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Saddle Mule FeetCCCC

MULE CROSSING: Hoof Differences in Horses, Donkeys and Mules

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By Meredith Hodges

The old saying, “No foot, no mule” is literally true, as it is in any nomadic animal. If the hooves are not trimmed and balanced properly, it will offset the balance of the equine’s entire body and can compromise longevity in the animal because his entire internal structure will be compromised. Most equines will need to be trimmed or shod every 6-8 weeks whether horse, mule or donkey.

Horse’s hooves in general are proportionately larger, rounder and more angled than that of the donkey or mule. The sole of the foot is flat on the ground promoting good circulation in the foot through the frog.

Regardless of the size of the animal, the hooves of the mule will be smaller and more upright than that of a horse of equal size, and should be well sprung and supported, not contracted. They should have a smooth appearance and look sleek and oily. No ribbing should be apparent and the frog should be well extended, healthy and make adequate contact with the ground for good circulation to the hooves. The shape of the mule or donkey foot is more oval and the bottom of the foot is slightly “cupped” which accounts for the surefootedness in the mule and donkey. When being trimmed, the mule should be left with more heel than the horse to maintain the often more upright position that complements the shoulders and hips. If the mule or donkey has a better slope to the shoulders, he might have an angle that is similar to the horse, but he will still grow more heel than the horse. The shape and condition of the hooves of the jack and the mare are both equally important when considering foot development in the mule.

Because donkey and mule hooves are different from a horse’s hoof in that they are more oblong, cupped in the sole, they need more heel left during a trim than the round, flat sole and low heels on a horse. There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule as there are in most generalizations. Most donkeys are relatively inactive and live on moderate ground, so they do grow out in that time period. Some donkeys, like my own Little Jack Horner, are much more active and will wear their feet down naturally.

Miniature Horse

 

Miniature Mule

 

Miniature Donkey

 

Saddle Horse

 

Saddle Mule

 

Saddle Donkey

 

Draft Horse

 

Draft Mule

 

Mammoth Donkey

 

Of course, those that do not have the benefit of good training and conditioning would still wear unevenly and would still need to be trimmed, however, with the correct training and conditioning, they may wear evenly and may not need to be trimmed more than once a year! The same goes for those who would live in rough terrain. They may wear their feet down, but they would still need to be trimmed for balance. Those who are moving correctly may wear down evenly and would not require trims as often.

Failure to have your mule’s hooves regularly trimmed in order to maintain their balance and shape can result in an imbalance in your mule’s feet, which will then cause an imbalance throughout his entire body, inhibiting his performance. However, if trimming is done consistently, the risk of imbalance, accident or injury will be greatly reduced.

There are a lot of things to consider when trimming and shoeing all equines. If the animal is to have shoes, for instance, then they would need to maintain the flat surface of the sole for the shoes to fit properly. It is important that the equine have relief from shoes when they are not being ridden as much. We usually take any shoes off during the winter which keeps the heels from becoming contracted from wearing shoes and promotes good circulation to the foot as the frog can then make contact with the ground more consistently than it can with shoes. A good understanding of the anatomical differences among horses, mules and donkeys is essential for healthy hoof care.

When your farrier is trimming your equine, he should take into account the angles of the shoulder, the forearm, the knees, the cannon bone, fetlock, pastern and the general angle to the entire body when at rest, not just trimming off the excess. This is an anatomical call and only people who are schooled and skilled in this profession should even attempt it or you could run the risk of injuring your animal.

It is commonly known that, when it comes to horses and mules, light-colored hooves are softer and more likely to break down under stress than are the darker, black hooves. Even though the black hoof is naturally harder than the light-colored hoof, if it does not contain sufficient moisture, it can become brittle and can chip away as destructively as can the lighter hoof. Whichever breed of equine you own and whatever the color of their feet, remember that good hoof care is essential for all domesticated equines.

For better or worse, an equine inherits his hooves through his genes. If your equine has inherited good feet—black, oily-looking, and with good shape—then you are fortunate and hoof care and maintenance should be relatively simple. If he has inherited a softer or misshapen foot, you will need to discuss more specialized care with your farrier. Beware of generalizations as they can often be misleading! Each animal should ultimately be assessed individually.

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, 2019, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TT49 FreeLunging Slideshow

LTR Training Tip #49: Free Lunging in the Round Pen

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Introduce your equine to lunging training with “free lunging” without tack or equipment in the round pen.

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The Equine In Motion2

MULE CROSSING: The Equine in Motion

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By Meredith Hodges

I have done extensive work in training equines for many years and it seems you can never learn enough. If you learn how to ask the right questions, there is always something more to learn just around the corner. It is no secret that things can happen when you push limits and you can get what might seem to be the right results, but then you have to ask yourself…really? You may, for instance get your young Reining prospect to do a spin, but then you should ask yourself if he is executing it correctly so as not to injure the ligaments, tendons and cartilage in his body. If he is not adequately prepared for the spin with exercises that address his core muscle strength and good posture, then he is likely to do the movement incorrectly, putting his body at risk.

