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MULE CROSSING: The Ins and Outs of Leg Supports


By Meredith Hodges

There are so many equine-related products on the market today that it is difficult to decide which ones you really need and which ones you don’t. For instance, the subject of splint boots and leg wraps can be very confusing. How do you know when to use them? What types of leg wraps or splint boots are best? Do they really help? In what ways do they help? What type of material should they be made from? And the list of questions goes on.

Splint boots and leg wraps vary as much as their uses. The easiest and most obvious use of a leg wrap comes when traveling with your equine. If you are taking your animal any real distance, it is always advisable to use full cover, padded shipping boots on all four legs. The shipping wraps help prevent your animal from injuring himself due to his own movements, on objects inside the trailer or because of other animals that are traveling with him.

If you have an animal that is fidgety and has difficulty standing still, applying leg wraps is the perfect opportunity to teach him to stand quietly while you handle his legs. You can begin training for leg wraps by putting them on your equine while he is outside the trailer in your grooming station, and then removing them in the trailer before unloading. Make sure he is standing quietly while you put the leg wraps on him. Also, get in the habit of always removing the leg wraps while he is still in the trailer. This makes him learn to “wait” for you before he departs the trailer. If he expects to have his wraps removed while he is still in the trailer, he is less likely to become excited and possibly bump or step on you while waiting to exit the trailer.

The best shipping boots are the ones that are full-leg, quilted on the inside and attached with Velcro straps. Some materials can collect bedding or debris and cause discomfort or pressure sores (the fleece-lined wraps are notorious for this). The best shipping boots are made from a quilted nylon material and most cover the entire leg and hoof.

You can also use quilted cotton pads and leg wraps, but they are primarily for use while your animal is stalled, in order to prevent cuts and abrasions at shows and events. Polo wraps (a soft pliable cotton wrap with no quilted pads) are also used for support during training. These types of wraps generally cover only the cannon bones and not the fetlocks and pasterns. If you do use Polo wraps or quilted cotton pads and wraps, learn to wrap them correctly to avoid pressure points that could cause problems. Consult with a professional to learn the proper wrapping technique.

There is a wide variety of splint boots available on the market and each of them is designed for a particular use. When doing light work in the arena or for trail riding, you might want to use a “front and back” set that are designed for minimal support, while providing the legs with greater protection from injury. In beginning training, you might use splint boots only on the front legs, since your animal will not likely be using his hindquarters efficiently enough to cause a problem. But once you have begun activities such as Reining or lateral work, the rear boots become important.

When making a decision about which type of protection to use, it is important to first assess your animal’s physical development and the types of activity he will be doing. Boots that are designed primarily for protection do not always lend much support to the muscles and tendons.

They do, however, protect the animal from cuts, bumps and bruises and are advisable for use during hard work, gymkhana events, trail rides in mountainous areas and other more stressful workouts. If you do use splint boots while trail riding and they get wet, do not leave them on the animal for very long or they will lose their ability to support and can cause sores from rubbing. In order to prevent this from happening, boots should be removed, cleaned and dried out immediately after use.

Since, in beginning training, the goal is to condition your animal’s muscles and tendons, “light support” splint boots are a good thing to have on-hand. At this early stage, if a boot gives too much support, the animal does not necessarily develop correctly and the areas under the boots can become weak. Muscles and tendons above and below the boot will gain too much strength and cause possible knotting of the muscles, compromising the function of that entire leg due to uneven conditioning.

After basic training, when your equine is participating in more stressful activities such as jumping, endurance and racing (or in the case of an injury), it may become necessary to use a more supportive boot to lightly support already-conditioned muscles and tendons. Support boots are designed to provide equal support over the entire area they cover. Be careful that they are neither too tight nor too loose. You don’t want the boots so tight that they cut off the blood supply to the area covered or are not flexible enough to allow the joints to move freely. However, you don’t want them so loose that they ride down on the legs.

Although the hooves look tough, they, too, can be adversely affected, particularly in gymkhana events and jumping. This is why “bell boots” may be needed for hoof and coronet band protection. The coronet is a very sensitive area and can cause severe lameness if damaged even by a small, seemingly insignificant, cut or bump. If a hoof is unusually dry, severe cracks can occur, and so it is also advisable to routinely use a hoof dressing in addition to the bell boots, in order to make sure a trauma to the hoof will not cause cracking.

When trying to decide which splint boots, leg wraps or other devices to use assess your plan for the day. Leg wraps and splint boots can change from time to time, depending on the conditions of the day. Most shows do not allow splint boots or leg wraps in certain classes. If an animal is in good physical condition, he should not need splint boots or leg wraps for the short time of the performance unless it is extended, as in gymkhana events. In this case, your animal should be conditioned well enough to forgo the actual support-type boots and would only need boots that would primarily offer protection from injury.

You may be asking yourself, “How can I tell a minimal support boot from a fully functional medical support boot?” This can be very confusing, considering all the different kinds of leg wraps and splint boots out there. Some even look identical, as in the case of the high quality Pro Choice splint boot versus an off-brand. Although the off-brand may look identical, it is often made from inferior-quality materials that do not afford the degree of flexibility needed for successful therapy. Although these off-brands are designed for support and do cover the joints, should be considered as more of a protective boot. Splint boots are strictly for protection of the cannon bones, because they do not cover the joints and offer very little support.

In the case of leg wraps, there are those that stretch and are used for support (as in the Polo wraps used for Dressage schooling), and those that do not stretch and are used over padded quilt squares for traveling and while in the stable. When researching which product will best suit your needs and the needs of your animal, equine professionals, your local tack shop or feed store, shows and expos, and the internet can all be valuable sources of information.

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.

© 2003, 2014, 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: The Dirt Piles 8-23-13


There’s a lot of construction going on at the ranch, but Spuds and Augie sense the opportunity for adventure!

“Hey, Spuds, what’s with all this junk? It looks a little iffy to me!”
“Just chill, Augie! It’s just another great adventure…no sweat!”

“Oh wow, Spuds! We have our own Rocky Mountains in the driveway!”
“Hmmm…I don’t know about this, Augie!”

“You were right, Spuds…no sweat!”

“Wait a minute, Spuds, this doesn’t look so easy!”
“Can’t stop now…I’ll see you at the bottom, Augie!”

“I think I’ll try it this way…look out below! Here I come!”

“Whew! We made it! Now what’s going on over here?”

“Hi, Dean! Oh, well this isn’t all that exciting…been here, done this! No lead rope this time, eh?!”

“Your turn, Augie…come on over here!”

“Hey, Spuds, you don’t need to be tied when you have oats! Oats are the tie that binds!”

“Get a load of this! Mini foot, draft trimming!”

“What do you think, Spuds, should we go for it?”

“You go first Augie. I’ll follow you this time!”

“Hang in there, Spuds! You can make it! I know you can!”

“We made it! YAY! Boy, that was quite an adventure!”

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Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Baling & Stacking Hay 6-21-13


It’s summer time, and there are tons of adventures to be had for two mini donkeys on a bustling ranch like Lucky Three. Today, Spuds and Augie explore the hay field with Meredith and test their bravery against a fearsome, loud machine.

Hey, Spuds! I hear Meredith calling…what’s up?

She’s kinda silly, Augie. Who ever heard of saying “how do you do” to a swather, Augie?

Whoa….look what’s coming!!!

WOW!!! That’s super noisy and REALLY BIG!

Oh look, Spuds, it’s not so scary. This is how they make our hay!

Yeah, and look how they pick it up with this other big machine so they can put it in the barn!

What a fun adventure in the hayfield…we learned a lot today!


Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Farrier & Grooming 04-23-13


“Hey, Augie…watcha doin’?!
“I’m practicing my halter stance…you know, four-square!”

“Good idea, Augie! I guess I’ll practice my halter stance right here!”
“And I will wait for my turn at the hitch rail…I wonder what’s up today.”

“Hey Augie, you’ve got some pretty dirty feet down there!”
“Cut with the wise cracks, Spuds!”

“I sure like it when they come down to our eye level, Augie.”
“Yeah, it’s not as scary as it is when all you see is their legs…whatcha doin’ back there, Dean?”

