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MULE CROSSING: Contemporary Mules

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Artillery Pack Mule, 1940_CCMules played an important role in our country during the Reconstruction Period: they patiently worked the fields, packed necessary artillery for the army, and served as a durable riding and driving animal in the westward movement. With the coming of the industrial age, their uses were minimized and they were faced with the possibility of extinction in the march of progress. Today, through the persistent determination of mule enthusiasts, mules are once again emerging as a conceivable asset to our economy and a unique form of athletic achievement and entertainment.

With new and improved training techniques, the mules of today are known for their beauty and outstanding athletic ability, their durability and their intelligence. Their uses are limited only to the imaginations of their owners. It is now commonly known that with proper training, a mule can perform better than the horse it was bred from. Subsequently, mules are not only competing in mule shows, but horse shows as well—in events from cutting to dressage. Cattle ranchers have discovered the mule to be an important asset in their business. He can go all day without tiring and can cover terrain that might discourage a horse, not to mention that the ride is much more comfortable. Hunters caught in the heavy snows of the Rocky Mountains praise their mules for carrying out heavy game and blazing trails through treacherous snowy ground, leading them and their horses to safety. Sales persons are grateful to both mules and donkeys for their humorous contributions in advertising and children appreciate the companionship and affection that mules can offer. Even the army has conceded that mules could make their contribution to the economy through their use in mountain light infantry divisions. The only problem that arises is educating people on mule psychology so that they can train them properly.

Although mules look and often act a lot like horses, there is a vast difference between the two psychologically. If a horse is given green pastures, plenty of clear water, and friends of his own kind, he is generally contented; the mule needs more. He possesses a curiosity about the world around him that requires him to participate and interact. For instance, if you were to walk out into a field where horses were grazing, chances are they would give you a glance and continue their grazing with a certain amount of indifference. Mules, on the other hand, would be compelled to approach you and check you out. Turnout Loafing Sheds 8-12-16 118_CCThey will generally follow you around until you leave the field, begging for attention or simply observing you closely from a safe distance. Mules have a genuine desire to make friends with those other than their own species. Also, they are a very sensitive animal and can read your intentions through the tone of your voice and your body language.

Being the sensitive animal that they are, they have a low tolerance to pain. This contributes to their careful and deliberate way of going—a mule will do everything possible to keep himself safe. He is careful about his footing in treacherous terrain as well as careful about the feed he eats. Knowing this about mules can be a valuable aid in training. If a mule is not doing what you ask and you lose your temper, he will try anything and everything to escape the pain. This is where the old wives’ tales had their beginnings. Those who understand the mule’s low threshold for pain and understand his desire to please will either move on to something different if he is not giving the desired response, or introduce the lesson differently to clarify what is expected. In any case, beating a mule into submission will only cause fear and resentment, and being as intelligent as they are, they will only distrust you. Once they distrust you it is very difficult to make amends since they also possess an excellent memory!

In the early days, mules and horses had to be “broken” and trained quickly due to limited time for such matters. Trainers did not have the patience it takes to bring a mule along “right;” consequently the results were sayings such as: “Stubborn as a mule,” “Kick like a mule,” and “Get a mule’s attention with a two-by-four.” The old trainers may have succeeded in getting the mules to work, but they could never trust them… conversely, with broken spirits, the mules never trusted their trainers either.

Today good mule trainers apply the basic techniques of Behavior Modification (reward system training) in their programs. That is, getting the desired response through positive reinforcement and ignoring, as much as possible, the undesired behavior. Negative reinforcement, or punishment, is used sparingly and is never severe. Voice is an effective form of negative reinforcement. A firm “No” when he is misbehaving is generally sufficient, followed by a few minutes of ignoring him. If you have a mule that bites, a firm pinch on the nose, a “No,” then ignoring him for a bit should do the trick. If you have one who kicks, try your voice first. If he persists, quietly restrain a hind leg in a scotch tie while working on him. If he begins to kick in the scotch tie, stand back and ignore him until he has settled down. When he is settled, reward him by scratching his rear, and then resume your work. He will soon learn that he is responsible for causing his own pain and, preferring the reward, he should eventually cooperate.

Restraints are helpful in dealing with mules but must not be applied so they cause pain. Hobbles, leg straps, and scotch ties are generally all that is needed in dealing with difficult mules. Even if the mule has led a life of abuse, their ability to determine just who is responsible for their pain means that with love and kindness, they can be taught to trust again–it just takes a lot of time and patience. If you find restraints are not sufficient, you may be dealing with an outlaw, in which case it is best to put him out of his misery before he injures someone.

IMG_0038_CCStill, the most important thing to remember is to praise the mule with caressing and scratching when he does what you desire and back it up with the food reward. Mules love this kind of attention and will do their best to get it. If they are rewarded immediately when they are behaving as desired, the desired behavior will eventually become the norm. If bad behavior is ignored or gently reprimanded, it will fade to a minimum. The result is a pleasant, affectionate, and dependable animal.

Though we are still a busy society, with the help of technology we are more able to give the mule the time and appreciation he deserves. Consequently, we are continually discovering new uses for the much maligned mule, enjoying him more, and in the process, we’re putting the old wives’ tales to rest.

Yesterday’s mules sturdy and strong

The days in the fields were often quite long

The man with the whips sometimes evened the score

With a jolt to the head by a stout two-by-four.

“Understanding” a word not common for slaves

Caused many good mules to go to their graves

“Stubborn and cranky are mules,” said most men

Who used and abused them then were kicked or bitten.

 

When industry triumphed, the mules quickly faded

But the tales remained and were often quite jaded

Twas never the man with the stout two-by-four

Who was wrong from the start to push mules way too far

But the folks who were ignorant knew only what’s said

And since mules cannot talk, their reputation was dead

They’re known to be pushy, vengeful, and cross

So man abandoned the mule for his exquisite horse.

 

With more time to our leisure the mules of today

Are treated much better and perform just that way

The love and affection the mules can now give

Makes raising and training them a warm way to live.

