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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 Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 1985, 2016, 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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!
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 Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 1991, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
Before most of us learn anything about horses, mules and donkeys, we tend to initially perceive them as large, strong and durable animals that can safely carry us anywhere we want to go and can participate in any number of equine events. This is essentially true. However, there can be a number of pitfalls along the way if you do not educate yourself and practice good maintenance, feeding and training practices.
Equines, like people, are comprised of living tissue, bones, muscles and tendons that can often experience improper growth and development, which can compromise their performance. This is why it is important to feed your equine’s living tissue, bones, muscles and tendons a healthy diet and exercise him in a way that builds these elements using natural and non-stressful techniques that will help your equine to strengthen properly in the right frame, or posture.
It is also important to make sure the tack you use fits well and is adjusted properly. An equine that is experiencing soreness from ill-fitting tack will be distracted from his best performance. Improve your own skills by taking care of your own body as you observe and condition your equine. The person who eats healthy food, exercises in good posture and improves his or her own general conditioning, coordination and Horsemanship skills will not be out of balance and will not compromise the equine’s ability to perform.
Let’s take this one step at a time. First, make sure that your equine is stabled in a place where he has adequate shelter from the elements, plenty of room to exercise himself when you are not there, clean water and a good feeding schedule. When an equine is nervous or high strung, it can usually be attributed to this very elemental beginning. Many show horses are kept in 12-foot by 12-foot stalls with limited turnout during the day, usually only an hour or two. Think about this for a minute. The equine is a grazing animal and his natural health is enhanced by what he eats and the fact that he is moving with his head down most of every day of his life. The only time his head is truly raised is when he is on alert.
The equine that is stabled in a stall isn’t urged to have his head down for any more time than it takes to eat up the loose hay after his feedings. His body is forced to remain in a very small range of movement and he can become stiff and sore when asked to do things that require more flexibility in his work. When fed high protein feeds in this situation, he is not able to expend the energy to burn this feed, and it can manifest itself in nervous and anxious behavior. Therefore, it is critical to your equine’s health that he is not only fed the right kinds of feeds and supplements, but that he is able to expend this energy in a healthy way for his body to grow and develop properly.
Muscles in the equine’s body, like our own, are structured in distinctive layers and are supported by ligaments and tendons. These muscles need to be strengthened in a specific order for optimum performance. Whether he is a foal or an older animal, his athletic conditioning needs this taken into consideration. The first exercises should be passive and easy to facilitate the strengthening of the core muscles closest to the bone. This is done with exercises on the lead line. It is not as important that he learns to negotiate obstacles on the lead line as it is how he negotiates the obstacles on the lead line.
On the approach to an obstacle, your equine needs to be relaxed and comfortable. It is your job as his trainer to show him how to do this. When you lead in good posture, walk straight lines and make smooth, gradual arcs and turns, you will encourage your equine to do the same. Using short pauses between changes of pace or direction will help your equine to stay calm and receptive to training.
For instance, when approaching a bridge, walk with your equine’s head at your shoulder as if you were in a showmanship class. Stop at the foot of the bridge and encourage your equine to stretch his nose down and investigate the bridge in order to allay any fears he might have. When your animal has indicated he is not afraid by once again raising his head level with his withers, you can proceed. Face the bridge straight on, looking straight ahead and, while keeping his head at your shoulder, take the first step straight forward and onto the bridge, making sure he follows and places one front foot on the bridge itself. Next, ask him to place the other front foot onto the bridge, stop, square up his four feet (as in Showmanship) and reward. Continue forward in a straight line. Once all four of his feet are on the bridge, stop, square up and give him a reward. Then continue across the bridge maintaining your own good posture, hesitate at the last step, and then step off carefully, in good balance and with a coordinated effort. Ask him to place his two front feet on the ground while leaving the back feet on the bridge, stop, square up and reward. Your equine will learn to follow your lead and execute the task in the same balanced and coordinated manner and will be able to halt on command at any location.