“Your turn, Spuds! This isn’t bad at all!”
“Yeah, it’s all peace, love and OATS!”

“It doesn’t get any better than this!”

“Dang, I was working on a Mohawk…it’s the IN thing with donkeys, you know!”
“Just be happy with your crew cut, Spuds. Crew cuts are always IN!”

“Oooh, here comes the baby oil again!”
“Aah, nuts! Now I can’t chew on your mane and tail…baby oil tastes just awful!”

“Yeah, but we sure are handsome now!”

MULE CROSSING Showing In Harness7

MULE CROSSING: Showing in Harness


By Meredith Hodges

Now that you have spent many months teaching your mule to drive and he is doing so well, you have decided that it might be fun to show him in harness. So, what are that kinds of things that a judge looks for in a driving class of mules? Well, it’s basically the same as it is with horses.

The first and foremost consideration for a judge is your mule’s manners. His manners will exhibit just how safe your mule is for driving. As with people, a judge can get an overall impression from the expression on your mule’s face! An attentive and pleasant expression is definitely preferred. The expression on his face will reflect his overall comfort within a situation. If he is comfortable, he responds to minimal aids calmly, confidently, yet promptly. He should reinback easily upon request, and stand quietly at the halt with all four legs squared. His ears will be relaxed, but attentively turned to the driver most of the time. Ears that are rapidly in motion indicate anxiety and distraction.

A major contributing factor in your mule’s overall manners is his conditioning. If your mule has been brought along with a carefully planned exercise program, his muscle growth and strength will increase with little or no stress, as it should in most athletes. The mule that is conditioned in this way will have the strength to pull while maintaining a smooth, steady and effortless gait. He is comfortable in his work. Properly conditioned mules will not exhibit the tenseness that comes from overexertion, a tenseness that can inhibit his entire performance.

How can you tell if your mule is well-conditioned? Touching his body with your fingers at the neck, shoulders, barrel, loins, stifles and rump can tell you a lot. These muscles should be hard and not mushy to the touch. Standing behind your mule, you should begin to see considerable gaskin development. A driving class lasts approximately 20 to 30 minutes. If you condition your mule at the medium trot for 20 minutes straight, without any sweating or breathing hard, he should be able to handle the class with no problem. Another helpful hint is to condition him on uneven ground. Then, when he performs on the flat ground, it will seem a lot easier to him. Remember to condition slowly to avoid overexertion, muscle soreness or injury. If you condition your mule beyond what is expected in the class, you won’t have to worry about him being fit for class! And, as long as he is so well conditioned, be sure he is well-groomed as well.

Your mule’s way of going is another important consideration for the judge. In the driving class, your mule will be asked for the walk, collected trot, working trot and the reinback. The walk should be “regular and unconstrained, energetic, but calm with even and determined steps with distinctively marked four equally spaced beats.” In the collected trot, “the neck is raised, thus enabling the shoulders to move with greater ease in all directions, the hocks well-engaged and maintaining energetic impulsion not withstanding the slower movement.” The mule’s steps are shorter, but are lighter and more mobile. The working trot is a pace between the collected and extended trots. The mule “goes forward freely and straight, engaging the hind legs with good hock action, on a taut, but light rein, the position being balanced and unconstrained. The steps are
even as possible and the hind feet touch the ground in the foot prints of the fore feet.” The reinback is “a kind of walk backwards. The legs being raised and set down simultaneously by diagonal pairs, the hind legs remaining well in line and the legs being well raised.” The mule that is conditioned slowly with special attention given to core strength, straightness, balance and bend will begin to carry himself in good equine posture and exhibit these true gaits naturally after a period of practice time.

The next consideration is the appropriateness of the animal to the vehicle he is pulling. A smaller mule should never be used to pull a large wagon, nor should the larger draft mule be used to pull a pony cart! Select a vehicle that pulls easily for your mule and one that is proportionate to his size. The overall picture should be balanced and harmonious. Fifty percent of your total class score will include your mule’s manners, his conditioning, his way of going and the appropriateness of the general turnout.

Twenty percent of your total score is judged on you, the whip or teamster. Your hands should be held at waist level, about three inches in front of your body and about 10 inches apart. “A rein passes between the forefinger and middle finger of each hand and is held secure with pressure from the thumb; the whip is held in the right hand.” You should always sit in good posture and the use of your aids should be almost imperceptible. An expert Reinsman rarely exceeds a 12″ imaginary box around his hands. Your dress should be appropriate to the vehicle in which you ride.

For instance, a formal coach would require a more formal dress than would a two-wheel country cart. Dress must be conservative for the times. Western dress is permitted where appropriate. Hat, gloves, coat, tie, and a lap apron are required. A whip must be held in hand at all times! Always look where you are going, check the judge for instructions periodically and pay attention to spacing in the arena! The remaining considerations for a judge are the vehicle and the harness with each carrying 15% of your total score. The vehicle should be in good repair, appropriate size and style for your mule, and should fit him properly through the shafts and tugs. The harness should fit him as well as possible and should be adjusted correctly, especially the breeching so it can do its job in the reinback.

Often, it is difficult to find horse harnesses that will fit the lighter and smaller mules or donkeys properly, but you can approximate the size you need (i.e. pony, cob, horse, draft) and then make the necessary adjustments, or have a professional harness-maker help you. Your mule should be fastened snugly to the vehicle. Be sure that your collar or breast collar fits your mule properly as this can create soreness and make for a very unhappy mule! Adjust the breeching snugly enough to make your “brakes” effective! One of the most common mistakes made by beginning drivers is adjusting the breeching too loose. This makes it difficult for your mule to either slow down or back straight and evenly, and the resulting slack will make his transitions look abrupt and awkward!

There is a lot to consider as a driving judge, but judges are also human beings, and basically the judge is going to select those mules for placement in the class that HE would most like to drive. If you follow the guidelines that I have described, your Longears will be one of the judge’s favorites!

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

© 1991, 2016, 2019, 2021, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.


MULE CROSSING: Riding Side Saddle


By Meredith Hodges

Today, the concept of elegance has been greatly compromised by the fast pace of our open-minded society. Few of us have neither the time nor the inclination to do what is necessary to cultivate this concept as a major part of our lives. Women today have far too many jobs and responsibilities with which to cope without worrying about being elegantunless she lives in a densely populated urban area. There are just not a lot of places where a woman can practice being elegant. One of the places she can, however, is in the growing number of Side Saddle classes offered at many of the different Breed Shows across the country. The equestrian art of Side Saddle is currently being revitalized among the different breeds and one of the most enthusiastic groups is our own Longears lovers! But elegance is not necessarily the only reason our Longears Ladies are riding aside. The lady equestrians of today like to get a more well-rounded education in the art of Horsemanship riding astride, and the perfection of their balanced seat when riding aside only enhances their existing abilities.

Mules can be lovely, obedient and secure Side Saddle mounts when they are brought along correctly as has been exhibited nationally by Crystal Elzer and her mule, Final Legacy. I also fondly remember Ann Hathaway and her Dressage mule, Baby Huey, exhibiting Side Saddle in the Bishop Mule Days parade years ago. I judged the A.D.M.S. Nationals in Austin, Minnesota, and again, I witnessed a sprinkle of elegant Side Saddle riders on mules. In the state of Colorado, there was a surge of Longears Side Saddle riders beginning in 1983. The Side Saddle class for mules at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado previously had no less than 10 entries in the Side Saddle Class since its beginning in 1983 when an entire mule division was brought back after a long absence from the show.

Generally speaking, people are quite impressed with the ladies who ride aside, and a common question often arises, “You sure look elegant, but how on earth can you stay on that way?!”

Actually, riding aside is much more secure than riding astridebecause of the grip you can achieve with your legs around the pommel and leaping horn of the Side Saddle. This was demonstrated clearly at a Side Saddle clinic given by Patti Chadwick at the Bitterroot Mule Company in Bennett, Colorado on March 23rd of 1993. Six beginning Side Saddle riders of various equitation skills proved to be quite secure in their seats and no one had any real problems to speak of that day! All levels of riders were jumping cavalletti by the end of the clinic! So you see, it isn’t as insecure as one might be inclined to believe. And with an instructor like Patti Chadwick, it was a snap! The name of the game is “balance,” and whether riding aside on a horse, mule, pony or donkey, it is always a rewarding challenge to finally be able to master this art.