To meet them and greet them, to own one or not

The mules of today exhibit just what they got!

We’ve banned the “Old Wives’ Tales” and made a new rule

If you aren’t too stubborn, why not ride a mule!

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, 2020, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Riding The Hourglass Pattern9 29 20 15

CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Riding the Hourglass Pattern: 9-29-20

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After extensive work in the Round Pen getting Chasity and Wrangler light in the bridle, we are finally ready to graduate to the Hourglass Pattern in the open arena. They enjoy working together, so I just take them both together and tie one outside the working area while I work with the other. We only do these lessons weekly, but they seem to practice good posture on their own during turnout in between lessons. Their play and rest patterns are changing and their posture is improving dramatically. They can now support my weight efficiently in the saddle, so it is now time to hone their skills in a more open setting where we can work more freely. They could trot while sustaining their good postural balance in the Round Pen without my added weight, but that is a pretty restricted place to introduce the trot with my weight in the saddle. So I will tie up Wrangler with his “Elbow Pull” while I work with Chasity.

As always, she leads easily, politely negotiates the gate and stands quietly while I adjust her “Elbow Pull” and adjust her equipment. I will tighten the girth a bit more for lunging to hold the saddle in place. I always tighten the girth a little at a time and not all at once for her comfort. She appreciates my consideration.

In preparation for riding, I will lunge Chasity first. When I ride her, I want her sufficiently warmed up and responsive to perfecting our communication skills. The five rotations at walk, then trot in each direction is sufficient exercise with some speed as she is now well-balanced while performing these tasks. The faster gaits under saddle will come later.

Chasity executes a very nice reverse and immediately slows to the walk, maintaining her good posture. When they are in a good equine posture, the entire length of the spine is stretched, causing space and elasticity between the vertebrae.

If the equine is perpetually allowed to carry their head too high, the vertebrae can become stuck and calcified too close together and over time can cause a condition called “Kissing Spine” that keeps the spine rigid and inflexible.

After a sufficient warm up with the addition of a bit of canter while tracking to the right, Chasity is ready to be ridden in the Hourglass Pattern. She obediently comes out the gate and turns to me for her reward.

I politely mount, settle onto her back softly and offer her reward as I did in the Tack Barn and then in the Round Pen. She stands absolutely still.

Then we do a rein back before moving forward into the Hourglass Pattern. Contrary to popular belief, this “pattern training” will allow Chasity to concentrate on the details of tracking forward, bending and staying light in the bridle.

The arcs and turns in the Hourglass Pattern allow Chasity’s internal pendulum to swing from side to side and come to rest at dead center when she finally halts. She maintains straight lines and bends to the arcs through her rib cage.

When an equine is perpetually schooled on the rail or in too many circles in one direction and then another, this radical movement does not allow the internal pendulum to become centered and balanced.

There is an optical illusion that takes place when riding the rail that “pushes” the balance continuously to one side. Straight lines become difficult and bending will be stiff at best.

This swaying in the Hourglass Pattern from one arc to another keeps the internal pendulum moving freely from side to side while the equine moves freely forward. It produces fluid motion and relaxation in the equine.

All of this keeps the animal responsive, light in the bridle and facilitates good postural movement that results in squared halts and straight rein backs. They enjoy their work because it FEELS good!

Chasity stands still while I fish in my pocket for her final reward for a job well done! Her balance is solid!  

We then go back to the Round Pen area to retrieve Wrangler from his “spectator seat!” Wrangler and Chasity have been taught exactly and consistently the same way, so they are quite maneuverable and willing to do as I ask. I have not experienced a “balky” donkey or mule in years!

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CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Fine Tuning Chasity’s Response: 9-22-20

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In the many years of the management and training of equines, I have learned how much the details really count! I learned about how much easier things can be when you are open minded and allow your education to grow. For instance, I learned how to train without the bit and bridle, but then learned that in doing so, I was not able to control postural development in the equine’s body. Thus, I invented my “Elbow Pull” as a response to Richard Shrake’s “Rhythm Collector.” I also found out that my “Elbow Pull” could be used in conjunction with the mild Eggbutt snaffle bit in a multitude of different ways, even for tying an animal. It is practically weightless and easily slips through the bit rings for optimum adjustment while the equine is in motion. It does need to be adjusted differently with horses, but the results are amazing as you can see with Chasity’s physical improvement.

Chasity’s huge cresty neck is practically gone now and the neck sweat has not been needed since she graduated to the Round Pen. This was because I have been repetitious in the way we execute ALL movements, even going through gates, in good equine posture! When we do this, Chasity uses ALL the muscles in her body to do these moves, and in this case, stretches across her spine to pull the Supraspinous ligament back into alignment while reducing the fatty tissues with efficient metabolic circulation. She is a lot more comfortable in her body, so standing quietly is no longer an issue.

Chasity has learned her verbal commands and responds promptly and quietly. Since donkeys do not freely  exhibit as much energy as horses and mules, I only ask for five rotations at walk followed by five rotations at trot. As she is better able to keep her balance in good posture, the “Elbow Pull” remains loose, with very little tension throughout her whole workout.

Only now, instead of halting, resting and then changing direction, I do the whole exercise with a reverse in the middle for the change of direction. Her core is becoming more stable in her self-carriage. The muscles  across her spine are becoming stronger and better able to support the weight of a rider.

She is relaxed, moves freely forward and most of the time halts four-square. Since she was a bit sticky with the reverse under saddle during her last lesson, I will add a step and ask for the reverse from the ground first.

Chasity understands what I mean and backs easily upon the command to “Back.” I then walk to the other end of the Round Pen and ask her to come to me with a verbal “Come,” also using hand signals. There is nothing more important than communicating clearly.

I politely ask Chasity to “Whoa,” with my hand put up like a “Stop” sign, and then mount her while she stands still. I pay special attention to lowering my seat slowly onto her back.

As I did in the Tack Barn when I first mounted her, I lean over to both sides and offer her reward of crimped oats for standing still, sit quietly in the saddle while she chews and then asked her to first rein back. I keep my contact VERY light, with an alternating squeeze/release from my little fingers on the reins, and a backward motion from my legs and seat.

