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MULE CROSSING: Suitability of Donkeys and Mules For Children

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 By Meredith Hodges 

Many have inquired as to the suitability of mules and donkeys for children. As with any equine, choosing the right individual for your child is of primary importance. However, as a general rule, we find that donkeys make excellent mounts for beginning riders because of their patient, quiet nature and good common sense. They can be the best possible babysitter. There are things to consider when choosing a donkey for your child:

The first rule to observe is never get a donkey jack for your child! Though he may be sweet and docile by nature, he is still governed by strong natural instincts so his character is not consistent. He is a stud and must be treated as such. 

Donkey jennets are good prospects for children provided they are not in heat or in foal. When a jennet is in heat she may become cross and if she is in foal, or has one at her side, she is also governed by instinct for the protection and welfare of her offspring. 

The best possible mount for a child is a donkey gelding. He possesses all the positive traits of the donkey without being subject to primitive instincts. Since most donkeys are small in size and possess an affectionate attitude, they make excellent companions as well as mounts for children. 

Since a donkey can became quite stubborn when treated badly, it is important that you take the time to help your child and donkey get started properly. Even an untried donkey with proper help can be a wonderful mount for a child. In the first few weeks, the child and donkey should simply spend time getting to know one another. Teach your child the correct way to handle and groom the donkey. The personal bond between them will develop on its own. 

When your child and donkey have developed confidence in each other, you can begin to teach them the fundamentals of riding. Tack up the donkey in a small saddle and snaffle bridle and take him into a small pen on the lunge line. Allow your child to sit astride the donkey as he walks around you. Explain to your child the basics of turning and stopping with a direct rein, commonly called plow reining. Be sure to instruct the child not to pull hard or jerk the reins. Donkeys have very sensitive mouths and do not respond correctly when they are in pain. 

Teach your child to use verbal commands in conjunction with the reins and leg cues. When he wants to go forward for instance, tell your child to ask the donkey to walk. Tell the child to squeeze with his legs – don’t just kick. He should get the desired response. If the child wishes to turn, tell him to ask the donkey to “Haw” (left) or “Gee” (right). Instruct the child to pull gently on the direct rein and push the donkey into the turn with the opposite leg. When stopping, tell the child to first say “Whoa,” and then pull gently on the reins and sit deeper in the saddle to initiate the stop. When the donkey complies with the commands given, do not be afraid to reward him. He will be more than willing to perform the next time you ask him. 

Love and caresses are an excellent reward and a reward of crimped oats certainly does no harm. Donkeys are very appreciative animals. If the child and donkey are supervised correctly, it can greatly enhance the entire riding experience. The donkey will protect your child with his excellent judgment and the child will learn to be a patient and understanding person through interaction with his donkey. The reason is simple; donkeys will not respond unless treated fairly. Many an equestrian in Great Britain has spent his early years astride a donkey and have become better riders because of it! So if your child expresses an interest in riding, consider starting with a donkey gelding, or maybe even a jennet. Besides being patient with children, his size is more suitable, he has ample strength to carry them and is an easy keeper so feed and vet bills can usually be kept at a minimum. 

What of the suitability of a mule for child? As the mule is half donkey, he possesses many of the fine characteristics that make him suitable for children. But at this point I must caution you that he is also part horse and will generally get his disposition from the mare. So if you wish to get a mule for your child, be sure he is an individual with a quiet disposition. Then you can consider such things as size, color and other traits. The right mule can be just as good a babysitter as the right donkey, and usually more reliable than any horse! 

Children and donkeys or mules, have not been seen together much in this country in the more recent past. Perhaps it is because we have not given children a chance to show their Longears publicly. Realizing this need, as in horse shows, youth classes have been included in the Longears shows of today to encourage our youth to take an active interest in the promotion of Longears. The jobs these “kids” are doing with their mules and donkeys are marvelous and their contributions are extensive. The values learned by children when dealing with donkeys and mules will stand them in good stead throughout their lives, not to mention the joy they will discover in having such a companion. So during this season of giving, consider making Longears a part of your life and give a homeless donkey, burro or mule a chance. Your child will welcome this affectionate and sensible companion. If you adhere to the guidelines I have given to you, you should not be disappointed. 

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 1985, 2016, 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

Mule Ing Around

Longears Music Videos: Mule-ing Around: Jasper and Kids

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LTR Training Tip #41: Turn on the Forehand

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Meredith demonstrates how to teach your equine to execute a turn-on-the-forehand on the lead line.

