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By Meredith Hodges
You can often tell a horse what to do, but you have to ask a mule. Mules and donkeys are intelligent, sensitive and affectionate animals. Although they have been stereotyped as stubborn and difficult to control, members of the equine family can actually be quite responsive and compliant when they’re handled properly. Their intelligence, strength and natural athleticism make them well suited for virtually any equine activity or sport. With proper training and care, they bond closely with humans and make wonderful companions.
To work successfully with these bright, inquisitive animals is to understand the ways in which they differ from horses. Mules derive the best physical and psychological traits from both the horse and the donkey. Once you understand both the donkey half and the horse half, you’ll be well on your way to a successful relationship with your long-eared partner.
Redeeming Characteristics of Longears
The modern donkey is descended from the Nubian Wild Ass of North Africa.
Domesticated around 3,000 B.C. and has served man well ever since. Donkeys are surefooted, durable and have incredible strength for their size. They are very sociable animals and enjoy the company of their own kind, people and some other animals. They will most likely chase an animal that is smaller than them, so management must include careful consideration when they are in close proximity to smaller animals. Unlike horses, in the face of perceived danger, donkeys are inclined to freeze or hide rather than flee. However, mules being part horse and part donkey will either freeze or flee.
Mules inherit their instinct for self-preservation from the donkey, along with their innate intelligence and a number of unique physical traits. Mules may be either male or female and are primarily sterile. Horses have 64 chromosomes and donkeys have 62 chromosomes. The resulting offspring called a mule generally has 63 chromosomes, an uneven pairing, missing the conception pair. On occasion, some molly mules have conceived to jacks and stallions and have produced offspring as was the case in America with “Old Beck” and “Krause,” but this is rare. Typically, a mule foal will grow to the size of its dam, although he may be two inches taller or two inches shorter. Both mules and horses are very strong, but the mule has smoother muscling and more endurance and strength for its size. Mules also eat less, are less susceptible to parasites and disease, and will typically live longer than horses. “Hybrid vigor” gives mules some advantages over their equine cousins, but only proper management, care and training will enable them to reach their full potential.
Physical and Mental Conditioning
Mules and donkeys will bond most closely with the person who trains them. Work with your equine one-on-one to build that critical bond of trust between the two of you. Remember that patience, kindness and consideration will determine the success or failure of your training program. Longears can be obedient and reliable when they feel you have their best interests at heart. If you treat them harshly, you’ll encounter resistance at every turn. Mules and donkeys have an incredibly strong sense of self-preservation and will not do anything that they perceive is dangerous to their health.
Ideally, you’ll have the opportunity to work with your mule or donkey from the time he is born. However, regardless of your animal’s age or ability, it is critical that you always begin your training with imprinting, carefully planned, adequate groundwork and work forward in a logical and sequential way that will naturally make sense and is doable for the equine at every stage. Be sure to work with a knowledgeable trainer and use a comprehensive training program such as I offer. Begin with the basics and don’t skip any steps. The training information included in my training and management program is geared toward mules and donkeys, but also pertains to all equines. Generally speaking, it’s best to add an extra measure of patience, creativity and good humor when you work with a donkey.
Like all children, a mule foal will take after his parents to some extent. Be careful when you select a mare for breeding. Be sure she possesses correct conformation and a nice, calm mare sets the example for a nice, calm baby. From the time of his birth, pay attention to the way you touch your foal and his mother to make them both comfortable with your presence. This is called “imprinting.” A good time to practice imprinting in the beginning is at feeding time. Pick up the foal’s feet while he is unrestrained and touch, scratch and stroke him all over to discover what he does and doesn’t like. Give him time to relax and get comfortable with you. Let him choose to be with you, and you’ll find that is where he will prefer to be.
This is also a good time to introduce the concept of the “reward.” Offer his dam a reward of crimped oats when she comes to you. Your foal will see his mother’s acceptance and will learn to do the same. He is most likely already eating the oats with his dam if he readily accepts the oats. A consistent system of appropriate and prompt reward is a crucial part of your foal’s life-long resistance-free training program. Mules and donkeys will work harder for a pleasurable payoff and a handful of crimped oats serves the purpose best for equines.
At the beginning of training, you should offer rewards often, although only after a requested task is performed or assimilated. This will strengthen the bond between you and encourage good behavior. If your equine pulls away, don’t chase him. Simply let go of the rope, reins, drivelines, etc., and offer him oats when he returns to you. Your task is to be clear in your intent, fair in your expectations and prompt with rewards when tasks or assimilations are completed. When your animal understands which behaviors result in a reward, those behaviors will be repeated. This is called “Behavior Modification.”
Mule foals are not much different than human babies when it comes to their need for attention, love, guidance and praise. Giving your foal plenty of time to be a “kid” will help him as he grows, and playtime can do double duty if you play games that give him a sense of security, set boundaries and build the trust between you.
Once your foal is comfortable with being handled, you should be able to halter him with little trouble. Feeding time is a good time to start. Teach your foal about the halter and leading while he is still young. You’ll be using halters and lead ropes with him all his life and carefully planned leading exercises are critical to your equine’s core muscles development in good equine posture. The balance he attains will serve him well as his tasks become more difficult. This makes for a more pleasurable experience between you.
Tying your foal comes next and is comprised of a series of brief, methodical lessons. First, halter your foal with the mare tied nearby. Attach a thick cotton lead rope to his halter and tie him to a stout hitching post using a safety knot. Be sure to use a flat nylon webbed halter to avoid undue pressure points on his face and to prevent breakage. Approach him every 10 minutes and wait for him to slacken the rope before you release him. Keep lessons to no more than 30 minutes and repeat for as many days as necessary until he doesn’t pull back. Once he’s standing quietly, you can brush him with a soft brush and pick up his feet. He may struggle a bit at first, but as long as he isn’t hurting himself, he’ll be learning how to “stay cool.”
When you can easily halter and tie your foal, and he ceases to pull back upon your approach, untie him and ask him to follow. If he refuses, just tie him up again, wait 10 minutes, untie him and ask him again. When he finally follows you for a few steps, praise and reward him, so he knows he’s doing well. There’s no need to jerk, pull hard or hit his rump. Keep your voice calm and use the simple command to “Walk on.” Be patient, work with him and reward him when he does what you ask.
When he walks when you say, “Walk” and stops when you say, “Whoa,” you’re ready to do more. Keep verbal commands VERY SIMPLE in the beginning. Always hold the lead rope in your left hand while standing on his left side (the “near side”), and point in the direction of travel with your right hand to keep him in proper position with his head at your shoulder. Look where you are going and match your steps with his front legs. Your foal should stop when you verbally say “Whoa” and he feels the resistance of a slight drag on the lead rope. Always stop with your feet together and he will learn to do the same. When he stops, ask him to square up such that he has equal weight over all four feet with the front and rear legs standing together. He should stand straight and still on a loose lead to receive his reward.
Until now, you’ve kept your foal in a confined area such as a corral or paddock. Now you can move to a larger area, keeping in mind that this will affect his behavior. Use a calm reassuring voice to let him know that everything’s okay as you introduce him to simple obstacles. Use the lead rope to guide him through each obstacle. If he gets frightened, put yourself between the obstacle and your equine. Keep tension on the lead rope and give him plenty of time to investigate each new object. Encourage him to move forward by showing him the oats reward and then praise him with the reward when he touches the obstacle with his nose. We are trying to change his fear into curiosity. This is a time for positive interaction between the two of you. Take your foal with you often to discover new things together. Teach him to trust your judgment during training now and he will trust you always.
Once your animal will stand calmly when tied and willingly follows you over and around different obstacles, you can then introduce him to the trailer. If you’ve built a trusting relationship with him, he should load with little or no resistance. Never get in a hurry! It will only take longer. If he refuses to cooperate with a reward as an enticement, you might need to make use of a lunge line and whip used as described in my books and DVDs in conjunction with the reward.
Mules are typically about a year or more behind horses in their overall development. Even at two years of age, your mule is still growing and the cartilage in his joints is still soft and being shaped. He is a rambunctious youngster and not inclined to be easily restrained. Because the cartilage is soft, he’s more susceptible to physical and psychological injury at this stage, so proceed with caution—only the simplest of leading lessons is appropriate at this point.
Basics of Resistance-Free Training
During these early lessons, some discipline may be required. If your youngster gets a little bold and jumps or nips at you or kicks, you must correct the behavior so it doesn’t become a bad habit. With the flat of your hand, give him a brisk slap on the side of mouth if he bites or on the rump if he kicks, and in a strong voice say, “No!” Then continue to play with him so he knows that everything is okay. When an older animal tries to bite you, slap him on the side of the mouth and very loudly say, “No!” and then raise your hand like a stop sign in front of his face. He will raise his head, begin to turn to the side and be ready to leave, or simply will back up. Immediately take a step toward him, tell him, “Good boy,” and reward him for giving you your space. Be consistent and use only the word “No” to correct him. Correcting kicking through training is covered in DVD #2 of my resistance-free training series, Training Mules and Donkeys.