When ready to go forward, I nudge her with my legs and then WAIT for her response. If she does not move  right away, I nudge her again after waiting a few seconds. It will often take donkeys a little longer to THINK  about what you are asking. It is far more productive to give them that time. Chasity walks off obediently and  keeps her mind on her work as she passes Wrangler, waiting patiently for HIS turn!

I now add small circles randomly as we walk around the Round Pen. We pay special attention to staying erect and bending through the rib cage. I keep things slow, controlled and accurate.

We do “S” turns through the middle of the Round Pen to change direction. Speed can come later as the strength in good posture is developed and the connection to her bit remains light at all times.

I have discovered with this approach, there is hardly ever (if ever) any resistance or bad behaviors. Lessons go smoothly and safely for both of you. This is something I greatly appreciate with age!

Chasity maintains her good balance and cooperative attitude as we ride for about 15 minutes, practicing the circles,  halts, “S” turns and reverses. Chasity comes to a “square” halt. I wait quietly for a few seconds.

Then I ask Chasity for a rein back and she compies easily…still light in the bridle. I dismount and tell her how pleased I am with her. I playfully massage her upper gums to illicit a smile! They like having their gums rubbed!

It was a very satifsfying workout for us both! Chasity follows me as we exit the Round Pen and get ready for Wrangler’s turn! Allowing one animal to wait while another is worked, makes it easier to do the training. They seem to get support from their “Friends.” Occasionally working them alone as they gain confidence lets them know that being with you can always be fun and that you will always return them to their friends. This approach allows you to deepen the relationship between you, so you become as good a friend to them as their equine companions. This greatly eliminates the incidence of your equine becoming herdbound.

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Longears Music Videos: Driving

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CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Chasity’s First Ride: 9-15-20

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Chasity has come a long way since the end of March. She has worked hard and is now enjoying true strength in a balanced and correct equine posture. Her health has greatly improved as has her mental attitude. She is happy to be working with her companion Wrangler and they both enjoy being able to share their lessons. Sometimes they are walked together to the Round Pen and sometimes they are taken separately. This promotes independence while preserving their friendships with each other. I do not believe in deliberately separating my equines from their equine friends as that will only create anxiety. I want them to know that I am also a friend that they would like to spend time with or without their other companions. Sometimes they are worked alone and sometimes they are worked together. Tying one outside the Round Pen while working the other teaches them to stand quietly while tied with purposeful patience. I leave nothing to chance, so I break everything down into doable steps to promote success. Chasity is mounted in the work station first and rewarded with crimped oats from her back. This routine will keep her attention when we finally go to the Round Pen as she is mounted.

Chasity executes the gate perfectly, stands quietly to have her “Elbow Pull” adjusted and is then sent on the rail to lunge in preparation for mounting. She is now keeping her “Elbow Pull” loose at all times. Her balance and good posture is exceptional now considering her imperfect conformational restrictions.

I slow Chasity to the walk before asking her to execute a nice balanced reverse and she complies easily. It is important in the beginning to keep things slow and accurate. Speed can come later with much better results.

Chasity will now walk on command and will not change her gait until she is asked. She fully understands the verbal commands. She has smooth, upward and downward transitions as she changes gaits. She promises to be a smooth ride!

I ask Chasity for a halt and offer her a reward for a job well done! She is patient and stands quietly as I mount.

As I did in the work station, I offer her a reward from both sides. When she has finished chewing her oats, I ask her for the rein back. I use an even squeeze/release on the reins with a bit more pressure on one side and then the other as each front leg comes back. Even one step is sufficient for now. Chasity will give more with each new lesson.

Chasity walks calmly forward and I sit quietly to allow her to balance my weight. She keeps her body erect and bends through her rib cage as she executes an “S” turn through the middle to change direction. It is important to execute these moves with the lightest pull from my little fingers on the reins to encourage Chasity to become ultra-light in the bridle.

Donkeys tend to “lean” on the bit, so doing this kind of work in the Round Pen is really important if you want your donkey to be light in the bridle and respond to the lightest pressure from your seat, fingers and legs.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this. It will enhance all your donkey’s responses to your cues. Chasity executes a nice reverse and maintains her ideal balance at the walk afterwards. This is not easy for her to do with her hips being higher than her shoulders, but I am very pleased with her progress. She will only get better!

Chasity does a perfect halt, but is a bit reluctant to rein back. This move is difficult for her, so I will just take my time and accept what she has to offer. I know she is always honest in her attempts. One step is good, so I call it quits and reward her efforts.

Wrangler is outside the Round Pen waiting patiently for his “Lady Love” to complete her lesson. Then we all head back to the work station after our enjoyable time together! More lessons will promote more learning and more refined performance! We all look forward to our time together!


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LTR Training Tip #79: Seat Leg Cues

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In order for your seat and leg cues to be accurate and clear to your equine, you will need to improve stability in your own seat and balance.

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MULE CROSSING: Train Your Own Mule!

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By Meredith Hodges

Mules and donkeys are wonderful animals. They’re strong, intelligent and what a sense of humor! But training a mule or donkey is different from training a horse. They require love patience, understanding and a good reward system. Negative reinforcement should be used sparingly and only to define behavioral limits. The result is an animal that is relaxed, submissive, obedient, dependable and happy with his work.

Mule and donkey owners find it difficult to find trainers for their Longears because most horse trainers are unfamiliar with the psychological needs required by Longears to invoke positive responses from them. Those trainers who are capable are few and far between, making it difficult for inexperienced owners in remote areas to get their animals trained properly. Many people attempt to train their own animals and achieve a certain level of success despite the trials and tribulations of trial and error. This can be a long and frustrating road.

We are fortunate enough today to have all kinds of books and videos available on training Longears. However, it wasn’t that long ago when there was virtually nothing published on this subject. Those of us who were training needed to use educational resources published on horse training and modify those techniques to better suit our Longears. This still left a lot of room for trial and error…and frustration for both the trainer and the animal.