Horse trainers have kept us in awe of their unique and significant talents for centuries, and now that their techniques are more public, many equine professionals will pooh-pooh those who attempt a “kinder” approach to training. Scientists who study the equine in motion—its nutrition, biomechanics, care and maintenance—have   their own perceptions to offer as to what we can learn about equines. Because many of these studies and tests are done in the laboratory, scientists rarely have the opportunity to follow their subjects throughout a lifetime of activity, as well as having the opportunity to experience what it really means for you as a rider, to be in balance with your equine when you work together, whether you are leading, lunging, riding or driving. If they did, their findings would probably yield quite different results. With all this progressive scientific thought, it seems to me that common sense can often get lost in the shuffle and respect for the living creature’s physical, mental and emotional needs may not be met.

It is true that bribery never really works with an equine, and many people who attempt the “kind” approach do get caught up with bribery because they are unskilled at identifying good behaviors and waiting to reward until the task is performed. However, reinforcement of positive behaviors with a food reward does work if you can figure out how to adhere to the program, and be clear and consistent in how you behave and what you expect. In order to do this, you need to really pay attention to the whole equine, have a definite exercise program that has been proven to work in developing the equine’s good posture and strength, and be willing to work on yourself as well as your equine. A good program for your equine will require that you actively participate in the exercises as well. That way, you will also benefit while you are training your equine.

People feel better when they pay attention to their diet and are aware of their posture while practicing physical activities—and, in the same respect, an equine will perform willingly and happily if he feels good.  Horses have as many different postures as do people, and there are generalized postures that you can easily notice and predict in specific breeds of horses. For instance, the American Saddlebred has a higher body carriage than that of the Quarter Horse. However, each individual within any breed is not naturally born in good posture and might need some help to get in good posture in order to exercise correctly.

There are varying levels of abuse and most abuse happens out of ignorance. Many training techniques appear to get the equine to do what you want, but the question then becomes, “How is he doing this and will it result in a good strong body or is it in opposition to what would be his best posture and condition?” Any time you take the equine out of good posture to accomplish certain maneuvers, you are abusing his body, and this can result, over time, in degenerative breakdown. For instance, those who get in a hurry in Dressage and do not take a full year at each level in order to develop their equine’s body slowly and methodically may discover, several years later, that their animal has developed ringbone, side bones, arthritis or some other internal malady. These types of injuries and malformations are often not outwardly exhibited until it is too late to do anything about them.

In my experience with my draft mule rescues, Rock and Roll, this became blatantly apparent to me. When Rock had to be euthanized in December of 2011, a necropsy was performed after his death. When the necropsy report came back and we were able to ascertain the long-term results of his years of abuse, neglect and bad posture, we found it a wonder that he was able to get up and down at all, much less rear up and play with Roll and trot over ground rails in balance.

His acetabulum (or hip socket) had multiple fractures. The upper left photo shows Rock’s normal acetabulum and the upper right photo shows Rock’s fractured acetabulum. The photo at right shows the head of each of Rock’s femurs. Rock’s left femoral head was normal, while the right, injured femoral head was virtually detached from the hip socket and contained fluid-filled cysts. There was virtually no cartilage left on the right femoral head, nor on the right acetabulum. It was the very fact that my team and I made sure that Rock was in balance and took things slowly and in a natural sequence that he was able to accomplish what he did and gain himself an extra year of quality life.

Tragically, many equines are suffering from abuse every day, while they are trying to please their owners and do what is asked of them. Their owners and trainers take shortcuts that compromise the equine’s health. It could be that these owners and trainers are trying to make choices with limited knowledge and really don’t know whom to believe. But ignorance is not a valid defense and sadly, the animal is the one that ends up suffering.

When they don’t have enough time to ride, racing stables often use hot walkers in order to exercise their Thoroughbred horses. But when an equine is put on a hot walker, he is forced to walk in a circle with his head raised and his neck and back hollowed. Since we all build muscle while in motion, muscle is being built on the hot walker while the equine is out of good posture. Consequently, when the equine is ridden later, bad behaviors can arise simply because the animal is uncomfortable. It would be better to develop core muscle strength (the strength around the bones and vital organs) first in good posture before developing hard muscle strength over the rest of the body. Core muscle strength takes time, but once the animal begins to automatically move in good posture, it becomes his natural way of going.

The Lucky Three mules have always been worked in good posture, and spend only as much time on the hot walker as it takes for them to dry after a bath. They maintain their good posture while walking and rarely let the hot walker “pull” them into bad posture.

There has been a lot of scientific research done on equine biomechanics using treadmills, which is one of my pet peeves. It would seem to me that any data scientists have gathered is not viable for one reason. An equine on a treadmill will not move the same way as an equine that is moving over ground. Have you ever had the ground move backwards underneath you? What kind of an effect do you think this would have on your ability to walk, trot or run correctly and in good posture? The very motion of the treadmill throws the body balance forward while you try to keep your balance upright. It actually interferes with the ability to balance easily and therefore, does not build muscle symmetrically and correctly around the skeletal structure and vital organs.

Like many, I am of the belief that mechanical devices that force an equine into a rounded position do not necessarily put that equine in good posture. I would guess that many trainers think the “Elbow Pull” device that I use is guilty of developing this artificial posture. If that is their opinion, then they do not understand how it works. Rather than pulling the equine’s head down into a submissive position, when adjusted correctly, the “Elbow Pull” acts like a balance bar (like a ballet dancer would use) to help the equine to balance in good posture. It takes time to develop good posture. So, in the beginning, your equine can only sustain good posture for a certain number of measured steps, and then he must “lean” on the “Elbow Pull” in between these moments of sustaining his ideal balance on his own. The “Elbow Pull” simply prevents him from raising his head and neck so high that the neck becomes inverted and the back hollowed, but it does not actually pull his head down. The rope itself is very lightweight and puts virtually no weight on his head and neck at all. Note: Because horses react differently than mules and donkeys when hard-tied, a simple adjustment to allow the “Elbow Pull” to “slip” with a horse is necessary.