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Longears Music Videos: Because We Can: Dressage

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MULE CROSSING: Bea’s First Combined Training Event

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By Meredith Hodges

While making the entry to our first actual Combined Training event, I was excited, apprehensive and maybe even a little afraid! Questions raced through my mind: “Are we really ready for this? How will they receive my mule in an all-horse event?” Mae Bea C.T. and I had worked three long years for this moment. We’d been taking Dressage lessons from U.S.D.F. instructor/trainer Melinda Weatherford once a week for even longer, and Stadium and Cross Country jumping lessons for the past four years. We practiced Cross Country jumping at Beebe Draw in LaSalle and at Lory State Park in Fort Collins, Colorado, not far from our ranch. Now the day for actual Combined Training competition was drawing near.

The Preliminary and Training Levels were A.H.S.A. recognized. Would they even let us in the show at the U.S.C.T.A. recognized Novice level? After all, I was to be riding a mule! What would they think of her? Would she annoy anyone with her presence? Would she do anything to embarrass me? Would I do anything to embarrass myself? I desperately wanted to be able to test my skills under the real conditions that those with horses could do on a fairly regular basis. There were no Combined Training events strictly for mules. There just weren’t enough folks doing Combined Training with mules in any one area to warrant such a show. I had to rely on the generosity and kindness of those in the Mountain States Combined Training Association. Would they let us in? I didn’t know for sure, but I had nothing to lose by asking. All they could say was, “No!

Weeks passed as I waited to hear from them. I was on pins and needles! There had been so much talk and discrimination against mules competing in American Horse Show Association recognized events that I just didn’t know what to think. Clearly, they were not allowed by the A.H.S.A. and I understood that they did not want interference in competition for A.H.S.A. Championships.

However, the decision of whether they could compete in non-A.H.S.A. divisions was generally left to local show committees and technical delegates. I could stand it no longer! A week and a half before the competition I had to know, so I called Susan Robinson-Farmer, owner of Abbe Ranch and operator of the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials in Larkspur, Colorado, that was to be held on June 28-29, 1991. What a nice person she was!

Susan told me they had discussed the mule issue and asked me if there had been a mule that competed in the United States Combined Training Association earlier in the East somewhere? “Yes!” I replied enthusiastically. “That was Maryster Farm’s Kit, owned by Edith Conyers of Kentucky!” It was Kit who had inspired me to try Combined Training with a mule! We spoke for about twenty minutes and Susan kindly put my fears to rest. I assured her that we would do anything necessary to keep from interfering with the other competitors. All we wanted to do was to test our skills and to learn all we could from those with similar interests. The next day our ride times came in the mail and we were in!

The day before the show, I bathed and brushed Mae Bea C. T. until she shined! I braided her mane and tail, wrapped her legs and polished her hooves. I covered her with a light sheet, hoping that she wouldn’t get too dirty overnight. My excitement afforded me little sleep. The next morning Mae Bea C. T. reminded me that, first and foremost, she was a mule and loved dust baths! She was a disheveled mess, so again we bathed, brushed, braided, and polished!

During the drive from Loveland to Larkspur, I went over my Dressage test in my mind at least a hundred times. My daughter was going to ride her gray Hanoverian gelding, Polacca’s Prince, in the event. She thought her mother was being ridiculous to be so excited. My husband assured me that both the still-shot and video cameras had been packed and were with us to document this special event. It was still early morning and our dressage test time was not until 1:18 P.M. We arrived in plenty of time, but time flew by quickly and it was no time before we were warming up in the first practice arena. After about five minutes, the ring steward ushered us to the second practice arena. They were ahead of schedule! We were abruptly ushered out of the second practice arena and into the third, then the final arena for a last minute tune up.

Finally, we were ready! Mae Bea C. T. entered her Dressage test down the centerline with her hindquarters engaged, shoulders up and with the most active trot she has ever had! She seemed to sense that this was the time to do her very best! She halted squarely, I saluted the judge and she proceeded with the same enthusiasm. I was so excited that halfway through the test, I forgot where I was going! I couldn’t believe it! My mind just went blank! The little bell rang to remind me I was in error. It only took a few seconds to regain my composure and find my place again in the test. We were back on track and finished the test well with plenty of impulsion, rhythm with good cadence and totally relaxed for the first time ever in our Dressage experience.