In the beginning, your equine may be fearful and nervous about going over the bridge or any other obstacle. It is enough at this time that he gets over his fear and just crosses it, whether it is done with finesse or not. Once he is over the fear of crossing the obstacle, you can begin working on his ability to cross with finesse, balance and coordination. The longer you work on perfecting the negotiation of an obstacle in a balanced and coordinated way, the stronger the participating muscle groups will become and the more comfortable and automatic the movement will become until it develops into a habit.
The part you play in all of this is very important. You will discover that if you are not in balance and coordinated in the way you move with your equine, the less balanced and coordinated he will be. If you don’t walk straight, then neither will he. If you are not confident in your approach, then he won’t be either. Even something as simple as the tack you use will play a big part in your equine’s performance. If the halter is too small or too large, it can cause irregular pressure on your animal, preventing him from complying with your wishes. How you move your equine’s head with the halter and lead line can affect his performance. Pay attention to how hard you need to pull to get even the smallest response and be ready to release pressure immediately upon compliance. But again, when releasing pressure, just give him enough slack to release the pressure and not so much that you have a lot to take back later. This will help him keep his attention on you and the task at hand. Keep this minimal degree of pressure-and-release throughout his work. Even if he backs away from an obstacle, just give little tugs followed by a release to allow him to back and then encourage him to re-approach the obstacle by coming from another angle or by coaxing him with the promise of a reward upon his attempt. Another approach is to go to the end of the lead rope, keep the rope taut and invite him to come forward by revealing the oats reward he will get when he complies. Take up the slack as he approaches. Avoid resistance at all costs!
Halters that are too loose allow too much lag time between the time you ask by giving a tug and the time the equine receives the message. This usually results in an over-reaction from your equine and then an over-reaction from you as you try to correct the mistake. A halter that is too tight can be a distraction because it can create sore spots—the equivalent to a headache and no one likes to perform with a headache! The lead line typically should be a length that you can easily handle and that will give your equine some room to move away, but that can be reorganized easily, usually about six to eight feet long.
No matter how careful you may be, there will always be times when your equine will experience some kind of soreness from playing too hard in the pasture or from kicking in a stall, to any number of daily hazards. How he is negotiating his obstacles and how he performs certain movements will give you clues to how he is feeling. Learn to watch every step your animal takes, how his feet are placed, how his body is moving and the look on his face as he performs a given task.
This is when it can be beneficial to know the basics of equine massage therapy. There is a lot that you, as your equine’s trainer, can do without a professional equine masseuse, but you should always consult with a professional for lessons on how you can do your part. Make sure that the equine masseuse you decide to use is a person who knows equines and has at least 500 hours experience with equine massage therapy. Once you learn some massage techniques, you can often alleviate minor soreness exhibited by your equine. When your equine senses that your goal is to make him comfortable as well as successful in his work, he will be much more willing and able to comply.
The specifics of training techniques covered in this article can be found in the Equus Revisited manual and DVD.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 2004, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
There are so many equine-related products on the market today that it is difficult to decide which ones you really need and which ones you don’t. For instance, the subject of splint boots and leg wraps can be very confusing. How do you know when to use them? What types of leg wraps or splint boots are best? Do they really help? In what ways do they help? What type of material should they be made from? And the list of questions goes on.
Splint boots and leg wraps vary as much as their uses. The easiest and most obvious use of a leg wrap comes when traveling with your equine. If you are taking your animal any real distance, it is always advisable to use full cover, padded shipping boots on all four legs. The shipping wraps help prevent your animal from injuring himself due to his own movements, on objects inside the trailer or because of other animals that are traveling with him.
If you have an animal that is fidgety and has difficulty standing still, applying leg wraps is the perfect opportunity to teach him to stand quietly while you handle his legs. You can begin training for leg wraps by putting them on your equine while he is outside the trailer in your grooming station, and then removing them in the trailer before unloading. Make sure he is standing quietly while you put the leg wraps on him. Also, get in the habit of always removing the leg wraps while he is still in the trailer. This makes him learn to “wait” for you before he departs the trailer. If he expects to have his wraps removed while he is still in the trailer, he is less likely to become excited and possibly bump or step on you while waiting to exit the trailer.
