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MULE CROSSING: Why Mules Are Exceptional

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By Meredith Hodges

Across the United States and around the world, as mules are given more and more opportunities to perform in many diverse situations, they are exhibiting their exceptional beauty, athletic ability, endurance and intelligence. There are definite physical and psychological reasons for these outstanding abilities. It has been proven that the mule not only inherits the mare’s beauty, but is also more athletic than the mare out of which he came. The mule is an exceptional hybrid not only because he inherits these qualities from his dam, the mare, but he also inherits the best qualities from his sire, the jack who is responsible for his muscle structure, thickness of bone, strength and intelligence.

The muscle structure of a mule is noticeably different than that of a horse. His body is covered with masses of long, smooth muscle whereas the horse has more differentiated bulk muscle masses.

The most apparent example of this difference is seen in the chest of the mule. The horse’s chest has two distinct muscle groups, which creates a very distinctive line of separation in the middle of his chest. However, the mule’s chest is composed of one wide muscle mass that resembles a turkey’s breast, which greatly enhances the mobility of the front quarters. Another example is found in the mule’s hindquarters, where the long, wide and smooth muscles enable the mule to kick forward, backwards and sideways—he can even scratch the top of his head with a hind foot if he wants to! Mules are also quite capable of climbing under, over and through most kinds of fencing. Restraints that are used with horses often do not work with mules because of their astounding ability to free themselves from annoying circumstances with their strong, quick and agile movements. Because the hindquarters of the horse possess bulkier muscle masses, the horse does not have this incredible range of motion. The difference in muscular structure is similar to that of a ballet dancer versus that of a weight lifter—the ballet dancer’s longer, smoother muscles are more conducive to elasticity and agility.

In addition to this physical structure, which allows him more diverse range of movement, the mule also inherits from his sire (the donkey jack) the strength to tolerate prolonged and strenuous use of his muscles. One need only try to budge an unwilling donkey to realize his incredible strength! Donkeys traditionally possess an unbelievable vigor, and this vigor is passed on to the mule, adding to his superiority over the horse in strength and endurance. The donkey jack also contributes to the superior, tough hooves of the mule and a unique resistance to parasites and disease. Throughout their long history, the donkey’s natural ability to survive and thrive in habitats both desolate and unyielding guarantees that donkeys and their mule offspring are more sure-footed than other equines and masters of self-preservation.

Donkeys have long been referred to as “stubborn,” but this is a false and unjust perception. It is not stubbornness that causes an overloaded donkey to stop dead in his tracks to rest his body, but rather common sense and a strong desire for self-preservation. After all, would a sensible human being deliberately pack more than he could comfortably carry, and then continue a hike until he drops from heat and exhaustion? No. Would his refusal to do so be considered as being “stubborn?” Certainly not—it’s just common sense. The same common sense should be applied when understanding a mule or donkey’s behavior—and this holds true in any potentially dangerous situation a donkey may face. For example, when crossing a body of water, the donkey does not possess a human’s acute visual depth perception. Therefore, when he refuses to step into water that seems perfectly safe to us, it is because his depth perception is telling him to use caution and to take his time in evaluating the situation before he proceeds. His behavior is determined by the way he is asked to perform a task and by his concern for his welfare and safety.

As a rule, donkeys are equipped with the innate intelligence to sense that humans are not always concerned with what is really best for them, yet they are still willing to gives us the opportunity to convince them otherwise. Donkeys also have a natural social attraction to humans and, when treated with patience, kindness and understanding, they learn to trust and obey. On the other hand, if they are treated with pain and abuse, they are not likely to comply and can become very dangerous to handle. Mules and donkeys have an honest way of responding to our demands, so if your mule or donkey is not complying with your request, you need to review the clarity of how you are communicating your desire and adjust your approach accordingly. The intelligence of the donkey is no accident.

When a male donkey, with his traits of superior intelligence, strength and muscle structure is bred to a female horse with a calm disposition, good conformation and athletic ability, the result is an exceptional and incredibly beautiful animal—the MULE!

October 26th has been popularly designated as National Mule Appreciation Day, but anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to nuzzle a muzzle knows that these magnificent, gentle, bright, honest, upbeat, funny, patient and loyal friends need our appreciation and guardianship not just once a year but every day. Let’s spread the word whenever we can mules and donkeys are truly amazing!

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, 2013, 2016, 2019 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Hauling Long Distances

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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.

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.