It’s very important to understand that negative behaviors on your part, such as yelling and hitting, when used in isolation, don’t really work with any equine. Abusive behavior will shut the animal down, pushing him into a freeze response and severing the connection between you. If there is any opportunity to do so, he will simply leave you standing alone.
In rare cases when negative reinforcement is required, always immediately follow the negative correction with positive verbal praise and a reward him when the he responds to the correction. He may test you again, but a raised hand and verbal, “No!” should curb the behavior. He should back off and wait for the reward. When being disciplined for aggressive behavior in the future, you should only have to raise your hand like a stop sign and say “No!” If the slap was done smartly the first time, he should automatically take a step back and wait for his reward.
Set the stage for success to encourage good behavior. Just as you’ve established a feeding schedule, also design a training routine. Equines will work better when they know what is expected. Set up a workstation where you start each lesson.
Each day that you train, always bring your animal to the designated work station. Tie him, then groom him and tack up. At the end of each lesson, return to the workstation to un-tack and groom.
Ideally, you should have a round pen, arena and obstacle course to work in, but whatever facilities you have, be sure that the training and grooming areas are clean and safe. The familiarity will keep him calm and receptive.
Also get in the habit of covering everything your mule or donkey has previously learned before going on to something new. A quick review will boost his confidence and prepare him to go on to the next level.
Athletic Conditioning for Optimum Performance
Training begins by building a positive relationship with your animal, establishing a consistent reward system, and maintaining a safe, comfortable environment. Another often-overlooked but critical component is the need to physically condition your equine, so he can safely do whatever you ask of him. This is probably the toughest part of training. Our inclination is to rush through the basics to get to the “fun stuff,” but without thorough athletic conditioning with balance and strength in good equine posture, your animal simply won’t have the physical capacity to properly do what you ask. On the contrary, he’ll be more prone to injury and more likely to develop behavioral problems.
The work to develop core muscles, tendons and ligaments in good equine posture doesn’t start in the round pen—it begins on the lead line. Showmanship work on the lead line helps to develop strength and balance on the flat ground, in a controlled situation. Leading over obstacles adds coordination to the strength and balance. Take plenty of time at each leading stage of training before moving your animal to the round pen to learn balance at all three gaits on the circle. It takes months to develop muscles.
Physical loss of balance is the biggest problem in under-conditioned animals and the most common cause of bad behavior. When you design your training program to fully develop muscles, tendons and ligaments in good equine posture, your equine will feel good all over and be more willing to comply. Stretching is also important for the equine athlete—young or old. Make sure you incorporate appropriate passive and active stretches throughout your training program to protect your animal from injury. It takes years for an equine to grow and develop properly. Give him the benefit of patience, kindness, respect and proper care, and you’ll both reap the rewards.
Breeding and Training for Performance
When you think of mules and donkeys, activities such as driving, packing and trail riding probably come to mind. But these days, mules, in particular, perform in an amazing variety of events including Reining, roping, Pleasure classes, Endurance events, Hunter classes, Jumping and even Dressage and Combined Training. In fact, in 2004, the United States Equestrian Federation voted to allow mules into their Dressage Division with provisions.
Better breeding, better training and renewed interest bolstered the popularity of Longears as pets and performance animals in modern times. By selecting your mare carefully, you can help to determine your animal’s athletic potential. Choose the breed of mare that most closely exemplifies talent in the specific events that you desire. By choosing and adhering to a comprehensive, sequential training program, you can help your equine to reach his potential in a way that keeps him healthy and happy.
Regardless of how you plan to use your mule, basic Showmanship training lays the foundation for all future training. In Showmanship, your mule or donkey must learn to follow your shoulder at a walk and a trot, stand squarely and quietly, and do a turn-on-the-haunches. Each time you lead your mule, do it as if you were in a Showmanship class. The walk to and from the barn or pasture is THE place to start.
After you and your mule master Showmanship, you can begin to vary your training routine. For example, you might practice showmanship one day, rest the next, work with obstacles the next day, rest for a day, go for a trail walk, rest and then add lunging and so on. Your mule needs time to think, so keep it fun for both of you. Keep your expectations reasonable and remember that short, frequent lessons (20-40 minutes) with a day’s rest in between are better than long, repetitive drills. Also, understand that disobedience is an honest response to YOU and what you’re asking. If you’re not getting the response you want, ask a different way.
Training for Saddle
After you have built core strength in good equine posture on the lead rope, and after your equine has finally learned to stay erect while bending his body through the rib cage during turns as he walks at your shoulder, he is now ready to move on to the round pen for lessons in lunging on the large circle. This is where he will learn more complex verbal commands and where he will begin to develop bulk muscle, balance, rhythm and cadence through the walk, trot and canter on the circle.
Begin lunging your mule in the round pen first in the bridle, and then in the bridle and saddle for ten-minute intervals. Then add the “Elbow Pull” to put him in his proper postural frame to correctly develop his muscles. Follow your trainer’s instructions about body language as you practice at all three gaits and the reverse. When you and your mule have perfected your lunging technique, you’re ready for ground driving in the round pen.
Ground driving builds your mule’s confidence and teaches him the fundamentals of riding without the stress of a rider. Here, the animal learns verbal and rein cues from the drive lines that set the stage for more advanced resistance-free training. You will begin to develop the synchronization of your own body with his by following the steps he takes with his back legs. Then when you ride, your seat will be more flexible and better able to follow the motion of your equine’s body. If your goal is to ride your Longears, keep in mind that these animals mature more slowly than horses. A Longears might not be physically or mentally ready to carry a rider until he’s four years old. When your equine is physically prepared, comfortable with the saddle and bridle, and proficient in lunging and ground driving, he will then be ready to ride.
You will need to give your animal plenty of time to adjust to new sensations and directions. Always wear a helmet and work with an assistant until you’re confident your equine can calmly walk, trot and lope with you on board, first in the round pen and then in the open arena. As your animal advances, remember to work on your own “Horsemanship” techniques and the accuracy of your aids – your hands, seat and legs.
Driving your equine can be great fun, but driving is very different from riding and the details are paramount. Driving can be hazardous for you and your animal, not to mention whatever or whomever is in your path. Choose an appropriate prospect—one who will stay fairly calm in the face of new situations. If you’re inexperienced, be sure to work with a trainer before setting off on your own.
Of course, before you tack up, you’ll need to desensitize your animal to the sound and feel of the harness, blinders and other equipment. Take your time and follow your trainer’s instructions carefully. Be careful because too much desensitization can cause your equine to become bored and disinterested. Instead, use the introductory techniques you used in leading training and appeal to his natural curiosity and sense of adventure to bolster his confidence.
Once he’s comfortable with the equipment, practice lunging and ground driving your equine in harness. Eventually, you can add a PVC pole to mimic the shaft, then a drag (such as an old tire) for weight, then a travois of two poles and a crosspiece. Clear verbal commands are positively essential here. Used in combination with the drive lines and a suitable driving whip, they will be your primary means of communication. Take your time and remember that each individual animal is different. Safety should always be your primary concern. The “fun stuff” will come in time.
Importance of Logical and Sequential Training
This article is only an overview of my resistance-free training basics for all equines and especially for mules and donkeys. If you’re serious about working with any of these smart, strong and intelligent animals, you’ll need to invest in a complete training program. Any equine training program worth its salt will address not only the exercises and assimilations required for performance, but also the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the animal.
Even abused or neglected animals can be rehabilitated using resistance-free training methods that include slow and methodical body conditioning. With love and patience, mistreated animals can learn to trust again and injured animals can recover enough to thrive. Training an equine should be like making a friend—it’s something no one else can do for you, and the experience teaches you as much about yourself as it does about your animal. So, remember to keep it fun and enjoy the journey.
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.
© 2008, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.
After doing her Hourglass Pattern exercises, first one way and then the other, we opted to add some variety to the workout by adding some straight forward obstacles. In our indoor arena, I have an open space of 60’ X 120’ and a 45’ round pen at the end of the arena in another 60’ X 60’ fenced off space. Around the outside perimeter of the round pen in that area, I put my obstacles. I have found that there is less margin of error learning obstacles in a confined space to add coordination to their core strength in good equine posture. They can learn to pay more attention and to be more meticulous in their execution of the obstacles. This is a helpful way to begin with obstacles. The first obstacle for Chasity was the gate!
After going through the gate and standing stock still while I latched it, we proceeded to the bridge. I was pleasantly surprised when she allowed me to stop her with only her front feet on the bridge. This is generally a Stage Two move in my program since obstacles are used for coordination. Most equines are so uncoordinated that they just want to keep walking over and through the obstacles without stopping at first. Good for Chasity!