Like humans, when equines are encouraged and aided in developing good equine posture, core strength with adequate bulk muscle built over the top, they are healthier and better able to perform the tasks we ask of them. With this in mind and other good maintenance practices, you can enjoy the company of your equine companion for many years to come and most of all, he will enjoy being with you!

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, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2020, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TT48 PrepForLunging Slideshow

LTR Training Tip #48: Preparation for Lunging

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Is your equine ready to start lunging training? Ask yourself these questions before beginning.

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MULE CROSSING: Myths About Desensitization

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By Meredith Hodges

You really don’t want to desensitize your animals to everything. Here is Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of the word “desensitize”:

1) to make (a sensitized or hypersensitive individual) insensitive or non-reactive to a sensitizing agent.

Some people have the misconception that, in order to desensitize an animal, you have to make it numb to its surroundings and any stimulus it encounters. Not true! What you really want to do is sensitize your equine to different body language and cues from you, as the trainer. So “desensitization” does not mean achieving a total lack of sensitivity. Rather, it should be approached as a way of training your equine (in a way that is quiet and calm) to be less sensitive to certain objects or events that may be cause him to be fearful, so he can move forward with confidence and the right sensitivity toward the communication between the two of you.

When incorrect, harsh or overly aggressive desensitizing techniques are used on equines, the handler is met with either a very strong flight reflex or a stand and fight reflex.  In either case, an equine will either put up a fight and be deemed a rogue and, therefore, untrainable, or eventually just “give up” and succumb to the trainer’s wishes. This is  a sad situation because the equine is not given the opportunity to make reasonable choices in his relationship with his trainer. The equine’s instinct to warm up to the person training him is hampered by his fear of more desensitization techniques. Thus, he becomes resigned to his work and is not fully engaged in the training process.

Often, trainers will put obstacles such as a trailer, tire or tarp in an equine’s pen in the hope of getting him used to it by making him live with it. But ask yourself this: How much rest would you get if someone put a blaring radio in your bedroom to desensitize you to noise? Equines have many of the same reactions to their personal space that we do, and they do much better when their place of rest is just that—a place of rest and comfort. And when lessons are approached in a considerate, respectful and rewarding way, an equine is more likely to approach them with an eager and positive attitude that facilitates better learning. It is always better to turn your equine’s fear into curiosity than it is to just assault his senses.

When doing obstacle training, it is better to allow your equine a gradual approach with small steps and great rewards for his honest effort than to whip and spur him through just to get to the other side. When his fear is converted to curiosity, the chance of his refusal to go forward is lessened and his trust in you as the trainer allows you to, eventually, ride through any obstacle at the slightest suggestion. This is because he trusts your judgment and has not been frightened, hurt or made uncomfortable during the training process. This is your equine developing sensitivity to your demands and learning to willingly comply so he can become a participating partner in each activity.

Some trainers believe that breaking down tasks for the equine into tiny steps is a waste of time and that giving a food reward prevents an equine from learning to respect the trainer, but I disagree. When you break tasks down into understandable steps in the beginning stages of training, you will eventually begin to get solid, reliable behavior from your equine. You will have to pay attention to a lot of little details at the beginning stages of training (and that can seem overwhelming at first), but if you take the time to pay attention to these small steps in the beginning stages and through the ground work and round pen work that will follow, when you finally do move on to riding under saddle the lessons will go much more quickly.

Each stage of training should become easier for you and your equine to master. For instance, it actually takes you less time to train in something like a side pass if you have done your groundwork training with the lead line and drive-line lateral training before you even get into the saddle. It also follows that the side pass will come more easily for your equine if he has first learned to move on an angle in the leg yield before having to move straight sideways. This is an example of taking things in small, logical steps, keeping your equine sensitive to his surroundings and tasks without fear. It also greatly lessens the chance for a fear or anxiety-driven blow up from your equine later on.

There is a physical as well as mental aspect to all of this technique. While you are training your equine to perform certain movements and negotiations over obstacles, his muscles, ligaments and tendons are all involved in his actions. When an equine is asked to do a movement for which his muscles have not first been properly conditioned, he will not only execute the motion incorrectly, but his premature attempt will undoubtedly compromise his muscles, ligaments and tendons. Even if he can adequately assimilate a requested movement while he is young, he could easily be creating problems in his body and joints that will cause him escalating problems as he ages.

If you were asked to go on a 25-mile hike with a 50-pound pack on your back, how would you prepare in order to safely and successfully perform this task? You would break it down into small steps, working up to it by first running a short distance with a very light weight, and then gradually increasing the distance you run and the weight you carry, which may take as long as a couple of years of careful training and conditioning. But if you tried to prepare for this kind of grueling hike by simply walking around the block a few times for a couple of days, you’d wreck your muscles, compromise your health and probably fail—all because you attempted to do the task when you weren’t physically or mentally ready. And depending on how much you strained your body, you just might discover down the line that the damage is permanent and will worsen over the course of your life. I use this illustration to show that, just as with humans, when it comes to training and conditioning your equine, it’s always better to take it slowly—one step at a time. Your equine will learn to enjoy being a partner in your challenges and goals if you give him the time he needs to be able to do these activities comfortably and with success.