© 2000, 2003, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Training Longears: What’s the Difference? Part 2

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By Meredith Hodges

In Part 1 of What’s the Difference? we began to define a few of the things that are unique to my training program. At the beginning of my career, it wasn’t long before I realized that, if I wanted to improve my skills and get a better response from my long-eared equine partners, I had to go back to the beginning, start over and pay close attention to what they needed from me at each stage of training in order to accurately perform what I was asking. When I did, lessons truly became a resistance-free, cooperative effort!

I soon realized that leading training had more value than just teaching to lead, tie and perfect technique for a showmanship class. For instance, holding the lead rope in the left hand while pointing to where I was going with the right hand, and using the right hand to maintain the position of the equine, was an important way to allow him to be responsible for his own balance with minimal interference. When I was holding the lead in my right hand, every movement of my hand caused him to have a slight loss of balance. Having the fanny pack of crimped oats strapped to my waist kept his attention on me and prevented him from forging ahead or running off entirely. Teaching the trot on the lead rope was much easier.

I soon discovered that the equine would actually measure his stride to mine when I paid attention to my own posture during leading and kept my steps and stops rhythmic and in synchronization with his. When I kept my transitions from walk to stop smooth and fluid and stopped with my feet together, so did he. When I was consistent about asking him to square up and put equal weight over all four feet at every stop, he would soon make the adjustment himself when I turned to face him. I saw an improvement in balance and strength as I kept my walking lines straight and my turns smooth, working on a gradual arc rather than abrupt turns.

When I saw the difference in the equine’s at-rest position and play patterns, it was evident to me that the muscles at the core that surround the skeletal system were becoming stronger from these passive, isometric exercises. The mind of each animal was more alert and tuned into our tasks, and there was no real incidence of disobedience when I did my part correctly. In the quest to improve their strength and balance, I improved my own substantially.

On the obstacle course, the task is first to instill confidence and trust. When you lead, and use the crimped oats reward, it alleviates fear in the equine and gives them the motivation to explore. Over time, he begins to trust your judgment. When you put obstacles in comfort zones where they eat and rest, it will create anxiety instead of instilling confidence. In my estimation, equines aren’t really afraid of the obstacles themselves. It’s just a fear of being trapped or hurt.

But there is further value in obstacle training on the lead rope. With flatwork leading training, you have cultivated strength and balance in the equine at the core and are now ready to add coordination. Once the equine has learned to negotiate the obstacles without fear, he is then ready to go back through the obstacles and learn coordination by breaking these obstacles down into much smaller steps.

At each obstacle, approach, stop and square up in front of each obstacle. Then ask for the front feet to be placed into the obstacle, stop and square up. Then ask that all four feet be placed into the obstacle, stop and square up. Then ask for the two front feet to exit the obstacle, leave the hind feet within the obstacle, stop and square up. Then exit the obstacle, stop and square up once more before leaving the obstacle.

This approach teaches the equine to stop and rebalance at every new position throughout the obstacle. It builds body awareness as well as adding coordination. You will see that they are not really as balanced as you might think when you ask them to put the two front feet off the far side of the bridge while leaving the hind feet on the bridge. The equine will generally try to keep going forward, or the hind end will pass the front end as it falls off the bridge. When he is capable of doing so, he will be able to hold the position, but you might have to provide assistance the first few times in this awkward position.

You will soon discover after this kind of training that you no longer get your feet stepped on, and that they will avoid stepping on hoses during baths, or cords during clipping. They are truly more able to effectively balance their own bodies. And when you begin lunging in the round pen, the equine is better able to comply with your wishes to balance correctly on the circle at walk and trot. Movement will be more rhythmic with smooth and fluid transitions.

When allowed to freely move in the round pen at walk and trot, the animal who has had the benefit of detailed leading training will exhibit better balance than the one who has not. When he canters, the unbalanced equine will want to raise his head, and hollow his neck and back in varying degrees. In order for him to continue to build muscle in the correct frame, I use an aid I developed called the “Elbow Pull” to help maintain good posture and balance. I was first introduced to this concept by Richard Shrake. If the equine is allowed to exercise with the head and neck raised, he would build muscle out of good equine posture. That would need to be corrected later, and would cause disobedience during the lessons due to soreness, especially if done with a rider on his back. Strengthening the equine body in the correct posture first with the “Elbow Pull” and without the rider will prevent this problem. In addition, with this device, the equine will be started in a snaffle bit with the desired direct rein communication and will learn to be submissive and light in the bridle.

This originally disturbed the Dressage community until I was able to explain its function. This is a self-correcting aid for the equine. It does not force him to keep his head down. Rather, it simply does not allow him to raise his head too high and invert his neck and back. He is free to raise his head, but if too high, it puts pressure on the poll, on the bit, behind the forearms and over the back. It suggests that he lower his head and stretch the muscles across the entire top line in correct vertical flexion. When he is in good posture, all pressure is released and muscle is built symmetrically throughout the entire body in balance and good posture.