My daughter, Dena and I truly enjoyed riding aside both in shows and in parades. Dena was thrilled to be able to finally best seasoned Side Saddle rider, Crystal Elzer in the Bishop Mule Days Side Saddle class. Crystal was a practiced Side Saddle competitor from California at Bishop Mule Days that had bested her for the previous three years.

Side saddles come in three distinct categories: English, Western, and Period side saddles. The English side saddle is probably the best one in which to learn, since the seat is better balanced over your animal. The Period side saddles are the worst, since most are built and balanced incorrectly for our contemporary riders and equines. The older side saddles were built to fit the smaller framed riders and larger animals of yesterday and just don’t fit the conformation of the animals and the size of the ladies of today. Although most side saddles today are bought used, there are saddle companies that are making them again due to increased demand. If you buy a side saddle, make sure it fits your equine as well as yourself to assure the best ride.

Fitting the side saddle to your body is relatively simple. While seated on a chair, measure along the bottom of your thigh from the back of your bent knee to just beyond your hips under your tailbone. The saddle is measured from pommel to cantle and should exceed your leg measurement by no less than two inches. You can ride in a side saddle that is a little too large, but not on one that is too small! Consider the width of your saddle to avoid excessive overhang on each side.

The training of your equine for Side Saddle should be accomplished fairly easily if your animal has a good foundation to start, and those trained in Dressage will convert the most easily. The absence of the leg on the right side gives problems most often during the left lead canter and during the leg yield left. Though many ladies will use a whip as a substitute for the right leg, it is not necessary. The animal at the higher levels of training (1st Level Dressage and above) have learned to follow your seat, and will do quite nicely staying under your seat as you move through the patterns. If your animal needs additional support, it can come through supportive indications through the reins. To achieve the left and right lead canter, for example, a slight push with your seat and a squeeze/release on the indicating directional rein will tell your animal the correct lead to take. It’s that simple!

There are quite a few existing Side Saddle organizations today that are available to those of you who might be interested in taking lessons and participating in shows and award programs. You can check your local area for one near you or you can contact the International Side Saddle Organization, 75 Lamington Rd., Branchburg, New Jersey, 08876-3314, (706) 871-ISSO (4776), info@sidesaddle.com. The United States Equestrian Federation can also help you to find qualified instructors in your area. They can be contacted at U.S.E.F., 4047 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, Kentucky, 40511, (859) 258-2472, FAX (859) 231-6662.

If you think you might be interested in learning to ride aside, contact one of these organizations to find out what people you should contact in your area to help you and others that share your interest. The feeling of elegance and accomplishment is unmatched. Our world could use a little more whimsy and romance to help the modern woman to enjoy her dignity and elegance in this fast-paced world. Hats off to the lovely ladies who ride aside!

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.

© 1993, 2016, 2020, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


MULE CROSSING: Maintenance & Grooming


By Meredith Hodges

Your equine depends upon you for his safety and well-being. The best feed in the world won’t keep him in good health if you neglect other important areas such as vaccinations and worming. It’s up to you to create a program to prevent disease and control parasites. Here are some suggestions for a general health program:

1) Cleanliness is very important. Make sure feed boxes are clean and manure is removed from stalls and paddocks. Do not feed hay or grain on the floor or anywhere it may become contaminated with manure. Similarly, small, heavily used pastures tend to build up a heavy parasite load. Pastures should be rotated and harrowed as frequently as possible to break the life cycle of the parasites.

2) Internal parasites are the most common danger to the health and well-being of your mule, and you must be prepared to wage a constant battle to control these worms. Follow your vet’s advice to set up a parasite-prevention and control program through regular worming. The drugs that are available today are very effective in removing parasites and breaking the cycle of re-infection. At Lucky Three Ranch, we worm every eight weeks in January, March, May, July and September with Ivermectin and then break the cycle and worm with Strongid in November. Don’t forget to watch out for bot eggs and remove them immediately.

3) Avoid letting your equine drink from public watering facilities. Use your own clean water buckets. Keep an eye out for anything that might injure your equine, and remove or repair it.

Proper treatment of diseases and injuries depends on two very important factors: correct diagnosis and knowledge of the proper treatment. Your job is to become familiar with equine diseases and their symptoms. In case of sickness or injury, know what to do for your animal before help arrives. Understand what simple treatments and remedies are safe to follow. Above all, know when to call a veterinarian.

4) There are many resources available to help you learn how to be better prepared including books, clinics and, especially, advice from an expert such as your own veterinarian or farrier.

Assemble your own equine first aid kit and, with the help of your veterinarian, learn the proper use of each item in the kit. Be prepared to handle the situation before the vet arrives.

When signs of infectious disease appear, isolate infected animals promptly and call your veterinarian right away.

5) Seek your vet’s recommendations for shots and immunizations, and faithfully follow an annual vaccination program. Make sure you keep good records of vaccinations and worming, and be sure to keep track of when they’re next due.

6) One of the best ways to monitor your equine’s health is by establishing a daily grooming routine. Not only will he be rewarded with a shiny coat, but you can watch for cuts and bruises and check the condition of the feet.

Basic grooming tools include a rubber currycomb to rough up the hair and bring dirt to the surface, a dandy brush to lift out the dirt, a body brush to smooth and shine, a hoof pick to clean the feet and a mane and tail comb and brush. A sweat scraper is handy to remove excess water during and after a bath, or sweat after a workout. A grooming cloth can be used to polish the coat and bring out the shine. In the springtime, a plastic multi-bristled hairbrush and shedding blade are also nice tools to have on-hand to remove dead hair, and a sponge can be used to clean muddy legs.

Begin your routine by using a hoof pick to clean the feet. Start with the near front foot, move to the near hind, then the off fore and off hind. If your young mule is skittish, work in whatever order he is comfortable. As he becomes accustomed to having his feet cleaned, you can do them in a consistent order. Clean from heel to toe and watch for infections like thrush and injuries from rocks or nails. This is also a good time to check his shoes. Mules should be shod (if working regularly on very hard surfaces), or trimmed, approximately every six to eight weeks according to use.

Next, begin to groom the body, starting on the left side at the head. Hold the currycomb in one hand, keeping the other hand on your animal to steady him. Gently curry in small circular strokes, working your way down and back, ending with the hind leg. Next brush vigorously, first with the hairbrush and then with the body brush. During springtime shedding, use your plastic bristle brush on the body to reach the dead hair in the undercoat before you use the shedding blade. Make sure that you apply only as much pressure as feels good to your equine (lighter pressure over bony areas). This should be an enjoyable experience for him.

After grooming the left side, move to the right side. Brush the head with a Dandy brush and use a multi-bristled human hairbrush on the mane and tail. By adding a little Johnson’s Baby oil to the mane and tail during grooming, you can train a mane to fall to one side and keep other equines from chewing on manes and tails. Finish with a soft body brush. Finally, use the grooming cloth to wipe around the ears, face, eyes, nose, lips, sheath (if it’s a male) and the dock of the tail.

While paying this much attention to your mule’s body, you will be sure to see anything abnormal such as an abscess, a cut, mites or insects, or a sore. Early discovery and treatment keep problems small.

Besides routine grooming, your equine’s longer hairs can be trimmed as often as needed. Clip the long hairs from the head, the outsides of the ears, on the jaw and around the fetlocks for a neat and clean appearance.

Mules and donkeys like to be dusty, but they also like to be clean. Bathing every so often will make your Longears look and feel better. All equines enjoy having all that itchy sweat rinsed off after a good workout. I don’t recommend bathing too often with soap because an equine’s skin is sensitive. Soap can irritate it as well as strip away the essential oils. Most of the time, a good rinse, while scraping the excess water off with a shedding blade, will maintain a clean, healthy coat. Of course it’s essential to have a spotless animal if you’re off to a show or parade.