Interest in Longears has grown tremendously over the past 50 years. With this increased interest has come an increase in the numbers of animals that need to be trained each year. The few trainers who are competent with Longears could not possibly train even most of the animals that need it, even if it were geographically possible—which it isn’t. Owners usually need to travel distances to visit an animal in training, which limits their own ability to learn with their Longears. This can also become a problem when the animal returns home.

Seminars and clinics are helpful, but they cannot replace the day to day routine that helps produce a safe, obedient and dependable animal. Mules and donkeys bond to the person or persons who train and work with them. They develop a warmth and affection for them, and a desire to please and to serve. Without this bond, mules and donkeys will often comply, but without commitment to their work. Subsequently, when the pressure is on, they may “quit” on you in an instant.

Many people have complained about sending their animal to a trainer for as long as two years, only to have the animal return home and become a problem within as little as three months. It is important to take an active part in the training of your Longears. The more you can be a part of the training, the better for both you and your animal. Even if your mule or donkey is with a competent trainer, you need to plan on spending at least two days a week with your animal and the trainer so that your animal learns to trust you as well as the trainer. Being present and interactive with your animal at feeding time will solidify the trust he gains.

A lot of people ask me why I quit taking outside Longears for training here at the Lucky Three Ranch. In all honesty, I had developed a waiting list I could not possibly have fulfilled in a reasonable amount of time. I would, however, really like to see more people having fun and enjoying their Longears as much as I do. I considered doing clinics like so many trainers do, but I felt I could reach more people through a video and book training program with my technical support only a phone call away. Hence, I developed my training series, “Training Mules and Donkeys. Time and time again, my training series proves that this was a great way to reach people and help them to reach new levels of communication with their animals. People who never before had the courage nor confidence to even attempt such a thing are discovering the self satisfaction and elation of training their own mules and donkeys. Most people tell me it is the best part of their day when they can work with their animals. They are quite surprised at how easy it is to establish a routine that fits with their other weekly activities…thanks to the intelligence and forgiveness of these wonderful animals.

I had been involved with training horses most of my natural life before I began training mules at my mother’s Windy Valley Ranch in Healdsburg, California almost 40 years ago. I knew nothing of Longears at the time I started there. I tried all kinds of “suggestions” from other people and by trial and error—and a lot of resistance—I somehow managed to get a lot of mules trained, but I knew there had to be an easier way. I have to applaud the forgiveness of these mules in the face of my own impatience and ignorance. They let me know when my approach to training was unrealistic and punitive, and did so in a knowing and careful way. My lessons with them were proportionate to my mistakes, so I was lucky enough not to experience anything like head injuries or broken bones. When these kinds of injuries occur, there is something grossly wrong between the animal and the person who has been injured. It could be a lot of reasons, but the one thing of which I can be sure is that the animal acted appropriately for himself, and the problem occurred because there was a lack of communication.

When we raise our children, we begin with nurturing, love, affection and play. The way we play outlines certain behavioral limits for our children and helps them to develop and learn to socialize in a positive and healthy manner. As the child grows, family interaction helps him to define for himself his place in the world. Appropriate physical activities help the child’s body to develop in a slow and healthy way. School, in its natural and logical order helps the child to understand and learn to react appropriately in society and in the world. It helps to develop the confidence on which his self image and self worth is built. Physical activities increase with intensity, strengthening the physical well being of the child. This takes longer than 18 years. How can we, in all good conscience, expect our young Longears to develop in a healthy way, both physically and mentally, if we expect them to learn the same kinds of things in so much less time?

At first, you might think there just isn’t enough time to spend with your animal to accomplish all this, but somehow we all manage to make time for these things when we have children. We learn to experience and grow with our children, as we can also do with our animals by being realistic with our expectations at each stage of growth and training. We give ourselves the time to do this without the pressure of being hurried. There are few times in this world when we are really able to “stop and smell the roses.” Longears can afford us this very special time if you only let them. Look upon the time with your donkey or mule as you would look upon the time you spend with your child. Some days will be for learning and some for just plain fun. When there are learning days, try to make them fun and stress-free. Someday you’ll find yourself saying: “I can’t believe he has turned out to be so good. I never really felt like I was ‘training’ him!”

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.

© 2000, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2018, 2022, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

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CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Combined Groundwork: 9-1-20

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Chasity is in such good condition these days that I felt I could skip a week before engaging in her formal lessons again. She does get manual abdominal flexion exercises daily when she is fed. The beauty of postural core strength exercises is that they stay strong after the initial introductory work. It has been five months of this kind of exercise for Chasity, so if her workouts are only every other week, they are enough to sustain her strong core strength in good equine posture. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are now symmetrically strong around her skeletal frame.  I decided to start in the Round Pen to allow her to move out before engaging in the more intense lunging and ground driving in the open arena again. Her posture and movement were impeccable!

The “Elbow Pull” is now staying loose most of the time. This means she is strong and balanced in good postural self-carriage.  Her movement is confident and fluid. She executes the turns on the haunches perfectly upon command. The transformation in her whole body and strength has been exciting to witness! Her attitude has improved by leaps and bounds as her overall health improved. We are still treating the infection she has that seems to be systemic and in her glands. Our approach will be to continue a regimen of antibiotics, then when it is done, take her off of them until it appears to be trying to return. Then we will resume antibiotic treatment.

Chasity moves beautifully and stands stock still whenever we are working on her. This is a marked improvement from the “Nervous Nellie” that first arrived at the end of March this year.

After doing a bit of lunging, we are now going to review ground driving in the Round Pen before we go to the open arena for more practice. I want to get her light in the bridle now, so I begin with a rein back. Then we proceed forward at a relaxed pace.

Chasity does a very nice “S” turn through the middle for a change of direction. I try to keep my contact with her bit as light as possible, giving her cues with no more than vibrating little fingers.

Chasity is responding well to the drive lines and is getting lighter in the bridle. She halts and rein backs easily upon command to receive her reward for a job well done!

