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MULE CROSSING: Good Basic Training Includes Common Sense, Part 4


By Meredith Hodges

In Part3, your equine was properly strengthened and balanced in good posture during the more passive exercises in leading training over obstacles. Now, in the fourth and final part of this article, you and your equine will head to the round pen and learn how to balance correctly on the circle at the faster gaits. You’ll also learn the more advanced and quicker moves that are required under saddle and in harness.

Only after you have adequately completed lead line flatwork and obstacle training is your equine truly ready to move on to the round pen and begin lunging and learning to balance on a circle at the more active gaits. At this stage, he should be complying willingly, walking with the lead rope slung over his neck and with his head at your shoulder. By now, his core muscles should be properly conditioned and strong enough to support his skeletal system during more active use and more complicated movements. Note: The equine that has not had this prior lead line balance and good posture training will have difficulty in the round pen because he has not learned to stay erect and bend his body through the rib cage when on arcs and circles.

When you are lunging your equine, stand close to the center of the round pen, focus your eyes on the lower part of your equine’s haunches, and then give the verbal command to “Walk on.” Let your eyes and whip follow his haunches while you stand in the center of the round pen. If you want him to stop, say “Whoa,” and then move your eyes and body sideways so that you are more in front of him. Then raise your head and eyes to meet his eyes. If you want him to do a reverse, give the verbal command to “Reverse,” move your body sideways and crack the whip smartly in front of him. You should now be almost directly in front of him, looking him straight in the eye. It is the movement of your body that will make the difference between the halt and the turn. Notice how these subtle differences in your body affect what he does. If you practice these movements correctly and consistently, you will begin to see an improvement in your own body language and in your equine’s response. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does or says; you go right ahead and take the time you need to work out each maneuver with your equine. Accuracy is preferred over speed.

Lunging involves a lot more than just running your equine around in a circle. It affords you a tremendous opportunity to see the affect your body language has on your equine’s reactions. Lunging also helps you to understand how you can fine-tune the communication between the two of you while developing balanced, cadenced and rhythmic gaits in your animal. So start slow and don’t let things go beyond what you can easily control.

With the use of the “Elbow Pull” (instructions on how to make an “Elbow Pull” are given in the Equus Revisited DVD), your equine will begin to build muscle over a correct postural frame. This is much better than letting him develop muscle out of good posture, and then having to go back later and break down established muscle that is out of frame and causing problems. The “Elbow Pull” is not in any way abusive. It is, in fact, a “self-correcting” support, designed to simply suggest to an equine that he stay in good posture. If he stays in good posture, he feels nothing uncomfortable.  But if he gets out of good posture, it puts a humane but firm pressure on his poll, his bit, behind his forearms and over his back. This is not unlike the grandmother who insisted that, to assure good posture, you walk with a book on your head. It may have sounded silly at first, but as you got older, you were happy you did it because it taught you good posture that eventually became a healthy and habitual way of moving. The “Elbow Pull” serves the same purpose for your equine and provides support when he cannot consistently hold good posture—he learns a healthy and habitual way of moving.

Before your equine learns to balance with a rider, he must first build muscle so he can sustain his own balance on the circle before carrying a rider. This is also true if you want your animal to learn to lunge on a lunge line. An equine that has not had enough time in the round pen establishing strength, coordination and balance on the circle will have difficulty on the lunge line, because even the slightest pressure on the line will pull him off-balance. Loss of balance will cause stress and even panic in your equine, which can result in him pulling the lunge line right out of your hands and running off. This is not disobedience but rather, fear caused by a loss of balance so do not punish him for this reaction. The animal that has had strength built on the circle before lunging and riding will not exhibit these undesirable behaviors, which are often misinterpreted as disobedience.

Lunging will begin to develop hard muscle over the core muscles and tendons you have already spent so many months strengthening. It will further enhance your equine’s ability to perform and stay balanced in action. As this becomes his true way of going, you will notice that even his play patterns begin to change dramatically. Be sure to be consistent with your verbal commands during these beginning stages, as they set the stage for better communication going forward.

After your equine has learned verbal commands while lunging, your next step is to train him to be equally responsive to verbal commands in conjunction with the drivelines. This is done first in the round pen, and then in an open arena, (which will introduce him to a larger space where he will need to become even more responsive to your rein cues).