When doing exercise in the round pen, if verbal cues and rewards are consistent, your equine actually learns verbal communication in conjunction with body language and his understanding will increase much like a child’s does in grammar school. Equines may not be able to speak English, but they can certainly learn to understand it. Being in good posture will begin to facilitate correct lateral bend to his body and build those muscles in correct posture. He will offer the canter when he is strong enough, so forcing canter is not necessary. Turning him into the fence for the reverse will set him up for the correct diagonal at trot and the correct lead at canter allowing him to make transitions easily and smoothly.

When the equine’s body is developed properly, he will be strong enough and will have the necessary control of his own body to handle the added shifting weight of the rider. Most equines struggle with their own awkwardness and before they get control of their own bodies, they are asked to deal with the awkwardness of the rider at the same time. This often results in perceived disobedience. The equine that is stable in his core muscles and body carriage will be better able to help the rider maintain and improve his own balance and control. Bucking and bolting cease to be a problem.

Learning certain moves is easy and takes much less time, but for maximum performance there is no substitute for taking the time to properly build and condition the muscles that will support your equine’s good postural frame. If you are willing to put in the time and effort necessary, the result will be an animal that is happy and comfortable in his work, light in the bridle and a beautiful mover. Your relationship and performance will soar to unimaginable levels!

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.

© 2010, 2016, 2019 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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What’s New with Roll? Goodbye Roll

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February 11, 2019

Unfortunately, after eight years together, Roll passed quietly from a mild colic and weakness in his hind quarters on February 11, 2019 at the age of 27 years. I rescued Rock and Roll from slaughter in December of 2010. We lost Rock in December of 2011 with a completely shattered hip joint after being rendered sound at the walk with no medications for a whole year. With ring bone and side bones in three hooves, I continued working with Roll and we met our goal of being sound enough to ride around the hay field for several years.

Roll survived a severe bout with White Line Disease in 2016. We had to resect 2/3 of his hoof wall and it only because of his good posture and core strength that he was able to “balance” his way through his treatments which changed weekly. It took eight months, but his left hind foot finally grew back completely (see 2016 posts).

…and afterwards, he was able to be ridden once again.

Roll began his time with me as a suspicious and spooky guy, but he studied his manners, his training lessons and we became the very best of friends. Since most drafts don’t live past 20, I feel blessed to have had him for as long as I did! Just before he died on February 11, 2019 (his hind legs were finally too weak for him to get up after his morning nap), he reached his nose from the ground to my cheek and gave me one of his soulful nuzzle kisses…a sincere thank you for a life well lived! He has crossed the Rainbow Bridge and joined his mate, Rock, that we both loved and missed so much! In my heart, I know we will eventually be together again.

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What’s New with Roll? A Great Massage and a New Friend!

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10-25-18

Roll had a good massage today! He seems to really enjoy the new Equisport massager. You can always tell when your equine enjoys his massage because he will “talk” to you along the way. Notice how Roll is pushing his hip into the massager in the first photo? That means, “Feels so good… go deeper!”

His left hind is often a bit sore from his twisting in the right hind, so he isn’t too sure about it at first, but the right hip is a different story and he relaxes. He even slid his hind leg slightly forward to allow Joanne to massage deeper.

It seemed that the left shoulder is a bit sore and he gives her a stern look of “Be careful now.”

Joanne spoke back to Roll with “I hear you! So we’ll go to the other side and move on to something else.” Roll responded with, “Oh, yes, this is a better spot!” as he relaxed his hind foot and leaned into the massager again.

Roll rounded his neck to look back to her and said, “Are you wearing a fanny pack full of oats today?”

Joanne responded with, “Nope, sorry! How about an eyeball massage?”

Roll leaned into the massager and went to town pushing his eye into the massager while Joanne just held it steady. He was in seventh heaven!

When it came to his ears, Roll went into a trance and enjoyed every minute of his full face massage!

Then she went across his back and over his rear end to finish. Roll looked at her as if to say, “Thanks for a GREAT massage…feels soooo good!”

After Rock’s death in 2011, Roll spent the last 7 years in turnout alone with only his two mini donkey friends, Spuds and Augie,  across the fence from him.

The best part of the weekend following his massage was that 26-year-old Roll finally got a friend in turnout! Billy Bad Ass (age 25) came to us a month ago. We thought the two gelding boys would enjoy each other as they are pretty close in age and it proved to be true!