After lunging Chasity and Wrangler individually in the Round Pen, we are now headed for the dressage arena where they will each get their turn at lunging on the lunge line and ground driving. They both lead easily alone, or together, and walk in sync with me upon request. Sometimes Wrangler gets a bit distracted.

Chasity is always on alert, but does not tend to be silly about things. She remembers her lessons well and is always happy to please. I start her with the lunge line shortened and this time she does not pull at all, but stays on the circle with her intermittent squeeze/release cues from my little finger as her outside front leg comes forward and into suspension.

As she circles, I slowly let out the lunge line. I will not ask her to trot until she offers to so so. I don’t want to force speed and sacrifice precision. She is now stopping consistently in a goos balance.

After re-tying the lunge line to the bit ring on the other side, I reverse Chasity, ask her to go the other way and she complies nicely. Again, I start with a short line and let it out gradually.

At the end of several rotations, I ask her to “Whoa,” stretch down and then stand still while I roll up the lunge line and prepare to put on the drive lines. My Ranch Manager, Chad, is ready to assist with the ground driving this time after her bolting in the previous lesson when I ground drove her by myself.

I do not want Chasity to think she can run off every time we get into the open arena, so I will set her up to be successful right from the beginning with the assistant this time. She can run and play with Wrangler in turnout later. She does not seem to mind at all and is all business about her ground driving. She completed the Hourglass Pattern in one direction, crossed the diagonal and did it in the other direction and then did a very nice halt and rein back to end the lesson.

Chasity stood quietly while I removed the drive lines and rolled them up. Then we went to retrieve Wrangler from his place along the fence.  After Chasity’s turn, Wrangler got his turn at lunging on the lunge line and ground driving. Then we all headed to the gate together.

When you are consistent in the way you do things with every animal, it is easy to lead, lunge and negotiate obstacles with multiple animals because they all know what to expect and there are no abrupt changes to the routine to cause adverse behaviors. Training can be fun for EVERYONE!

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Longears Music Videos: Mules and Mommas

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MULE CROSSING: The Mule Foal

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By Meredith Hodges

Mules and donkeys have an inborn natural affinity for human beings, so raising your mule or donkey foal to accept humans can be a relatively easy task if you remember a few simple things. First and foremost, you must learn to be a willing role model and, at all times, be polite, considerate and respectful toward your foal in what you ask and how you ask it. Second, you must remember that, from the moment your foal is born, he will learn a great deal from his dam. He will spend the first five to six months with her, so if you want your foal to be friendly and cooperative, then you should first be sure that his dam is friendly and cooperative. A mule or donkey foal from a “sour,” or uncooperative dam will, despite his deeper instinct to be amicable towards humans, eventually learn to mimic her avoidance behaviors. For instance, if your mare or jennet leaves when you approach, the foal at her side eventually learns to leave as well—whether he is truly frightened or not—and this can carry over into his adulthood. That is not to say that you cannot teach the mare and her foal to both be more amicable at the same time, but it is much less time-consuming and frustrating to train your mare to be friendly and cooperative before she gives birth.

Mule foals are not too much different than human infants in their emotional needs. They require lots of attention, love, guidance and praise if they are to evolve into loving, cooperative and confident adults. In your efforts to get your young foal trained, bear in mind that he is still a child. If he is expected to fulfill too many adult responsibilities too quickly, he can become overwhelmed, frustrated and resistant. This is why it is important to allow your foal to have a childhood. You can turn this time into a learning experience by playing games with your foal that will help him to prepare for adulthood without imposing adult expectations on him when he is too young.

Mule foals love to play games and they have a tremendous sense of humor, so don’t be afraid to use your imagination in thinking up fun and interesting games to play with your foal. Once he figures out that you mean him no harm and you want to have fun, he will probably begin to follow you, even butting his nose against you to get your attention! One of my mules’ favorite games is tag. To teach your mule foal to play tag, just pet him a couple of strokes, then turn and trot away a few steps, then turn and encourage him to follow. It won’t take him long for him to figure out the game. This is especially fun for foals that do not have other foals with which to play. If your foal gets a little carried away and jumps at you, or on you, a firm tap of your palm on his nose, and a loud “No!” will define for him the limitations of the game and bad habits should not result. Directly after he has been disciplined, be sure to let him know his infraction has been corrected and forgotten, and encourage more play.

The first component of developing a well-adjusted adult mule is to establish a routine that will give your mule foal a sense of security and trust in you. Having a definite feeding schedule can help a lot. If you take a few minutes each morning and evening to scratch and pet your foal while your foal’s dam is eating and after he has finished nursing, he will associate you with a very pleasurable experience. If his dam is busy eating, she will be less likely to think about running off with him. If your animals are on pasture, a short visit once or twice a day with a ration of oats and plenty of petting while paying special attention to the intensity of your touch on his body will accomplish the same thing.

Once you have developed a routine, always pay close attention to your foal’s likes and dislikes. Each foal is different and has definite ways he likes to be touched and definite places on his body from where he derives pleasure. By touching, stroking and scratching him all over his body, you can easily discover his preferences. If he expresses a dislike for any particular touch, either modify it or discontinue it. Usually, once a foal has experienced the pleasurable sensation of your hands on his upper body, moving down to his legs should pose little or no problem. When he has grown accustomed to your touch on his legs, he will, as a rule, allow you to pick up his feet for short periods of time. All that I have mentioned thus far should be done while your foal is free and unconstrained because it should be his choice to stay with you. If he is tied or constrained in any manner while you touch him, he could become distracted, tense and frightened, and you could be perceived as a threat, which will produce resistant behavior.

Mules are usually about one or more years behind horses in their overall development. For this reason, it is unadvisable to begin formal driving or under-saddle groundwork training in a mule’s second year. During his first year, for good posture and balance, spend plenty of time on leading training, both on the flat ground and over obstacles. Don’t get in too much of a hurry to ride and drive him. At two years of age, your young mule is still a rambunctious child and will not necessarily take too kindly to being restrained or overwhelmed with adult tasks. Mules often seem like they are able and willing at two years old, but, because he is not yet fully physically developed, his resistance could prove to be injurious to him in the long run (not only mentally, but physically as well). It is better to teach only the simplest lessons at this age. Teach lessons that naturally follow the first year’s leading training exercises (lunging and ground-driving first in the round pen, and then in the open arena).