As we exited the arena, I began to cry. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten my test! There were a group of seasoned riders who leapt to my rescue as I exited the arena with stories about their own stupid mistakes. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group of people! My coach, Melinda Weatherford, was also there to lend support as she did with all her students who competed. A smile once again graced my face.

Then I prepared to walk the Cross Country course for the following day’s ride with all the other student competitors. We had done a clinic on this course a few weeks before the event to familiarize all Melinda’s students with what would be expected. We had practiced specifically with water and bank jumps.

First, Melinda took all of us around the course, discussing strategy at each obstacle. Next, we all assembled for the official course walk. Dick and Susan Farmer gave us all a warm welcome and introduced us to Ground Juror, Jackie Fischer-Smith; Technical Delegate, Karen Bjorgen; Stabling Steward, Lee Thomas; Photographer, Tricia Jones; and our resident security guard. There were many other volunteers who helped the event run smoothly. I remember thinking, “What a friendly and enthusiastic group of people!” I was thrilled to be included! We took our official course walk, and then we headed to our motel for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

The next day, things were buzzing in anticipation of the Cross Country experience. We walked the course once more while the Preliminary Division riders were going out. As I took my place in the starting box at 12:18 P.M., people threw encouraging remarks our way, “Looking good! Good luck! Have a great ride! Now there’s class!”

“You are the classy ones for giving us such a warm welcome!” I thought silently.

Mae Bea C. T. came out of the starting box as she had seen the horses do before her. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was supposed to do. She jumped clean over the first two fences, but unsure of the rocks and railroad ties, she skidded to a halt at the third fence. We re-approached and cleared the third fence on the second attempt, after which she galloped freely and jumped the remaining fifteen fences with no problem. She finally figured it out and she loved it! So did I!

What a thrill! I think I was more tired than she was when we finally finished the course and rode in for our vet check. She passed, but the vet suggested that we needed more galloping in practice to improve her respiration. I wholeheartedly agreed! I knew then I had to improve my own respiration as well!

As we walked back to the trailer, there were more votes of confidence,”I’ll take that mule as my mount anytime! Good going! Great ride!” I swelled with pride and gratitude for such a wonderful experience.

A couple of hours later, Mae Bea C. T. and I cleared the eight fences in the Stadium Jumping phase of the event and finished in 8th place in the Pre-Novice Division.

This was considered very respectable for the first time ever in a formal horse trials competition. We cordially thanked everyone for giving us the opportunity to compete, for the support to keep us going and for the time of our lives!

There was a lot of work yet to do. We had to increase our stamina and strength. I spent a lot more time at home just galloping around the perimeter of our hayfield. It was a mile all the way around. My goal was to do three miles easily, so I began with one lap every other day. Over the following months, we worked our way up to three laps with 3-minute breaks between miles. We practiced galloping in three-point at schooling shows around Colorado and Wyoming, and soon found we were gaining stamina. The courses were becoming less stressful for both of us and we were having the time of our lives!

I needed to introduce Bea to a whole lot more types of jumps so she would be confident on the Cross Country course.  We schooled at various clinics and participated in the smaller schooling shows to gain experience for another attempt at the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials at the Novice Level the next time.

By 1992, we were better prepared to again test our skills at the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials in the Novice Division. My heart was beating fast as we stood in the line-up with all those beautiful and talented horses. Our confidence and enthusiasm soared when we were placed second! The knowledge we had gleaned from the people at the first competition had paid off!

Then in 1993, Bea and I competed in the Novice Division again. They had changed the course and made it more challenging than before. There would be a water jump, bank jump and jumping over a wagon! We were lucky to have spent a lot of time practicing, so Bea and I felt more ready than ever! Still, I was a bit hesitant over the wagon jump…but I felt completely exhilarated afterwards!

We soared into the water jump with confidence, alacrity and even a bit of grace!

Bea placed first over 56 horses in the Dressage phase at her third show, and won the Novice Division overall! I couldn’t have been more pleased with my beautiful little mule! Bea was a real star! I will always remember the warmth and consideration we received from everyone at the event and how the little mule that would, became the little mule that could!

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 1991, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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LTR Training Tip #40: Turn on the Haunches

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The turn on the haunches can be a complicated move for your equine. Learn how to approach the move in this Training Tip.