Once your mule has been bathed and is spotlessly clean before the show, all you need to do to prepare him for your class is a quick once-over with a vacuum. Vacuum training is like anything else—take your time, be polite in your approach and make sure your mule understands that this strange, noisy monster is not going to hurt him. Soon he will learn to enjoy being groomed by the vacuum. The vacuum will also promote better circulation to the muscle tissue.


If you plan to show your mule, you might consider body clipping. If you clip in mid-April or May, you will expedite shedding and the hair that grows in will be more manageable than the heavy winter hair. Equines that are not going to be shown should be left with their natural hair coat, as it insulates them from both cold and heat, and protects them from invasive insects. Mules and donkeys shed more slowly than horses and are not usually fully shed out until late summer.

There’s a bonus to clipping a show mule or donkey—their hair won’t grow back as quickly as that of a horse. Just remember that clipped animals should be stabled and blanketed during cold weather. If you do blanket your mule, you must be ready to add or remove blankets and hoods as the weather changes each day. To keep the coat from growing back too quickly, it helps to have them under 16 hours of light (summertime light duration).

To body clip your mule, begin with a quick bath. Your clippers will last longer if your mule is clean. When he’s dry, use your rubber currycomb to bring any dirt and dead hair to the surface. Follow with a good brushing. If it’s too cold for a bath, use a vacuum to get him clean.

Begin clipping the legs and head, because these are usually the hardest areas to do. If he’s a little difficult, don’t hesitate to use the restraints you learned about in DVD #2. Use a twisted lead rope hobble to restrain the front legs, a scotch hobble for the rear legs, or a face tie for the head, but be sure to use them as described and don’t be punitive in your approach. Start with small clippers on the coronet band and fetlock, working your way up each leg.

Do the body last with large animal clippers. Clip against the lay of the hair. Start at the rear and work your way forward, clipping first one side and then the other. Pay special attention to the flanks, the mane and the fuzzy areas under the belly and around the forearms and buttocks.

If your mule has a nice mane, leave it and clip a bridle path. The length of the mane and the bridle path will depend on trends in the event you are participating in. For example, in English riding, manes are kept shorter to make braiding easier, but if your event is reining, keep the mane as long as possible. I like to grow the manes as long as possible (they help to keep flies and insects at bay), give crew cuts through the bridle path to the males and leave a foretop and bridle path on the females.

If you’re packing, you might want to shave or trim the mane short for the sake of simplicity. Many people shave the foretop and bridle path with a #10 blade, and then trim the rest of the mane to half an inch. You may trim the outside edges and backs of the ears, but leave the inside hair to prevent irritation from flies and bugs.

The tail is another area where there are many variations. I recommend applying Johnson’s Baby oil to the base during each grooming and letting the tail hair grow. This is a good idea if you compete in open events with horses. A second method is to shave the first two inches of the tail for a clean, well-groomed look (however, it does grow back even fuzzier!). A third variation is to “bell” the tail in three tiers. This looks best with a thick tail and is generally used for identification purposes by packers and the military, but is not recommended for normal grooming, as it is difficult to maintain.

Now you’re ready to trim the head. This will include trimming the bridle path, muzzle hairs, hair under the jaw, long hairs around the eyebrows and the backs and edges of the ears.

Lastly, remove chestnuts and ergots by soaking them with baby oil for about 30 minutes and peeling them off. If the ergots don’t peel off, you may cut them off with scissors or nippers.

Now you’ve got an equine that looks great! It will be easy to keep him looking good with a weekly trim that should include bridle path, ears, around the face and coronet bands.


Depending on the event you plan to show in, treatment of the mane varies considerably. For Western pleasure, you may want to simply band the mane so it lies flat. The tiny rubber bands can be purchased in tack shops in colors to match your mule’s hair. Tradition dictates the braiding of the mane for hunters and English classes for a neat, clean appearance. A thick, heavy mane cannot be properly braided and must be thinned until all the hairs are about four to six inches long and lay flat on the neck. This is done by using a mane comb to pull out the long hairs from the underside of the mane. This can be a big job and it’s annoying to your equine, so limit mane pulling to a few minutes a day. Make sure the hair is the same length from poll to withers. Don’t even think about cutting it with scissors—it will just end up short but way too thick to braid.

You can spritz a little water and hair spray to make the hair easier to handle. The quickest way to secure the braids is by using tiny rubber bands. It’s also very easy to do and it’s great for one-day shows or quick changes between classes.

Sewing with thread or weaving yarn looks very professional and is more permanent, but it’s also more time consuming.

Once the braid is finished it should be folded once and fastened with either rubber bands or a piece of yarn or thread. It can also be rolled and tacked into place. How you finish your braid will depend upon the time you have and the look you want to achieve, as well as what looks good on your equine!

Braiding the tail begins with a clean, well-groomed tail. Even short hair can be braided if you use a lot of hair spray to make it sticky. Moisten all the hairs along the dock with a damp sponge and bring them forward. Take a section of hair from each side of the tail, as close to the top as possible, pulling the sections out from as far under as you can.

On a horse, you can pick up a third section from the middle of the tail, but on a mule’s thin tail, take the hair from the side. Cross it over one of the outer strands. Begin braiding with three strands down the center of the tail. With each twist of the braid, pick up a little more hair from either side or from the middle. Continue braiding until you reach the root of the tail, then don’t add any more hair, but braid until you reach the end.

Fasten the end of the braid with a tiny rubber band or a piece of yarn. Now fold the braid once and pull the end up into the braided root, tying it at the base with yarn or thread.

In showmanship and halter classes, it goes without saying that your equine must be groomed to perfection. This means that, for months prior to the show, you’ve given your equine a good brushing or vacuuming at least once a week. Brushing stimulates the skin and brings out the natural oils that make the coat shine. No amount of “shine in a can” will replace the natural luster of an equine that’s been brushed regularly.

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.

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


TT 87

LTR Training Tip #87: Bending and Lateral Work


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MULE CROSSING: Shoulder-In and Lengthening the Trot


By Meredith Hodges

In order to perform the shoulder-in properly, it is important to understand its purpose. The shoulder-in causes the equine to engage his hindquarters so that they carry the bulk of his weight, giving him more freedom and suppleness in his shoulders and front quarters. A strong base must be established to carry this weight forward while the shoulders remain light and free to proceed forward while tracking laterally.

The shoulder-in is done on a straight line. Normally, an animal traveling in a straight line makes two tracks in the dirt behind him, because the front legs are positioned directly in front of the back legs. In the shoulder-in, the shoulders are positioned so that they cause a three-track pattern behind—the inside front foot makes one track, the outside front foot and the inside hind foot make one track, and the outside hind foot makes one track.

Begin by walking your equine around the perimeter of the arena. When you reach the corner before the long side, make a ten-meter (30-foot) circle. As you close your circle at the start of the long side of the arena, maintain the bend that you had for the circle, using steady pressure on your inside rein. At the same time, nudge your equine with alternate leg pressure in synchronization with his hind legs as they each go forward. Squeeze your outside rein at the same time that you squeeze with your outside leg, and then release the outside rein. Ride the hindquarters straight forward from your seat and legs, as you offset the shoulders with your hands. Be careful that your inside rein is not so tight that your animal bends only his neck to the inside. As you squeeze with the outside aids, feel your equine rock his balance back to the hindquarters, giving you the sensation of pedaling backward on a bicycle. Simultaneously, you should feel the front quarters begin to lighten and become supple.

Take your time and don’t try too hard. Be content at first with two or three steps of shoulder-in and then straighten him down the long side of the arena. After a few accurate steps of shoulder-in, as he straightens his body, you will feel him surge forward with more energy. Collect and slow your equine’s gait through the short side of the arena and then repeat the exercise on the next long side. As your equine begins to understand the concept of rocking his balance to the hindquarters, the surge of energy that you feel when he straightens will become more and more powerful.