Roll was truly happy to have a brand new buddy!


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What’s New with Roll? Ground Driving the Pasture

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Roll needed another core tune-up today, but every time we take him out, we need to document everything in photos and video. Normally we would work in the hourglass pattern, but we wanted better pictures than just the arena sand and fences so we decided to do some ground driving today in the 5-acre pasture instead.

I had to tighten the reins that were tied up to the surcingle because he thought it might be nice to just lower his head and graze…that was not in the program!

He was light in the bridle and easily maneuverable. I was glad to be able to walk behind and see how his rear end was moving. It was VERY wobbly from both hips and could not walk a straight line.

He will most definitely need more chiropractic work and massage going forward.  I think regular core exercises are in order, once a week in order to build up his rear end bulk muscle again. We did a serpentine through the trees …

… and then left the field along the fence line to help him to stay straight. That should help to stabilize the rear, but he IS a 26 year-old with a very bad start to his life for the first 18 years, so I need to keep expectations realistic.

He lacked impulsion for the first part of the ground driving, but was beginning to engage the hind quarters a bit more and that added enough impulsion for him to go forward in a straighter line than he did at first as he traveled along the fence line.

Although I had tightened the reins coming from the bridle, Roll still managed to lower his head sideways and grab a few blades of the taller grass on the way out!!! He cracks me up!

He did remarkably better on the gravel road back to the Tack Barn. I did have to keep reminding him to keep his body straight, which he did very easily.

When we got back to the Tack Barn he drove right in and parked himself, squaring up upon my request through the lines. What a good boy!!!

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Wranglers Donkey Diary: Sarcoid Treatment

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7-20-18

Wrangler has almost completely shed out and during my last weekly grooming, I discovered a small sarcoid on his left forearm and decided to consult with my veterinarian, Greg Farrand. Wrangler munched in the fanny pack while we talked.

Dr. Farrand Carefully inspected the sarcoid and determined that it was not a candidate for removal because of it’s precarious location. There was no way to grab loose skin around it like there was with prior sarcoids on other animals.

I shaved the area around the sarcoid so we could get a good look at it and so it would absorb the treatment the most efficiently.

In 2011, Rock had a sarcoid on his neck in front of the withers where there was a lot of fatty tissue and the skin was loose enough to pull the sarcoid away from the body. So, we shaved his neck and removed the sarcoid with surgery. We then had it biopsied to find it was not a serious sarcoid (Better to be safe than sorry!) and it eventually just went away. In the eighties, if we removed a sarcoid, it would have had a follow-up of injections to be completely rid of it. In the nineties, veterinarians discovered another way to treat sarcoids that involved taking a piece of the biopsied sarcoid and reintroducing it as an implant in the neck to prompt an immunity response. Before he could remove one of three sarcoids the from Lucky Three Eclipse, he rubbed one and tore it open. Before we had the chance to biopsy one of the sarcoids for an implant, as if a miracle, his immune system was stimulated by HIM, kicked in and all three sarcoids just disappeared…and no, they were not anything else.

Lucky Three Cyclonealso developed a sarcoid on his jaw which we successfully treated with surgery since it also was in a fatty area where we could pinch the skin around it easily. No follow up was necessary…just stitches removal.

Since Wrangler’s sarcoid was in such a delicate area, we opted to use a topical approach with Xterra, applied with a Q-Tip.

We will apply the Xterra once a day for a week, then stop for a week.

Then we will resume applying the Xterra for another week, stop after a week again and then see how it is progressing.

We will continue like this until it is gone. Xterra is surely a better way than the way we had to treat these in the eighties! Wrangler will be sure to keep you posted on his progress!

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What’s New with Roll? Hourglass Pattern, Stretching & Backing

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7-12-18

Roll had his summer bath yesterday and it was a great day for it! It was 100 degrees!

Today it was a little cooler, so we opted to go to the dressage arena and work in the hourglass pattern on the lead rope in his “Elbow Pull” and surcingle.

The twisting in his right hind foot was markedly better today after last week’s workout.  I am glad I made the call to go back to the leading exercises after his riding experience on May 6. He felt sluggish and the right hind foot was not adequately supported and was twisting quite a bit.

Going back to his core leading exercises for the past few weeks has greatly improved the musculature and corresponding soft tissues, ligaments and tendon that support the pastern and fetlock and the twisting has substantially subsided. He now has a much more upward balance!

I find it amusing that these animals really DO mirror what we do, so it is best to pay attention to what YOU are doing as well as what your mule is doing!