Chasity then carefully walked up onto the bridge with all four feet and halted on command! This was going much better than I had expected!
When I asked her to square up, she got a bit skewed to the side on the bridge, but she was nevertheless squared up, just not in line with the bridge. So I took it and rewarded her effort.We can do better the next time.
Then we got off the bridge and I squared her up again. Then…I introduced her to the tractor tire.
She looked at it…wasn’t afraid of it…walked around it…
…and looked at it again. She was clearly NOT going to put her foot in the middle of that tire! I decided to quit while we were ahead and try again next time. Because I didn’t push her, she consented to walking through the smaller tires…
…tentatively, but she did it! And then she walked around the barrels with no trouble at all!
Just having Chasity navigate these obstacles without being afraid of them was a major accomplishment. We then walked into the back-through “L” and I decided to make it a little bit tougher.
After walking through the “L” forward, I asked Chasity to back through where she had come.
She was a bit perplexed, but slowly backed between the rails, made the turn at the elbow, and went straight back from there with very little forcible encouragement.
Once at the end of the back-through “L,” we headed for the tarp. She followed me obediently, but was so silly…
When we got to the tarp, she wanted to walk EXACTLY where I walked! I guess she KNEW it was safe there! Too funny!
I gave her a reward because she really didn’t balk and we proceeded out of the obstacle area.
As we left, we executed the gate correctly and she was rewarded again. She stood quietly until I was ready to move.
Then we proceeded down the arena wall towards the exit gate and stopped to turn off the lights. She was a little surprised that the wall opened up, but stood still while I opened the door and turned off the lights.
Then I closed the door and we exited the arena. Adding obstacles and simple expectations to her regular work in the Hourglass Pattern made the experience more interesting and engaging to Chasity. When you add new things to their lessons, you shouldn’t feel like the equine has to do it right the first time. Just quit while you are ahead and your equine WILL do better the next time! There is no battle to remember!
Beginning by negotiating obstacles in larger areas makes for a larger margin for error. Too many things can go wrong and lead to an unpleasant chain of negative events that suck you and your equine into unnecessary altercations. There is plenty of time to do them in the more open spaces once they have learned how to negotiate them in the smaller spaces. I first school green animals during ground driving and under saddle in the small open area of my indoor arena (60’ X 120” – Standard Small Dressage Arena Size) before I take them into the larger outside arenas. This has resulted in a decrease of bolting and running. When you set up your training environment, it is always optimal to set up the equine for success!
The “Hourglass Pattern” is an amazing therapeutic approach to conditioning that I have used with all of my equines of varying ages, sizes and breeds. It builds a foundation of symmetrical strengthening at the core involving the ligaments, tendons muscles and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame and promotes even wear of the cartilage between bones in the joints. It can prevent arthritis as the animals age. This is vital to your equine athlete’s health. Chasity and I open the gate to her rebalancing and rehabilitation exercises in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
The red “X’s” in the pattern represent the points where you are to halt, square up, reward and wait. This process becomes helpful as your equine learns to navigate gates properly and learns to wait patiently through repetition and consistency in your behavior. Always go through gates exactly the same way so your equine knows what to expect. Abrupt actions lead to chaos.
We want to promote self-carriage, so we do not hold the lead rope in the right hand when leading from the left side where it can subtlety cause movement in the head and neck from side to side, adversely affecting their balance. Rather, we hold the lead rope in the left hand when leading from the left side and in the right hand when leading from the right side. We lead from the inside of the arcs in direction through the pattern. Always, say the animal’s name, give the command to “Walk On,” look where you are going, point in the direction of travel with your other hand and walk in sync with the equine’s front legs. This facilitates good posture for both of you!
When negotiating the “Hourglass Pattern,” there is an internal pendulum that swings back and forth and comes to center each time the animal halts and is squared up. If you were to work only along straight lines there is an optical illusion that takes place along the perimeter and makes the animal’s body lean to the inside of the track, and when halted, they cannot find the center of balance. Every time you halt, square up your equine and reward with the crimped oats that you keep in your fanny pack around your waist (other “treats” will not work the same way!). Then wait until they finish chewing so they can settle into their perfect balance unobstructed.
As they progess, they learn to bend to the arc of the turns through their rib cage, carry their body erect in good posture supported by stronger ab muscles that round the back upward as they learn to give to the “Elbow Pull” such that it remains loose. When it is tight, they are simply having difficulty holding their good posture and lean on the “Elbow Pull” much like a beginning ballet dancer must use the bar on the wall. Many people think that you do your equine a favor by not putting a bit in their mouth, but you cannot affect their posture without one. The animals that are not bitted and schooled in good posture can have all kinds of postural issues as they age. Chasity is falling in and out of good posture because she is only in Week Three of her training. As she improves, she will be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose for longer periods of time until it is always loose.
As this way of moving and standing becomes more habitual, so does their comfort in these positions. When they rest, they will stand 4-square instead of with splayed legs, or a hip dropped and a foot cocked. They are happy and deliberate in their movements and good posture continues to improve until this become their new habitual way of moving and resting. You will see marked changes in their play and rest patterns while in turnout.
Adding rails to the center of the pattern keeps them attentive, alert and teaches exact hoof placement (hoof-eye coordination). As their movement becomes more deliberate and balanced, their confidence is increased as is their trust in you for making them feel so comfortable in their own skin. They learn to wait for your command before moving. They look forward to their time with you and will gladly leave the herd to be with you! No more herdbound behaviors!
We build this foundation through the “Hourglass Pattern” first during leading training, then after obstacles and lunging training during Ground Driving, and finally Under Saddle. Each stage produces new challenges to the equine’s body and mind that add to their overall development in a logical, sequential and healthy way. Because of all these small steps, with gradual difficulty, it is easy and fun for both you and your equine to do. You are never over-faced with difficulty and you learn to appreciate the little victories along the way! Chasity was somewhat of a pushy, bully to start with, but she now waits patiently when I ask and navigates movement in much better posture, even after only three short weeks! More dramatic changes to Chasity’s body and mind are still to come! It’s not just about the end result. It’s all about the journey!
By Meredith Hodges
When I was growing up, equine trainers were considered special people whose special talents were a mystery to common folk like me. Witnessing the cowboys riding the broncs in the rodeos and seeing the upper-level riders at the Olympics made me doubt my ability to ever accomplish what they could do! After all, this was their profession and I was just a young girl with a passionate love for equines. Since I thought I would never be able to train equines, I dreamed of rescuing abused horses and building a 100-stall barn for them somewhere in the Northwest, in Cowboy Country.
Even if all I was going to do was rescue equines, I knew I would have to have at least some experience in equine management and training, so I read numerous training books and attended many clinics and seminars. The more I learned, the more overwhelmed I became. There were so many vastly different ideas about how to do things with equines. Different authors wrote about different stages of training and they all had a different approach. There was no one author who produced anything with continuity from foal all the way to advanced levels of training. To make matters worse, in the early 1970s when I got involved with Longears, I found that there was virtually nothing available about training them for recreational purposes. That is when I decided to begin documenting everything I learned that worked well (and forgot about what didn’t).
Trying to decide what to feed my equines was a nightmare! The advertising for so many different kinds and brands of feeds and supplements was confusing and I had no idea where to begin, so I just did what the majority of people were suggesting and fed a grass/alfalfa hay mix. It wasn’t until nine years later and the loss of several horses that I decided that maybe the alfalfa wasn’t such a good idea, so I eliminated the use of alfalfa and other products that were exceptionally high in protein. Then, after the death of one of my donkey jacks, I also revisited my use of different types of grains and oils. I discovered that oats were always the healthiest grain and Mazola corn oil was the only oil needed for healthy coats, hooves and digestive tract regularity. The Sho Glo brand of minimal daily vitamins, along with a trace mineral salt block, provided adequate nutritional needs for all my equines, regardless of their types and tasks (from pleasure riding to Combined Training). This revised feeding program, combined with regular worming and bi-annual vaccinations, eliminated the incidence of severe colic and my equines became much healthier, performed better and have exhibited increased longevity.
Like most people, I started off thinking that leaving equines to just be equines without human interference was the ideal. Oh, how they would just love to exist in a large plot of pasture to live out their days in leisure! I soon found out how deadly that could be to an equine. Equines in the wild will travel for miles, exercising and grazing sporadically, balancing their diet and exercising themselves. Since the majority of the world’s equines are not wild and can no longer run free (no more wide-open spaces available), leaving them alone in a pasture to eat freely only results in obesity and all the ailments that go with it. In reality, allowing this “free grazing” is a passive form of neglect, and is usually the result of just plain human laziness. Equine owners may often feel like they “do not have the time” to do everything correctly, when, in actuality, it takes less time (and is less costly) to correctly feed, manage and train equines. That is how I can successfully be the sole trainer of 30 equines at this late date in my life.