I have found that, in most cases, the larger the animal, the more docile the personality, which seems to be a general rule of thumb. I have also learned that, if a donkey or mule has a tendency to bolt and run, it’s because they don’t necessarily agree with what you are trying to do or how you are trying to do it. Even though horses usually comply fairly easily, it is important to remember that any disobedience on the part of any equine is ALWAYS the handler’s fault. Regardless of the personality type of an equine, he will always have an honest response to any stimulus. If you ask in the right way, you will get the desired response.

If your equine wants to bolt when you ground-drive from behind, walk beside him and gradually lengthen the distance, one inch at a time, until he has accepted the drivelines correctly—no matter how long it takes. But don’t work on lessons more than 20 to 40 minutes every other day, and make sure he gets his crimped oats reward for “Whoa” and “Back.” I give a lot of “Back” commands while ground driving close to an animal, and I repeat “Back” frequently at every increased or decreased distance behind him. Keep things at a very slow walk until you feel relaxation through the drivelines (there should be no hint of pulling). Stay calm and deliberate and go slowly—be willing to take all the time in the world, if necessary. Whether you are just beginning training, or are already working under saddle, while you and your equine are going to and from the work areas, and during any ground interaction, always review the lessons in showmanship covered in DVDs #1, #8 and #9 of my series, Training Mules & Donkeys before moving on to any new exercises. This will help your equine to really and truly bond with you on a very personal level. If you have multiple equines, be sure to treat every equine as your very favorite whenever you interact with them.

Certain personality types such as slow learners, over-achievers or sensitive individuals do take longer to come around, but when treated with plenty of patience, kindness, trust and respect, they usually do. These personality types may not necessarily be suitable for driving, but they can be quite suitable for under saddle. In fact, once they do come around, the more “difficult” equines, especially those that have previously been neglected or abused, often bond more strongly with you and look to you as their “protector.” They are grateful for your patience and kindness. These are sometimes the ones who will end up having more “spirit” and thus, more athletic tendencies and ability.

Because I have dealt with many animals that were high strung, I have learned that they require tremendous patience, but I also know that they can come around. You might just need to back up and do things even more slowly and more meticulously than you ever thought you would need to, but if you do, you should see some positive results. If you lower your expectations for a while and try to have more fun with the basics, chances are that your equine will, too.

Always make sure you work in areas that are adequately and safely fenced so that, if your equine bolts, you can more easily catch him again. If he bolts, DO NOT, under any circumstances, hold onto the reins, lead or drivelines. Just let go of the lead or drivelines if you are on the ground, and let the reins loose if you are in the saddle. Whether he is on the lead line, in the drivelines or under saddle, when your equine realizes that you aren’t going to play “tug-o-war,” that he will get a reward for staying put, and that it is a waste of his energy to keep running, he will bolt less and less until the unwanted behavior has stopped.

When ground driving, you should not worry about the whip while in the round pen, as the walls will help guide your animal in maintaining the correct position. What you really need to do is keep even contact on both lines (reins) when going in a straight line (or, when in the round pen, on the circle). To get your equine to begin stepping laterally, slightly tighten the outside driveline while maintaining contact on the inside driveline, so that he cannot complete the turn. Stay directly behind his haunches and urge him forward. This will cause him to begin to step sideways, with his face to the wall. Take only a couple of steps this way, and then slowly straighten him out again—you can build-in more lateral steps as he begins to understand what you want. Be sure to reward him with crimped oats every time you halt.

Once you begin ground driving in the open, you can then carry your whip in your right hand. Feed the line into your right hand under your third, fourth and fifth fingers, and then up between your thumb and index finger. The whip handle will be held in the palm and also come up between your thumb and index finger. Tilt this hand to tap the right and left sides of your animal’s body. The left-hand driveline is fed over the index finger and held by the thumb, and then falls down through the palm. To set the bend for the leg yield (opposite from the way your equine will be tracking), shorten the inside rein and hold it steady. Not too much of a bend—you just want to be able to see his eye on that side. Then squeeze and release the directing (right-hand) driveline to indicate that you want him to move in the direction you are squeezing and releasing. Be sure to give plenty of release between pulls so he doesn’t go too far sideways at first. This should be a leg yield action and not a “side pass.” The “side pass” will come later, as he better understands what you want. If he doesn’t follow your leading rein, you can encourage him to move over by tapping him gently on his opposite side. It can be very awkward at first, but with time and patience, these movements (both his and yours) will continue to improve.