The best shipping boots are the ones that are full-leg, quilted on the inside and attached with Velcro straps. Some materials can collect bedding or debris and cause discomfort or pressure sores (the fleece-lined wraps are notorious for this). The best shipping boots are made from a quilted nylon material and most cover the entire leg and hoof.
You can also use quilted cotton pads and leg wraps, but they are primarily for use while your animal is stalled, in order to prevent cuts and abrasions at shows and events. Polo wraps (a soft pliable cotton wrap with no quilted pads) are also used for support during training. These types of wraps generally cover only the cannon bones and not the fetlocks and pasterns. If you do use Polo wraps or quilted cotton pads and wraps, learn to wrap them correctly to avoid pressure points that could cause problems. Consult with a professional to learn the proper wrapping technique.
There is a wide variety of splint boots available on the market and each of them is designed for a particular use. When doing light work in the arena or for trail riding, you might want to use a “front and back” set that are designed for minimal support, while providing the legs with greater protection from injury. In beginning training, you might use splint boots only on the front legs, since your animal will not likely be using his hindquarters efficiently enough to cause a problem. But once you have begun activities such as Reining or lateral work, the rear boots become important.
When making a decision about which type of protection to use, it is important to first assess your animal’s physical development and the types of activity he will be doing. Boots that are designed primarily for protection do not always lend much support to the muscles and tendons.
They do, however, protect the animal from cuts, bumps and bruises and are advisable for use during hard work, gymkhana events, trail rides in mountainous areas and other more stressful workouts. If you do use splint boots while trail riding and they get wet, do not leave them on the animal for very long or they will lose their ability to support and can cause sores from rubbing. In order to prevent this from happening, boots should be removed, cleaned and dried out immediately after use.
Since, in beginning training, the goal is to condition your animal’s muscles and tendons, “light support” splint boots are a good thing to have on-hand. At this early stage, if a boot gives too much support, the animal does not necessarily develop correctly and the areas under the boots can become weak. Muscles and tendons above and below the boot will gain too much strength and cause possible knotting of the muscles, compromising the function of that entire leg due to uneven conditioning.
After basic training, when your equine is participating in more stressful activities such as jumping, endurance and racing (or in the case of an injury), it may become necessary to use a more supportive boot to lightly support already-conditioned muscles and tendons. Support boots are designed to provide equal support over the entire area they cover. Be careful that they are neither too tight nor too loose. You don’t want the boots so tight that they cut off the blood supply to the area covered or are not flexible enough to allow the joints to move freely. However, you don’t want them so loose that they ride down on the legs.
Although the hooves look tough, they, too, can be adversely affected, particularly in gymkhana events and jumping. This is why “bell boots” may be needed for hoof and coronet band protection. The coronet is a very sensitive area and can cause severe lameness if damaged even by a small, seemingly insignificant, cut or bump. If a hoof is unusually dry, severe cracks can occur, and so it is also advisable to routinely use a hoof dressing in addition to the bell boots, in order to make sure a trauma to the hoof will not cause cracking.
When trying to decide which splint boots, leg wraps or other devices to use assess your plan for the day. Leg wraps and splint boots can change from time to time, depending on the conditions of the day. Most shows do not allow splint boots or leg wraps in certain classes. If an animal is in good physical condition, he should not need splint boots or leg wraps for the short time of the performance unless it is extended, as in gymkhana events. In this case, your animal should be conditioned well enough to forgo the actual support-type boots and would only need boots that would primarily offer protection from injury.