Because you can’t necessarily SEE core muscle development, it is hard to tell how much it can help the equine with his overall posture, balance and performance. Once you have engaged in the exercises, you can begin to identify these very subtle nuances in the equine’s way of moving.

We often talk about “head sets” in the equine world and want our equines to be soft and supple in their poll, but what of the rest of the body? When the body is truly in good postural balance, it is easy for the equine’s WHOLE BODY to perform as it was intended.

The animal is soft and pliable throughout his body and you will begin to notice when they are using their whole body and when there are compromised segments. The easiest thing to see is how an animal with adequate core strength will use ALL his muscles such that you can actually see the muscles rippling in motion over the ribs.

The animal without core strength will be stiff and immobile over the ribs and the legs will move underneath the body, but neither adds support nor fluidity to his movement. ROLL is living proof of this drastic difference in conditioning.

We finished Roll’s lesson with some simple stretching exercises…

…then walked to the gate with the lead slung over his neck…

 

…and then backed a few steps, all evidence of his own good postural body carriage. I am so pleased that Roll is doing so well at 26 years old!

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What’s New with Roll? Body Language & the Hourglass Pattern

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7-2-18

Roll and I both needed some exercise, so we did a quick vacuuming, left the Tack Barn and headed for the dressage arena.

We didn’t have a lot of time, so we opted to navigate the hourglass pattern on the lead line in his surcingle and “Elbow Pull” and did some core muscle work.

When you routinely execute gates the same way, your equine will know what to expect…

…and he can always respond accordingly. Consistency breeds consistency. Accuracy breeds accuracy.

Roll is so cooperative that he wants to help me space the rails properly, waiting patiently as he should.

When I’m not sure, he helps with the spacing! First in a straight line…

…and then a diagonal rail crossing.

After the diagonal crossing, we began a turn to the right…

…and re-approach the ground rails…

…then halt in front of the first ground rail, all done with hand signals alone.

He had not worked over the rails for quite some time and hit two rails the first time out. I knew this could be a problem and opted to use my solid ground rails instead of the sand-filled PVC that he could just kick out of his way.

We practiced bending through the corner cones…

…and coming out of the turn onto a straight line.

Then he picked of his feet higher the next time through the ground rails, not a clip at all and into a nice halt.

Roll continues to have issues with twisting the right hind leg, but the core strength leading exercises and squaring up seemed to help quite a bit. The last two times over the rails, he went clean. He was walking much better towards the end of the lesson, so we practiced leaving the arena with the lead rope slung over his neck.

He was a real pro!!! I am sure proud of this 26 year old Belgian mule! This rescue continues to thrive!

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LTR Training Tip #83: Practice Exercises For Good Equitation

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Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Shenanigans in the Hayfields

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6-6-18

Do you need some help with the lead ropes?
  

The saddle mules are headed for turnout. Where do you think we are going, Spuds?

Looks like we’re headed for the hayfield, Augie!

Looks like you were right, Spuds!
Isn’t it beautiful, Augie?!

What is that big yellow thing, Augie?!
That’s Chad, Spuds…oh, you mean the swather?!

How do you do, Augie? Now smile for the picture!

How do you do, Spuds? Not so sure?

WOW! That big thing sure makes a lot of noise!

Now where are we going, Augie?!

These are some really deep windrows!

And some really tall grass is growing in the jump course, Augie!

Boy, I’ll say it’s tall, Spuds! I can’t see a thing! Where are we going?

Spuds, Augie, Are you guys into having a picnic out here?

You bet! This is really cool!

Smile for the camera, Boys!

We are very happy with you, Mini Momma, aren’t we Spuds?!

I wuv you, too, Mini Momma!

And I love you both!  What a grand picnic!

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Wranglers Donkey Diary: Second Lesson Day

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6-4-18

Simple hairbrush bristles remove more undercoat

 

The loose hair on top scrapes off easily

 

Place girth 4 inches from forearm

 

Lossen crupper strap & insert tail

 

Adjust snugly, but not tight

 

Much improved walking in sync

 

Proper turn through the gate

 

More impulsion & flexibility at walk left

 

First offer to trot easily

 

Begin reverse

 

Improved posture & balance at walk right

 

Offer to trot right

 

Hindquarter engagement before halt

 

Improved in sync back to work station

 

Slide saddle back to loosen crupper – learns to stand quietly

 

Remove saddle

Bristles are longer which is enough to get it all

 

No more shedding blade hair breakage

 

Adjust back girth snug enough to hold the saddle down

 

Scratch rear for relaxation of the tail

 

Place saddle over the center of balance

 

Patient while opening gate

 

Improved gate posture

 

Improved posture & balance at walk left

 

Beginning to find his balance

 

Complete reverse on correct pivot foot

 

Improved posture & balance at walk right

 

Finding balance at trot right

 

We did GOOD!