When your mule gets a little older and is ready to be halter broken, you can use your pleasurable status with him to your advantage. First, halter him and tie him to a fence with a safety knot (see DVD #1 n my Training Mules and Donkeys series). Leave him like this each day after breakfast for about half an hour, making sure to return to him every ten minutes. Each time you return, if he doesn’t become tense and struggle, untie him and ask him to follow you. If he refuses, just tie him up again and come back again ten minutes later and try again. If he comes with you, even if it is only one step the first time, take his halter off and play with him for a little while and then end the lesson. This will maintain your pleasurable status with your foal while he learns the things he will need to know as a young adult.  In the next lesson you can ask for more steps before playing and ending the lesson

Once he leads fairly well, you can add the game of obstacles to begin to change his fear to curiosity (you can work on perfecting his technique over obstacles later in the year). Any chance you get, take your foal with you and discover things together while he’s on the lead line. If he becomes frightened, put yourself between him and the obstacle and allow him plenty of time to investigate the situation. When he does show curiosity rather than fear, encourage him to come forward and investigate further, then pet and praise him when he touches the obstacle with his nose. If he has been weaned and is now eating solid food, offer the oats reward. If he learns to stop and investigate potentially scary obstacles in this way as a youngster, he will be more apt to trust your judgment as an adult and will be a curious rather than a frightened animal. Just be sure to always let him know that everything is all right and that you are there to protect him whenever necessary.

When handling your mule foal, always be sure to give him time to relax and accept a situation…and he probably will. Never get in a hurry and do not try to force anything—or your foal will be happy to oblige you with more resistance than you ever imagined possible! And remember, you can catch more flies with sugar than you can with vinegar, so go out there and have a good time with your little longeared pal. He’ll be glad to be your best friend if you learn how to be his best friend.

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

© 1991, 2016, 2018, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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LTR Training Tip #78: Transitions

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Transitions in your equine’s gait, speed or direction should always be smooth and fluid and not bouncy.

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MULE CROSSING: Achieving Balance and Harmony

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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.

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.

© 1992, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

TT 77

LTR Training Tip #77: Simple and Flying Lead Changes

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Correctly done Flying Lead Changes should take place simultaneously, so it is important to build strength and balance through Simple Lead Changes before even attempting Flying Lead Changes.

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Longears Music Videos: Up, Up and Away: Jumping

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MULE CROSSING: Jumping Mules

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By Meredith Hodges

In 1986, when I first began using my mules in Dressage, you would never have convinced me that I would follow it up with jumping. I was fearful of jumping because of a few bad experiences I had with horses. However, once I took the time to learn to ride and train properly with Dressage and experienced the overall stability of a mule, my fear disappeared.

Nowadays, when people find out that I jump my mules, the response is often, “I didn’t know mules could jump!” Not only can mules jump, they are quite good at it. However, if a mule or any other equine is to have the strength and coordination they need for jumping, their training must be approached in a specific, practical and healthy way. Then they can learn to maintain good rhythm in all gaits between jumps, to jump only as high as needed to clear fences, and to adjust their strides to and away from jumps. Proper jumping training takes time and patience because there is much more to jumping than just making it over the fences.

If you speak to mule owners all over the world, you will hear at least one tale in ten about a mule jumping out of his pen. If they have the inclination, most mules have the ability to easily clear a fence up to and even over six feet high. The capability is certainly there, but in general, mules lack the motivation to expend the energy to actually jump out.

The muscle structure of a mule is a bit different than that of a horse—somewhat like the difference between the muscle structure of a ballet dancer and a weight lifter. A mule’s muscle structure (like that of a ballet dancer’s) is comprised of longer, smoother muscle with less bulky areas, a trait inherited from the donkey. This gives him a slightly more streamlined appearance than that of a horse. And like a ballet dancer, a mule can spring his body effortlessly into the air using the muscles in his hindquarters, giving him the ability to jump either from a standstill or while in motion. For the weight lifter or the horse, this maneuver is not as easy due to their particular muscle structure. So when selecting a horse for advanced jumping, it is wise to select a breed or type of horse that has less bulk muscle and more smooth muscle, like the mule.

When riding toward a jump, a mule’s approach can often interfere with his coursework because his impulse is usually to gallop to the jump, stop and then spring over the top. Horses, on the other hand, tend to naturally do their coursework more smoothly and in stride. The mule can learn to jump in stride if given the correct schooling to overcome his instinctive way of going.

Regardless of the mule’s inherent strength and endurance, in the beginning of jumping training, he will lack the muscle development and stamina required to negotiate a course of jumps effortlessly and in stride. Like any other living creature, he can only strengthen the muscles that he uses, so it is up to you to make sure he is doing specific exercises that pinpoint the correct sets of muscles so he can do his job over the jumps, between the jumps, before and after the jumps. These three tasks require different postures that need to be supported by different muscle groups, so work on training and strengthening the specific exercises as outlined in DVD #7 of my Training Mules and Donkeys series. A proper conditioning program of exercises for your mule will strengthen the muscles needed for jumping and will prepare him for a more polished performance. This is also a good opportunity to fine-tune all the muscles in your own body as you fine-tune those of your mule or any other equine.

While training your equine to jump, you must ask yourself some very important questions. Does my animal possess the strength of body to carry him from the hindquarters with sufficient impulsion, rhythm and balance? Can he readily lengthen or shorten his stride to accommodate the distance to his fences? Are these adjustments easily made, or does my equine tend to throw his weight onto his forehand during transitions between gaits and over fences? Remember, the animal that is well schooled in jumping will carry his body with ease and make smooth transitions from an uphill balance.