Only after he is light and responsive to all commands in the round pen and he ground-drives well in the open arena, should you mount him and begin riding in the round pen. When he is light and responsive in the bridle in the round pen, you can then ride in the open, but continue to work in the open arena on perfecting his technique and his responsiveness in the snaffle bit.

You need to be willing to spend the time to teach these things slowly and in an order that will make sense to your equine, so he is not faced with learning too much too quickly. As you have probably already experienced, when you hurry through this process, he may be able to do certain movements, but he will not be responsive to your cues. Unresponsiveness is a sure sign that there has just not been enough time for the lessons he is learning to become his habitual way of responding.

If an animal is trained with sequential, resistance-free training techniques and is given adequate time on groundwork training (a minimum of one year on the lead line and a second year on lunging and ground driving), he will warm up to other people more easily and will be more “sensible” than those animals that are not trained this way. Each new owner should take the time to review these techniques with newly acquired equines, just to create their own personal relationship with that animal and dispel the negativity of any prior relationships the animal might have had. Spending time doing simple basic groundwork training before actually riding allows your relationship with your equine to develop in a safe and healthy way. It will teach both you (the handler) and your equine how to communicate clearly and effectively. The exercises described in this article will condition your equine’s body so he can more easily carry a rider (whether the rider is balanced or not), and help your equine to be more capable of executing whatever demands the future may hold.

Remember that patience, kindness, respect and consideration from you will yield the same qualities in return from your equine. When you take the time to cultivate a good relationship with him, you will find that you have a much safer and happier riding and driving companion.

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 new children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2015, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Good Basic Training Includes Common Sense, Part 3


By Meredith Hodges

In Part Two of this article, your equine was introduced to the ground rails, cavalletti and bridge obstacles. This helped develop his confidence and trust in you, his handler, while focusing on your animal just getting through each obstacle with true forward movement without hesitation. First, he learned the basics of negotiating these obstacles in Stage One. During Stage Two, when he went back through same the obstacles, he learned to do them in good posture and balance. Now, in order to continue your equine’s mental and physical conditioning, you are ready to proceed to more challenging obstacles.

The Tarp: The Tarp will dramatically affect your equine’s balance and coordination. Its uneven surface and the noise it makes when stepped on will typically put your equine off-balance and may cause him to veer from side to side as he crosses it. You can use the same “Stage One Obstacle” approach, as described in Part 2 of this article, to change his fear into curiosity. Again, as you did with the bridge, break this exercise down into small steps; stopping at the edge of the tarp, stopping with the front feet on the tarp, then all fours, then fronts off and hinds on, and then finally walking off the tarp to a complete halt and squaring up. Just learning to get through the obstacle will diminish your equine’s fear and replace it with curiosity and confidence. Then assume the showmanship position and do all obstacles again with Stage Two strength and balance, and with good posture in mind for both of you. You will know that your equine is ready to move on to the next stage of training in the round pen when you can toss the lead rope over his neck and he will negotiate all obstacles correctly, keeping his head at your shoulder and is showing no visible signs of a loss of balance, or any inability to obey your commands. He will then be placing his feet so that his balance is evenly distributed over all four feet and his foot placement is coordinated and deliberate. At this point, the obstacles in general should be an effortless task.

The Trailer: The Trailer should be considered just another obstacle, requiring the same basic approach as the bridge. Mules and donkeys are no-nonsense kinds of guys and become suspicious of intimidating techniques such as feeding them in the trailer. This would be bribing and it is quite different from rewarding for a task well done. The equine learns instead to distrust due to the sneaky approach that is used to get them in there. We would rather teach our equines to be trusting and willing by developing their confidence in the handler. When we begin leading training, the equine is introduced to all kinds of obstacles. In Stage One of obstacle training, we first approach the obstacle and encourage them to investigate, changing their fear into curiosity and instilling confidence in them and in their handler. When they are compliant, they are rewarded with crimped oats and praised for being so brave. By the time they have learned to confidently negotiate other obstacles, the trailer is no longer a threat to them. They will most often just follow you right in, knowing (since they have never been trapped into complying) that there is a crimped oats reward waiting for them. For those animals that are still hesitant about the trailer and just won’t follow, we use a second method that restricts backward movement and this is explained in detail in DVD #1 of my series, Training Mules and Donkeys. When your equine willingly enters the trailer, you can employ Stage Two and ask your equine to step to the entrance of the trailer and square up, then enter with the front feet and leave the back feet on the ground and square up again, then all four feet in the trailer, square up, and, finally, when tied off inside the trailer, square up yet again. Backing out is also broken down into the same small steps to rebalance the same way on the way back out. This builds muscle correctly and enhances your equine’s proprioception (body awareness).