 

Remove bridle & put on halter

 

Slide crupper off tail

 

Back to the barn IN SYNC!

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What’s New with Roll? Roll’s Insights into Massage Therapy

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5-17-18

Massage for equinesis now used more often as an alternative or complementary healing process toward health and fitness.

Simple massage can prevent various injuries throughout your animal’s lifetime. Don’t wait for obvious injury to occur—preventive massage increases the length of the muscle fibers, taking pressure off the joints.

When the muscles are allowed to contract and expand to their full length, they are able to absorb important nutrients that reduce fatigue. Massage also increases blood flow, which helps the body flush harmful toxins, such as lactic acid, that build up from normal use.

Massage aids in reprogramming the nervous system to break patterns that can cause atrophy or knotted tissue. If you are unsure as to the severity of an injury, consult your vet!

At Lucky Three Ranch, I have found that therapeutic equine massage promotes relaxation and reduces stress. It also stimulates healing after an injury and provides significant relief from pain as it did when Roll had White Line Disease in 2016-17.

Massage can reduce muscle spasms, and greater joint flexibility and range of motion can be achieved through massage and stretching—resulting in increased ease and efficiency of movement.

Always be aware of your animal’s reaction to pressure and respond accordingly. Watch his eyes and ears. As you work look for signs of sensitivity toward the affected area such as biting, raising and lowering the head, moving into or away from pressure, contraction of muscles from your pressure, tossing his head, swishing his tail, picking up his feet, changes in his breathing or wrinkles around his mouth.

If your animal is heavy in the bridle, if he tips his head to one side, or if he has difficulty bending through the neck, he is exhibiting stiffness in this area.

If he moves away, he is telling you that you are exerting more pressure than he can comfortably endure, and you should go back to using your fingertips.

A raised head and perked ears may indicate sensitivity. He is asking for lighter pressure, so learn to pay attention to the things your animal tells you about his body.

Massage therapy should never be harmful. For the sake of safety and comfort, do not attempt massage therapy for rashes, boils, open wounds, severe pain, high fevers, cancers, blood clots, severe rheumatoid arthritis, swollen glands, broken bones, direct trauma or if there is any chance of spreading a lymph or circulatory disease, such as blood poisoning. Avoid direct pressure on the trachea.

It is easiest to find sore spots and muscles when your animal is warmed up, so after a ride is a good time to do massage therapy and passive range-of-motion exercises.

Each time you ride, take the time to quickly go over your animal and assess his sensitive areas: check his range of motion to detect stiffness in the joints. Paying this kind of attention to his body will enhance his athletic performance and provide him with a wonderfully relaxing reward. Give your equine the preventive care that he deserves to make your way to a mutually satisfying relationship.

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What’s New with Roll? A Walk in the Jump Course

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5-8-18

After about an hour of shedding grooming with the hairbrush, shedding blade and then the vacuum, Roll and I headed out for a walk around the jump course. We started at the Tack Barn and walked through the alleyway between the buildings.

We stopped occasionally along the driveway to square up and he seemed to be reluctant to weight the right hind again, but after a few times, he did better. We stopped at the MULE CROSSING sign for a photo-op.

Then we went down the beautiful tree-lined driveway on our way past the mules in the dirt pen having lunch, and past Jasper Bunkhouse, to the jump course area.

We stopped again at the statue of Lucky Three Eclipse, my hunter champion, situated behind our equipment barn where all the hay equipment is stored. Roll was more interested in the “Ely” statue than he was with the photo-op!

The grass was pretty tall and made for difficulty walking through it, but Roll was willing and did not dive for the grass, but obediently kept his head up, moving freely forward.

As long as he was walking, he was obedient. Then when I stopped him and asked him to square up, he became more interested in the grass and was not that willing to stand still for very long each time he stopped.

I guess the temptation was just too much for him, so I let him have a nibble! The reins tied up to the surcingle only allowed him to crop the ends off the tall grass.

We then walked on a little farther, enjoying the sunshine, the beautiful Rocky Mountains in the background, and the warm weather.

We stopped for another photo-op in the grass, but he did not stay squared up for the picture. He was still slightly distracted by the grass and apparently moved, but at least he wasn’t being pushy about it and smiled for the camera!

He really didn’t want to leave the grass, but he followed me nevertheless and squared up again on the road. At 18 hands, it’s a good thing he is as obedient as he is or he could have dragged me back into the grass!