You may be asking yourself, “How can I tell a minimal support boot from a fully functional medical support boot?” This can be very confusing, considering all the different kinds of leg wraps and splint boots out there. Some even look identical, as in the case of the high quality Pro Choice splint boot versus an off-brand. Although the off-brand may look identical, it is often made from inferior-quality materials that do not afford the degree of flexibility needed for successful therapy. Although these off-brands are designed for support and do cover the joints, should be considered as more of a protective boot. Splint boots are strictly for protection of the cannon bones, because they do not cover the joints and offer very little support.
In the case of leg wraps, there are those that stretch and are used for support (as in the Polo wraps used for Dressage schooling), and those that do not stretch and are used over padded quilt squares for traveling and while in the stable. When researching which product will best suit your needs and the needs of your animal, equine professionals, your local tack shop or feed store, shows and expos, and the internet can all be valuable sources of information.
© 2003, 2014, 2016, 2019, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
Hauling long distances needn’t be a problem with your Longears, if you use a little common sense and consideration. Their natural durability and good sense make them basically easier to haul than horses. When hauling for more than four or five hours, there are a few things to consider.
First, you should be sure that the trailer in which they are to ride affords safety and comfort. Before you leave, you should check over your trailer thoroughly. Make sure the hitch is secure and in good repair, and that there are no weakened welds anywhere. Check your trailer’s tires, bearings, axels and brakes for maximum performance, and make sure all the lights are in working order. Take the trailer mats out and check the floor boards for rot and other weaknesses, and replace any boards that are even questionable.
Using bedding such as shavings or straw in the trailer may afford a little extra comfort, and can encourage urination on the trip, but it isn’t always the best thing to do. The wind can cause the bedding to fly around inside the trailer, causing irritation to your animal’s eyes, ears and respiratory tract, particularly if you use shavings. If you wish to use bedding, straw is the better choice. In addition to the straw bedding, choose thicker trailer mats (rather than those that are thin) for your trailer. Thicker mats allow for more absorption of trailer vibration, as well as dispersing the moisture from urination. The trailer you use should give each animal ample space in which to stand. If your mules and donkeys are crowded in too tightly, they will be tense and anxious throughout the trip and will tire easily. This can result in battles between animals, increasing the potential for injury.
Mules and donkeys, like horses, should be “dressed” for their trip. For their overall comfort during long trips, halters should be fleeced, at least over the noseband, to protect from excessive rubbing that can result from being tied. Shipping wraps for their legs are also advisable to prevent injuries from a loss of balance, misstep or kick from another animal in the trailer. Depending on the weather and the kind of trailer you have (either a stock trailer or enclosed trailer) you can use sheets or blankets to protect the rest of your animal’s body.
Donkeys tend to sit back on whatever is behind them while they ride, so they should always wear an oversized sheet or blanket that drops down behind the rump to prevent chafing. If they are not protected in this way, they can develop terrible raw spots on their tails and hindquarters. Using a tail wrap on mules and donkeys is rarely successful, as these tend to slide off (even if they are taped). If they are put on too tightly, they can cut off the circulation in the tail and cause problems.
When loading your mules and donkeys, pay special attention to each individual’s needs. Animals that lean one way or the other generally do better in a slant load trailer rather than in an in-line trailer, but if you must use an in-line trailer, make sure that the animal that leans has a solid wall or partition on the side to which he leans. You always want to put animals next to each other that get along well, so if you must load a leaner on the wrong side, be sure to put him next to an animal that is able to tolerate his leaning without retaliating if there are no partitions. If you have an open stock trailer, another alternative is to load your animals into the trailer and tie them facing backwards. Many equines actually prefer to ride facing backwards because they find it easier to balance. Note: This alternative is not advisable in a partitioned in-line or slant-load trailer.
Once on the road, try to keep your equines’ routine as close to their “at home” routine as possible. Keeping grass hay in front of them will help to alleviate some of the stress of the trip, and will encourage them to relax and accept the situation. Feeds such as grain and alfalfa hay should be avoided, since these highly mobilize the intestines and can cause contractions that can lead to colic, particularly if your animals are not drinking enough water along the way. They should at least be offered some water (whether they drink it or not) at every stop you make along the way and ideally, once every two to three hours. Note: Water that your mules and donkeys are not used to may smell or taste strange to them and can be flavored with something they like. For instance, my donkey jack, Little Jack Horner, has a preference for iced tea to flavor unappetizing water on the road. Lightly flavoring your equines’ water may encourage them to continue to eat and drink throughout the trip, and will help keep them happy and healthy.