Jumps: Jumps are a good exercise to do on the lead line, but you must be careful not to over-jump your animal in the beginning. Because they are large, they must have great strength in the hindquarters to boost their heavy bodies over a jump, and if they are not strong enough, they can easily pull a muscle or worse. Jumping should be done only after all other obstacles have been thoroughly mastered. In Stage One, approach the jump the same way you would any other obstacle, building confidence and trust. Then use Stage Two to finesse your equine’s movements. Mules have the ability to jump from a standstill, so you can still use the stop, square up, wait for the command to jump, jump, stop and square up again on the other side. This ability allows you to maintain control of your mule when on the ground with the lead line or in the drivelines. If you are training a horse or a donkey, use a longer lead rope, so after squaring up about four feet in front of the jump, he can get a trotting start to the jump. Whatever equine you are training, be sure to keep the jumps very low in the beginning.

If you want your equine to jump on the lead line, you must go over the jump yourself for the first few sessions, or he will not really understand what you want and may start dodging the jump. Ask him to stand still while you cross the jump to the other side, and then ask him to come. (Remember that a mule can stand closer to the jump, but a horse or a donkey will need some trotting space in order to make the jump). Once your equine takes the jump with no problem, you can teach him to go over the jump ahead of you on a longer lead line. Start off with very small jumps and understand that an equine will jump higher than he needs to jump the first few times. When he is finally tucking his knees under and just barely clearing the top, he is then ready for the jump to be slightly raised. Raise your jumps in three-inch increments and repeat the exercise until your equine is properly clearing each height and not over-jumping before you raise the height again. The lead line stop-and-jump procedure will help strengthen and develop your animal’s hindquarters and will begin to teach him to lengthen and compress his body as needed to control his stride.

The Back Through “L”: The Back Through “L” will fine-tune your equine’s response to “Whoa,” and he will learn to allow you to adjust the different quarters of his body and move each of them independently. First, walk forward through the obstacle, then stop at the end and turn around to face backward. Then, slowly and steadily, back through the entire obstacle. Once he has gotten this down fairly well, you can then go back to the beginning, and back one step (but only one!). Then proceed forward to the middle of the first straightaway, stop, back up two steps and square up. Go forward again to the angled rails where they begin the turn, halt, and then move his front feet one or two steps sideways with gentle pulls on your lead line at the halter, into the middle of the second straightaway, and halt. Then ask for one or two steps forward into the second straightaway and halt. His back feet will be cutting the corner into the 90-degree turn, so after he halts, tap him lightly on the hip with the end of your lead rope to move the hindquarters over one or two steps to straighten him into the center of the second straightaway, halt and square up again. Finish the obstacle by walking to the end of the straightaway, halt and square up again. Now do the same series of steps in reverse. This exercise teaches him to maintain his focus and balance throughout the obstacle and to learn to wait for you to move his front and rear quarters into any position required, taking only as many steps as you request. This will improve his negotiation of forward and backward movement, as well as beginning to strengthen the hard-to-condition inside forearm, gaskin and stifle muscles.

Five or Six Tires on the Ground: Five or Six Tires on the Ground (3×2 or 3×3) is an obstacle which is used to help develop proprioception (deliberate and balanced foot placement) and coordination, as equines have so many different places to put their feet when walking through tires. Although they will want to waver and step out of the sides, you want them to maintain deliberate foot placement, so carefully plan each step. With each step, stop for a moment and then reward after the completed step. This will break the task down into doable stages and will help to keep your animal in a straight line while you both move through the tires. You can stagger the tires in a number of different ways, giving your equine multiple options for foot placement. He needn’t place his feet in the middle of each tire, but he must move straight forward in balance, correctly and in good posture. This exercise keeps him alert and careful about foot placement while it fine-tunes his proprioception and balancing capabilities.