When I began taking Dressage lessons in 1986, it gave me a whole new way to look at the equine, with more concern for his physical, mental and emotional well-being. Doing Dressage with horses was relatively easy, but I wanted to challenge myself to train the first mule in Dressage and see how far he could go. My first mule, Lucky Three Sundowner, must have run off with me over a hundred times in our first five years of Dressage training, which was a very humbling experience. I began to analyze everything in a more critical and logical way to determine what I was doing to make him run off. I no longer just took it for granted that the popular equine training techniques were the only way to train because they obviously didn’t always work with Sundowner. I began to ask myself, “Why?” and, “Is there a better way?” After addressing the elements of Dressage under saddle, I finally realized that not much was mentioned in the training materials about preparing the equine in good posture and balance WITHOUT a rider on board. I came to realize that the runaway incidents were the result of Sundowner and I both being out of good posture and balance. Unknowingly, we were fighting against each other’s balance to try to perform together. This is when I discovered the importance of adequately preparing the equine’s core muscles in good posture to carry a rider BEFORE attempting to ride or drive. No one is born in good posture. It is something that must be taught—to us and to equines. Just letting them run free when they are young does not address good equine posture or core muscle development.
Many equine trainers talk about disengaging the hindquarters. While practicing Dressage, I learned that, in reality, the hindquarters must be engaged and active (much like a motor) for the animal to move correctly and do what is asked of him, and why would anyone want to shut down the motor? When I employed popular equine training techniques with the halter, lead and whip and tried to keep the mule at a distance (not allowing him to come close to me), he would give a quick jerk of his head and neck, bump me with his rear end and take me “skiing” across the arena…if I was dumb enough to hang onto the rope! I thought, “Why not just let go of the rope and when he comes back, reward him for coming back with a handful of oats from my fanny pack? And, why not let him come in close and then continue the imprinting process through his adulthood, so he will get used to me touching his body?” He could then learn to move away from the pressure of my hands and negotiate groundwork obstacles more easily. When you are constantly pushing your equine away from you, you don’t have the opportunity to do much touching, and there is a crucial security and trust that your equine develops from being touched by you. Equines that are used to being touched all over their bodies on a regular basis are less likely to become spooked about things. And the equines that get practice taking those tiny little oats out of your hand are less likely to bite your fingers than those that do not get this kind of practice.
Trainers in general advise owners to set things up so it is hard for the equine to do the wrong thing. Why not just concentrate on setting him up to be able to easily do the right thing? Wouldn’t you get a better reaction from your equine if he received rewards for a job well done rather than focusing on the punishments and intimidation if he didn’t comply?
For instance, if you want him to jump a barrel, set up three barrels end-to-end and perpendicular to the fence. Now send him over the obstacle on a long lead with nowhere to go but between you and the fence. And when he succeeds, reward him for it. Once he is compliant over the three end-to-end barrels, take one barrel away and do the same thing. When he accomplishes that, then take the next barrel away and make him do the last one against the fence. Don’t forget to reward him each time he succeeds. Once he successfully completes these steps with no problem, place the barrel in the open and send him over it. He should do this confidently because he now knows it is easy and that he will get rewarded for his effort. When you break things down into small, doable steps within your equine’s capabilities that will always be rewarded, you’ll attract his full attention and training will become easy and fun! Just make sure the reward is always the same healthy oats that he loves.
Bosals, side-pulls and bitless bridles can never replace the communication that can be developed through correct practice between your hands and the corners of your equine’s mouth with the direct rein action of a snaffle bit. Bitless bridles have a completely different action that can result in “kinks” in your equine’s neck. To feel this discomfort, try standing completely still and facing straight ahead. Now, without moving, just turn your head to the side. Can you feel the pull on the muscles just below your ear? This is the same action that your equine experiences when the pull comes from the higher point on his nose where the halter noseband (or bitless bridle) would sit. When a mild snaffle bit is placed in the mouth and used with a flash noseband on the bridle, the equine can be prevented from flipping his tongue over the bit and will take an easy contact with the bit, promoting a solid means of communication.
When you take contact with the reins (or, in the case of driving, the lines), the equine’s natural instinct is to initially create some resistance against your hands. He will stretch his nose out to take contact with the intent of pulling on the bit, but will eventually learn to “hold” the bit. When he does this, he elongates his neck and increases the space between his vertebrae, so when he receives the connection to your hands and is asked to stop or turn, it happens easily because it does not create soreness in his neck. Your hands need to be flexible and “giving” to avoid resistance to the bit. You can feel this difference in your own neck when you vertically round it up and out and THEN turn your head to the side…no more pulling on the muscle below the ear. This “comfortable connection” encourages a working connection from his lips to your hands.
Restraints should only be used to suggest compliance to the equine and not for complete control over any resistance. Patience, calmness and purposeful action during the use of restraints are all paramount in teaching the equine how to cope with things that are difficult for him. In the use of restraints, one runs the risk of being more severe than intended, which will have a negative impact on the equine’s response to the restraint used. I have discovered some very simple restraints that work well.
Working with your equine’s natural movements and paying attention to proper body conditioning produces comfort and ease of performance. For instance, asking your equine to turn toward you when he is being lunged causes confusion, which adversely affects his hindquarters and puts stress on his hocks and stifles. This is why lunging in a round pen or lunging in drive lines is vitally important. Your equine must be allowed to turn away from you when lunging so he can instantaneously set up his hind legs for the correct diagonal at trot and the correct canter lead, thereby avoiding potential injury to his hindquarters.
Desensitization techniques create disengagement in activities. The equine learns to “give up.” They are fearful of the consequences if they do not obey. Training with fear tactics can produce obedience, but not a viable partnership. My psychiatric nursing degree and my studies in Behavior Modification with human beings proved to be useful in understanding the use of Behavior Modification in equines. It also provided me with the basis for my resistance-free, reward-based training program. I prefer to teach my equines good manners in a polite way so that they are fully engaged, respectful, confident and eager to go with me every time I see them—in other words, resistance-free! The rewards from this kind of training are beyond any joy I could have imagined! My journey has proven to me that anyone with the will to listen, learn and question “WHY?” can become his or her own trainer—with amazing results.
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.
© 2014, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Wrangler came to us in 2017 and has had to be in turnout by himself because he was so rambunctious that he didn’t really fit into any of our turnout groups. He was always turned out next to “friend” like Sir Guy but never with anyone else. Mr. Moon was his stable buddy, but still, there was always a run fence between them. Mr. Moon recently turned 32 years old and developed a condition that required that he be put down. Wrangler’s “stable buddy” was now gone.
With the empty stall and run next to Wrangler, we now had space to consider getting him a new companion. I checked with my friend in Oklahoma and we found Chasity! What a lovely “Lady!” I was told she was a really FORWARD moving jennet with a lot of independence and enthusiasm. We thought she would be the perfect companion for Wrangler!
Chasity was delivered on 3-30-20 and the introductions began while she was in quarantine in a space where she could see Wrangler, but they could not reach each other. They played with excitement back and forth along the fence line for a bit! They were clearly VERY interested in each other! Love had begun to blossom!
The next day the vet came to do a health check on Chasity. She will need a lot of core strength work, but it will be a good thing to keep her occupied while she is in quarantine. Wrangler looked on with interest as the vet surveyed her condition. Two months passed before Chasity was finally put in Mr. Moon’s stall and run next to Wrangler…they eyed each other suspiciously…this was a lot closer than they had previously been!
Wrangler stuck his head through the panels to sniff and Chasity looked interested, then decided to play shy!
This only frustrated Wrangler and he began some very active male donkey antics which spooked her away from him.
She returned only to be spooked away again while Wrangler continued his antics and embarrassed himself by tripping!
Chasity thought maybe NOW he would calm down and Wrangler started up AGAIN! She thought…REALLY?!!!
I called Wrangler over and had a little talk with him about good manners and being polite to young ladies. He seemed to listen and said he was sorry. Chasity wasn’t sure if she believed him!
But after receiving their crimped oats reward for settling down…all was GOOD!!!
Selecting the right tack for your Longears is essential to success. I rigged a cob-sized English bridle for Chasity with a pony Eggbutt snaffle bit (4 ½-inch), an over-sized Warmblood brow band to accommodate her wider forehead and not pinch her ears, and normal nose band with an “O” ring installed underneath with a lead rope attached. The “Elbow Pull” is the correct length and is put in place over the crown piece of the bridle and wrapped with a halter fleece to prevent rubbing on her poll. She will begin her postural core strength leading exercises to correct her unbalanced posture, her lordosis (sway back) and the enlarged fat roll across her neck.
When first putting on the light-weight surcingle, I loosely tighten the girth at first to allow her to get used to the pressure around her middle.
Then, of course, a reward for standing still is in order and very much appreciated. And it’s always nice to receive a loving donkey head-hug!