We stopped again to see the Mae Bea C.T. statue. Roll had to reach out and take a good look at her pretty face!

He did pretty well overall. The walk was just enough to tune up his core. It’s hard to believe that he has now been with me for 8 years considering he was a rescue and supposedly a lost cause when I got him.

Roll is now 26 years old and I hope he still has many good years to come. It was a beautiful day and we both thoroughly enjoyed our walk together. Maybe next time, we’ll go for a ride!

View all What’s New With Roll? posts

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Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Ground Drive Hourglass Pattern with Roll

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“This vacuum sure feel good, Spuds!”

“Yeah, Augie, but why is Roll here with us?”

“Not sure, Spuds, but she’s putting on our driving gear.

We haven’t done that in a very long time! Can you tell where we are going?””

“Not really! I can see underneath, but Roll still makes a better door than a window! Is he going with us?!”

“It looks more like we are going with HIM, Spuds!”

 “Oh look, Spuds! It’s the hourglass pattern! It must be ground driving today!”

She just got done leading Roll through the pattern and now you get to ground drive the pattern. Why do I have to go last?!

“Because that’s just the way it is, Augie! Just stay cool and chill while we do this thing in sync. I love to see if she can match my tiny steps!”

“One…two…three…four. She’s doing pretty good, Augie!”

Finally, it’s MY turn now, Spuds…one…two…three…four!”

“You watch, Spuds! I’m putting my whole body into it”

“Apparently she liked it! That was really fun and EASY!”

“Ah Gee, Spuds, do we have to go back already!”

“I don’t know about you, Augie, but I’m ready for supper!”

“You’re always ready for supper. That’s why you are so PORTLY, PUDS!”

 

See more Another Adventure With Augie and Spuds posts

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What’s New with Roll? Winter Work in the Hourglass Pattern

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Roll has been off for quite some time during this crazy winter weather that we have been having and due to the extra office work that I have taken on. Today we had an opportunity with warm temperatures, but avoided the mud from the snow by working indoors. First, I groomed Roll with a curry and then the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner is a great tool to promote circulation to the muscles over the body.

Johnson’s Baby Oil in the mane and tail help to protect the hair from the harsh winter weather, drying mud and prevents other equines from chewing on them.

Today we used my Kieffer dressage saddle that seems to fit most of my mules and Roll included with a girth extender. Then I put on the “Elbow Pull” and adjust it so that it helps him to keep his good posture throughout his lesson.

The “Elbow Pull” only prevents him from raising his head so high that he inverts his neck and hollows his back. Otherwise, it affords him full range of motion upward (to that point), downward to the ground and as far as he can stretch his head and neck to both sides.

We went to the indoor arena and he stood like a soldier while I closed the gate and prepped for our lesson in the hourglass pattern. It is extraordinary how core strength stays with these guys even when they are off work for long periods of time.

This is not true with bulk muscle or an animal that has not had the benefit of core strength postural  development. The core strength that we develop in good posture is sustained by the equines themselves in their daily routines even when they do not receive forced exercise as long as they continue to move in good posture and rest four-square. Equines that rest with uneven foot placement, or cock a hind foot and drop a hip are not balanced in good posture with a strong core.

When saddling, we do it from the left side (near side) as done normally, but to keep things balanced, we  unsaddle from the right side (off side) and pull the saddle back onto the rear end to loosen the crupper and  make it easy to remove. When the equine is routinely handled like this, they learn to relax and stand quietly because they know what to expect.

It is amazing to see how much Roll’s attitude has changed in the eight years he has been with us. When he first arrived, he would snort at everything and hide behind Rock. He is now a happy, confident and affectionate 26 year old, 18 hand draft mule. He enjoys his lessons and never forgets a thing!

Trying new things is now done with much less effort and thus, much less drama! Yes, Roll is a bit obese with atrophied bulk muscle right now, but with routine lessons, he will be back to peak condition in no time. An equine that possesses a good foundation built with core strength in mind will be in a position to excel in all kinds of equine activities…because they are never over-whelmed.

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What’s New with Roll? Cyst Removal

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12/22/17

Today, Chad brought Roll up to the work station. On October 23, 2017, I had found a nodule on Roll’s lower right jaw line. Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand came out right away to check it to determine what kind of growth it was.

We have had sarcoids in the past, but this did not seem to be a sarcoid, but rather, a small cyst that was not attached to the bone. Since it was not attached, I made the decision to get it removed before it had an opportunity to become attached to the bone.

Lucky Three Sundowner had a similar growth on his jaw that WAS attached to the bone and it finally grew to such a size that it ultimately obstructed his ability to eat and he had to be put down at the age of 35 years.