The Tractor Tire: The Tractor Tire is a wonderful advanced exercise in coordination. The first task (Stage One) is to ask your equine to adjust his stride and simply walk through the middle of the tractor tire. After he is comfortable walking through it, break it down into smaller steps in Stage Two: stop before the tire, then one foot in the tire, then two front feet in the tire, then allow the front feet out and the back feet in and then exit.

When he is calm with this, you can add to the exercise by stopping him when his front feet are in the middle of the tire and asking him to do a turn on the forehand. While watching his legs, make sure he is properly executing the turn by crossing his near hind in front of the far hind, as he turns without stepping his front feet out of the center of the tire. Allow him to adjust his front feet back to the center of the tire if they get too close to the edge. Just stop moving the hindquarters, halt, adjust the front legs, halt and begin moving the hindquarters again—only one step at a time. In the beginning, be sure to reward every step. As he understands and complies more easily, he can be rewarded less often within the task.

When he can easily do this exercise, you can then put his hind feet in the middle of the tire and do the turn on the haunches, crossing over in front of the hind pivot foot and the inside front foot as he makes the turn. Again, if the hind legs need to be adjusted back to the center of the tire, stop, correct the hind legs, stop again and then continue. In order to maintain his attentiveness and control, always teach general negotiation first for curiosity and confidence (Stage One), followed by breaking the obstacle down into small and doable steps to be rewarded in good posture and balance, and with coordination (Stage Two). The Tractor Tire is a great coordination exercise because it not only addresses forward motion, but simple lateral motion as well. These exercises will begin to strengthen the hard-to-condition inside forearm, gaskin and stifle muscles.

Side Passing the “T”: Because Side Passing the “T” is a complicated and advanced obstacle, it is important that your equine execute the straight forward obstacles and lateral Tractor Tire obstacles before attempting to do the “T.” The “T” is a great way to fine-tune truly sideways lateral motion, where both front and back feet are crossing over diagonally and simultaneously in a balanced fashion, moving the equine laterally to the right and to the left as he negotiates the three different rails in the obstacle. In the same obstacle, you will be breaking the simultaneous motion into a turn on the forehand and a turn on the haunches in the middle of the obstacle, in order to make the turns into the next lateral motion down the next rail. This obstacle uses all the elements that have been taught in previous obstacles. It also lays the groundwork for perfect communication between you and your equine. In order to correctly execute this obstacle, he must pay attention to you at every step.

In the beginning, you will need to teach your equine to side pass by moving first the front quarters, then the hindquarters at each step to maintain straightness of the body throughout the obstacle. But as he gains more balance and coordination, he will be able to move the feet—both front and back—simultaneously along the side pass rails. This is where the inside forearm, gaskin and stifle muscles will begin to develop properly.

Again, you will know when you have spent adequate time on “Stage Two Obstacle Training” for your equine’s best conditioning when you can throw the lead rope over his neck and without you touching him and with his head at your shoulder, he will easily follow your hands and body language through all obstacles, displaying strength, coordination and balance in good posture and will stay focused throughout.

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 new children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2015, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


MULE CROSSING: Good Basic Training Includes Common Sense, Part 2


By Meredith Hodges

Proper training is much more than just teaching your equine to do “movements.” You are conditioning his body so he can do those movements easily, which in turn produces an equine with a happy and healthy working attitude. In order to do this, you need to be prepared to spend plenty of time during the leading stage of training both on flat ground and then over obstacles, conditioning the “core” muscles that support your animal’s skeletal frame. When training any equine for saddle or driving, you will need to spend an adequate amount of time on correctly conditioning his body. To assure that there is no undue stress on his body, your equine should be at least three years of age when a rider is introduced. If you look at the configuration of the equine spine, it’s easy to see how important it is to strengthen the muscles that support the tall, finger-like spinus processes that protrude from the equine’s interlocking vertebrae—these spinus processes are what a rider actually sits on and must be supported along the topline by strengthened musculature on both sides of the spine.