After this appropriate show of affection, I politely ask her if she is ready to accept the bridle. Chasity truly appreciates my consideration for her.
When I put on the bridle, I make sure that her ears are protected as I pull the crown piece over her ears by covering them with the palm of my hand. Then, when it is in place, I just pull my hand away from it’s position. I center the “O” ring and lead rope underneath her chin and snugly tighten the nose band.
With Chasity’s enlarged neck, I felt it would be beneficial to use a neck sweat to help to shrink the fatty deposits along her crest during her workout. I then took up more slack on the surcingle girth and loosely adjusted the “Elbow Pull” on the right side.
Next, I went around to the left side to adjust the tension on the “Elbow Pull.” Next, I went to the front, straightened her head in alignment with her spine, and checked to make sure that she could not raise her head high enough to invert her neck and back. It is tight enough to encourage her to use her abs, and raise her back. This positively affects her sloppy tendency to relax her sway back and will bring it into proper posture.
Now we are prepared to begin work in the Hourglass Pattern in the indoor arena. We begin to walk in sync.
After the workout, we go back to the designated work station to untack. I carefully remove her bridle, sliding it over her ears with one pass, lifting it upward as it goes over the ears. Then I remove the surcingle and neck sweat, and give her a generous reward for her cooperation.
The next step is to take the tack into the tack room, wipe it down and wash the bit before hanging it back up on the wall. Taking care of your tack and equipment in this manner prevents dirt build-up, chafing on the animal and weakened tack and equipment. Then, once a month, we spend time in the tack room going over all of the tack and equipment with Leathernew™ to keep it all in good condition. The cabinets where we store harness is lined with cedar to prevent mold and mildew. Once everything is back in place, I return Chasity to her stall and run. When your tack and equipment fits properly and is appropriate for the activity, it promotes success and enhances your experience together!
By Meredith Hodges
Why does Dressage training lend itself so well to training mules? In order to answer this question, we need to have a clear understanding of what Dressage really means and how it pertains to the mule’s mental and physical development in relationship to our own expectations. When most of us think of Dressage, we picture in our minds those elegant Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.
It’s easy to perceive Dressage as a more advanced form of Horsemanship, unless we realize that, in reality, it is the result of many years of intense training. It is also easy to believe that this is not the activity in which most of us see ourselves competing. Dressage requires much more well-developed skills from the rider, and the High School (known in Dressage by the French words Haute Ecole) movements exhibited are not generally used in the practical use of our animals. People may perceive these goals to be unattainable for the common horseman, and discard Dressage training for more commercial techniques that seem to give simpler and more immediate results in our English, Western and gaming mules. Surprisingly, a better understanding of the beginning levels of Dressage reveals that it is actually a preferred way to train, especially considering the mental and physical nature of mules.
At first glance, the Training Level patterns of Dressage may seem too simple to the average rider. (A Reining pattern is much more inviting because it is more stimulating and exciting.) However, Reining can be quite stressful—both mentally and physically—on a young mule unless he is brought along slowly and carefully. Because the mule is so strong and capable of running through any type of bridle arrangement, it’s best to avoid any confrontation that can cause resistance as much as possible.
I have found that my mules will exhibit resistant behavior when they are confused or frightened, but never out of “stubbornness.” Often, we take it for granted that, since a young mule can walk, trot, canter, back up, etc. by himself, he should be able to do all these things with us astride. What many people don’t realize is that mules are born with as diverse postures as humans, and there are few mules that will exhibit good equine posture without being constantly reminded. People compensate continually for deficiencies in their own body structure, and posture will vary from person to person and situation to situation. For example, a straight-backed chair will cause most of us to sit up straight, which is healthy for the spine and neck. On the other hand, the sinking comfort of a plush couch will produce a collapsed posture, which can eventually produce sore back and neck muscles. In a similar way, a mule will have to sacrifice his good posture to accommodate an unbalanced and inexperienced rider.
In the simplicity of the Training Level patterns, you will be able to address the issue of good posture. This is when you can begin to condition the necessary muscles for maintaining good posture. In the Training Level Dressage patterns, a judge will always look for “a willing, obedient mount that moves forward freely, responds to the rider’s aids and accepts the bit.” Your mule will be encouraged to maintain the best possible equine posture for his individual stage of development while you practice the same. The simple patterns will enable you to minimize any loss of balance by either of you. As his muscles are strengthened and conditioned, your mule will be better able to carry his own body as well as yours. Only then should you begin to ask for more engagement in the hindquarters, which will eventually lead make more collection possible.
By taking the time to condition and strengthen their muscles, we allow our mules to engage in physical exercise that is not taxing and painful, thus, keeping their mental attitude fresh and happy. By conditioning your mule in a carefully sequenced pattern of exercises, you will more often avoid the possibility of throwing him off balance and into the confusion and fear that will lead to resistance and disobedience. With your own posture in mind, you can develop the rider and mule as one unit. The process is slow but thorough, and mutually satisfying.
The Dressage saddle allows you the stability of a saddle, yet gives you the closest possible contact with your mule’s body (other than bareback), making your leg and seat aids clearer and more perceptible to your mule. With more clearly defined cues, the mule is better able to discern your wishes without fear or resistance. Western saddles are used more universally for training, but I believe that a lot of this is to accommodate riders with limited ability.
Equipment use plays an important part in the breaking saddle used, but many trainers today will agree that the less complicated equipment is used in the beginning, the better. The Western saddle may certainly be used for breaking but, from the mule’s standpoint, the Western saddle is heavier and there is quite a lot of leather between you and your mule, which can cause a certain amount of interference in communication. If the mule cannot “feel” his rider well, often times a leg or rein aid can come as a surprise and produce a response that is predisposed to resistance. For this reason, I prefer to start training in an all-purpose—or Dressage—saddle. However, I would recommend training in a Western saddle for the less-experienced rider, or if you are training a more easily excitable animal.
In Training Level Dressage, movements are limited to straight lines, simple transitions (i.e., walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to trot, trot to walk, and trot to walk to halt), and large 20-meter circles. This allows you to spend time working on rhythm, regularity and cadence in all three gaits, overall obedience to the aids, steadiness and learning to bend his body from head to tail through corners, while maintaining an upright posture. All this allows your mule the time to properly condition his muscles and to learn to stay between the aids in a comfortable and relaxing manner. He will also learn to move freely and easily forward, while the rider has time to develop his own muscles and perfect his own technique. Using this technique keeps stress at a minimum.
As in any exercise program, it is not advisable to drill and repeat every day. With a mule, as with any athlete, muscles need to be exercised and then allowed rest for a day or two between workouts to avoid serious injury. In between Dressage days, you can take your mule for a simple trail ride or just let him rest. The time-off and a variety of activities will keep him fresh and attentive. Three times a week is usually sufficient, with Dressage training for his proper development and conditioning, two days of simple hacking or trail riding and two days of rest. This also takes the pressure off of you. If you’re not into riding on a particular day, you won’t feel like you have to because your mule will retain his learning without the added stress of drilling day after day. Try to think of your mule’s training in terms of yourself: Would you care to be drilled to exhaustion day after day? How would you feel mentally and physically if you were? Dressage—whether it is basic or the most advanced—is a French word for training. It is thoughtful, considerate and kind, and will produce a mule that is mentally and physically capable of doing anything you might like to do with a relaxed and willing attitude. It may take a little longer, but the result speaks for itself.
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.
© 2011, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.
Grooming is an important activity in your equine’s life and it need not be a struggle if it is done regularly. Chasity was not real sure of us, or what to expect when she first arrived, but she is gaining confidence and calmness with each grooming session that precedes her workouts. Right off, she is rewarded for going to her designated work station. This familiarity sets the stage for the tasks to come.
I begin with a wet towel to clean her eyes, then her nose and finally her ears. When cleaning the ears, I stroke upwards with the hair and try not to go against the way it grows. Most Longears enjoy having their ears rubbed anyway, but HOW you do it can make a huge difference in their willingness to comply.
Then I begin on her forehead and along her neck with a human, multi-bristled plastic hairbrush. If she had mud on her, I would have scraped that off with the shedding blade first. The human hairbrush is much more effective in getting deep into thick donkey and mule hair and will “aerate” the coat nicely where the shedding blade will only skim the top and often break the hair.
Chasity’s teats were as hard as a rock, but were draining a milky-looking substance. At first we thought she had just weaned a foal, but we found out later, that was not the case. At any rate, during grooming, I scraped the sticky drainage from her back legs. Then I discovered some crusty spots across her chest that resembled an old bot-hatching site that had not been addressed.
I used the shedding blade to scrape off the scabs and applied Neosporin to the area. Over several days now, the scabs are beginning to go away. Chasity enjoyed the scratching! They must have been itchy!
