth before you remove the bridle the rest of the way. Always removing the bridle in this fashion will encourage him to drop his head and will prevent bad habits such as pulling away or flinging his head.
When your mule gets used to having his ears handled and being bridled while snubbed and haltered, you can then begin dropping the halter and loosely tying him while he is being bridled. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks before you can drop the halter—this will vary depending on the individual mule, so just be patient. Your quiet, gentle perseverance will eventually win out and your mule’s ears will be desensitized and quite manageable. After you have mastered his outer ear and inner ear, you may find that your mule actually enjoys having his inner ear stroked or scratched, and bridling becomes easy. Integrating washing his face and cleaning his nostrils and ears during the grooming process should further help him to accept having his ears handled. Handling your mule’s ears can actually become a truly pleasurable experience for your Longears.
© 1992, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Although we were working on uneven ground in Chasity’s last lesson which made getting in sync very difficult, it was clear that it was time for a chiropractic adjustment of her skeletal system. Doing chiropractic adjustments can put the practitioner in very precarious positions, so it is wise to build trust with the animal before attempting to do these kinds of adjustments to their body. After more than a month of intensive care, Chasity has learned that we have her best interest at heart and is more than willing to cooperate with anything we want to do with her. Even though she is perfect about walking in sync, it is clear that her left hip is locked up, highly immobile and chiropractic adjustment is in now desperately needed!
Chasity walked out in the driveway so our equine chiropractor, Dave McClain, could assess her condition. She had better range of motion in the right hind leg than she did with the left. She was getting better in her spine, but her abdominal muscles still needed more work. Once the left hind leg and the rest of her body is put back in alignment, there will be more of an effect on the abdominal muscles at the walk in her lessons.
Dave agreed that the fallen crest could be straightened out, but it would take some time and serious therapy. Bailey showed Dave the progress in Chasity’s Diary that had been made already since she came to us on March 29th 2020. He was pleasantly surprised at the progress we had made considering we could not use his services during the COVID-19 shutdown. But before we could go any further successfully, we really needed to have her skeleton professionally aligned!
Dave carefully palpated both hip joints…
… and the pelvic area. She was exceptionally stiff and locked up on the left side! He rocked her pelvis to the right…
…and then rocked it to the left. Chasity yielded her hind leg and he adjusted the locked up hip joint! Chasity’s eyes lit up in pleasure immediately! It must have felt REALLY good!
Dave demonstrated to me how her hip joint was not only locked up, but completely misaligned and stuck at an upward angle. Chasity gladly leaned forward to aid in her spinal adjustment!
We then asked Chasity to engage her abdominal muscles, raise her back and then hold for sixty seconds. We will do this once per day, every day. Then it was time to adjust her neck, first on the left side…
…and then on the right side. She was stiff on that side, so I asked her to stretch her neck around my body.
Then Dave did a second adjustment on that side…it was much better! Dave watched her back up. There was marked improvement in her hind quarters and she was finally able to walk easily straight backwards. She had previously been very stiff through the back-through “L” obstacle during her workouts. She will no doubt do much better the next time!
We checked Chasity’s neck again and found that it, too, was much looser and not as hard and immobile as it was before the adjustments. As she left the Tack Barn, it was evident that she was moving much more freely and smiling to herself all the way back to the barn!
I have found that Wrangler and Chasity truly appreciate my consistent and predictable way of dealing with them. Donkeys can be very difficult sometimes, but in my experience, when they know what to expect, there is a lot less resistant behaviors. They appreciate verbal interaction and like to be told when they are doing well, and respond very well to a consistent and firm “No” when they are not doing what I ask. Donkeys do not like confusion and chaos! Lunging a donkey on a lunge line in an open area may seem like an impossible task, but when you take the time to break things down into very small steps, and do them in a logical and sequential order that they can understand, there is nothing they will not do for you. People have often told me that training donkeys is very different from training horses and mules, but I have always used the same basic approach with only a few “tweaks” here and there. I have to make those kinds of small adjustments for each individual equine anyway! So, “No,” it’s not that different!
Chasity doesn’t, but Wrangler does tend to be lazy and carry his head too low on occasion. So, when I tack him up, I add the use of the reins tied up on the saddle to encourage him to stretch and arc his back, but not to carry his head to low in the process.
The tack and equipment I use is not uncomfortable for Wrangler. It just helps him to maintain his good equine posture in an ideal balance while executing all the moves, such as the “reverse” shown here. Most disobedience is generally due to a loss of balance or just falling out of good posture!
Repetition in this tack and equipment changes their body carriage to a more ideal posture that will become their habitual way of going. This is much healthier, reduces the incidence of arthritis and allows the internal organs to operate as intended. Over the long term, this approach to training adds longevity to their use life.
I introduce the lunge line in the Round Pen so we won’t get into a pulling match. I keep it loose and only do a “squeeze-release” on the line with my fingers as the outside front foot comes forward. This becomes the “cue” to keep them on the circle in the open areas without pulling drastically on the lunge line!
Donkeys like to work with a companion, so I use a companion as much as I can. When they are all trained exactly the same way, they can help each other to do the right things while working together. When I work them on things that need to be done one at a time, I just tie the other outside the pen. They learn to stand quietly and just watch! They then learn to stand quietly anywhere without any anxiety associated with the training process.
I like my equines to be VERY LIGHT in the bridle. The equipment I use keeps them in good posture and allows me to concentrate on the symmetry and tension on the drive lines, so I do not get an over-reaction during turns, halts and rein backs. It promotes harmony between us! Wrangler stays relaxed throughout!
Chasity enjoys watching Wrangler do a halt, rein back and then they both wait quietly until I return.
Chasity waits quietly while I lead Wrangler through the gate. I always keep the ranch gate closed when I have equines tied outside of the Round Pen. With Chasity tied inside the Round Pen, Wrangler and I walk to the ranch gate at the road and open it again. I always train with safety first and a respectful, polite, considerate and consistent approach. It produces AMAZING results and HAPPY equine companions!