Much body strength and coordination is involved in this exercise and at first, you may feel like you are all thumbs. Time, patience and practice will bring about positive results, so stay with it. Over time, do this exercise at the walk, the trot and the canter, and do it the same way in both directions in the arena. Don’t forget to praise your animal for each correct step that he gives you.

The next exercise to enhance hindquarter engagement and lengthen the stride is quite simple, yet still a little tricky because lengthening your mule’s stride means covering more distance yet maintaining the same rhythm and cadence. It does not mean speed up, although that is what most equines will try to do. Track the perimeter of the arena again. This time, collect the trot on the short sides, and then urge your equine to lengthen his trot down the long sides. To add variation, ask him to lengthen across the diagonals (from corner to corner) as well. Your equine’s first impulse will probably be to shift his weight to the forehand and just speed up. For this reason, do not push him too hard too soon. At first, just ask for a little more energy—be aware that your rhythm and cadence will not be lost as his stride increases. He will just be spending more time in suspension. Keep the forehand light and free while you ride the hindquarters. Let your hand open slightly with the foreleg going forward on the same side, and close as the leg comes back. This will help you to determine how far you can let that stride go before the balance begins to shift forward. It will also allow you to check the balance with your hands before it begins to shift. If he has too much difficulty, you should go back and practice lengthening over ground rails again to gain more strength and coordination.

As your equine gains strength in the hindquarters and is better able to carry your weight, his lengthened gaits will continue to improve until, perhaps a year or so later, he will be able to fully extend his stride at the walk, trot and canter. I caution you, however, that if your animal begins to rush, ask for less.

Another exercise that is helpful in lengthening the trot is to canter your equine around the arena, then cross half of your diagonal at the canter. Break to the posting trot and finish the diagonal. After the diagonal, sit the trot through the short side of the arena, pick up the canter on the long side again, and then cross the next available diagonal again and repeat the pattern. The drive that an equine gets from his hindquarters in the canter will carry through into the trot for the few strides on the diagonal and will create the true lengthening. This also holds true when teaching the lengthened walk (add trot work and back to walk) and the lengthened canter (add galloping and back to canter). This is your opportunity to tell your equine, “Yes, yes, this is what I want when I urge you on!”

Learning to ride from back to front (from the hindquarters forward) will greatly improve the harmony between you and your equine. Loss of balance seems to be the single most common cause of disobedience and problems with riding and driving animals. Carrying your weight and his in a properly balanced posture minimizes the chance for a loss of balance, and recovery from such a loss is much easier. Your equine will soon discover that your aids are indeed for his benefit as well as for your own, and he will become more accepting of them over time. As he becomes more balanced, you will find a world of different activities that you and your equine can do!

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

© 2016, 2017, 2022, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This article is an excerpt from the book, Training Mules and Donkeys by Meredith Hodges, 2013.


TT 86

LTR Training Tip #86: Long Rein vs. Loose Rein


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MULE CROSSING: Owning an Equine Is Serious Business, Part 4


By Meredith Hodges


In the final part of this article, the ins and outs of riding precautions and safety will be pinpointed, along with many other crucial details and tips that will help you become not only a better rider, but a better, more understanding equine owner.

As previously discussed, it is human nature to want to just get in the saddle and ride and do all of the glamorous, exciting things with a newly purchased equine that we see others do. The good riders make riding look so easy, and there’s a reason for that—they’re good equine owners. They make sure that their equine is comfortable in what he is learning, they painstakingly go through the training processes for as long as it takes, and caution, safety and courtesy are always top priorities.



Here is a checklist to go through each time BEFORE you ride:

  • When you mount your equine, do it in an open area away from buildings, fences and other animals.
  • Mount with deliberate grace and don’t just plop yourself onto his back.
  • After riding, take the reins over your equine’s head, always being careful to clear his ears.
  • Run up your stirrup irons on English saddles when you dismount.
  • If your equine is energetic, lunge him before riding.
  • Know the proper use of spurs and crops and don’t use them until you’re sure that you really need them.
  • Keep small animals under control around your equine.
  • Wear protective gear when riding and if you ride at night make sure to have the proper reflectors and keep to the walk.
  • Never ride off until ALL riders are mounted and, when mounted, never rush past other equines. If you need to pass, keep it to the walk.
  • When riding in a group in an open area, you can ride abreast, but when you are riding single file, always keep an equine’s-length between you and the animal ahead of you.
  • While riding, maintain a secure seat and stay in control of your equine at all times.
  • Don’t ride in the open until you are familiar with the equine you are riding.
  • If your equine becomes frightened, use your voice first to try to calm him. If necessary, dismount and politely introduce him to whatever is spooking him. When he calms down, you can remount.
  • When riding, always watch for small children and animals.
  • Hold your equine to a walk going up and down inclines, and NEVER fool around while riding.

(NOTE: I don’t recommend riding along paved roads at all these days. Although you and your equine may be in control, motorists don’t always pay attention while they are driving—which can lead to disaster.)
If you must ride along a road:

  • Do not ride bareback, use good judgment, ride single file and ALWAYS use a bridle.
  • If there are two or more riders, be sure to maintain sufficient space between equines.
  • Avoid heavy traffic, but if you must be in heavy traffic, dismount and lead your animal.
  • When riding on the shoulder of a road, remain alert for debris.
  • Always obey ALL traffic laws and ride with the traffic, not against it.

When trail riding, here are some important tips to remember:

  • If you are an unskilled equestrian, be sure you are riding an equine that is well trained.
  • Do not engage in practical jokes or horseplay along the trail.
  • Stay alert and think ahead while you ride, and avoid dangerous situations whenever possible.
  • Be courteous when riding on a trail. If you meet someone on a narrow incline and cannot pass safely, the one who is coming down the trail should back up the trail to a wider spot when possible.
  • Ride a balanced seat and don’t just let your equine wander along or graze while on the trail.
  • If you ride alone, tell someone where you will be and bring a cell phone in your pocket—but ALWAYS keep it turned off while riding your equine—any cell phone noise could easily frighten him, possibly causing a major disaster.
  • If you are going for an overnight ride, bring a halter and lead, hobbles, clean saddle blankets, horseshoe nails and matches, and make sure your equipment is all in good repair.
  • Don’t offer water to your equine while he is hot and sweaty. Let him cool down first and then offer a few sips of water at a time.
  • Always tie your equine in a safe place, using a halter and lead rope tied in a safety knot.
  • Be very careful with cigarettes, matches and fires.
  • Get to know the terrain ahead of time and bring maps with you.
  • Know the laws, rules and fire regulations on government trails.
  • Be sure your equine is in proper condition for the ride and is adequately trimmed or shod.
  • Use extreme caution in wet or boggy areas and always ride at the safest gait.
  • Avoid overhanging tree limbs and be sure to warn other riders behind you about any upcoming obstacles on the trail.

Good habits are built through repetition and reward with regard to consideration for your equine. Eventually, the good habits that are being taught will become the normal way that your animal will move and react to you and to his environment. The details outlined in this article can help contribute to the behavior shaping of your animal, which will determine, as he ages, how willing and obedient he will be in all situations.

Owning an equine is serious business! It is as serious as raising children. With the increase of the human population, there are a lot of metropolitan ideas and products being sold with incredibly creative marketing techniques, but choosing which ones are actually beneficial and not just a sales pitch can often be quite daunting and the wrong choice could get you in trouble with your equine. What kinds of feed work best? Does your equine need supplements or does he do better on a more basic nutrient approach? Has your veterinarian done a baseline test on your equine to determine what supplements are needed if any? What should you use for rewards? What training techniques work best? It is best to consult with rural equine professionals and people who have actually successfully worked with equines during their lives to help you make these determinations. Knowing the right things to do with your equine may seem confusing, but it is really only a matter of learning the “rules of the road.” You would need to do the same in order to be able to drive and properly maintain a car. Once you have learned the routine, it’s easy. Even with all the new and improved ways of doing things, one thing always rings true…KISS…keep it super simple!