An equine that learns in this sensitized way can also make judgments that might even save your life when you might not be paying attention. This is because when your equine is calm and well rested, he actually seems to be able to anticipate consequences, making him more likely to stop and wait for your cue. The equine that is “forced” during training will most often become anxious about a challenging situation and will seldom stop and calmly alert you to a potential peril—and he most likely will not trust your judgment.

It is because I have trained my mules in this sensitized way that I once avoided going over a 100-foot drop up in the Rocky Mountains while on a trail ride. On that particular day, I was in front, riding my mule, Mae Bea C.T. with four horses behind us. When we came to a giant boulder semi-blocking the trail, I told the people on the horses to wait and rode ahead. I soon found that the trail had narrowed to an impassable two feet wide and a rockslide had wiped out the trail ahead completely! It was straight up 100 feet on one side of the trail and straight down 100 feet on the other side and there was no going forward. The horses behind me were still on the wider part of the trail on the other side of the boulder and were able turn around, so they were safe, but backing my mule around the boulder on that treacherous trail would be very dangerous. I thought we were stuck. At that point, my mule calmly looked back around at me as if to ask, “Well, Mom, what do we do now?” I thought for a minute and then shifted the weight in my seat toward my mule’s hindquarters. This movement from me allowed her to shift her weight to her hindquarters. Then, with pressure from my right leg, she lifted her shoulders, pivoted on her left hind foot and performed a 180-degree turn to the left on her haunches, and with her front feet in the air, she swept them across the open precipice of the cliff and turned us back around to face the wider (and safe) part of the trail. After completing the turn, she stopped again, looked back at me to see if everything was okay and waited for my cue to proceed back down. I believe, without a doubt, that my mule’s incredible and calm response to a life-threatening situation was the direct result of the sensitized training methods I used that created our unbreakable bond of trust.

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.

© 2013, 2016, 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

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MULE CROSSING: Benefits of Postural Core Strength Training

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By Meredith Hodges

Most equines can be taught to carry a rider in a relatively short time. However, just because they are compliant doesn’t mean their body is adequately prepared for what they will be asked to do and that they are truly mentally engaged in your partnership. We can affect our equine’s manners and teach them to do certain movements and in most cases, we will get the response that we want…at least for the moment. Most of us grow up thinking that getting the animal to accept a rider is a reasonable goal and we are thrilled when they quickly comply. When I was first training equines, I even thought that to spare them the weight of the rider when they were younger, it would be beneficial to drive them first as this seemed less stressful for them. Of course, I was then unaware of the multitude of tiny details that were escaping my attention due to my limited education. I had a lot to learn.

Because my equines reacted so well during training, I had no reason to believe that there was anything wrong with my approach until I began showing them and started to experience resistant behaviors in my animals that I promptly attributed to simple disobedience. I had no reason to believe that I wasn’t being kind and patient until I met my dressage instructor, Melinda Weatherford. I soon learned that complaining about Sundowner’s negative response to his dressage lessons and blaming HIM was not going to yield any shortcuts to our success. The day she showed up with a big button on her lapel that said, “No Whining” was the end of my complaining and impatience, and the beginning of my becoming truly focused on the tasks at hand. I learned that riding through (and often repeating) mistakes did not pose any real solutions to our problems. I attended numerous clinics from all sorts of notable professionals and we improved slowly, but a lot of the problems were still present. Sundowner would still bolt and run when things got a bit awkward, but he eventually stopped bolting once I changed my attitude and approach, and when he was secure in his core strength in good equine posture.

I thought about what my grandmother had told me years ago about being polite and considerate with everything I did. Good manners were everything to her and I thought I was using good manners.  I soon found that good manners were not the only important element of communication. Empathy was another important consideration…to put oneself in the other “person’s” shoes, and that could be attributed to animals as well. So I began to ask myself how it would feel to me if I was approached and treated the way I was treating my equines. My first epiphany was during grooming. It occurred to me that grooming tools like a shedding blade might not feel very good unless I was careful about the way I used it. Body clipping was much more tolerable for them if I did the hard-to-get places first and saved the general body for last. Standing for long periods of time certainly did not yield a calm, compliant attitude when the more tedious places were left until last. After standing for an hour or more, the animal got antsy when I was trying to do more detailed work around the legs, head, flanks and ears after the body, so I changed the order. Generally speaking, I slowed my pace and eliminated any abrupt movements on my part to give the equine adequate time to assess what I would do next and approached each task very CAREFULLY. The results were amazing! I could now groom, clip bridle paths and fly spray everyone with no halters even in their turnout areas as a herd. They were all beginning to really trust me.