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MULE CROSSING: Looking Objectively at Your Equine

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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 FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2004, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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Longears Music Videos: Run Wild – Gymkhana

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LTR Training Tip #39: Showmanship Patterns

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If you are going to attend a show, it is advisable to get a copy of the rulebook that is designated by the show committee, so you know what to expect for each class you enter.

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LTR Training Tip #38: Showmanship is Not Just for Show

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One of the most difficult things your equine will ever learn is to stand perfectly still while the show judge inspects him.

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MULE CROSSING: Longears Loving Impact

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By Meredith Hodges

“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee:

   he is just and having salvation; lowly

     and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt

       the foal of an ass.”   –  Zechariah 9:9

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These words have been an inspiration to all who have heard them since the time they were written—to those of us who love Longears, the words carry the message of a lifetime and the secrets of a dream. Not only did the Lord Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the back of an ass, but remembrances of that ride are clearly marked on the backs of many asses since in the form of a cross. One can really only guess why asses received this unique blessing, but as the Lord blessed the asses, so they have in return endeavored to bless us with their righteous ways.

It would seem that the asses were chosen because they represent more fully the characteristics in all of us that are just and good. The most evident inspiring characteristic of the ass is his undying affection for humans and the patience he exhibits when dealing with them; an excellent portrayal of this affection and patience is found in Marguerite Henry’s story of “Brighty of the Grand Canyon.” In addition, asses are not possessive creatures. They do not seek to impress, nor do they have inflated ideas of importance. They are humble, not greedy or selfish and are content to give freely all that they have to give. There is no limit to their endurance and no end to their trust. Unpleasant moments are undoubtedly remembered, yet forgiven when requested and owners are inspired to be more constructive in their management and training methods. Within asses, there is a hidden hope of happiness, contentment, peace and brotherhood. The inspiration of these noble characteristics does not go unnoticed as they ennoble those around them.

Throughout our lifetimes, we are faced with challenges and choices, most of which are met by trial and error. Asses limit and simplify our choices, leaving us less room for trial and error and more chance for success. An example of this could be the man who could not make his donkey cross the bridge over a deep, wide canyon. Failing to cause the donkey to cross the bridge, the man spent much extra time walking his donkey down one side of the canyon and up the other. As they rested at the far side of the bridge, a horse and rider approached the same challenge. The horse balked, but the rider forced him onto the bridge. About the middle of the bridge, the boards were rotted and horse and rider plunged to their death – a costly lesson. “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe” (Proverbs). Stop, look, and listen with your heart as well as your ears. Your donkey has much to teach you.

croplj11-16-11-005Man has always sought to better himself and his environment. He seeks to set shining examples to all, however, he falls short due to negative aspects in his character. The ass, who has always been humbled, does not seek to set examples, he is an example with his honest and faithful ways. He is quick to accept that which is good and tolerant of all else. This unique character coupled with his physical abilities makes him an excellent life partner.

Perhaps, the most important and unselfish contribution the donkey has made in this world is his willingness to produce offspring not of his own species. We can only imagine the reasons for this. Perhaps, he saw a chance to combine his incredible character with the physical beauty of the horse, again to try to please us humans and make him more attractive to us. But whatever the reasons, mules and donkeys are attracting more humans with each passing year. They instill in us a desire to support and promote their cause, which in turn becomes our cause. What human can detest the cause of happiness, contentment, peace and brotherhood?

It is apparent, like never before, the impact that Longears are having on people all over the world. The shows and events including them have grown tremendously over the last 50 years, and the number of people affected by them has increased so much that we now see people in localized areas putting on their own events. In Colorado, for example, the only shows for Longears were incorporated into larger shows such as the Colorado State Fair and the National Western Stock Show. Today, counties are taking initiative to include mules and donkeys in the county fairs, and local riding clubs are inviting them to participate in annual All-Breed shows. Increased understanding and appreciation for the positive qualities of Longears brings more and more people together all the time. Their generous ways have positively influenced people toward a genuine pursuit of happiness. Why is this phenomenon occurring? Because, “We may not realize that everything we do affects not only our lives, but touches others too. A little bit of thoughtfulness shows someone you care and creates a ray of sunshine for both of you to share. Yes, every time you offer someone a helping hand, every time you show a friend you care and understand, every time you have a kind and gentle word to give, you help someone find beauty in this precious life we live. For happiness brings happiness, and loving ways bring love; and giving is the treasure that contentment is made of.” (Amanda Bradley).