If your trailer is large and has good suspension, your mules and donkeys can ride for as long as twelve to fourteen hours without too much discomfort, provided that you make frequent fifteen-to-twenty-minute stops every two to three hours along the journey. This should not interrupt your travel schedule, as you will already be stopping for gas along the way. If your animals are riding in a smaller trailer with more vibration, it is advisable to stop, unload and walk your animals every four to six hours, in order to give them time to stretch, relax and rest their legs. If you have a difficult animal, loading him last is often easiest, since he won’t want to be left behind and will be more likely to follow the other animals into the trailer. This can be inconvenient if you have any animals that are difficult to load because of the extra time involved, but it is always a good opportunity to train them to get in and out of the trailer simply by repetition. By the end of a long trip, they will be loading and unloading much more easily. Just make sure that, if you have equines that are difficult to load, you have allotted yourself enough travel time to include this kind of training.
Long before you actually go anywhere, get your animals used to being handled inside the trailer. When unloading, always make them stand and wait. I usually remove my animals’ shipping wraps before I let them come out of the trailer, but if they are packed in pretty tightly, I just remove the leg wraps I can reach. The removal of leg wraps before unloading adds purpose to your Longears’ waiting time (which they quickly come to understand). Frequently offering water at stops gets your animals used to you moving about the trailer while they are loaded. Most equines realize that all of this is for their benefit and you should find them mostly cooperative and appreciative.
There are times when weather can change drastically and depending on what the weather and temperatures are doing, your animals may need sheets or blankets either put on or removed. When you teach your animals to stand quietly while you climb around inside the trailer ahead of time, putting on leg wraps or taking them off should help them feel more relaxed and accepting of the whole situation.
When loading or unloading your animals, you must always be very careful not to move too quickly or abruptly, which could possibly startle them and even get you trapped. But if you do have an emergency to attend to en route and your animals have been trained in the manner described above, you should be able to get to the animal in trouble with minimal problems. It sometimes takes a little more patience to get horses to stand quietly in the trailer. Once they realize that you are truly concerned with their best interests, mules and donkeys (intelligent creatures that they are), will usually be very cooperative and your long hauls can become relaxing and enjoyable road trips.
© 2000, 2003, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
You really don’t want to desensitize your animals to everything. Here is Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of the word “desensitize”:
1) to make (a sensitized or hypersensitive individual) insensitive or non-reactive to a sensitizing agent.
Some people have the misconception that, in order to desensitize an animal, you have to make it numb to its surroundings and any stimulus it encounters. Not true! What you really want to do is sensitize your equine to different body language and cues from you, as the trainer. So “desensitization” does not mean achieving a total lack of sensitivity. Rather, it should be approached as a way of training your equine (in a way that is quiet and calm) to be less sensitive to certain objects or events that may be cause him to be fearful, so he can move forward with confidence and the right sensitivity toward the communication between the two of you.
When incorrect, harsh or overly aggressive desensitizing techniques are used on equines, the handler is met with either a very strong flight reflex or a stand and fight reflex. In either case, an equine will either put up a fight and be deemed a rogue and, therefore, untrainable, or eventually just “give up” and succumb to the trainer’s wishes. This is a sad situation because the equine is not given the opportunity to make reasonable choices in his relationship with his trainer. The equine’s instinct to warm up to the person training him is hampered by his fear of more desensitization techniques. Thus, he becomes resigned to his work and is not fully engaged in the training process.