There was still one more thing my grandmother had said that echoed in my brain, “You are going to be a sorry old woman if you do not learn to stand up straight and move in good posture!” Good posture is not something that we are born with. It is something that must be learned and practiced repetitiously so it becomes habitual for it to really contribute to your overall health. Good posture begins at the core, “the innermost, essential part of anything.” In a human being, it lies behind the belly button amongst the vital organs and surrounded by the skeletal frame. In a biped, upon signals from the brain, energy impulses run from the core and up from the waist, and simultaneously down through the lower body and legs. The core of an equine is at the center of balance in the torso and energy runs primarily horizontally from the core in each direction. Similar to bipeds, they need the energy to run freely along the hindquarters and down through the hind legs to create a solid foundation from which to allow the energy in front to rise into suspension to get the most efficient movement. When their weight is shifted too much onto the front end, their ability to carry a rider efficiently and move correctly is compromised. To achieve correct energy flow and efficient movement, the animal’s internal supportive structures need to be conditioned in a symmetrical way around the skeletal frame. People can do this by learning to walk with a book on their head and with Pilates exercises, but how can we affect this same kind of conditioning in a quadruped?

The first thing I noticed is when we lead our animals with the lead rope in the right hand, we drop our shoulder and are no longer in good posture. When we walk, our hand moves ever so slightly from left to right as we walk. We inadvertently move the equine’s head back and forth. They balance with their head and neck and thus, we are forcing them off balance with every step that we take; and since movement builds muscle, they are being asymmetrically conditioned internally and externally with every step we take together. In order to correct this, we must allow the animal to be totally in control of his own body as we walk together. We are cultivating proprioception or “body awareness.”

During the time you do the core strength leading exercises, you should NOT ride the animal as this will inhibit the success of these preliminary exercises. It will not result in the same symmetrical muscle conditioning, habitual behavior and new way of moving. The lessons need to be routine and done in good posture from the time you take your equine from the pen until the time you put him away for the best results. Hold the lead rope in your LEFT hand keeping slack in the lead rope, keep his head at your shoulder, match your steps with his front legs, point in the direction of travel with your right hand and look where you are going. Carry his reward of oats in a fanny pack around your waist. He’s not likely to bolt if he knows his reward is right there in the fanny pack.

Plan to move in straight lines and do gradual turns that encourage him to stay erect and bend through his rib cage, keeping an even distribution of weight through all four feet. Square him up with equal weight over all four feet EVERY TIME you stop and reward him with oats from your fanny pack. Then wait patiently for him to finish chewing. We are building NEW habits in the equine’s way of moving and the only way that can change is through routine, consistency in the routine and correctness in the execution of the exercises. Since this requires that you be in good posture as well, you will also reap the benefits from this regimen. Along with feeding correctly (explained on my website at www.luckythreeranch.com), these exercises will help equines to drop fat rolls and begin to develop the top line and abdominal strength in good posture. The spine will then be adequately supported to easily accept a rider. He will be better able to stand still as you pull on the saddle horn to mount.

When the body is in good posture, all internal organs can function properly and the skeletal frame will be supported correctly throughout his entire body. This will greatly minimize joint problems, arthritis and other anomalies that come from asymmetrical development and compromises in the body. Just as our children need routine, ongoing learning and the right kind of exercise while they are growing up, so do equines. They need boundaries for their behavior clearly outlined to minimize anxious behaviors and inappropriate behavior, and the exercises that you do together need to build strength and coordination in good equine posture. The time spent together during leading training and going forward slowly builds a good solid relationship with your equine and fosters his confidence and trust in you. He will know it is you who actually helps him to feel physically much better than he ever has.

Core muscle strength and balance must be done through correct leading exercises on flat ground. Coordination can be added to his overall carriage with the addition of negotiating obstacles on the lead rope done the same way. Once familiar with the obstacles, you will need to break them down into very small segments where the equine is asked to randomly halt squarely every couple of steps through the obstacle. You can tell when you have successfully achieved core strength in good balance when your equine will perform accurately with the lead rope slung over his neck. He will stay at your shoulder, respond to hand signals and body language only and does what is expected perfectly. A carefully planned routine coupled with an appropriate feeding program is critical to your equine’s healthy development.

The task at the leading stage is not only to teach them to follow, but to have your equine follow with his head at your shoulder as you define straight lines and gradual arcs that will condition his body symmetrically on all sides of the skeletal frame. This planned course of action also begins to develop a secure bond between you. Mirror the steps of his front legs as you go through the all movements keeping your own body erect and in good posture. Always look in the direction of travel and ask him to square up with equal weight over all four feet every time he stops and reward him. This kind of leading training develops strength and balance in the equine body at the deepest level so strengthened muscles will hold the bones, tendons and ligaments and even cartilage in correct alignment. Equines that are not in correct equine posture will have issues involving organs, joints, hooves and soft tissue trauma. This is why it is so important to spend plenty of time perfecting your techniques every time you lead your equine.

The equine next needs to build muscle so he can sustain his balance on the circle without the rider before he will be able to balance with a rider. An equine that has not had time in the round pen to establish strength, coordination and balance on the circle with the help of our postural restraint called the “Elbow Pull” will have difficulty as he will be pulled off balance with even the slightest pressure. He will most likely raise his head, hollow his back and lean like a motorcycle into the turns. When first introduced to the “Elbow Pull,” his first lesson in the round pen should only be done at the walk to teach him to give to its pressure, arch his back and stretch his spine while tightening his abs. If you ask for trot and he resists against the “Elbow Pull,” just go back to the walk until he can consistently sustain this good posture while the “Elbow Pull” stays loose. He can gain speed and difficulty as his proficiency increases.