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 1985, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

 

MVHitches

Miscellaneous Longears Music Videos: Multiple Longears Hitches

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LTR Training Tip #37: Showmanship Judging

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One of the most difficult things your equine will ever learn is to stand perfectly still while the show judge inspects him.

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MULE CROSSING: Celebrating the Pioneer Spirit of the American Mule

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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!”

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 FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

1 http://www.20muleteammuseum.com

Mine Stories, The No. 9 Mine & Museum,Lansford, PA

The Horse in the Civil War, by Deborah Grace

 

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LTR Training Tip #124: Practical & Therapeutic Grooming

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Grooming is an important facet of your equine’s management. How you take care of his hair coat will greatly affect his health. How often you groom and what tools you use can positively affect your equine’s behavior and comfort.

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LTR Training Tip #36: Using the Elbow Pull During Leading Training

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The elbow pull will stop your equine from raising his head to the point where he hollows his neck and back, and will keep him in reasonably correct posture.

 

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MULE CROSSING: Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking! Part 3

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By Meredith Hodges

In Part 1 of Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking, we discussed the evolution of man’s self-discovery and how he applied this to his approach to equines. If we want to manage our equines in a healthy way and accomplish even the most basic performance with them, there is much to consider during the training process. In Part 2 of Look Who’s Talking, we learned that equines are honest in nature and produce quick and honest reactions to a stimulus. Therapeutic Riding provides an exemplary teaching experience for both human and equine, and those of us with our own equines can now derive much more from the relationship than we ever thought possible.

During centuries of use, equines have been asked to perform many tasks, as they have always been essential tools in agriculture, for transportation in cities and as a fighting partner in the military. People who worked regularly with these animals had an appreciation for their general health and longevity. Although people were limited by their own experience, they would generally provide the best possible care because the equine was an integral part of their economy. Many horses and most mules and donkeys worked hard to build this world and support people in their endeavors. It is always amazing when one realizes just how much these animals have contributed to our wealth and welfare.

Original dressage training was concerned with the systematic conditioning of the body of the horse in a way that would make him a durable and viable war partner for soldiers. The horse was revered and allowed time for his body to mature and grow slowly. The training followed suit, yielding a healthy and formidable opponent in any competition. This goal was achieved only when the animal was trained in correct posture, and given adequate time to complete each stage of training as his own potential dictated.

When attention is given to the development of core muscle strength from the very beginning, the equine develops strength evenly throughout his body as he grows. Muscles are stressed and rested at critical intervals, allowing for healthy mental, physical and emotional growth. When the equine feels good in his body, it clears his mind to concentrate on his performance, and the result is an equine that is happy in his work and his world.

Colonel Alois Podhajsky (1898–1973), former head of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, said, “I’ve got time!…We only can achieve the highest goals in the art of riding only when we increase our demands on the horse in a systematic manner.”1

The same holds true with any athlete. No animal can perform at their highest level and remain healthy without building up the body correctly over a significant period of time. Forcing and moving too fast through training levels does not allow healthy athletic conditioning to take place. This conditioning art is becoming lost in the economic world of today, as equines are no longer used for necessity. They have become a hobby or a sport in more developed countries, and are an economic necessity only in Third World countries that are not equipped to provide the extensive care that a healthy equine demands.

Dressage training has evolved from a useful tool to strengthen a useful horse to just another name in big business. Today, animals are thought of as economic “material” or a “breeding investment,” and are used in events such as Reining, Cutting, Stadium Jumping, racing, Steeple Chases, Eventing, hunting, Dressage and just-for-pleasure riding. Monetary investment is high, and never was the old adage “horse poor” more prevalent than now.

Owners can expect to spend thousands of dollars in a year for no more than a pleasure-riding equine, and the cost increases with the status of activities. The cost of supporting an equine provides economic success to a multitude of businesses, such as feed, tack and equipment, truck and trailer sales, drug companies, motels, gas stations, county fairgrounds, breed registrars, brand inspectors, clothing stores, veterinarians, farriers, and the list goes on.

In any business, moving product faster is always better because it decreases overhead costs. Anything long lasting takes more expense to produce and does not afford repeat customers as often for the same product and is, therefore, less valued. But good business sense is in direct opposition to what is actually good and healthy for the equine. Good business sense is what drives people to train equines faster, and why people ask young equines to perform way beyond their level of capability to promote a faster sale of the equine, which ultimately results in the untimely demise of that equine.