Chasity has an enlarged, crested neck and fatty deposits over her body that will need some attention. The crest has fallen over quite a bit, but I do think it is salvagable. It will just take the right kind of feed and exercise, and some time to correct.
On her withers, Chasity has some scarring where the saddles previously used on her were rubbing and turned the hair white. She is also sporting a bit of Lordosis (sway-backed) which should not be seen in an animal of her young age of 13 years. This will undoubtedly result in irregular movement when seeing how out of alignment her spine is with these issues. Equines are not designed to carry weight on top. Rather, their structure supports carrying their weight below the spine. This is why is is so important to pay attention to core exercises to strengthen the top line and abs to prepare to support the rider’s weight. Just because they are big animals doesn’t mean they can automatically carry our weight without undue stress on their bodies.
The crusty discharge on her legs is very sticky, so I sharpen my shedding blade before going after it. It is going to pull the hairs hard enough as it is. I want the shedding blade sharp so it will come off quickly and with as little pain as possible. Chasity appreciates my consideration for her!
Last, but certainly not least, I sprinkle Johnson’s Baby oil in her mane and tail. This protects the hair from drying out during inclement weather, will promote growth and keep other animals from chewing on it. Then I square Chasity up one more time in preparation for either tacking up or for leaving the work station. Although this all seems simple enough, keeping this routine weekly will keep things from getting out of hand and grooming will remain easy each time. A reward of crimped oats from the fanny pack around my waist is always in order for standing quietly in good posture!
If you have multiple animals, just take your grooming tools in a bucket and your fanny pack full of oats with you to their stalls and do them there. If they are all in one pen in a herd situation, do not wear your fanny pack until they can all be rewarded at the same time, at the end of grooming. Body clipping is not a healthy solution and should only be done when showing. During shedding season, it is impossible to get it all done at once and still keep the hair coat healthy. It is easier if you do it weekly and take off the excess hair gradually. When grooming is done regularly and goes easily, it greatly reduces anxiety and bad behaviors.
We determined that Chasity had cataracts in both eyes, worse in the right eye than in the left. This made her hesitant to come to me at the stall door to be haltered. She wanted to come to me, but she just wasn’t sure. I insist that ALL my equines come to the stall door or gate to be haltered, so I knew I would have to train her and win her trust to get her to do it like all the others.
When she went away from the door, I simply stepped to the inside door of her stall and encougraged her to come to me from there, but she was still suspicious and ran to the far side of the pen. I just walked toward her and spoke in a calming fashion telling her to “Whoa.”
She began to get nervous and started to weave away from my approach, but before she could suck me into the back and forth along the fence, I stepped to the side, waved her into the stall and shut the door behind her.
She knew she was confined and went to the corner of the stall. I knew she could not see me very well with her right eye, so I opted to walk along the wall to her left side and approached her from the left side. Before attempting to put on her halter, I told her what a good girl she was and offered a handful of oats. I allowed her to finish chewing them before I put on the halter.
I was careful about putting on the halter slowly so I would not startle her and then gave her a reward of more oats for standing still. She was grateful and again, I waited until she was finished chewing before asking anything more from her.
Then I asked her to square up with equal weight over all four feet. This would become the protocol EVERY time she stops. I want to change her posture and begin to increase her core strength in good postural balance. The repetition of this movement will change her habitual way of standing.
I rewarded her again and then took off the halter while standing by the open door and watched her chew.
I rewarded her for NOT forging through the door, waited for her to finish chewing and then put the halter back on.
We then turned around and walked to the back of the stall to open the door I had closed, did another turn and exited the stall. She will soon tire of me going into the pen and chasing her into the stall. One thing that is also VERY important in halter training is the type of halter that you use. Although they do provide leverage, rope halters have pressure points everywhere there is a knot and the biggest knot is right underneath their ear. Try putting your index finger underneath your ear and ask yourself how long you could stand it just being there? Now put the palm of your hand under your ear. How does that feel? Nylon webbed halters lay flat against their face and do not cause distractions like rope halters will. The equine can focus their attention 100% on YOU and not be distracted by subtle pressure points!
I would much rather encourage my animals to comply happily and willingly than try to use any kind of forcible leverage with them. I have found it to be unnecessary. Building a willing bond between you prevents them from becoming herdbound and being sour about leaving their friends. It enhances the relationship between you so they really WANT to go with you. This particular routine gave Chasity an idea of what to expect and resulted in her coming to the stall door willingly when I call her after only two times of having to proceed this way…completely resistance free. She is a very intelligent girl and learns quickly despite the disadvantage of cataracts. I have other equines with eyesight issues that have been successfully trained the same way. The key is patience, understanding and a careful, respectful and sensible approach.
It was the end of March when Chasity first arrived and the weather was much too cold to even think about giving her a bath, even with our indoor facility. Even though the equines come in to us with Health Certificates and a Coggins Test, we are still very careful about keeping them in quarantine for 30 days and bathing them for hygiene purposes. Chasity would be no exception.
Finally on April 10, it was warm enough to bath her. The water at the outside hitch rail would be too cold, so I opted to bath her in the Tack Barn where there was warm water. Chasity was about to experience her first bath at the Lucky Three Ranch! I began with the lower part of her front legs, then moved to her forehead and worked my way down her neck after spreading a line of shampoo across the full length of her body. I did not use the shampoo on her face.
Ordinarily, I do not use soap during the yearly bathing, but since she had come from another location, I used my Tres Semme Breakage Defense shampoo. It is not as drying as some shampoos and does not require any conditioning. As I sprayed her with water, the suds came up and I followed the sudsy water with my shedding blade to eradicate the dirt from her body as she was rinsed.
As I scraped her with the shedding blade, I just kept the water flowing until no more dirt and suds came from each area. Chasity was not exactly thrilled and moved into me and up against the hitch rail where I could not reach her. I just adjusted the spray to more power and aimed it at her flanks until she moved over. Then I adjusted the spray to be lighter and less penetrating again.
Once she was willing to stand still, I was able to check some questionable spots on her body. He chest had completely healed from the old bug bites, but I did notice a bald spot on her right hind leg. It didn’t look like much and I thought it would probably fill in with hair as her good hygiene was maintained. If need be, I would treat that with Neosporin, too. It works well on most things like this that donkeys seem to get quite often, including “jack sores.”
After the right side was all done, she was rewarded for being a good girl! After chewing her reward of crimped oats, we resumed first with her forehead on the left side.
I worked my way down the left side the same way as I had done on the right side…covered the length of her body with shampoo, followed by water and scraping the suds and dirt from her body with the shedding blade.
She was much better on this side! I sprayed her teats clean and she stood like a trooper!
She now knew what to expect and was amply rewarded for her efforts!
I had prepared to dry her with a hair dryer, but it was so warm, I decided to try her on the hotwalker. I wasn’t sure about how she would take it, but I took it slow, tied her with the chain looped through the ring on her halter and not under her chin. She walked right off as if she had done it all her life!
She dried much more quickly than she would have had I used the hair dryer! I was so proud of Chasity! I think she is finally beginning to trust us!!!
Today, Chasity did much better after two days of rest over the weekend. Her hair coat is much softer and her color is becoming more brilliant. She was moving around quite a bit while being groomed and had to be corrected. After being corrected and rewarded, she stood still.
Today she was much better during grooming after being corrected the last time, although she was still a bit impatient. She wanted to continue forward before she finished chewing during her lesson in the Hourglass Pattern. I expect that will change in time.
She stood still while I wiped the dried milk-like drainage from her teats and scraped off her legs.
I also found dried bug bites of some sort on her chest that I thought could be old scars from hatched bots. I scraped them off with the shedding blade and treated them with Neosporin. It worked well.
It has only been a week of lessons, but we have made some progress with her neck. It is difficult to tell much from looking at the left side of her body. But now, when you look at her neck from the right side, you can see her mane sticking up across the top. We could not see it at all before.
The neck sweat Velcro is overlapping a bit more and I am able to tighten the adjustment on the “Elbow Pull” since she is now more flexible in her neck.
Her back is beginning to look better even from the start of the lesson. Although she still leans on it, she is randomly submitting to the “Elbow Pull” and matching my steps more easily.
Chasity continues to improve. She is happy to stand quietly, is more balanced over the ground rails and squares up much more easily with only slight indications from the lead rope.
With each new lesson, Chasity continues to improve. It is only necessary to do the Hourglass Pattern once in one direction and then cross the diagonal and do it in the other direction, at least once per week and no more often than once every other day. She is now learning to bend through her rib cage while remaining erect around the turns in both directions.
Again, she is balanced over the ground rails, squares up nicely and maintains her good posture. She resumes the pattern and goes over the ground rails again for a balanced finish! There was no need for pulling on the lead rope at all, just slight indications!