It’s so important to have as much knowledge, information and trusted advice as you can get, so that you can make sound, informed choices for both you and your equine partner. Take things slowly and in small steps that you both can easily manage—then you will reach your goals because you’ve developed a firm foundation. When you do your homework up-front, there’s nothing to be afraid of and you’ll be graced with years of unconditional love and pleasure from your equine friend and 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 children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

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








MULE CROSSING: Owning an Equine Is Serious Business, Part 2


By Meredith Hodges

As discussed in Part 1 of this article, there are many realistic and very important steps to choosing, housing and caring for an equine. Let’s begin at the beginning … BEFORE you make a purchase.

TIP: Before you buy your equine, take the time to educate yourself with books and DVDs. Knowledge is your most powerful tool.

Here is a checklist of things to consider BEFORE you buy:

  • Consult with knowledgeable professionals who can help you get started on the right foot.
  • Pick your equine for not only his particular athletic potential, but for his compatibility with your own personality.
  • Carefully choose your vet and farrier ahead of the time of your purchase.
  • When you are ready to buy, bring along a qualified professional to look at any animals in which you may be potentially interested.
  • When choosing your equine, ask the seller to demonstrate to you what the equine does, and then ask if you can ride him, doing the same moves yourself to make sure the animal will perform for more than just the seller.
  • Check the animal for any unsoundness and signs of tranquilizers or other drugs.
  • Ask the owner to load and unload the equine into and out of a trailer.
  • Make sure registration papers and health records are in order and up to date.
  • Get a pre-purchase exam from your veterinarian.

Once your animal is home, make sure that:

  • He has adequate shelter, good nutrition and a routine he can count on.
  • There is a safely fenced, two-acre area per equine for turnout, along with adequate shelter from the elements.
  • He is given feed that is appropriate for normal growth.
  • Feeding is done at the same time each day, both in the morning and in the evening—without fail.
  • You visit the barn twice every day in order to check your equine from head to tail, making sure that he has not injured himself and that he is not getting sick.

Become familiar with the first signs of possible illness:

  • Is your equine eager to see you—alert and attentive, with bright eyes and ears perked in your direction—or is he sullen and lethargic?
  • Does he go after his food immediately and chew with regularity?
  • Does he appear to have been rolling on the ground? (If so, is he still eating well?)
  • Is the manure a healthy color and consistency, and is there the usual amount of manure and urine? (If there is an abrupt change in amount or appearance, call your veterinarian.)
  • Is your equine sweating? (If he is, is it just the weather, or is it an elevation in his temperature?)
  • How is he moving? (Does he have regularity of gait, or is he exhibiting any lameness?)
  • Check the eyes, ears and nostrils for discharge or any other irritations. (If there is any discharge, is it clear and minimal, or is it thick and yellowish or bloody?)
  • Check the hooves for any cracks, stress rings or abnormalities in the foot. (How fast is the foot growing? Is the foot growing faster or slower than usual? Is he maintaining the proper angles in the feet? Prepare for farrier visits accordingly.)
  • Check the water and trace mineral salt block. (Is the water clean and free from debris? Has the salt block been used? If so, how much?)

To keep flies and other insects under control:

  • Feed the right kinds of healthy feed.
  • Keep water sources clean and fresh.
  • Daily—clean all stalls, pens and sheds so that they are free of manure, and add fresh bedding of straw or shavings, as needed.
  • Periodically—clean your barn with a disinfectant.
  • Keep all tack and equipment clean.
  • Each time you leave the tack room, spray for any residual flies, using a household spray made specifically for flying insects.
  • Keep manure collection piles well away from the barns and your house. (I suggest having manure hauled away weekly). Putting manure on pastures will only invite weeds to take over.
  • Regularly groom once a week to remove excess hair, mud, etc. This will help to eliminate places on your animal (including his legs), that may be a target for egg-laying insects.
  • For sores, scabs or bumps, use Neosporin. If these are severe, use Panalog—also called Animax or Dermalone—by prescription from your vet.
  • Do notclip the hair inside the ears.
  • Do notclip the hair on the legs (unless you absolutely must for showing).
  • Use Johnson’s baby oil on the manes and tails.This helps to keep the flies at bay and will also keep other animals from chewing on each other’s manes and tails.
  • Use Farnam brand Tri-Tech 14 fly spray once a week (it lasts the longest). This helps to control bugs and insects that can pester your equine, especially during warm weather. (I have found that herbal remedies do not seem to work as well.)
  • Use fly masks that have holes for the ears for those equines that have sensitive skin and/or are sentive around the facial area. The fly masks that have ears built in often do not comfortably fit donkeys and mules.

Farnam Super Masks will usually fit most equines.You can find them in most tack and vet stores.

NOTE: To further prevent the infestation of parasites, fields and pastures should be harrowed in the spring and the fall, and between hay cuttings.

Finding a good veterinarian and farrier is paramount to the health of your equine. You will need to find out which vaccinations are needed for your area, and schedule the spring vaccinations accordingly. If you are not a skilled, experienced equine person, it is best to have your veterinarian administer these vaccines for you, as sometimes certain animals can have adverse reactions to them. (Many inexperienced owners administer shots and other medications because they want to save money, but this can often result in adverse reactions and, consequentially, higher vet bills.)

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and encourage your veterinarian to help you to learn veterinary maintenance that you can do yourself. Most good veterinarians are happy to do this, as it frees them up to tend to the more serious cases in their practice. I would be suspicious of a vet who is reluctant to discuss the health of your equine with you.

Here’s a “health support team” checklist:

  • Is the vet you are using allowing you to ask questions about your equine?
  • Is he or she asking you questions about your equine, as well?
  • Is there open communication between you and all the members of your equine’s support team?
  • Do the vet, farrier, equine chiropractor, massage therapist and any other professionals involved in the welfare of your equine communicate well with each other?

NOTE: The overall focus should always be the health of the equine patient, including a cooperative effort from his health support team.

Now that you have a good idea of what it takes, on a daily basis, to properly manage your equine and his environment, you’re well on your way to reaching your goal of being a knowledgable, responsible equine owner. In Part 3 of this article, we will cover the responsibilities associated with your equine in preparation for future athletic activities.

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.

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

OldBarnDemo RockRollWkt7 5 11 411CC

MULE CROSSING: Owning an Equine Is Serious Business, Part 1


By Meredith Hodges

While many of us were growing up, we were barraged with a deluge of ideas and attitudes about equines that were conveyed to us via multiple forms of media and educational sources. The role models of yesteryear were movies like, My Friend Flicka, books like The Black Stallion or Black Beauty, and TV shows like The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy. The most commonly known mules were “Francis,” who appeared in the Francis the Talking Mule series, and another mule known as “Ruth,” who appeared in the TV show, Gunsmoke. Those of us who tried to apply the management and training practices portrayed in the movies and books discovered that the things we saw on television and read in books covered only a fraction of what was really necessary, and the things that were shown and written about didn’t always work the same way in reality as they did in fiction.

Like many equine lovers, I was convinced that, when I got older, I would be able to have as many horses of my own as I wanted. I thought I would build a one hundred-stall barn and rescue all the abused horses in the country that I could. Surely, one hundred stalls could house almost all of them! Even into my early twenties, I believed this could happen. I honestly thought that all I needed was a patch of fenced grass and a shed out of the weather, and this simple solution would sufficiently provide for an equine. I was soon to discover the responsibility of health and finance that would burst my fantasy bubble and force me to deal with the hard realities of a life with equines. Once you confront these realities, you begin to really understand what is meant by “horse poor!” But more importantly, you discover how many important responsibilities there are when you own an equine.

Horses, mules and donkeys are living creatures with complex bodies that require not only proper nutrition and training but adequate space and the right kinds of fencing and housing. The standard rule of thumb is that you need two acres of land per equine, just for grazing. And, since equines cannot graze indefinitely without putting their bodies at risk for colic and founder, they also need space away from the lush green grass in the pastures. In addition, they cannot graze on just any kind of pasture. There are some grasses and plants that are toxic to equines and ingesting any of these potential hazards can result in sickness, paralysis or even death. It is important to familiarize yourself with the indigenous plants in your particular area that could be a potential hazard to your equine’s health and make sure they are removed from your property or, at the least, removed from the areas where your equine could gain access.