Often, trainers will put obstacles such as a trailer, tire or tarp in an equine’s pen in the hope of getting him used to it by making him live with it. But ask yourself this: How much rest would you get if someone put a blaring radio in your bedroom to desensitize you to noise? Equines have many of the same reactions to their personal space that we do, and they do much better when their place of rest is just that—a place of rest and comfort. And when lessons are approached in a considerate, respectful and rewarding way, an equine is more likely to approach them with an eager and positive attitude that facilitates better learning. It is always better to turn your equine’s fear into curiosity than it is to just assault his senses.
When doing obstacle training, it is better to allow your equine a gradual approach with small steps and great rewards for his honest effort than to whip and spur him through just to get to the other side. When his fear is converted to curiosity, the chance of his refusal to go forward is lessened and his trust in you as the trainer allows you to, eventually, ride through any obstacle at the slightest suggestion. This is because he trusts your judgment and has not been frightened, hurt or made uncomfortable during the training process. This is your equine developing sensitivity to your demands and learning to willingly comply so he can become a participating partner in each activity.
Some trainers believe that breaking down tasks for the equine into tiny steps is a waste of time and that giving a food reward prevents an equine from learning to respect the trainer, but I disagree. When you break tasks down into understandable steps in the beginning stages of training, you will eventually begin to get solid, reliable behavior from your equine. You will have to pay attention to a lot of little details at the beginning stages of training (and that can seem overwhelming at first), but if you take the time to pay attention to these small steps in the beginning stages and through the ground work and round pen work that will follow, when you finally do move on to riding under saddle the lessons will go much more quickly.
Each stage of training should become easier for you and your equine to master. For instance, it actually takes you less time to train in something like a side pass if you have done your groundwork training with the lead line and drive-line lateral training before you even get into the saddle. It also follows that the side pass will come more easily for your equine if he has first learned to move on an angle in the leg yield before having to move straight sideways. This is an example of taking things in small, logical steps, keeping your equine sensitive to his surroundings and tasks without fear. It also greatly lessens the chance for a fear or anxiety-driven blow up from your equine later on.
There is a physical as well as mental aspect to all of this technique. While you are training your equine to perform certain movements and negotiations over obstacles, his muscles, ligaments and tendons are all involved in his actions. When an equine is asked to do a movement for which his muscles have not first been properly conditioned, he will not only execute the motion incorrectly, but his premature attempt will undoubtedly compromise his muscles, ligaments and tendons. Even if he can adequately assimilate a requested movement while he is young, he could easily be creating problems in his body and joints that will cause him escalating problems as he ages.
If you were asked to go on a 25-mile hike with a 50-pound pack on your back, how would you prepare in order to safely and successfully perform this task? You would break it down into small steps, working up to it by first running a short distance with a very light weight, and then gradually increasing the distance you run and the weight you carry, which may take as long as a couple of years of careful training and conditioning. But if you tried to prepare for this kind of grueling hike by simply walking around the block a few times for a couple of days, you’d wreck your muscles, compromise your health and probably fail—all because you attempted to do the task when you weren’t physically or mentally ready. And depending on how much you strained your body, you just might discover down the line that the damage is permanent and will worsen over the course of your life. I use this illustration to show that, just as with humans, when it comes to training and conditioning your equine, it’s always better to take it slowly—one step at a time. Your equine will learn to enjoy being a partner in your challenges and goals if you give him the time he needs to be able to do these activities comfortably and with success.
An equine that learns in this sensitized way can also make judgments that might even save your life when you might not be paying attention. This is because when your equine is calm and well rested, he actually seems to be able to anticipate consequences, making him more likely to stop and wait for your cue. The equine that is “forced” during training will most often become anxious about a challenging situation and will seldom stop and calmly alert you to a potential peril—and he most likely will not trust your judgment.