Approach to Obstacles, Stage One:

At this stage, you need only focus on negotiating the obstacle: replacing fear with curiosity, instilling trust and confidence, and just getting your equine through the obstacle. When doing obstacles on the lead line, keep in mind that you are not only teaching your equine to negotiate an obstacle, you are also conditioning the muscles (especially the ones that are closest to the bones) while, at the same time, teaching balance, coordination and self control. In showmanship training, you focused on strength and balance on the flat ground. While working with obstacles on the lead line, you will now begin to add coordination during this second phase of obstacle training. Remember: Do not put obstacles in your equine’s stable area and/or living quarters, in an attempt to make him “live” with the obstacle. This only serves to create insensitivity and in some cases, cause greater fear. The stable area should always be your animal’s resting place, just as our bedrooms are for us—a place of rest, relaxation and privacy.

If your equine is not easily approaching an obstacle such as a bridge, tarp, ground poles, etc., do not wait and withhold the reward until he actually makes it over or through the obstacle. Lower your expectations and go back to your lead line training: Walk to the end of your lead line, hold it taut and wait for your equine to step toward you. Even if he only takes one step at first to comply with your request, give him his crimped oats reward, tell him how brave he is being and praise him for his accomplishment. Let him settle, leave him where he is and walk to the end of the lead line again, getting even closer to the obstacle, and repeat the same routine. When you finally reach the obstacle, step up onto the bridge or tarp, or over the first ground rail, and ask again. Stop him if he tries to run through or over the obstacle and reward him for standing with his front feet on the obstacle. You might even want to back him up, and then reward him for doing the back up before proceeding forward. Next, lead your animal away from the obstacle and then come back, requesting that he put all four feet onto or into the obstacle. Repeat this procedure again and ask him to negotiate the entire obstacle slowly and in control. Breaking the obstacle down into small steps like this will facilitate your animal’s body control and help him to learn to keep his attention on you—and don’t forget your verbal commands.

When your equine is more willing to come through the obstacle, you can regain your showmanship position, with your left hand carrying the lead line and your right arm extended in front of you, pointing toward the direction in which you will be going. When he is finally listening and will follow at your shoulder over or through the obstacle and stop or back up at any point during the negotiation of the obstacle, you can then turn your attention to whether he is actually traveling forward and backing up in a straight line, and whether or not he is stopping squarely. Do this the same way first on the lead line, then much later in the drivelines and, lastly, under saddle. How he negotiates the obstacles will have a direct bearing on how his muscles are being conditioned and how his balance and coordination are being affected so don’t be afraid to ask for more precision going forward.

Approach to Obstacles, Stage Two: 

Now you will be going through the same obstacles, but with body strengthening and coordination in mind. Since, in the beginning, balance is very sketchy at best, you should break all of the following obstacles down into very small steps. 

Ground Rails and Cavalletti: Four ground rails and four cavalletti are good tools for straight, forward exercises that will promote stretching of the body in true and correct forward motion. These exercises will also develop rhythm, balance, cadence and suspension within the gaits, first on the lead line, and then later during ground driving and under saddle. Ground rails and cavalletti are also great for enhancing your ability to stay in stride with your animal. You should first do the exercises over the ground rails. Then, for jumping training, you can graduate to the 6″ cavalletti setting, then the 12″ cavalletti setting and, finally, the 18″ cavalletti setting. Your equine will learn to suspend and place his feet in a balanced and deliberate fashion while you learn to do the same. Getting in rhythm with your animal’s stride will improve your equine training experience and make things a lot easier and safer.

The Bridge: The bridge obstacle will help develop your animal’s eye/hoof coordination. Those first steps onto a bridge will determine how the rest of the body will follow. Approach the bridge, and then stop at the base, square up your equine and stand for a few seconds. Then ask him to put his two front feet on the bridge, square up and, again, stand for a few seconds. Next, ask him to put all four feet on the middle of the bridge, square up and stand still for a few seconds. Now ask him to take his two front feet off the bridge and leave the two back feet on it and square up again. Most equines can do the first few positions pretty easily, but when the front feet go off the bridge, the equine’s balance is often thrown forward and they find it very difficult to stop in this position. If he is able to sustain this position for several seconds before you give the command to continue forward, he has completed the bridge work.