Breeding for bigger, better and faster equines has given people the false idea that these horses perform almost solely from their heredity. This has changed how they are being trained and judged. Today, many equine competitions are no longer judged by an expert who knows the definition of correct movement. We are inundated with terminology from the masters that is most often misunderstood and distorted.

For instance, “collection” is defined by the United States Equestrian Federation as, “a. to further develop and improve the balance and equilibrium of the horse which has been more or less displaced by the additional weight of the rider, b. to develop and increase the horse’s ability to lower and engage his hindquarters for the benefit of lightness and mobility of his forehand, and c. to add the ‘ease and carriage’ of the horse and to make him more pleasurable to ride.” To those who are not schooled in Dressage, collection can mean a lot of things that are contrary to the actual definition, including the belief that it means to merely break at the poll and arc the head and neck.

People also believe that an equine is “on the bit” if he arcs the head and neck and “flexes” at the poll, when this actually means that the equine has taken contact with the bit and can feel the hands of the rider through the reins and responds lightly and obediently whether his head and neck are arched or not. “Vertical flexion” is the result of correct “collection,” where the equine is flexible from head to tail with the hindquarters properly engaged. It is not the act of bringing the equine’s chin to his chest. “Lateral flexion” is when the equine bends his body, including his rib cage, to the arc of a circle, and is not just bending his head and neck to your knee.

All of these movements take many years to cultivate if they are to be done correctly, and there are specific exercises to do at every stage to make sure the equine is developing properly and executing these movements on his own, with only the most subliminal support from the rider. Most equines that are shown today are not engaged sufficiently behind and are doing “high school” movements out of good posture. They are clearly on the forehand and unbalanced.

If one is to develop the equine in a sound manner, then one must learn to appreciate the smaller victories at each stage of training and during each new lesson. One needs to learn to appreciate the incredible ways one can affect balance and movement during leading training. Leading training can teach the equine good balance, proprioception (body awareness) and regularity of the footfall patterns. The equine will become strong and balanced in his core muscles using these simple tasks and, when led over obstacles, coordination will be added to the mix. Only after your equine is able to take responsibility for his own balance and negotiation of these movements should he be asked to go to a round pen to learn to balance on the circle.

Only after he is able to sustain his own balance on the circle through all three gaits (walk, trot, canter)— stop, back and reverse— and has been ground driven long enough to submit to the bit through these same movements, should he be mounted and asked to carry a rider. Even lunging on a lunge line should first be taught in the round pen, so when you do take him in the open, he knows how to balance himself and can physically balance on the circle without tugging on the lunge line at all. The equine that has had the benefit of this core training will be safer on the trail and flawless at the shows. If you take the time to develop your equine properly—during all of these seemingly boring tasks—you might very well discover a healthier and happier you!

It is difficult for judges without roots in agriculture to have a conflict with the roar of the audience, as they see pretty equines with fancy moves. But if the judges do not hold true to what is correct and allow themselves to be swayed by the audience, the integrity of the equine industry is lost. Our equines will continue to be used and abused for profit and gain, and many equines will continue to suffer at the hands of the ignorant because there are no clear standards to educate people. The equine that is properly trained should appear to be performing by his volition. If he does not appear this way and is constrained or forced, he is not in correct posture or balance and cannot perform correctly. The integrity of his movement is lost and the longevity of his life is compromised.

When you take the time to feed, care for and train your equine as he should be trained as an athlete, his personality will begin to emerge. You will be surprised at the relationship you will have with him and the wondrous sensations you can feel when you are in real harmony with him. You will no longer be an observer but, rather, a friend and a partner in performance and in life. You will have laid the foundation for your personality and the personality of your equine to grow in the most positive way and meld with each other. The conversations you now have with your equine become a two-way street that will continue to inspire for all time, and will produce a “high” like no other!

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.

1Tug of War: Classical vs. Modern Dressage by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, pg. 38, Copyright © 2006 Wu Wei Verlag, Schondorf, Germany, English translation Published by Trafalgar Square Books, North Pomfret, Vermont, 05053, USA 2007 (Footnote: Podhasky, Alois, ibid: Mossdorf, Carl Friedrich (1989), p. 142)

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MULE CROSSING: Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking! Part 2

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By Meredith Hodges

In Part 1 of Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking, we discussed the evolution of man’s self-discovery and how he applied this to his approach to equines. If we want to manage our equines in a healthy way and accomplish even the most basic performance with them, there is much to consider during the training process. In the not-so-distant past, the prevalent belief was that, if you had a reasonably large patch of grass with a fence around it, you could have a horse. We now know it takes much more than this!

