- LTR Blog
- About LTRThis is the History page.
- Contact UsThis is the Contact Us page.
By Meredith Hodges
Over the past few decades, through trial and error, we equine owners and trainers have discovered that, when communicating with our equines, harsh bits are not really necessary. Rather, it is safer and more beneficial to use milder tack and equipment, to concentrate on learning correct body language and to give clear cues with our hands, seats and legs to elicit the desired response from our equines.
Nowadays, at the beginning of training, more and more riders are learning to ride “by the seat of their pants,” that is, using body language through the seat, legs and hands, rather than with brute force through the bit. Once a rarity, riding bridleless, or bitless is now part of a preferred way of training for both the equine and the rider.
If you are training your equine at home—in a controlled situation and under optimum conditions—riding bridleless and using the right kinds of techniques can be relatively easy, but there is more to consider than just getting the right response from your equine. As long as you are in a controlled situation, it is safe to ride bridleless for general pleasure riding, but if you become involved in showing at the advanced levels of performance, such as the higher levels of Dressage, Jumping and Combined Training, a finer-tuned communication, which bitless bridles or bridleless riding cannot necessarily provide, is necessary.
When it comes to rider/equine communication, bitless and/or brideless techniques do not work as well as the simple, direct rein action of the snaffle bit in concert with your seat and legs. Many people are under the impression that having a bit in the mouth is painful for an equine, and the seeming “nutcracker” action of the snaffle bit when it is in your hands suggests that it might pinch your animal’s tongue when you pull on the reins. The mouthpiece of the snaffle bit actually “breaks” in the middle, allowing it to slide easily across the top of your equine’s tongue. It does not pinch his tongue, but it does put pressure on the corners of his mouth. The snaffle bit is correctly defined as a bit that promotes “direct rein action,” meaning that when you pull right, you go right and when you pull left, you go left. A snaffle bit does not have a shank. If it did have a shank, it would be considered a curb bit, regardless of how short the shank really is (as is the case with a Tom Thumb bit).
When you pull the rein on a snaffle bit to indicate your direction of travel, the leading rein pulls on the ring that guides the equine into the direction of travel, while the ring on the other side “pushes” his head into that same direction. Always be sure you are light with your hands and that you gently pull with a squeeze/release action or you could easily pull the snaffle bit all the way through the equine’s mouth, which would cause him pain and break the line of communication. When you pull directly sideways on a curb bit, it pulls in the direction of travel where the reins are attached at the bottom of the shank, but the upper part of the shank pushes against your equine’s cheek and can cause confusion by sending simultaneous and opposite signals to your equine because he is being “pushed” in both directions at the same time. It is important to learn to ride with your balance coming primarily from your seat, which your equine can easily follow with the slightest indications from the direct rein snaffle bit and your legs. This will also promote a more secure rider position in your seat, making it easier for you to use the gentle squeeze/release motions with your hands. This way, your equine is encouraged into the direction of travel by the body language of your seat and is gently “guided” by your leading rein, while simultaneously being “pushed” into the correct direction of travel by the off-side ring of the snaffle bit and by your legs.
Learning to go forward in the beginning of your equine’s training in a snaffle bridle is paramount to properly developing his body so he will learn to carry a rider in a strong and solid frame and in good posture. The forward training teaches him to stretch his head and neck forward, to step well underneath his body to propel himself forward, and to elongate his overall frame to keep the vertebrae in his back from becoming compressed and rigid. When he is moving correctly in a straight line, he will have more suspension and flexibility to his gait, and when he turns he will be able to bend easily through his rib cage.
Although it would seem that a bitless bridle could achieve this same end, it has a different action on your equine’s head and neck, which inhibits proper bending through turns. The straight forward motion can be achieved with a bitless bridle. However, reins on a bosal (a type of braided rawhide noseband used with the hackamore-type headstall), bitless bridle reins, and other bitless configurations do not have the same lateral effect on the equine’s head and neck as does the snaffle bit. The equine’s head and neck form two sides of a triangle. The rope reins on a bosal, although lower on the nose of the equine than reins that come from the corners of the mouth, can cause the equine’s head to twist slightly sideways during the turn because, during any directional indication, the rawhide bosal around the nose twists through the rope reins which are both secured together underneath the jaw. The rope reins pull the underside of the bosal in the direction of the turn, but the nosepiece goes the opposite way and can cause your equine to improperly tilt his head through the turns.