Loss of balance will cause stress, and even panic that can result in him pulling the lead rope, lunge line or reins under saddle right out of your hands and running off. This is not disobedience, just fear from a loss of balance and it should not be punished, just ignored and then calmly go back to work. The animal that has had core strength built through leading exercises, lunging on the circle and ground driving in the “Elbow Pull” before riding will not exhibit these seemingly disobedient behaviors. Lunging will begin to develop hard muscle over the core muscles and internal supportive structures you have spent so many months strengthening during leading training exrecises. It will further enhance your equine’s ability to perform and stay balanced in action, and play patterns in turnout will begin to change dramatically as this becomes his habitual way of going. Be sure to be consistent with verbal commands during all these beginning stages as they set the stage for better communication and exceptional performance later. Although you need to spend more time in his beginning training than you might want to, this will also add to your equine’s longevity and use-life by as much as 5-10 years. The equine athlete that has a foundation of core strength in good equine posture, whether used for pleasure or show, will be a much more capable and safe performer than one that has not, and he will always be grateful to YOU for his comfort.

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.

© 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Leverage Versus Abuse

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By Meredith Hodges

“Leverage” equipment refers to any restraining device or substance that is used to get an equine’s attention and obtain compliance, but many leverage practices often have the reverse effect and have the potential to cause distress and pain. This includes harsh bits, chain leads, twitches, hobbles, stocks and even medications. There are times when our equines can really be a handful, so having a little leverage when needed can be a good thing. However, deciding which equipment to use and learning how to use leverage without it becoming abusive can be a bit daunting. There are so many different types of tack, equipment and restraints that it becomes difficult to determine which would be best to use on your equine to correct a particular problem, or if you really need to use anything at all. It may only be a case of needing to be clearer in your approach, in which case, leverage equipment may not be needed. It is important to make an informed decision when using any leverage equipment to be sure that what you are using is helpful and not abusive.

One very common behavioral problem that seems to identify the need for more leverage is the mule that bolts and runs when on the lead rope. This seems like an obvious disobedience to the handler, and the first thing that comes to mind is to use a lead shank with a chain to gain control of the mule. Normal use for a lead shank is during a showmanship class at a show and it should rarely be used in training unless the equine will be shown at halter and/or showmanship. And then, training with the lead shank should be done only after the animal is following well through all required movements while in his halter and on a lead rope.

Chains are severe and when not used properly, can damage the fragile bones in the underside of the jaw, and the cartilage and bone over the nose of the equine. If the chain is pulled while simply run under the jaw and attached to the ring on the opposite side, a quick jerk can bear down hard into the delicate mandible (jawbone). If the chain is run over the nose, when abrupt pressure is applied it can injure the nasal cartilage or the incisive bones. Because they occur internally, these injuries are often imperceptible to the human eye. The only thing you might see is broken skin, scabs or bumps that arise from repeated use. When properly fitted, the chain on a lead shank goes through the ring of the halter on the left side, threads under the chin and through the ring on the right side of the noseband, and is attached at the throatlatch ring on the right side. This keeps the halter balanced and the action of the chain less severe. When using the lead shank for leverage during training, it can work on some animals but others may decide to fight which can result in injuries such as fractures, causing more severe trauma to these areas. So it is best to avoid use of the lead shank until after completing leading training with the halter and lead rope. Even then, you should learn to use the lead shank properly with the least amount of pressure possible. Avoid using halters that are made with chains. Those types of halters should only be used when showing cattle and can do serious damage to equines.

If you train for leading with a step-by-step program that incorporates a reward system during training, the mule is much less likely to bolt and pull the lead rope from your hands, and horses will not need any more leverage at all. This kind of training invites the equine to remain with you and he is rewarded lavishly when he does. If a horse spooks, you can usually stand still in balance, hang onto the lead rope and quickly regain his attention by staying calm and deliberate yourself. Normally, mules learn to comply with the reward training. However, if a mule has been spooked, he may not care much about the reward in your fanny pack and you might have the need to use something with more leverage. In this case and in cases where a mule doesn’t always comply willingly, I use a new positioning of the lead rope called a “Quick Twist.”

To employ the “Quick Twist” restraint, just take your lead rope and create a loop and feed it through the noseband of your nylon halter (rope halters are too loose and do not work) from back to front and then over the mule’s nose. When you pull on the rope, it will tighten around the end of the his nose below the incisive bones and over the cartilage, making breathing just a little difficult. Don’t keep pulling—just stand quietly and hold the tension snug. Let the equine come forward to you and slacken the rope himself by coming forward and allowing a free flow of air through his nostrils. Then, if the mule does not follow, just walk a step or two, creating tension on the rope, and then stand still again. When he does come forward, stop long enough to reward him with the oats reward before you proceed forward again. Keep the lead rope short and stand still in a balanced way so he cannot get ahead of you and jerk you off your feet. If you are standing still in a balanced position, it will be difficult for him to jerk the lead rope from your hand and leave.

If, after you’ve employed a kind, considerate and respectful approach along with a food reward, your equine is still being uncooperative, it may be appropriate to use equipment with more leverage such as the “Quick Twist,” but not necessarily chains. Chains do need to be used in some cases, such as with work harness (and most curb bits are now fitted with chains), but when not used correctly, these chains can be abusive. The chains on the pleasure driving harness should clear the legs and heels of the driving equine, and the chin chain on a curb bit should be adjusted so that it is twisted properly and lies flat against the animal’s jaw with an allowance of two fingers between the chain and the jaw, thereby minimizing any chance of injury. If you have a generally compliant equine, it is better to use a leather chin strap on your curb bit rather than a chain.