Following the assessment of Characterology and body-type, Structuralism developed from the concept that man’s attitudes and behaviors were not just a product of the things he experienced, but also the sensations he felt and the images that were produced in his consciousness. This expanded his understanding of ways to explore himself. From his own introspection, man began to perceive the equine in different ways that would be most beneficial to him, but failed to examine what would actually be most beneficial for the equine.

Born in Athens, Greece in 431 BC and referred to today as the original “Horse Whisperer,” Xenophon is considered to be the founder of military Horsemanship. He is credited with the beginning of structured, classical equine training over 1,000 years ago, when equines were trained with military defense in mind.1 The equine’s training was critical to the defense of his rider, and this meant that the animal had to be strong, healthy and obedient. Man discovered that when he paid attention to the mental and physical needs of the equine, he got a more willing and obedient response, and the result was a healthier and more protective companion than one that was forced into submission. Harnessing the defense mechanisms of the horse was not only awe-inspiring but effective.

Mules and donkeys became primarily “beasts of burden,” rather than the mount of choice, as it was more difficult to harness their independent nature without a full understanding of their character and personality. However, their ability to carry heavy loads and maintain footing in precarious places was unparalleled.

Functionalists regarded psychology as the study of man’s ability to adjust to his environment, of the instruments he developed to aid him in his adjustment, and of the ways in which he could improve his adjustment through learning. As man began to understand his relationship to his environment, so he began to study the equine’s adjustment to its environment.

As man’s environment changed, he changed with it. However, when dealing with equines, he neglected to realize that he had changed the equine’s natural habitat forever and had begun a compression of space and freedom that would ultimately result in anxious and nervous behaviors in the equine. The equine’s negative response to this environment was most obvious when he was subjugated by man. Man misperceived the equine’s adverse behaviors as deliberate disobedience.

This was still primarily an observational approach. Man did not give enough thought to the equine’s new environment and how it might be perceived by the equine. The equine wasn’t given adequate time to adjust to its new environment or situation, or time to react honestly to it.

Sometimes the response to a stimulus in the environment is predictable and sometimes it is not, so we need to be careful of stereotypical statements like “horses are wild and need to be mastered.” At one time, it was predictable that equines in the wild would take flight from a presumed predator and so would pose difficulty in training. But present-day “horse whisperer,” Monty Roberts, talked to mustangs in the wild and proved that, with patience, and given time, the equine might change this behavior and not run from a perceived human predator—he might actually “join up” with a human being. Equines possess a natural curiosity that can often override instincts when they perceive that they are safe. Thus, we can conclude that, perhaps, the natural instincts of the equine can be significantly changed and his adverse behavior may not be deliberate disobedience. We just need to start looking at the bigger picture—the equine as a whole being.

Behaviorism is a psychology based on stimulus and response. Behavior grows more complex through the process of forming new connections between stimuli and response originally unrelated. Americans were strongly influenced by their association with purely scientific testing with animals. However, man should not neglect the component of equine psychology, no matter how difficult the study. The unconscious of the equine is much like the unconscious of humans in that it is primarily instinctual and hereditary, and will always be present.

The learned behaviors coming from other sources such as environment do not replace but, rather, become yet another integral part of the whole equine. It is easy to believe that if you reward good behavior it will be repeated, but not so easy to identify all good behaviors and reward them promptly. It is even more difficult to learn to identify bad behaviors, punish them accordingly and re-route behavior to the positive again. This requires the handler to move away from an observational post and become involved and engaged with the equine on a whole new level.

As the study of psychology progressed, the Gestalt Theory emerged. It placed more emphasis on the whole of the pattern of behavior or experience, rather than breaking it down into elements. The whole of the experience of behavior is more than the sum of its parts. It has derived many of its principles from the Laws of Physics, especially those involving fields of force, which are believed to be more applicable to psychological events than the concept of connections between independent elements. Even elements take their character from the whole.

We can try to harness the ability of the equine, but, ultimately, the Laws of Physics will apply. If we ask too much from an equine at any given stage of training, we will experience resistance from the physical structure of the equine, resulting in adverse behavior. This is often mistaken for intentional disobedience. When we are in line with the Laws of Physics and in line with the body and mind of the equine, he develops properly through the attitude we have and the activities we ask from him. One then sees an entirely different sort of animal emerge with an entirely different attitude and movement. He begins to “speak to us” and we not only listen, but we actually “hear” what he is saying. We respond with our own voice and our own body language—with attention to his healthy physical development and not with some artificial device.