On bitless bridles, the reins are attached substantially higher than the corners of the equine’s mouth. When you pull on the reins attached higher on the equine’s jaw than where the bit would be (as illustrated in the photo), the angle of pull is sharper and more abrupt, since the head side of the “triangle” is so much shorter than the length of the neck. It will cause the equine to try to turn his head too sharply from the poll, which can cause kinks and pain in his neck.
However, when using the snaffle bit, the direct rein pull coming from the corners of the equine’s mouth affords him a wider range of motion with his head and neck. He is able to stretch his head and neck forward and around in a properly executed horizontal arc through the turn, which, in turn, opens the spaces between his vertebrae, allowing him to bend his head and neck into the arc of the turn, painlessly and with greater ease.
To prove the point, try this experiment: Preferably using an untrained animal, take hold of the halter and gently but firmly pull on the halter in an attempt to make him bend his head and neck to the side. The higher position of the halter is like a bitless bridle and you will feel slight tension and resistance to this action before the animal finally complies. Next, gently insert two fingers into one corner of the equine’s mouth while standing at his shoulder and by squeezing and releasing your fingers, ask him to turn his head and neck to the side toward you. If done correctly, without yanking on him, he should give easily to your cue to submit and turn his head and neck. You will notice that he extends his head and neck slightly forward before turning it to the side.
Now try this action on yourself. Stand in good posture and, without extending your neck, turn your head to the side. Do you feel the tension at the brainstem on the back of your neck? Now, stand in good posture, stretch your neck in an upward and forward arc and then look around the turn. Can you now feel the release from tension in the back of your neck? Your equine experiences the same feelings. The shorter angle of the side-pulls and bitless bridles will have a more abrupt pull and can cause some pain, while the longer angle coming from the snaffle bit at the corners of his mouth will allow a smoother and painless response. NOTE: Any bit can be painful to an animal when in the hands of an inexperienced rider who uses only the bit for control.
When an equine has been properly schooled and has learned the rules of communication through the snaffle bit, he holds the bit in his mouth and waits for the “feel” of the rider’s cues at the corners of his mouth. After years of practice, he will learn to respond to seat and legs and may not even need constant support of the rein cues—except for minute corrections. As equine and rider progress together, the rider’s cues will become nearly imperceptible until the rider is virtually riding without the active use of the reins. The equine has learned to quietly carry the bit in his mouth in anticipation of any communication coming through the reins. There is no pain because there is no pressure, except for an occasional reminder with a soft squeeze/release of the rider’s little pinky fingers on the reins from time to time.
The equine that has not had this kind of advanced training will possess neither genuinely good posture nor the knowledge of how to respond correctly in an abrupt and unpredictable situation. He will be more apt to be frightened and, as a result, may bolt and run, putting you and everyone around you at risk. However, the equine that is properly and conscientiously taught how to communicate through the snaffle bit will be a safer and more reliable animal to ride and to take into public places. He has learned to stop and wait for cues (communication through the bit) and is less likely to bolt and run if frightened because he understands and trusts the communication coming from his rider. He will now be more correct and solid in his good posture, yielding confidence in his attitude, and he will be a more reliable pleasure and show animal to ride.
When you take the time to train yourself to ride a balanced seat effectively and get in sync with your equine, you will be a much safer and happier rider, and your “finished” equine will be one that you can always depend on. If you like the novelty of bitless and/or brideless riding, using a snaffle bit instead of a bitless bridle during training will help you to achieve strength in correct posture to enhance bitless riding and even brideless riding so that it can be done safely around the farm and in controlled situations like event demonstrations. Properly and consistently training with the goal of clear lines of communication between you and your equine will make everything you ask of him much easier for him to do, and he will become a happy, reliable and willing partner in your mutually satisfying relationship.
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.
By Meredith Hodges
In the past, mares unsuitable for improved horse-breeding programs were the mares used for mule breeding. Looks and conformation were of little concern, since the animal that was produced had limited use for draft and farm work. In 1967, with the founding of the American Donkey & Mule Society, a new type of mule began to emerge—the American Saddle Mule—limited only by the imagination in his uses. As the mule’s popularity grew, so did the need for more carefully organized breeding programs to try to produce only the most superior mules in overall appearance and athletic ability.
In what I refer to as Phase I of our Lucky Three Ranch breeding program, my mother, Joyce Doty, successfully bred attractive, athletic and versatile mules at Windy Valley Mule Ranch in Healdsburg, California, between 1973 and 1979. They were bred for pleasure, work and show from 60 head of assorted breeds of mares. These mares included Arabians,
Thoroughbreds, Tennessee Walkers, Morgans and Draft horses, but no Warmbloods.