There are a series of exercises that will help to build your prospect into a beautiful, stylish and exciting jumper, but it will take time and patience— there just aren’t any shortcuts. Taking the time and exercising your patience will produce not only an animal that jumps properly, but one that is also strong and confident in his abilities. This can come in mighty handy later on when you find yourself in more demanding jumping situations. Having taught your equine to jump safely, you will have a more pleasurable and stress-free ride.

When initially riding a mule over jumps, you will notice the slightly “different” way that he feels in action, compared to a horse. If you are used to jumping horses, this may seem a little odd at first but you will soon find that the mule feels more sure and stable. To me, a mule seems more balanced and stronger throughout than does a horse, and so the chance of taking a misstep or crashing a jump is lessened. Should a loss of balance or error occur, the mule is usually able to more quickly recover than the horse, making for a safer ride.

For those of you who still don’t believe that mules can really jump, all I can say is, believe it! More than a few retired cavalry officers have personally told me about Hambone, the infamous jumping mule from Fort Carson, Colorado. They’ve also told me about jumping their mules Roman-style, which means standing with one foot on the rear end of each of a pair of mules while doing patterns and jumping obstacles!

Today, mules are jumped in all kinds of events, from Combined Training to Hunter/Jumper classes. Jumping mules adds excitement and variety to training events and events where mules jump in competition under saddle against each other, and even against horses. Coon hunters often display the mule’s natural ability to jump from a standstill by jumping them in-hand over fences, either on hunts or at shows, and some mule owners even try their luck at Fox Hunting. By any standards, the mule’s capacity to jump is unquestionable, and there is no doubt he will continue to climb the ladder of equine success.

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.

© 2016, 2017, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

Chasitys Challenges Yearly Baths 7 14 20 9

CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Yearly Baths: 7-14-20

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Each year, I try to pick the hottest week in July to do the equine’s yearly baths. The mules and horses have shed out their winter coats, except for a strip of hair on the mules’ bellies, and the donkeys are getting closer to being completely shed out. This makes a difference when you are trying to get them dry after their baths. They all begin to grow their winter coats in September.

Their natural hair coats will insulate them from the heat and cold and will protect them from insects, so I do not advise clipping them unless you are showing. Even then, it is not advisable to clip the hair inside of the ears! I bath as many as four at a time and in smaller friendly groups like Wrangler and his “Lady Love,” Chasity! I am polite, considerate and respectful, so it is always an enjoyable experience for all! I begin with the introduction to the hose on their front legs.

Wrangler and Chasity enjoy their yearly baths to get off the dirt that has built up during the year. I offer a drink to their lips and afterwards move to their foreheads, being careful not to get water in their eyes or ears. I spray the water gently into their mouths and we “water pick” the teeth! Playful antics like this teach them to always remain calm and keep things safe between us. This keeps interest to a maximum and intimidation to a minimum.

When they are approached in this manner, Chasity and Wrangler can enjoy the cool water on a hot day! Chasity knows I am being careful and doesn’t pull away, then takes a sip from the hose.

I reward Chasity with crimped oats from my fanny pack for being such a good girl. Then I rinse off the oats that were stuck to her whiskers as she gazes at the other equines in the pens nearby who are anxiously awaiting their turns.

Her attention returns to me and I work my way up her forehead to her forelock and ears. I make sure the spray is light and doesn’t sting so she will keep her ears laid back for the rinsing. I would hate to get water in Chasity’s ears, but if by accident I do, I just back off and allow her to shake her head to get the water out before I resume.

We use Tres Semme (Breakage Defense) shampoo and Aussie 3X Conditioner on the manes and tails only, and just water on their bodies to keep their hair coats from drying out. In the case of Chasity’s white legs, I will use the shampoo and conditioner there, too. The result is a healthy and shiny hair coat year round.

I spray the water over their bodies and then follow up with the serrated side of the shedding blade to scrape the dirt from their body. I keep going over each spot until the water runs clear. I pay special attention to the legs and any places that flies might have laid eggs. I will scrape these places with a stiff brush or with my fingernails and apply Neosporin to these spots, and any sores, after they are dry. I scrape off the excess water with the smooth side of the shedding blade. Then Chasity and Wrangler are put on the hot walker to dry.

When Wrangler and Chasity are dry, I sprinkle Johnson’s Baby oil in the manes and tails and spray for flies with Farnam Tri-Tech 14. The baby oil will keep them from chewing on each other’s manes and tails. Those who have sensitive skin around their eyes will receive fly masks. Chasity and Wrangler do not need them. When entering or leaving an area, we ALWAYS execute gates exactly the same way! That way, there is no confusion and chaos that could result in resistant behaviors.

Chasity and all my equines always know exactly what is expected and know exactly what they need to do.

Chasity will be rewarded with her favorite crimped oats for her cooperative behavior. Good manners, and being polite and respectful are paramount to getting your equine’s full cooperation! Even if Chasity does go right out into her pen and roll afterwards, she always seems to enjoy having clean, healthy skin and hair. And, most of all, she enjoys her time with me and looks forward to the next time!

Chasitys Challenges Yearly Baths 7 14 20 3

CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Yearly Baths: 7-14-20

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Each year, I try to pick the hottest week in July to do the equine’s yearly baths. The mules and horses have shed out their winter coats, except for a strip of hair on the mules’ bellies, and the donkeys are getting closer to being completely shed out. This makes a difference when you are trying to get them dry after their baths. They all begin to grow their winter coats in September.

Their natural hair coats will insulate them from the heat and cold and will protect them from insects, so I do not advise clipping them unless you are showing. Even then, it is not advisable to clip the hair inside of the ears! I bath as many as four at a time and in smaller friendly groups like Wrangler and his “Lady Love,” Chasity! I am polite, considerate and respectful, so it is always an enjoyable experience for all! I begin with the introduction to the hose on their front legs.

Wrangler and Chasity enjoy their yearly baths to get off the dirt that has built up during the year. I offer a drink to their lips and afterwards move to their foreheads, being careful not to get water in their eyes or ears. I spray the water gently into their mouths and we “water pick” the teeth! Playful antics like this teach them to always remain calm and keep things safe between us. This keeps interest to a maximum and intimidation to a minimum.