There is no substitute for proper management. Ideally, all equines should be kept overnight and fed in a dry paddock or stall where their feed can be monitored. They should be gradually exposed to pasture in the springtime. Begin by turning them out for only an hour per day to start, and then work into more time, adding one hour to turnout time per week until their bodies are accustommed to the pasture intake. They can remain on pasture during the day as their weight will tolerate, but I have found that a maximum of five hours of pasture time per day is ideal. Anything over five hours tends to start adding unhealthy weight. This routine is easy to do if they are kept up overnight and fed morning and evening in either a separate area that is nothing but dirt, or in a stall and run. Multiple animals can be kept together overnight in a dry lot, provided that they are compatible by size, gender and type, and there is enough space to put out buckets for their crimped oats mix and grass hay—the buckets should be spaced at least 16 feet apart. Contrary to popular belief, alfalfa and other hot feeds are not really good for equines.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Before the industrial age and the onset of urban sprawl, equines were more independent, and many roamed free on the open range. Horses were kept in bands, or remudas, and rounded up when it was necessary to use them for ranch work and herding cattle. Most often, the abuse of horses in literature was portrayed, as in Black Beauty, on the busy streets of the cities, where they were overloaded or overworked in harness. Abusive training practices that were done in the more rural areas were deemed necessary and normal for the breaking of horses and mules. These equines were considered “wild” and hard to tame. Few people ever thought that perhaps the resistance they encountered from the equine was due to the approach and handling by the trainer. Because the donkey is a more placid animal, he was deemed stubborn and, thus, more harmless than his equine counterparts, so he subsequently became the mount of choice for ladies and young beginning riders. The harsh breaking of horses and mules was accepted in this country as a necessary evil when in reality, it was really only a contest of strength among men, and a peculiarity of the New World. The art of Classical Horsemanship and a more humane method of training equines had been present in Europe for nearly a hundred years prior to the time of the American cowboys.

Photo courtesy of White House Press Corps

Throughout history, classically trained horsemen and women were aware of the value in the careful upbringing of the horse (or mule) as a useful and economically valuable animal that was beneficial to their civilization (particularly in the art of warfare). Horses were brought up in as close to the conditions of the wild as possible, but, with the encroachment of urbanization, the space to run free became less and less available. Classical Horsemanship is still practiced today and allows young horses to grow slowly, while formal training is kept to a healthy minimum. Young equines are ridden only after they have done plenty of body building groundwork and have reached the age of four. Today, equines must live in a completely different environment than they once knew, so we all need to understand that what we read about in books and see in movies and on television is no more than entertainment, and not an accurate portrayal of the reality of owning an equine.

Equines have unjustly become a commodity of our capitalistic system—they are treated more like a product to be bought and sold and less like the living and breathing creatures that they are. People buy and sell equines like cars, expecting them to be “tuned up” and stay that way for unskilled owners. Unsuspecting owners are often sold a “bill of goods” by practiced salespeople—animals and the responsibilities associated with them can easily be misrepresented to an unskilled buyer and, quite often, equines do not meet the unrealistic expectations of an inexperienced equine lover. Unless a buyer has family or a friend in the horse business, there is no reason they should know all the responsibilities that come with being an equine owner. But even if you do not have equine experience, if you plan to own an equine, you still have a responsibility to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, so that you can give your equine partner the best care possible.

Remember: Be prepared to develop a lifestyle with your new equine that includes reliable routine, regular visits from your selected equine professionals and positive interaction with your equine on a daily basis.

The responsibility of maintaining an equine may seem overwhelming at first, when all you wanted to do was get a horse, pony, mule or donkey to ride or drive. But if you are a willing student and consistent in your own behavior, it soon becomes a pleasure to care for such a deserving partner in life. In Part 2 of this article, you will get a comprehensive list of best practices for the care and management of your new equine.

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.

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

TT 85

LTR Training Tip #85: Collection


Collection is not just flexing the equine’s neck at the poll. Collection adds more suspension in the gait through the engagement of correct postural core muscle strength in good balance.

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Longears Music Videos: Teach Your Mules Amazing Things – Housekeeping


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Mule Crossing: Moving Beyond Prey vs. Predator


By Meredith Hodges

In the past, when equines ran free, they were unencumbered by human interaction and could build and condition their muscles naturally. Today, with increased population but reduced open lands, their activity is often restricted. It then becomes our responsibility to not only train them, but to prepare them physically to perform and keep them happy in their environment. This responsibility becomes even more important when we ask them to exert more energy than normal, in activities like long trail rides, endurance events, showing and equine-related work. Proper preparation for this modern-day lifestyle will help to minimize your equine’s stress, both physically and mentally.

Natural Horsemanship techniques, based on the equine’s natural behavior and status as a prey animal, promote an awareness we often overlook. They give us a wonderful way to learn how to connect with the equine mentally and communicate with him using our own verbal and body language. Many people get intimidated simply by the equine’s size. These techniques instill a sense of confidence and understanding, and without them, fewer people would take an interest in these animals and want to learn how to interact with them. A relationship with an equine can be incredibly satisfying, and equine companionship can enhance any life. This is why therapeutic riding programs for the disabled, at-risk youth, and those with other physical and mental disabilities are so successful.

Understanding the equine’s natural evolution and behaviors can help us give him what he needs to thrive in captivity. It would be nice if we could provide a habitat akin to what the wild equine used to enjoy: room to run, with an abundance of soft dirt and occasional hard ground under his feet. Unfortunately, today’s equine must deal with a multitude of unfamiliar challenges, including extreme activities, exposure to crowds of people, and more prolonged exposure to hard surfaces such as asphalt and cement, not withstanding the sometimes unrealistic demands that we put on him.


Understanding the prey-predator responses can help to guide us in the training of our equines, but because of the change in the environment, it shouldn’t completely define our training methods. The prey animal that is uncomfortable with making direct eye contact with the human “predator,” for instance, is virtually trapped in a confined environment in which he has no control and can therefore become anxious and difficult to handle. We are taught not to make eye contact with him until he is willing to face us. We are taught to “chase” him in a round pen until he does.


When he finally gains the confidence to approach, we are then taught to disengage his hind quarters and keep him at bay so he doesn’t breach “our space.” This can be very confusing to any intelligent being because you are telling him to “come” and then to “go away!” And, we are handicapping him by disengaging his survival ability for flight. His response over time is to give in, but under these circumstances, he will not always to learn to trust.

The equine’s natural flight reflex is strong and takes him away from conflict. However, when man intercedes without taking into consideration the physical, mental and emotional needs of the equine, it can result in resistance wherein the equine is trapped into conflict. He is then labeled disobedient and often punished for that perceived disobedience. For instance, the equine that is “trapped” on a lunge line and asked to reverse toward the handler will inadvertently be improperly set up to take the new trotting diagonal, or the new lead at canter, from a position that actually “tangles” his hind legs and causes him to fumble into the new diagonal or lead. This mistake can become painful and even detrimental to the stifles as he jumps out of the entanglement and can cause resistant behaviors which are often punished on top of the physical pain he is already experiencing.

The equine body needs to be properly prepared for his athletic endeavors, as does any athlete. We prepare our human athletes with exercises that address muscle groups throughout the whole body before they actually play the games to avoid acute injury to muscle groups that are not normally used in the game. Why would we not give our equines this same consideration?4 Teaching the reverse in the beginning should always be done in the round pen where you can ask him to turn away from you, which will set up his hind legs properly for the new direction and strengthen his body symmetrically in good equine posture. Once he has established good equine posture and balance over a long period of time doing appropriate exercises, he will then be better able to efficiently reverse towards you on the lunge line by changing direction from a position of balance rather than an awkward imbalance.

Despite the varied differences in personalities and approach, the one thing that we can all learn to do is to communicate with respect, set clear boundaries and apply good manners in order to make friends when we accept their true nature, respect it, understand it and negotiate rather than “command.” It really is that simple, although training ourselves to be that way isn’t always simple. Animals do this with each other all the time, but they are clear communicators where we humans are not always clear in our intent. That is why you will often see animals of completely different species getting along with each other, whether prey or predator.