The sum total of the effect an individual has on others is referred to as his “social stimulus value.” The social stimulus value of a human being takes into account his or her height, hair color, general physique, vitality and so forth. It includes distinctive behavior patterns such as habits and mannerisms. The sum total of the effect an individual equine has on other equines is referred to as his “status in the pecking order.” It also includes distinctive behavior patterns such as habits and mannerisms.

When becoming involved with your own band of equines, you will begin to see these same elements emerge and determine status. I have observed, for instance, that equines do possess the same “racial” and “decisive” biases as we humans do. They form their own “cliques” that are often based on age, status and color. They will even form cliques of “oddballs” in certain situations. When left on their own, my dark mules would hang together, my bay mules would hang together and those who were not born here were ostracized by all the others regardless of age and hung together in their own “oddball herd.” I was eventually able to modify and change these “biases” in my equines during training with an emphasis on patience and good manners.

At first, it disturbed me when I could not turn my much older animals out with the adult male mules. I thought they should be able to get along, until I began to think of them in terms of rebellious teenagers who did not appreciate the sage advice of their elders. The “guidance” of the elder equines was not appreciated at all, so I separated the groups during turnout and later integrated them during training, after they had learned to be polite and considerate to the other equines.

Surprisingly, it worked well. They still needed to be grouped accordingly during turnout (their free time) but are now much more manageable and tolerant of each other during their workouts together. The younger ones actually do pay more attention to how the elders perform during the sessions, and even seem to learn from them.

Personality includes not only social stimulus value, but intrapersonal organization as well—how the person views himself from within. Without the evolution of training practices, it would be impossible to get any idea as to whether or not a horse actually possesses any introspection at all. Horses do exhibit timidity, but still provide reciprocal warmth and affection. Mules and donkeys demand a kind response from their human counterparts or they simply disengage. They are openly suspicious and great judges of character regarding their handlers. In my experience, I have noted significant changes in an equine’s facial and body expressions, especially those who have come from abusive situations. They will show either a clear sense of fear or stoic behavior in the beginning.

As they proceed through the training program, their expressions soften with acceptance. They then begin to show interest that ultimately results in an animal that is confident and trusting. You can see the soul emanating from their eyes and watch their overall carriage change to one of confidence and trust. These are simply behavioral manifestations of the equine’s introspection, or the way he perceives himself in his world. Change his world in a kind and understanding way and so will his perceptions change. The equine whose personality develops in a healthy way will exhibit more courage and less fear in the face of stressful situations and extreme weather conditions. The bond and trust in the handler is stronger than his sense of fear and you can see it in his face.

Why are equines so therapeutic? The answer is simple; it’s because they will communicate honestly with us if we open our hearts and minds and truly “hear” them. They will return the same acceptance, warmth and affection we give to them. In addition, we receive a physical benefit of exercise while working with them. Those who learn to interact with their equine during maintenance and grooming will have a better chance of getting to know the whole equine. They will learn how to give pleasure appropriately and elicit an honest response from the equine. The equine will give “hints” of pleasure with behaviors that will reinforce good behavior in the human as well. Those who do not become engaged and intimate with the animal will fall into habitual “use” of animals instead of learning to “care.”

Learning to be polite and considerate and giving pleasure with concrete reasons that are physical, mental and emotional in nature yield true health, and not just a perverse image. Be careful of arrogance. Arrogance stems from a masterful or Godlike approach, devoid of humility, that may elevate one’s ego, but invariably creates a “victim” equine instead of a willing and grateful partner and companion.

The benefits of therapeutic riding programs are more than just physical in nature. They provide a source for at-risk kids to experience warmth and validation of their existence. They get a true and honest response for their efforts and feedback that has been foreign to them. Animals are honest in nature and produce quick and honest reactions to a stimulus. Therapeutic Riding provides an exemplary teaching experience for both human and equine, and those of us with our own equines can derive much more from the relationship than we ever thought possible.

In Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking! Part 3, we will explore the ways in which you can enhance the relationship between you and your equine.

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.

1Wikipedia and The Spanish Riding School:,Its Traditions and Development From the Sixteenth Century Until Today by Mathilde Windisch-Graetz, Barnes & Co., Inc., 1956

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