We learned that the jacks would produce a stronger and more durable offspring, but that the heavy-boned Mammoth Jacks were not necessarily producing the most athletic—or the most attractive—saddle mule offspring. It seemed that the smaller, more refined Large Standard (48″ to 56″) and Standard Jacks (40.01″ to 48″) were better for the production of Saddle Mules. This led to Phase II of our breeding program.
Little Jack Horner, a Large Standard, was the last jack born at Windy Valley Ranch before its dispersal in 1979. In 1980 I brought him to my new Lucky Three Ranch in Colorado to become the sire supreme. My main focus was on the production of attractive, athletic, amiable and multiple-use saddle mules that would be suitable for the widest variety of uses. Beginning in 1982, Little Jack Hornerwas used with a number of different breeds of mares, including Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and a Half-Arab/Half-Quarter Crossbred. Over the next six years, as the offspring aged and matured, their abilities were quickly recognized. They excelled in all events at the shows and gave the Lucky Three its current reputation for breeding only the best.
In late 1985 I began taking a special interest in Dressage and Combined Training—the Breed shows no longer held a challenge for me. Our Quarter Horse, Appaloosa and Arabian mules competed against horses in Dressage and Combined Training and our mules were quite competitive. They were exceptional in their gaits, responsive, submissive and lovely to watch. Only two real major problems became apparent if we were to continue on this path: 1) The mules were a little too small (only14.2 to 15.3 HH) and, 2) the Quarter Horse influence caused them to be built slightly downhill, creating problems with overall balancing. It was time again to revise our breeding program.
Midnight Victory (or “Vicki,” as she was nick-named), a Trakehner cross, was born just before midnight on June 21, 1990. I had seen only one Trakehner-bred mule in my entire life, and it was the most elegant and refined mule I had ever seen, with conformation to spare. And now I had one!
Vicki was everything I have always bred for in a mule, exhibiting quality in her looks and her movement, and in and the kind of intelligence that is exalted by horsemen and women everywhere. She was the product of 17 years of selective breeding, which, in the case of the hybrid mule, can be a very lucrative and frustrating business. Frustrating because of people’s preconceived ideas about mules, because of the close attention that must be paid to selection of the right jacks and mares, and because of genetic considerations when breeding, such as Neonatal Isoerythrolisis (a condition that occurs when the mother’s blood is incompatible with her foal’s—similar to the RH negative factor that can occur in human mothers and babies).
Why a Trakehner cross? We spent years breeding donkeys before we finally got Little Jack Horner, a sire that predictably throws refined, attractive and athletic offspring, as well as producing some of the top halter mules in the country. Crossing him on Warmblood stock seemed like the natural thing to do next. We did need to be careful in choosing the type of Warmblood mare that would make the best match.
The Trakehner horse was carefully bred as a versatile and durable animal, with refinement and elegance in mind. Today, this horse plays an important role in the evolution of the mule from an ugly duckling into another beautiful swan in the American Horse Show ring.
After careful consideration of refinement and movement, we decided that the Trakehner would be the best cross. We feared that some of the other Warmblood breeds might produce too heavy an animal, something we had spent the last 17 years breeding out. In using caution and a careful breeding program, the Lucky Three Ranch was well on its way to producing the best in Sport Mules. Heartier and more athletic than their Thoroughbred and Trakehner dams, they were capable of performing in more versatile ways than were ever before imagined.
Phase III was the most exciting phase of the Lucky Three Ranch breeding program. The size and “downhill” problems had been solved, and the offspring made our dreams come true and their “presence” known. My deepest gratitude goes to all the conscientious people in the Thoroughbred and Trakehner industries for their special attention to selective breeding programs that have made it possible for us to produce such a lovely and remarkable hybrid.
It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s just something a little more special about Vicki. She is way above average when it comes to mules and she definitely commandsyour attention. She embodies the spirit of free expression and an almost eerie reincarnation of a perfect dream…with long ears! Could this “presence” be something genetic, passed down through the ages of Trakehner (and possibly Arabian) breeding? It would seem so.
The mules of Lucky Three Ranch are living proof of what quality breeding produces. They are elegant, first-class animals that are easy keepers, inexpensive eaters and loyal, personable companions—you need only feast your eyes upon these mule offspring to be convinced!
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 1990, 2011, 2016, 2019 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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!
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!!!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
“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!”
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.
Today, Chad brought Roll up to the work station. On October 23, 2017, I had found a nodule on Roll’s lower right jaw line. Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand came out right away to check it to determine what kind of growth it was.
We have had sarcoids in the past, but this did not seem to be a sarcoid, but rather, a small cyst that was not attached to the bone. Since it was not attached, I made the decision to get it removed before it had an opportunity to become attached to the bone.