When they are approached in this manner, Chasity and Wrangler can enjoy the cool water on a hot day! Chasity knows I am being careful and doesn’t pull away, then takes a sip from the hose.

I reward Chasity with crimped oats from my fanny pack for being such a good girl. Then I rinse off the oats that were stuck to her whiskers as she gazes at the other equines in the pens nearby who are anxiously awaiting their turns.

Her attention returns to me and I work my way up her forehead to her forelock and ears. I make sure the spray is light and doesn’t sting so she will keep her ears laid back for the rinsing. I would hate to get water in Chasity’s ears, but if by accident I do, I just back off and allow her to shake her head to get the water out before I resume.

We use Tres Semme (Breakage Defense) shampoo and Aussie 3X Conditioner on the manes and tails only, and just water on their bodies to keep their hair coats from drying out. In the case of Chasity’s white legs, I will use the shampoo and conditioner there, too. The result is a healthy and shiny hair coat year round.

I spray the water over their bodies and then follow up with the serrated side of the shedding blade to scrape the dirt from their body. I keep going over each spot until the water runs clear. I pay special attention to the legs and any places that flies might have laid eggs. I will scrape these places with a stiff brush or with my fingernails and apply Neosporin to these spots, and any sores, after they are dry. I scrape off the excess water with the smooth side of the shedding blade. Then Chasity and Wrangler are put on the hot walker to dry.

When Wrangler and Chasity are dry, I sprinkle Johnson’s Baby oil in the manes and tails and spray for flies with Farnam Tri-Tech 14. The baby oil will keep them from chewing on each other’s manes and tails. Those who have sensitive skin around their eyes will receive fly masks. Chasity and Wrangler do not need them. When entering or leaving an area, we ALWAYS execute gates exactly the same way! That way, there is no confusion and chaos that could result in resistant behaviors.

Chasity and all my equines always know exactly what is expected and know exactly what they need to do.

Chasity will be rewarded with her favorite crimped oats for her cooperative behavior. Good manners, and being polite and respectful are paramount to getting your equine’s full cooperation! Even if Chasity does go right out into her pen and roll afterwards, she always seems to enjoy having clean, healthy skin and hair. And, most of all, she enjoys her time with me and looks forward to the next time!

TT 76

LTR Training Tip #76: Canter Under Saddle in the Open Arena

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Starting your equine at canter in an open arena requires a systematic and simple approach to sustain good balance and posture.

 

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CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: Ground Driving Chasity: 7-7-20

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Chasity continues to improve. We have cut the size of her obese, cresty neck by 70%. Her back is finally elevated. The spinal and abdominal muscles are much better conditioned and support her good posture. She has come a long way. She is submissive to the “Elbow Pull” and ready to begin her combination exercises in Lunging and Ground Driving. Chasity is happy that she gets to do these exercises with her “boyfriend,” Wrangler! He is her inspiration. They are so funny together!

Chasity executes the gate perfectly and then stops to pose for a picture with me. Then we adjust her “Elbow Pull” and make sure she flexes at the poll to submit. This self-correcting restraint will provide resistance if she tries to carry her head too high which would result in hollowing her neck and back, and thus, compromising her good equine posture.

Once everything is adjusted on Chasity and Wrangler, we pose for a picture. Then they both go obediently to the rail and begin work at the walk. I have added the reins to Wrangler’s bridle to keep him from carrying his head too low. That is not an issue with Chasity. It is not usually a problem with with Wrangler either, but it is in the nineties today and very hot. Wrangler gets very lazy in the heat!

They are both stepping out nicely and exhibiting a pretty fair “working walk.” After five rotations at the walk, I ask for the trot. They are both stepping well underneath their centers of gravity and Chasity is submitting to the pressure from the “Elbow Pull.” This means she is in better equine posture with improving self-carriage.

After five rotations at the trot, I ask them for a halt and they are prompt in their response. They are rewarded and then proceed forward and after one rotation, I ask them to reverse. It is the best reverse yet!

I am so proud of Chasity! She is really holding her good posture nicely for prolonged periods of time now, even at the trot!

Chasity is gaining a lot of core strength and power to her gaits. The halts are mostly square on the landing and do not need to be corrected. Chasity is finally learning to use her hindquarters properly and she is no longer getting locked up in the right hip joint. It is now adequately supported symmetrically by the core elements: muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissue. Her joints operate correctly and will not wear irregularly.

After five rotations at walk and then trot in the opposite direction, Chasity was finally ready for her first Ground Driving lesson! When asked, she walked off nicely.

I had Ground Driven Wrangler first, so Chasity got to see what this was all about. She submitted softly to the lines and remained “on the bit” as we walked along. She turned easily when asked to do the “S” turn through the middle of the Round Pen.

But suddenly, we had a “Donkey Moment” when she abruptly bolted toward Wrangler! I let the lines slide through my hands, hoping she would slow down…but she didn’t! I dug my heels into the ground to try to stop her, holding the lines with just one hand so I wouldn’t lose my balance. Wrangler just dropped in behind her at the walk.

Chasity was at a fast trot around Wrangler when he decided to help me by leaning his body into the lines. This put more pressure on her bit and helped me to get her slowed down…Thanks, Wrangler!!!

Once she had slowed down, Wrangler moved away and allowed me to turn her into the rail and ask for a reverse to the right. Chasity calmed down immediately and decided to comply with my wishes… thankfully!

Chasity was still full of energy, but submitted to the pressure on the lines as I walked behind her in sync with her hind legs. I slowly crept back up the lines with my hands and got a bit closer to her hindquarters

Then I asked Chasity for the halt and a few steps of the reinback…not too many steps at first. I rewarded her efforts with a handful of crimped oats. Her first time on the drive lines had gone very well indeed… even WITH the “Donkey Moment!” It’s always good to keep your sense of humor when working with donkeys and be ready to be VERY patient! Donkeys need to process things THEIR WAY!

LTREclipse2CC

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

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By Meredith Hodges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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