If your animal is having difficulty with this position on the bridge with you in the showmanship position, you can use a second technique when coming off the bridge. Stand directly in front of your equine and hold the halter on both sides of his face to help keep him from falling forward. This is one time when it is preferred to have a nylon webbed halter that fits his face. If he has been properly trained up to this point, he should not run over you, but will accept the aid of your arms to help support him in the correct position. This is one time when it is acceptable to violate the rules of being in the “danger zone,” which is the area directly in front of your equine. The equine that is trained in this manner will be able to negotiate the bridge and halt at any time upon request with no visible effort (i.e., no change in stride, balance, rhythm or cadence) and will learn to wait and listen carefully to each of your commands, first on the lead line, and then later on the drivelines and finally under saddle.

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 new children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2015, 2016, 2020 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.



MULE CROSSING: Winter Fun with Your Equine


By Meredith Hodges

After Spring, Summer and Fall come and go, the cold days of Winter can easily become an excuse to slow down and do less, but Winter can be just as fun and full of activities with your equine as any other season. Along with the basics—food, water and shelter—your equine needs activities to keep him fit and happy. Like any of us, he doesn’t want to be active only part of the year and then left alone during the Winter months, bored and lonely (not to mention the stress he will feel when he has to be reconditioned every Spring). Instead, it’s healthier for him, both physically and mentally, to be active and maintained year-round. This does not mean you need to ride him three or four days a week throughout the Winter. There are lots of other fun, diverse activities you can enjoy together that will adequately maintain his body condition while keeping him interested and happy.

Of course, in order to enjoy Winter games and sports, you must first be sure to dress appropriately for the weather in your area. If you live in a cool or cold climate, dress in layered clothing you can easily remove if you need to. Wear a hat to conserve your body heat and footwear that keeps your feet warm and dry. What your equine wears in cold weather is equally important. For instance, if your equine’s winter coat tends to be on the thinner side, he may need a blanket for the long Winter nights to keep his body from expending too much energy just trying to stay warm. The blanket will also serve to mat down his coat so there is less chance of it becoming entangled in his tack or harness. If you have a stall for your equine, just for Winter months, you may want to trace-clip him in the areas that do the most sweating so that when he is worked, he will cool down quickly and easily. Promoting good circulation keeps your equine warm, helps his body to stay flexible and supple, and cuts way down on his muscle and bone stiffness. Be sure to begin any and all workouts and recreational activities with consistent and appropriate warm-up exercises.

Since most inclement weather produces slippery ground surfaces, if your equine is to be used extensively, it is important that he have appropriate shoes on his feet during the slippery seasons. On strictly muddy or slippery surfaces, tapping and drilling studs into his shoes can help immensely in giving him added traction. If cared for properly, you can remove these studs when you don’t need them. If you get snow in your area, you may want to go with borium shoes and rim pads. The borium shoes supply good traction, while the rim pads prevent snow from balling up in your equine’s feet. I also suggest using splint boots on all four of his legs. This will protect against injury and give him added support and protection of his fetlock joints.

If you have a very young equine, make sure to consistently continue your routine of handling him throughout the entire winter. I do not suggest lunging a very young equine unless you have the advantage of an indoor arena, as he could slip and injure himself. But you can still take him for walks on the lead line, ground drive him through various Winter scenes and
spend plenty of time grooming him. All of this will accustom him to Winter’s unique terrain and obstacles, maintain his essential and continued imprinting and bonding with you, build his self-confidence and maintain his good manners.

The better trained your equine is, the more possibilities there are for Winter sports and games. If the idea of taking lessons at a riding stable that has an indoor arena appeals to you, Winter tends to be a less hectic, more peaceful time of year in which to learn and practice without the added stress and anxiety of showing and other warm weather activities. But even if you want to forego the lessons, there are numerous stables that will rent the use of their indoor arenas for a nominal fee and there are places to trail ride through beautiful Winter scenes. People and equines alike seem to derive great pleasure from these Winter get-togethers when they are carefully and responsibly planned.

Another great way to have fun with your equine is participating in Winter games and holiday parades. Christmas is always a joyous time to bring your equine out of the barn. Consider decorating your equine, dressing up yourself and then riding or driving in your local Christmas parade. This can be loads of fun! Caroling aboard your equine throughout your neighborhood is also a wonderful way for you, your equine and your neighbors to get into the holiday spirit. Oftentimes when my equines and I have gone out caroling after a Christmas parade, the neighborhood children have come out to sing and dance behind our caroling caravan! This kind of pure joy is contagious and always reminds me of the true meaning of the Christmas season.