We were preparing to vaccinate the herd, so we opted to wait on Roll’s surgery until after the vaccinations and hoped for a freeze that would kill all the insects. The exposed wound would have a better chance at healing in the colder weather without insect interference. We had to wait for quite a while since our winter weather proved to be unusually warm until today,  December 22, when we finally opted to do the surgery.

 

Greg gave Roll a sedative to help him to relax. I shaved the area heavily covered with winter hair with my #10 blades and then Greg stepped in and shaved it closer with his veterinary-gauged blades.

He then injected the site with a numbing agent and prepped it for the surgery.

The cyst was neatly contained and unattached below the surface of the skin. He carefully cut it away from the skin and was left with a perfectly round cyst that fell out easily.

When cut in half, the cyst revealed granular tissue in the center that is indicative of some foreign agent in the body that was surrounded by tissue that just never abscessed. We will send off the cyst to be tested to make sure there are no further issues to treat.

Greg carefully and neatly sutured the skin along his jaw line back together.

Greg gave me instructions about the care of the wound. Basically, we did not have to do anything, but let it heal. I will remove the sutures in 10-14 days.

Roll was still a bit drowsy when I took him back to his pen. He will not get food for at least two hours after the surgery to keep him from choking. He should heal nicely.

I took a sleepy Roll back to his pen. By tomorrow, he probably won’t even know what happened and he was such a trooper through it all! I am so glad my mules are trained the way they are…not a bit of trouble!

 

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What’s New with Roll? Happiness is getting back to good health!

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10/26/17: It is MULE APPRECIATION DAY today and the perfect time for an update on Roll! Roll has recovered nicely from his bout with White Line Disease in 2016. He had no workouts during that year, but surprisingly, he retained his core strength and balance throughout 2016 and came into 2017 still in good posture and balance. This leads me to believe that core strength does not necessarily deteriorate as rapidly as does bulk muscle.

Roll had his most recent “leading for core strength postural workout” on May 23rd this year. However since then, I have been unable to pursue any more lessons during the entire summer due to business obligations.

He was scheduled for his regular farrier visits on May 18th, July 14th and on September 21st. During that time, he also had two chiropractic visits and was doing very well with only minor adjustments needed.

On October 17th, Roll had a short ride with Brandy in the Lucky Three Ranch North Pasture after being off all summer. He was rather disgusted with Brandy after she unseated her rider, Bailey, at the beginning of the ride by spooking at a shadow on the ground. Roll did great although I could tell he was a bit stiff from the onset, but loosened up and gained impulsion by the end of the ride.

Roll had his last massage on July 13 and continues to thrive at the age of 26 years old. On October 25, we discovered a sarcoid-like tumor on his right jaw, x-rayed it and will do a removal following next week’s vaccinations. 

After being off all summer, I thought he did very well and this only reinforced my belief that core muscle really does sustain itself once the animal has spent at least two years doing very specific core muscle, postural exercises.

 

 

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What’s New with Roll? Happiness is a Fanny Pack Full of Oats!

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Roll is standing quietly as he usually does while I was speaking to a tour group with the gate wide open, but this was not always the case with him. He used to hide behind Rock and snort at me when he first arrived with Rock in December of 2010.

Behavior Modification is a reward system of training that requires that the trainer has the ability to distinguish between good and bad behaviors, to reward them promptly and appropriately…and, to do it politely with respect for the animal. The oats are a reward that is both safe and enjoyable for equines, and is something that they will continue to work for.

When dealing with an equine that is easily ten times your own weight, it is hard to imagine that the way we talk, touch and interact with our equine would really need to be ultra considerate, light and reassuring. However, if you want their complete cooperation, that is exactly what needs to happen. For instance, when applying fly spray talk gently and calmly, and be careful not to get the spray in their eyes…or it will burn and they will be less likely to comply the next time!

The same consideration hold true when bathing. Be careful not to get water in the ears, eyes and nostrils…and accustom the equine to cold water by spraying the feet and front legs first and work your way up to the face.

When you are kind and considerate, and give the equine time to adjust, even mechanical equipment like a massage thumper for muscle relaxation, or an equine vacuum cleaner used not only to clean but also to promote better circulation, can become a real source of pleasure and enjoyment for your equine.

When the equine is relaxed and accepting of the equine chiropractor, veterinarian and farrier, they are better able to do their jobs with maximum efficiency and successful outcomes.

And jobs you have to do like clipping, bridling and taking off the bridle all get much easier, preserving the trust between you. Now at 26 years old, Roll is a NEW draft mule!

 

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