Chasity’s overall balance and core strength is progressing faster than I would have thought. This is the reason I tell people that these lessons on the flat ground will need to be done for 3-6 months to gain ultimate postural balance and core strength before moving on to obstacles for the addition of coordination. Some equines do progress faster than others. Chasity appears to be one of the faster ones!
Our farrier, Dean Geesen came out to take care of Chasity’s feet. The first order of business was to introduce himself with an offer of oats! She did not want my veterinarian, Greg Farrand, to pick up her feet on Tuesday, but during grooming on Wednesday, Ranch Manager, Chad and I cleaned her feet, so she was much more compliant today. Getting her hooves in balance will greatly improve her overall body balance. And, getting the shoes off her overgrown front feet will enable the frog to do its circulation job!
Her front hooves were exceptionally long with Borium shoes (non-slip) on them and her back feet were long and uneven. All four feet had been trimmed out of balance.
Dean showed us how the shoes had been abnormally and unevenly worn.
Dean removed the shoes and trimmed her hooves in the best balance that he could for now. Her hooves had been pressured to one side and would need several trims to get them properly symmetrical in alignment.
Dean is a correctional farrier and knew just what to do to get her started off on the right ‘foot’ so to speak. It was a definite improvement from where she was!
She will need to be checked periodically to keep her feet in good shape as she moves forward in her therapy. Sometimes these kinds of things just take time!
She was rewarded with oats in appreciation for her cooperation! Chasity seemed thankful for her newly balanced hooves.
I led Chasity from the stall and introduced her to her new work station. It was clear that there would be a lot of work ahead. Her neck crest was fallen to one side, but was not yet permanently broken, as far as I could tell. She had fat pockets across her body and her hooves were overgrown with shoes on the front feet. At least her feet could be balanced after removing her shoes and having her trimmed. For now, I would introduce Chasity to her new routine of grooming and exercise.
Since I wanted a clean place to set the crownpiece of the bridle without it getting tangled in her hair, I went ahead and clipped her bridle path. She was very good about having the clippers behind her ears.
I wasn’t thrilled to have to do the workout with her feet so unbalanced, but I knew the farrier would be here the very next day, so I opted to get started. I had my Ranch manager, Chad, clean her feet.
Then I proceeded to groom her with the multi-bristled human hairbrush and scrape with the shedding blade what I thought was dried milk from the insides of her hind legs.
I tacked her up in a light weight surcingle, Eggbutt snaffle bridle and a neck sweat to help keep the crested neck stabilized and encourage shrinkage during the workout. Then I added and adjusted my “Elbow Pull” self-correcting, postural restraint to support good equine posture during her workout.
Then it was time to go to the indoor arena where I had the Hourglass Pattern with ground rails set up for her therapy sessions. She hollowed her neck and back, and “trailered” her hindquarters behind when she walked. It was the same when she stood still with an inverted neck and back and camped out behind.
I began her postural therapy…leading her through the Hourglass Pattern in the “Elbow Pull” restraint to encourage her good posture. The neck sweat would begin to shrink the crest on her neck. She didn’t know exactly what was expected at first, but soon “got with the program” of walk and halt in designated places. She was asked to square up with equal weight over all four feet and then be rewarded for her effort. I waited each time for her to finish chewing her crimped oats before proceeding again along the track of the Hourglass Pattern.
As she walked, she submitted to the pressure from the “Elbow Pull” restraint which meant she was holding her own good posture when it was loose. She would lean against it when she could not hold that posture, but I encouraged her to relax and “give” to it each time we halted.
Chasity tracked once around one way and then once around the other way. She walked over the ground rails in the center of the pattern and stopped at strategic places between the cones to do square halts and stand still. I also stood still after dispensing her rewards so she would never feel rushed. She learned to stretch her back and engage her abs, and slowly began to improve even after only one session!
One of my ranch hands, Steve, said that he noticed her back and overall posture looked ever so slightly better when she was done, even after only one session! I think I see some very subtle improvement from the beginning to the end of the workout as well. It will take a long time to get her REALLY correct in her posture, but it is truly exciting when it begins to happen!
I went ahead and did Chasity’s therapy session in the Hourglass Pattern again. She did well in her workout and I noticed that her hair coat is already considerably softer. She had some difficulty squaring up, but it could be soreness from the previous workout. Standing squarely is unnatural for her and it will just take some time before it becomes comfortable. After having her hooves trimmed, she is moving a bit more balanced…not quite as awkwardly. Going forward, I will be doing her workouts at least once a week, but no more than every other day. Muscles need to be appropriately stressed during the workout, but not fatigued, a day of rest is needed in between to fully recover. I expect it will probably take six months before we have redistributed the fatty tissue and solidified her balance in good equine posture. I am fortunate to have such a nice indoor arena in which to work during inclement weather.
Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand, came to do a health check on Chasity the day after she arrived. She obviously needs a lot of core strength work, but it will improve her health and keep her occupied while she is in quarantine. Simple core strength leading lessons will have a dramatic effect on her overall health and welfare both physically and mentally. Wrangler looks on with interest as the vet surveys her condition.
He thought because of her enlarged, fallen crested neck and all the fatty deposits over her body that she may have foundered. But her feet were in pretty good shape…no stress rings from founder.
She did have Borium shoes on the front feet (maybe previously used for parades on asphalt?). They were inordinately grown out and her hooves behind were also a bit long in the heels. She was definitely out of balance.
When we looked at her udder, we noticed that she had possibly been nursing before she came to us. She had what looked like milk dripping from extended teats and dried fluid caked on the insides of her legs.
She has cataracts starting in her eyes which made her a bit head shy…
…but, her teeth had just been floated and they were good.
Her posture is terrible with substantial Lordosis (sway back) even though she is only 13 years old! She exhibits the posture of a jennet after several foals. Her fallen, crested neck will be another challenge. However, she is a very sweet and cooperative girl! She is obviously the victim of some negligence… intentional or not.
When Chasity begins her lessons, we will be employing a reward system of training called “Behavior Modification.” This is a more complex way of training than Clicker Training in that your voice is an important communication element that fully engages the animal’s attention and promotes a more intimate bond between you. She has already been exposed to this training process by asking her to come to be haltered, follow at my shoulder and to stand quietly for the veterinarian. It is the simple beginning to a lifetime of good manners.
When we train, we carry the crimped oats reward in a fanny pack around the waist. When the equine knows you have them, they don’t try to run off and are willing to follow you anywhere. Animals need to be rewarded for the good things they do with more than just a pat on the neck to insure that their good behaviors will be repeated. Food is the animal’s ultimate payment for doing a good job. You just need to learn what food is best to use and how to dispense rewards appropriately for the best results. For equines, the food is crimped (rolled, cracked, or steamed) oats. Contrary to popular belief, the equine that is rewarded with crimped oats is less likely to bite than one that does not get the practice of taking them gently from your hand. Your equine will always continue to work for a reward of crimped oats and the oats will give your equine the extra energy he needs during training. Carrots and other “treats” do not work the same way and will not yield the same results.
The most important thing when training your equine is to learn to dispense the crimped oats reward promptly and generously in the beginning, and only when your equine is complying. This will solidify the connection between you, insure that the positive behaviors will be repeated, and will begin to facilitate a strong, and mutually satisfying relationship. If your equine tries to pull away, just let go of the rope (if he is already haltered), call his name, reach in your fanny pack and offer the oats to coax him to return to you. Do not chase him! Be patient and do not try to progress through lessons too quickly as this is usually what causes disobedience.
It will take some time to strengthen Chasity’s core (the muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame), get her into good equine posture so her joints work properly and obtain her trust, but I see no reason that it cannot be done…and I am pretty sure I can do it!
With the empty stall and run next to Wrangler, we now had space to consider getting him a new companion. I checked with a friend in Oklahoma and we found Chasity! What a lovely “Lady!” My friend said she was a really FORWARD moving jennet with a lot of independence and enthusiasm. We thought she would be the perfect companion for Wrangler!
Chasity was delivered on 3-30-20 and the introductions began while she was in quarantine in a space where she could see Wrangler, but they could not reach each other.
They played with excitement back and forth along the fence line for a bit!
Then Wrangler had to come to me and tell me and Chad all about what a beautiful girl he had found! He was SO EXCITED!!!
Then Wrangler returned to the fence where they ran back and forth together for quite some time!
They were clearly VERY interested in each other! Love was in bloom!
Chasity does have issues, but will be fed and maintained the same way we do with all of our equines. Many feeds can cause hypertension in Longears (and horses, too!) and an inability to focus for any length of time. Mules and donkeys require a lot less feed than horses because they are half donkey and donkeys are desert animals. Too much feed or the wrong kind of feed and you run the risk of skin irritations, abscesses, colic, or founder. The formula for our oats mix fed once a day with grass hay morning and evening is very simple and produces amazing results.