It is because I have trained my mules in this sensitized way that I once avoided going over a 100-foot drop up in the Rocky Mountains while on a trail ride. On that particular day, I was in front, riding my mule, Mae Bea C.T. with four horses behind us. When we came to a giant boulder semi-blocking the trail, I told the people on the horses to wait and rode ahead. I soon found that the trail had narrowed to an impassable two feet wide and a rockslide had wiped out the trail ahead completely! It was straight up 100 feet on one side of the trail and straight down 100 feet on the other side and there was no going forward. The horses behind me were still on the wider part of the trail on the other side of the boulder and were able turn around, so they were safe, but backing my mule around the boulder on that treacherous trail would be very dangerous. I thought we were stuck. At that point, my mule calmly looked back around at me as if to ask, “Well, Mom, what do we do now?” I thought for a minute and then shifted the weight in my seat toward my mule’s hindquarters. This movement from me allowed her to shift her weight to her hindquarters. Then, with pressure from my right leg, she lifted her shoulders, pivoted on her left hind foot and performed a 180-degree turn to the left on her haunches, and with her front feet in the air, she swept them across the open precipice of the cliff and turned us back around to face the wider (and safe) part of the trail. After completing the turn, she stopped again, looked back at me to see if everything was okay and waited for my cue to proceed back down. I believe, without a doubt, that my mule’s incredible and calm response to a life-threatening situation was the direct result of the sensitized training methods I used that created our unbreakable bond of trust.
© 2013, 2016, 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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
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.
Man 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).
© 1985, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
Achieving balance and harmony with your equine requires more than just balancing and conditioning his body. As you begin finishing training on your equine, your awareness must now be shifted more toward your own body. Your equine should already be moving steadily forward in a longer frame and be basically obedient to your “aids” (your seat, legs and hands). The object in finishing training is to build the muscles in your own body so that your aids become more clearly defined and effective. This involves the shedding of old habits and the building of new ones. This takes a lot of time and should not be approached with impatience. There are no shortcuts!
In order to stabilize your hands and upper body, you need to establish a firm base in your seat and legs. Ideally, you should be able to drop an imaginary plumb line from your shoulder through your hips, through your heels and to the ground. To maintain this plumb line, you must work to make the joints and muscles in your body more supple and flexible through correct use, so that this line becomes your automatic posture.
As you ride your equine through walking exercises, try to stay soft, relaxed and following forward in your inner thighs and seat bones. Get the sensation that your legs are cut off at the knees and let your seat bones walk along with your animal—lightly, and in rhythm with him. If he slows down, just bend your knees and nudge him alternately with your legs below your knees, while keeping your seat and upper legs stable and moving forward. While your legs are still, they should rest gently on his sides in a “hug.” Do not push forward in your seat, but allow him to carry you forward. When collecting the walk on the short side, just bend both knees at the same time, nudging your equine simultaneously on both sides, while you squeeze the reins at the same time.
In order to help you stay over the middle of your animal’s back on the large circle, keep your eyes up and ahead, shift your weight slightly to the outside stirrup, and “feel the movement.” Bend your knee and set your inside leg snugly against your equine at his girth. As you do this, be sure that your outside leg (the leg on the outside of the arc) stays in close contact with his body, well behind the girth. He will begin to bend his body through contact with your legs in this position. Your inside leg (the leg on the inside of the arc) will support the bend and help to keep him upright, and the outside leg will drive him forward through the arc of the turn, or circle. On straight lines, keep your legs even, slightly behind the girth and look straight ahead. To keep his shoulders from “dropping” while executing a turn, look up and a little to the outside of the circle. This will bring your inside seat bone slightly forward and your outside seat bone slightly back, allowing your legs to easily be in the correct position for the circle. Your weight should be shifted to the outside leg. This is particularly helpful during canter transitions.