There are lots of different Winter games that you can play with your equine and if you have a friend who wants to participate too, there are even more possibilities. With proper shoes on your equine and good, flat ground, and if the weather permits, there are so many gymkhana games that you can play. Or how would you like a brisk cross-country gallop on your equine with a few fences to jump? Or you and a friend can take an exciting ride on a tire or sled, taking turns with one person riding the equine while the other rides the sled or tire. If you have more friends with equines, you can even have Winter races. You are limited only by your own imagination! Remember that any game or sport requires that you consider safety first for both you and your equine: What are your abilities? What are your limitations? What is your level of physical conditioning and that of your equine? Whatever activities the two of you do to keep busy, happy and healthy during the Winter months, the name of the game should always be—FUN!

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

© 1990, 2015, 2016, 2019 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Boundaries at Play with Augie and Spuds



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.

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Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Quality Time With Augie and Spuds



Miniature horses, donkeys and mules all have one thing in common; everyone else is taller than they are! As the saying goes, the eyes are the window to the soul so it is understandable that they would become anxious if they are unable to look into a person’s eyes to decide whether they are friend or foe. With safety always as my first priority, I work with my minis from a lower position whenever it’s safe to do so. That way, I can make eye contact with them, and I make certain they are always lavishly rewarded with an oats reward for their compliance. You can make fun of me if you want to, but another thing that is important is the way you talk to them. Baby talk INVITES their interest where a perpetually firm voice, or a clicker, does not invite the same kind of intimacy. The results of using this safe approach to miniature have been amazing! My minis are always calm and happy to cooperate and 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.

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Wranglers Donkey Diary: Wrangler’s Summer Bath



It was a perfect hot day for Wrangler’s yearly summer bath! We tried taking a “selfie” with a Canon camera and telephoto lens…not too bad for our first try!

He’s a real ham! He loves to smile for the camera and eat oats from the fanny pack.

Just tell him to and he perks his ears for the pictures! Wrangler is now an 11 year old gelding and softens my loss of Little Jack Horner in 2014!

Wrangler is so much like L.J.H. it’s crazy!

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What’s New with Roll? Goodbye Roll


February 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll was truly happy to have a brand new buddy!


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What’s New with Roll? Ground Driving the Pasture



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wranglers Donkey Diary: Sarcoid Treatment



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

…and then a diagonal rail crossing.

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

…and re-approach the ground rails…

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

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

We practiced bending through the corner cones…

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

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

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

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

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LTR Training Tip #83: Practice Exercises For Good Equitation


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Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Shenanigans in the Hayfields



Do you need some help with the lead ropes?

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

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

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

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

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

How do you do, Spuds? Not so sure?

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

Now where are we going, Augie?!

These are some really deep windrows!

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

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

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

You bet! This is really cool!

Smile for the camera, Boys!

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

I wuv you, too, Mini Momma!

And I love you both!  What a grand picnic!

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Wranglers Donkey Diary: Second Lesson Day



Simple hairbrush bristles remove more undercoat


The loose hair on top scrapes off easily


Place girth 4 inches from forearm


Lossen crupper strap & insert tail


Adjust snugly, but not tight


Much improved walking in sync


Proper turn through the gate


More impulsion & flexibility at walk left


First offer to trot easily


Begin reverse


Improved posture & balance at walk right


Offer to trot right


Hindquarter engagement before halt


Improved in sync back to work station


Slide saddle back to loosen crupper – learns to stand quietly


Remove saddle

Bristles are longer which is enough to get it all


No more shedding blade hair breakage


Adjust back girth snug enough to hold the saddle down


Scratch rear for relaxation of the tail


Place saddle over the center of balance


Patient while opening gate


Improved gate posture


Improved posture & balance at walk left


Beginning to find his balance


Complete reverse on correct pivot foot


Improved posture & balance at walk right


Finding balance at trot right


We did GOOD!


Remove bridle & put on halter


Slide crupper off tail


Back to the barn IN SYNC!

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“This vacuum sure feel good, Spuds!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


See more Another Adventure With Augie and Spuds posts

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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