Lucky Three Sundowner had a similar growth on his jaw that WAS attached to the bone and it finally grew to such a size that it ultimately obstructed his ability to eat and he had to be put down at the age of 35 years.
We were preparing to vaccinate the herd, so we opted to wait on Roll’s surgery until after the vaccinations and hoped for a freeze that would kill all the insects. The exposed wound would have a better chance at healing in the colder weather without insect interference. We had to wait for quite a while since our winter weather proved to be unusually warm until today, December 22, when we finally opted to do the surgery.
Greg gave Roll a sedative to help him to relax. I shaved the area heavily covered with winter hair with my #10 blades and then Greg stepped in and shaved it closer with his veterinary-gauged blades.
He then injected the site with a numbing agent and prepped it for the surgery.
The cyst was neatly contained and unattached below the surface of the skin. He carefully cut it away from the skin and was left with a perfectly round cyst that fell out easily.
When cut in half, the cyst revealed granular tissue in the center that is indicative of some foreign agent in the body that was surrounded by tissue that just never abscessed. We will send off the cyst to be tested to make sure there are no further issues to treat.
Greg carefully and neatly sutured the skin along his jaw line back together.
Greg gave me instructions about the care of the wound. Basically, we did not have to do anything, but let it heal. I will remove the sutures in 10-14 days.
Roll was still a bit drowsy when I took him back to his pen. He will not get food for at least two hours after the surgery to keep him from choking. He should heal nicely.
I took a sleepy Roll back to his pen. By tomorrow, he probably won’t even know what happened and he was such a trooper through it all! I am so glad my mules are trained the way they are…not a bit of trouble!
10/26/17: It is MULE APPRECIATION DAY today and the perfect time for an update on Roll! Roll has recovered nicely from his bout with White Line Disease in 2016. He had no workouts during that year, but surprisingly, he retained his core strength and balance throughout 2016 and came into 2017 still in good posture and balance. This leads me to believe that core strength does not necessarily deteriorate as rapidly as does bulk muscle.
Roll had his most recent “leading for core strength postural workout” on May 23rd this year. However since then, I have been unable to pursue any more lessons during the entire summer due to business obligations.
He was scheduled for his regular farrier visits on May 18th, July 14th and on September 21st. During that time, he also had two chiropractic visits and was doing very well with only minor adjustments needed.
On October 17th, Roll had a short ride with Brandy in the Lucky Three Ranch North Pasture after being off all summer. He was rather disgusted with Brandy after she unseated her rider, Bailey, at the beginning of the ride by spooking at a shadow on the ground. Roll did great although I could tell he was a bit stiff from the onset, but loosened up and gained impulsion by the end of the ride.
Roll had his last massage on July 13 and continues to thrive at the age of 26 years old. On October 25, we discovered a sarcoid-like tumor on his right jaw, x-rayed it and will do a removal following next week’s vaccinations.
After being off all summer, I thought he did very well and this only reinforced my belief that core muscle really does sustain itself once the animal has spent at least two years doing very specific core muscle, postural exercises.
Roll is standing quietly as he usually does while I was speaking to a tour group with the gate wide open, but this was not always the case with him. He used to hide behind Rock and snort at me when he first arrived with Rock in December of 2010.
Behavior Modification is a reward system of training that requires that the trainer has the ability to distinguish between good and bad behaviors, to reward them promptly and appropriately…and, to do it politely with respect for the animal. The oats are a reward that is both safe and enjoyable for equines, and is something that they will continue to work for.
When dealing with an equine that is easily ten times your own weight, it is hard to imagine that the way we talk, touch and interact with our equine would really need to be ultra considerate, light and reassuring. However, if you want their complete cooperation, that is exactly what needs to happen. For instance, when applying fly spray talk gently and calmly, and be careful not to get the spray in their eyes…or it will burn and they will be less likely to comply the next time!
The same consideration hold true when bathing. Be careful not to get water in the ears, eyes and nostrils…and accustom the equine to cold water by spraying the feet and front legs first and work your way up to the face.
When you are kind and considerate, and give the equine time to adjust, even mechanical equipment like a massage thumper for muscle relaxation, or an equine vacuum cleaner used not only to clean but also to promote better circulation, can become a real source of pleasure and enjoyment for your equine.
When the equine is relaxed and accepting of the equine chiropractor, veterinarian and farrier, they are better able to do their jobs with maximum efficiency and successful outcomes.
And jobs you have to do like clipping, bridling and taking off the bridle all get much easier, preserving the trust between you. Now at 26 years old, Roll is a NEW draft mule!