Depending on the individual, we feed the average sized equines (13 hands to 17 hands) 1-1/2 to 2 cups of oats mixed with 1 oz. of Sho Glo by Manna Pro and 1 oz. of Mazola corn oil. Draft animals (over 17 hands) get twice as much and the minis get 1/4 (small minis under 36 inches) to 1/2 (36 to 48 inches) cup. We monitor weight gain and loss by decreasing and increasing the their hay intake and turnout time. A maximum of 2 cups of oats for an average sized animal (usually during the winter) is all they need. We give them oats as rewards from a fanny pack around our waist during their lessons when they actually need the added energy. The oats must be broken open in some way (crimped, steamed, rolled, etc.) as equines cannot digest whole oats. A neglected animal with coarse hair will show a drastic difference in the hair coat within four days. This feed and exercise program together will make a dramatic change in the overall body shape within six months!
If you alter or modify this regimen with other products, you will not get the same results. I make sure the equines have free access to a trace mineral salt blocks (red block) for their mineral needs. We worm with Ivermectin paste wormer in January, March, May, July and September and break the cycle with Strongid in November. When regular worming is done, the Ivermectin will kill tape worm larva, so they cease to be a problem. We vaccinate in the spring and give boosters in the fall. Consult your veterinarian to know the types of vaccines you will need for your specific area. I never feed Longears (donkeys, or mules, or even my horses) any pre-mixed sweet feeds, or excessive alfalfa products. I feed pelleted Sho Glo because it is such a small amount and provides adequate daily nutrition. Feeding larger amounts of dehydrated feeds and supplements can increase the risk of choking. You cannot add enough water to prevent them from sucking fluid from the digestive tract. Equines, and particularly pregnant equines, should not be turned out on Fescue grass. Our pastures are brome and orchard grass which seems best, although Timothy and Coastal hay are okay for Longears if this grass mix is no available. Pregnant equines we feed grass hay only from six weeks before foaling to six weeks after foaling after which their oats mix can be resumed.
Chasity will be kept in quarantine with no direct interaction with the other equines for 30 days.
Then, she will be kept in a stall and run right next to Wrangler for evening feedings, overnight and for morning feedings for one week before they can go to turnout together in the same area. Feeding in a smaller, dry lot, or stall and run, and monitoring turnout has several benefits:
- Each animal can easily be checked daily for any injuries or anomalies. It promotes bonding.
- Each animal will not have to fight for his food, can sleep uninterrupted and be more calm and refreshed each day.
- You can do turnout at specific times for grazing during the day, and bring them back easily each night because they will know their oats are waiting for them. When you feed the oats mix in the evenings, it makes it easier to call them back from shortened pasture time in the spring (they have to work into extended pasture time slowly and over several weeks).
- You can monitor grazing intake so there will not be over-grazing. This minimizes the risk of colic, or founder (Longears should not be on pasture more than five hours a day, and only one hour a day for minis, starting with shorter periods of time in the spring).
- The smaller area affords you a confined space for beginning training, so there is no need to chase or be interrupted by other animals.
- Your animal will be more apt to come to you easily to be haltered after their morning feeding of grass hay for their lessons only when they know you have fanny pack full of oats for them. You should only need to call them from the gate and never play chase!
- ) Having this definite routine lets your animal know what to expect and discourages adverse behaviors. If you are inconsistent and break the routine, the results will not be the same.
Chasity is a bit suspicious, awkward and unsure of things now, but we have no doubt about her easy adaptation to our program that will increase her confidence, promote good health as her postural core strength evolves and solidify her new habitual way of moving and resting.
Augie and Spuds have been very patient with me for the past year when I did not have time to do anything but grooming once a week and turnout. They were so thrilled to be able to go on another ADVENTURE! Today, we are going to inspect a new project, the false-front town of ASSPEN!
We thought this would be a really nice way to spruce up the big, brown boring wall behind the Lucky Three Eclipse statue and make things even more interesting for our tours! Going through the construction zone gives them a chance to practice their good manners and earn their rewards! Although, Spuds is in the lead out of the barn, he prefers it when Augie leads over and through obstacles.
Whatever works best… it’s always negotiable!
“Hey, Augie! What’s this?!”
“I don’t know, Spuds. It looks very interesting though.”
Augie surveys the situation, “Hmmm…a new obstacle course, maybe?!”
“I’m not sure about this, Augie!”
“It’s really easy, Spuds…and kind of fun!”
“Hey, Boys! Welcome to ASSPEN Town!”
“Here’s the Burro Bank, the ASSPEN Sheriff’s Office & Jail, the Chaney Church
and the Okie Dokey Undertaker”
“And concrete, Augie!”
“This must be the boardwalk sidewalk, eh Augie?!”
“Yup, but no boards yet! It would be easier with boards!”
“This is the best part, Spuds!”
“You bet! It’s good to be good!”
“And here’s the Half-Ass General Store, L.J.’s Barber Shop and the Crazy Ass Saloon!”
“It’s a little tight going between the boards and the fence, eh, Augie?!”
“No sweat, Spuds! Just pay attention to where you are going!”
“Did she build all this just for US, Augie?!”
“No, Spuds, I think it is for the people that come for tours, but we get to check it out first.”
“Well, it sure makes for a fun obstacle course, Augie!”
“It sure does and it’s great to be able to get out for a walk!”
“Now we have to pose for the camera, Spuds! Try to look nice!”
“Do I really have to?!!!
“Thanks, Mom! That was fun!!!”
“Yeah, Augie, I like the oats and the ‘snuggles’ afterwards best!”
“I always like our BIG adventures, Spuds!”
“Me, too, Augie!
Wrangler had his first sarcoid removal on 7-20-18, but we found another one just a few weeks ago starting under his right side. It looked like he had been rubbing it as it was a bit crusty. I had a mule that did that to a sarcoid and it eventually disappeared as did the other two that were on his body. He apparently built immunity against the sarcoids. So, we opted to wait and see if this one on Wrangler would also just go away. It didn’t and it was now the size of a golf ball and would need to be removed. We treated Wrangler’s prior sarcoid with Xterra because of its location in a vascular area, but this one could safely be surgically removed.
Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand, shaved the area for the IV catheter.
We opted to do the surgery in our tack and groom area where things could be kept clean. Kim handed Greg the catheter while I kept Wrangler steady. He wasn’t exactly thrilled, but he was a good boy!
In order to make sure he landed on his left side so Greg could reach the sarcoid that was on the right side, Chad and Steve took their positions on each side and guided him to the floor.
I shaved off the long, thick shaggy hair from his barrel around the sarcoid with my #10 blade and then Greg came back over the area with his closer cut blade. We put a fleece saddle pad under his head and covered his eyes with a bath towel.
Kim prepped the area while Steve held the rope that was anchored around his hind leg to prevent any kicking if he began to wake up. Chad held the IV drip while I watched his head for unnatural breath and movement. But Wrangler just snored!
Greg carefully removed the sarcoid paying attention to getting it all. Wrangler just kept snoring!
After the sarcoid was removed, we opted not to do stitches and Greg used his Hyper Thermic machine that would trigger his immune system to fight any cells that might have not been removed. It could even cause the old sarcoid that was now dormant to drop off later if it worked to that extent. This treatment is one that replaced the old injections that used to be the follow-up treatment in sarcoid surgeries.
Kim cleaned the area afterwards and blotted the sponge onto the area to help the blood to clot.
The she removed the IV drip system from the catheter in his neck. It wasn’t long after before Wrangler began to wake up.
We kept him on his sternum and patiently waited until he was ready to try to get up. At first, he was a bit wobbly and stayed in a sitting position for a few seconds before rising to all four legs.
Once he was on all fours, we held the sponges up against his belly to further stop the blood until it could lot. Wrangler just “hung loose!”
When the blood finally clotted, we pulled the IV needle from his neck and then held sponges on that until it stopped bleeding. Wrangler was grateful to be awake again…well, sort of awake!
When he was showing some stability on his feet, we took a few circles around the room to get his circulation going again. We kept him walking intermittently around the room for about 30 minutes before putting him back in his stall and run. We removed all the bedding for a few days so it would not get stuck in the open wound that we would clean twice a day and treat once a day with Panalog until it is healed.
Wrangler didn’t have the where-with-all to be able to let out a full-fledged bray, but he did let out several grunts of appreciation to Dr. Greg as he left!
Getting down to your mini’s eye level so that he can make eye contact with you will foster good behavior and produce a willing relationship of trust between you. Learning how to begin the relationship with your miniature equine in a positive and natural way, and setting reasonable boundaries for behavior, discourages striking, jumping on you and other undesirable and abrupt behaviors that are common when working with miniature equines. The results of using this safe approach to miniature training have been amazing! My minis are always calm, happy to cooperate, play safely and continue to learn! Learn more about this gentle and effective way to manage and train YOUR mini on my website at www.luckythreeranch.com under TRAINING and in the STORE.