Most of us feel that we do not balance on our reins as much as we actually do. If there is any balancing on the reins at all by the rider, your equine will be unable to achieve proper hindquarter engagement and ultimate self-carriage. Here is a simple exercise you can do to help shift the weight from your hands and upper body to your seat and legs. Begin by putting your equine on the rail at an active working walk. On the long side, drop your reins on his neck and feel your lower-body connection with him as you move along. In order to maintain your shoulder-to-hip plumb line, you will find that you need to tip your pelvis forward and stretch your abdominal muscles with each step. If your lower leg remains in the correct position, this will also stretch the thigh muscles on the front of your leg from hip to knee. There is also a slight side-to-side motion as your animal moves forward that will cause your seat bones to move independently and alternately forward. There is no doubt that you can probably do this fairly easily right from the start, but to maintain this rhythm and body position without thinking about it takes time and repetition.
When you are fairly comfortable at the walk, you can add some variation at the trot. Begin with the posting trot on the rail. Always post down in your seat to meet the equine’s front leg that comes back and underneath your outside leg. Post upwards as the equine’s front leg goes forward. Once your equine’s hindquarters are adequately engaged, you will begin to feel his hind legs coming under your seat. However, when starting out, it is easier to learn to post using a visual of the front legs, and rely on the physical sensation of the hind legs coming under your seat later. When your mule is going along the rail in a fairly steady fashion, drop your reins on his neck and continue to post. As you post down the long side, remember to keep your upper body erect, your pelvis rocking forward from your seat, your knees bent such that your legs are gently hugging the barrel of your equine, and your arms raised and straight out in front of you, parallel to your shoulders.
If your animal drifts away from the rail, you will need to post with a little more weight in your outside stirrup. As you go around the corners, be sure to turn your eyes a little to the outside of the circle to help your positioning. As you approach the short side of the arena, bring your arms backwards and straight out from your shoulders in a “T” formation, while keeping your upper body erect. As you go through the corners, just rotate your arms and upper body slightly toward the outside of your circle. When you come to the next long sides, bring your arms, once again, in front and parallel to your shoulders and repeat the exercise.
Notice the different pressure on your seat bones as you change your arm position. The forward arms will somewhat lighten your seat, while your arms to the side tend to exert a little more pressure. Consequently, you can send your animal more forward by using your seat as you go down the long sides, shortening that stride with a little added pressure from the seat bones on the short sides. When you wish to halt, put your arms behind you at the small of your back to support an erect upper body, and let your weight drop down through your seat bones and legs. Also, remember to use your verbal commands often in the beginning to clarify your aids (effect of the seat, legs and hands) to your equine. If your equine doesn’t stop, just reach down and give a gentle squeeze/release on the reins until he stops, but be sure to remain relaxed and continue to drop your weight into your seat and legs. Keep your inner thighs relaxed and flexible. Do NOT squeeze! Think DOWN through your legs on both sides. Before long, he will begin to make the connection between the weight of your seat and your command to “Whoa,” and your seat will take precedence over your reins.
When you and your equine have become adept at the walk and the trot, you can add the canter. At the canter, however, keep your arms out to the side and rotate them in small circles in rhythm with the canter. Be sure to sit back and allow only your pelvis, seat and thighs to stretch forward with the canter stride. Keep your upper body erect and your lower legs stable in the gentle “hugging” position. Once your equine has learned to differentiate seat and leg aids during each gait and throughout all transitions on the large circle, you can begin to work on directional changes through cones.
As you practice these exercises, you will soon discover how even the slightest shift of balance can affect your animal’s performance. By riding without your reins and making the necessary adjustments in your body, you will begin to condition your own muscles to work in harmony with those of your equine. As your muscles get stronger and more responsive, you will cultivate more harmony and balance with your animal. As you learn to ride more “by the seat of your pants,” you will encounter less resistance in your equine, as most resistance is initiated by tension in the seat and legs and by “bad hands,” an ineffective and uncommunicative dragging on the reins. Your hands should remain quiet and supportive in contact with the bit. Keeping your legs close to the sides of your equine’s body in a sort of hug will clarify the “track” he is to follow (much in the same way a train is confined to its tracks). As you learn to vary the pressure in your seat accordingly, so will you encounter less resistance in your animal through his back, and the stability in your lower legs will give him a clearer path to follow between your aids.
© 1992, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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!
© 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021 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
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.
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