By setting up our equine’s environment so he is able to relax, and by behaving in a polite, respectful and considerate way, the equine can learn to respond more appropriately. When we pay close attention to the healthy development of his body and provide the right kinds of exercises to strengthen his core muscles in good equine posture, we can ultimately gain the trust and respect from the equine that we need for him to deal with all situations and obstacles the same way every time—to trust and look to us for guidance before reacting. Everything that we do for him should make him feel good, and that is what real friends are for! The equine will bond to the person who trains him, so make sure you are honestly engaged with your equine.

3Be a true leader and learn to set boundaries for your equine with appropriate corrections for bad behaviors (which can be found on our website and in our products). Make these corrections quickly and then immediately return to a clear definition of what you expect and make sure that it is easily doable for your equine at each step. Every animal on the planet will correct another’s misbehaving with a very clear and undeniable gesture that will stop the abuser promptly in their tracks. Take note. This is not abusive, but rather a very clear communication of what’s right and what’s clearly wrong. In fact, in the case of the mule attacking the puma that has circulated the internet for the past few years, it was clearly a case of the mule engaging in the hunt with his human “friend.” So, who is really prey and who is predator in this particular scenario? Sometimes we just need to change our perception or understanding of things and deny all-encompassing generalizations and stereotypes.

Reward good behaviors as per the laws of Behavior Modification, or “appropriate reward system training.” The oats reward that we use ensures that the good behaviors will be repeated and will become the animal’s new natural way of being. In the practice of true Behavior Modification, all five senses should be employed: sight, hearing (voice), smell, touch and taste. These are all innate ways to communicate effectively. Any distractions should be eliminated when communicating with your equine—put away the electronic devices, clickers and loud whips, and avoid abrupt noises.

The way that you manage and train your equine can be set up in a logical, sequential and predictable routine that your equine can rely on thereby dispelling his anxiety and maximizing his trust in you. Exercises that prepare his body slowly and over a long period of time to carry a rider ensure that he will not overexert or compromise muscles that could otherwise become sore, or worse. Interaction with him that is more conversational using the five senses will elicit a more conversational response from your equine, developing a close relationship comprised of negotiation and mutual respect where both partners participate on equal ground. We spend 12 years preparing our children to become responsible adults. How could it effectively take much less for our equines to learn to live and work in their new and more crowded environment? If you have any doubts about the real success of this kind of approach, you need only visit the Lucky Three Ranch where we all make direct eye contact with each other and see the results for yourself! When our equines are spooked into flight, they run towards us, then stop and ask, “What do we do now?!”

For more information about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive correspondence training program, Training Mules and Donkeys, please visit www.LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Also, find Meredith Hodges and Lucky Three Ranch on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t forget to check out her children’s website at www.JasperTheMule.com.

© 2016, 2019, 2021, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Mules Accepted By U.S.E.F. In Dressage 5

MULE CROSSING: Mules Accepted by U.S.E.F. in Dressage!


By Meredith Hodges

It’s 2004 and “You’ve come a long way, Baby!” The movement to have mules accepted by major equine organizations began with the United States Dressage Federation in 1986, 17 years ago! There was still the hurdle of being accepted by the most prestigious equine organization in the country at the time, the American Horse Show Association that sanctioned all upper level shows and competitions. Since then, the mules’ participation in significant horse events was a long, uphill climb and membership in the A.H.S.A. was only a dream. Even though they were accepted at the schooling level back then, there were still many areas that were unwilling to comply with the United States Dressage Federation’s acceptance at this level and mules continued to be discriminated against in many shows and competitions.

However, our undaunted mule riders persisted in their quest for perfection and showed the mule as a competent Dressage and Combined Training candidate. Bishop Mule Days rewarded their efforts and added Dressage classes at Bishop for these dedicated people and their mules. As more riders began using Dressage as a basis for training, and A.H.S.A. judges were being used for the classes at Bishop, even more professional equestrians began to see the competence of our beloved mules and our riders’ dedication to excellence.

The same kinds of things were happening in the disciplines of Competitive Trail Riding, Endurance, and Driving. The first discipline of the United States Equestrian Federation (formerly the American Horse Show Association) to accept mules was in Endurance Riding, and was then followed by their acceptance in Driving through the valiant efforts of Dave Ketscher and his mules, Mariah Carey and Jeremiah.

Dressage rider, Carole Sweet, began her quest for acceptance in the U.S.E.F. Dressage Division several years ago and has single-handedly become the proponent of a major rule change in the Dressage Division of the U.S.E.F. This was no easy task as it was critical to take this through proper channels just for consideration! The culmination of all her hard work and persistence was rewarded in December of 2003, when she was notified that the mule issue would be on the agenda for a final decision during the U.S.E.F. convention to be held in January of 2004.

It was at this time that Carole Sweet requested the assistance and support of anyone who could help at this convention. Linda Pitman from the American Mule Association, Leah Patton, administrator/editor of the American Donkey & Mule Society, and I (Meredith Hodges), longtime longears promoter, judge and animal inspector for the A.D.M.S., descended on the convention, attended appropriate meetings, and lobbied every chance we had in between meetings to make sure that the people involved were informed of the mules’ valuable assets to their organization. It was an exhausting three days, but on January 18, 2004, at the General Board Meeting, the rule was approved with consideration. In the U.S.E.F. Rulebook, it now reads: 

GR125 Horse. 

1. The term “horse” as used in these rules denotes either a horse or a pony. 2. In all levels of all Federation recognized Driving and Endurance Competitions and in the 

Case of any other federation Rule as it relates to the Driving or Endurance disciplines as The context permits it, the term “horse” shall also include a mule. See DC111.4, EN104.2.1 a. Mules are also eligible to compete in dressage classes with the exception of (1) USET Championships, USET qualifying and selection trails, and observation classes. (2) any other classes designated as qualifying or selection classes for international or international high performance competition, and (3) championships where such participation is prohibited in the championship selection procedures. See DR119.1 BOD 1/18/04. Effective 4/1/04 

There were concerns from the Safety Committee, but they approved with the stipulation that they would be keeping an eye on the competitions to make sure that the mules would not pose serious safety concerns.

“The ‘Vision’ of the United States Equestrian Federation is to provide leadership for equestrian sport in the United States of America, promoting the pursuit of excellence from the grass roots to the Olympic Games, based on a foundation of fair, safe competition and the welfare of it’s horses, and embracing the vision to be the best national equestrian federation in the world.” In keeping with their vision, they have seen the mules as a valuable asset to the Federation and it is both a privilege and an honor to become part of this prestigious organization. 

As viable members of this organization, it is now our responsibility to go forward and participate in these events in a considerate and productive manner. Any problems that arise at competitions should be dealt with fairly and through the proper channels. Understand that we will be dealing with people at all levels of Horsemanship, with varying levels of comprehension and ability. The principles of good sportsmanship are paramount as we set the example to beginners and the young riders of the future. No unsportsmanlike conduct will be tolerated and could result in the revocation of this privilege.

More and more mules are getting into dressage after Carol Sweet’s, Leah Patton’s and my work over eighteen years of petitioning for the acceptance of mules into the United States Equestrian Federation! Shown here are Meredith Hodges and Lucky Three Sundowner, Meredith and Lucky Three Mae Bea C.T., Laura Hermanson and Heart B Dyna, Audrey Goldsmith and Heart B Porter Creek, Sammi Majors and Buckeye and Vicky Busch and Slate. I am so happy to see so many young riders taking advantage poof all our hard work and they are doing so well! We hope even more dressage riders will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity with their mules! 

So, fellow “Mule Enthusiasts,” go forward and bask in the sunshine of opportunity that has been so graciously given to us all! Take the opportunities provided to improve your skills and marvel at your own progress! Take advantage of the new comrades you will meet along the way that share your interests, so we can all take our equines into the future with pride and dignity together! 

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.

© 2004, 2016, 2023 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

TT 82

LTR Training Tip #83: Practice Exercises For Good Equitation


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Spuds and Augie standing in the snow

Longears Music Videos: Snow Play


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