Old-time twitches were made with a chain that could be twisted around the upper lip and used to distract the equine from shots, tube worming and the like, but the main focal point for the equine then becomes the equipment and not the task and, in the wrong hands, this piece of equipment can do a lot of damage to the equine’s sensitive upper lip. Most often, the equine can be more easily distracted by a simple rap on his forehead using your knuckles. Using a twitch at all can become a source of confrontation for many equines. If a twitch must be used, choose a more humane one that is made from aluminum and has a smooth surface. This will clamp down tight enough to hold, but not so tightly on the upper lip that it causes pain or even injury.

A lot of activity when loading can cause the equine to become anxious and noncompliant and he becomes overstimulated. When having difficulty loading your equine, things will usually go better if you simply give him time to survey the situation and not allow him to back away from the trailer. One step at a time while offering a food reward (and a food reward waiting inside the trailer), with frequent pauses and encouragement to move forward from behind with a tap of the whip, will usually accomplish the task without confrontation. Most equines will willingly follow you right into the trailer if prior obstacle training has been done properly and successfully. Leverage equipment such as butt ropes only refocus the equine’s attention on the equipment and will result in confrontation.

Hobbles are another form of leverage equipment and there are many different kinds of hobbles for different purposes. The hobbles that have chains on them should be avoided, as the equine can become entangled and the chains can do damage to their legs. Thin leather hobbles or coarse rope can chafe the hair right off the skin around the pastern and can cause severe abrasions that may never heal. Thick leather hobbles are best, as they will break when under extreme stress, releasing before damage to the equine is done. If so inclined, all mules and some horses can gallop in hobbles, so hobbles really aren’t all that effective for leverage. Tying
onto a hyline (a rope suspended between two trees that acts as a hitching line for overnighting equines in the mountains) is a better choice, and if the horses are tied, then the mules should not have to be tied or hobbled because they will generally stay with the horses.

Sedation and tranquilizers are another form of leverage that is used all too often and, in some cases, can be very dangerous. Mules and donkeys may receive the correct dose, but they can be unaffected when they get over-stimulated, excited and confrontational. They can actually “pop out” of sedation if they get excited enough to release adrenaline in their bodies. In these cases, administering another dose of drugs can easily become an overdose and could result in death. Sedating an equine that is to be trimmed or shod can be dangerous for both the farrier and the equine because the animal is not able to stabilize his balance and his reactions are, for the most part, uncontrolled. The farrier may not have time to get out of the way and the animal could stumble into trouble.

Power tools can be of help to a veterinarian or an equine dentist when doing teeth. Old-fashioned rasps are safer than power tools, but they are clearly more of an aggravation to the equine. However, if power tools are to be used at all, they must be carefully monitored. When floating teeth, the equine dentist must be skilled in the use of his grinding tool and should do only what is necessary to remove sharp points on the equine’s teeth. Power tools can be a good thing when you are dealing with an equine’s mouth and jaw, as having their mouths held open for long periods of time is very tiring for them, so speed is essential, but accuracy and skill are also essential.

I do not approve of using power tools on the equine’s hooves at all. In order for the equine’s body to be properly balanced in good posture, the hooves must first be properly balanced. Power tools cannot possibly shape the hoof with proper curvature in the sole, alignment of angles and equal balance over the hoof walls with appropriate pressure to the heels and frog. This demands hands-on custom sculpting, as each foot on each equine will be different and all four feet need to be aligned with each individual’s legs and body in mind. The hooves are the basic foundation for the entire body, so they must be done correctly or everything else will be off. This is especially true with the tiny hooves of mini donkeys and mules. Minis can often be kept calm for trims simply by keeping things at their eye level and rewarding their good behavior with crimped oats.

There are things that may seem to allow for shortcuts through certain tasks, but when you are dealing with living creatures there really are no shortcuts. It is always better to take the necessary time to implement training techniques that allow your equine to learn and grow in a logical, step-by-step process that will not overwhelm him or bombard him with too much stimulus at any stage, so that he can become a comfortable and cooperative individual. If you use the correct methods right from the beginning, the need for excessive retraints (that can cause pain and even more resistance) will be greatly diminished and the long-term results will be undeniably better.

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.

© 2013, 2016, 2018, 2020, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Train for the Pleasure of It

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By Meredith Hodges

As humans, we tend to complicate our lives—filling them with people, things, goals and tasks, until we’re too busy to think. For a mule or donkey (and even other equines), it’s different. The equine has no “to do’s,” no “ought-have’s,” or “ought-to’s.” He takes things as they come, considers his response in the moment, and stays open to possibility. This year, why not resolve to be more like your mule or donkey? Consider your priorities and look at your relationship with him from his perspective. Stop to smell the roses, and during those inevitable challenging moments, put yourself in your mule’s shoes. Think like he does and you may be surprised at the response you get.

No doubt, this is a tall order. After all, we humans tend to begin with the end in mind, and the process is just a means to that end. Training, for example, is a process. We attempt to train with a goal in mind. Our goal at the Lucky Three Ranch is to improve the equine’s performance as well as our own. Most of us train with the expectation that improvement will occur, and most of us add the self-imposed pressure to improve within a certain amount of time. The notion that the training—the process itself—could be the goal is foreign to many of us. But consider it. What if we trained for the pure pleasure of spending time with our equine while using the values we hold dear like respect, kindness, consideration and consistency in our behavior? How different would the experience be for us and for him?

Today’s general horse training techniques do not generally work well with mules and donkeys. Most horse training techniques used today speed up the training process so people can ride or drive sooner and it makes the trainers’ techniques more attractive, but most of these techniques do not adequately prepare the equine physically in good posture for the added stress of a rider on his back. Mules and donkeys have a very strong sense of self preservation and need work that builds their bodies properly so they will feel good in their new and correct posture, or you won’t get the kind of results you might expect. Forming a good relationship with your equine begins with a consistent maintenance routine and appropriate groundwork. Most equines don’t usually get the well-structured and extended groundwork training on the lead rope that paves the way to good balance, core muscle conditioning and a willing attitude.  This is essential if he is truly expected to be physically and mentally prepared for future equine activities. With donkeys and mules, this is critically important.

No matter how old or how well trained the equine, they still need time doing the simplest of things to get to know you before they will learn to trust and have confidence in you. The exercises that you do should build the body slowly, sequentially and in good equine posture. No human or equine is born in good posture. It is something that needs to be taught and practiced repetitively if it is to become a natural way of moving the body.

When the body is in good posture, all internal organs can function properly and the skeletal frame will be supported correctly. Just as our children need routine, ongoing learning and the right kind of exercise while they are growing up, so do equines. They need boundaries for their behavior clearly outlined to minimize anxious behaviors and inappropriate behavior, and the exercises that you do together need to build their strength and coordination in good equine posture. The time spent together during leading training and going forward builds a good solid relationship with your equine and fosters his confidence and trust in you because you actually help him to feel physically better. A carefully planned routine and an appropriate feeding program is critical to healthy development.

I have found that equines, especially mules and donkeys, bond to the person who trains them. When they go away to other people, they do not get the benefit of this bonding and can become resistant over time when they return home. After all, you wouldn’t ask someone else to go out and make a friend for you, would you? This is the primary reason I put my entire training program in books and videos, in a natural order like grade school is for children, for people to use as a resistance free correspondence training course instead of doing clinics and seminars.

I embraced this philosophy long ago. Through a painstaking process that involved a fair amount of trial and error, I determined that my ambitions as a competitor made little impression on my equines and that it was the level of respect, compassion and empathy that I brought to my relationship with each one that served us best in the show ring. My animals would do anything for me, but not because they had the same lofty performance goals I had. It’s because we truly enjoy being together regardless of what we’re doing or working on. Really, it’s because we’re friends, and that’s what friends do for each other. It’s a very unselfish relationship.

My friendships with my equines are as integral to their outstanding performance and versatility as their physical training. In my training series, Training Mules and Donkeys, and the complementary  manuals and DVD series, Equus Revisited: A Complete Approach to Athletic Conditioning, I explain how to build that relationship even as you develop your equine’s physical foundation. Just as he learns to move in balanced frame day by day, moment by moment, your equine also grows to trust you and take pleasure in your mutual effort.  In fact, training for the pure pleasure of it is what your mule does. He’s not thinking about the next show, or how much better or worse so-and-so is. He’s not even pondering what happened yesterday or what might be coming down the pike tomorrow. He’s out there, with you, experiencing what’s going on right now, period. In that respect, he’s no different from his ancestors who spent their days roaming and grazing. So why not join him? Why not assume a degree of responsibility and respect for him that says: I will set my goals and work to achieve them, but never at the expense of our friendship.

We love our animals, but sometimes we forget to enjoy them! It’s my ultimate goal, to learn from them. I believe it’s our ultimate responsibility to let them be who they are and give them the care, love and respect that they so richly deserve.

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.

© 2007, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved

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LTR Training Tip #47: Side Passing the T

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Side passing the “T” is an advanced move, and a good challenge for testing your equine’s lateral abilities.

 

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MULE CROSSING: Imprinting Beyond Birth

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By Meredith Hodges

Imprinting is defined as “rapid learning that occurs during a brief receptive period, typically soon after birth or hatching, and establishes a long-lasting behavioral response to a person or object as attachment to a parent or offspring.” 1 When we speak of “imprinting” in the scientific sense, it is a reference to the way the brain accepts input. The brain compartmentalizes impressions and images, and the animal reacts to the stimulus that the image produces. A collection of “imprints and images” produces memories. Imprinting training with a foal of any breed will give him a jump-start on his life with human beings.

Imprinting is more than getting your foal used to people. He’s going to spend the rest of his life with human beings, so he should get used to your touch, your voice, your smell and, especially, your handling of him. Handling your foal the minute he is born is a wonderful way to bond with him, and you will learn how he likes to be touched in order to produce a positive response. This early imprinting lays a foundation of trust for the training to follow.

Although it is commonly accepted that initial imprinting on the foal’s brain occurs only during a brief receptive period when initial contact is made during the first few days of life, it does provide a foundation on which to expand exposure to a human being through your foal’s five senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight that leave impressions on the equine brain and will affect the way he interacts with a handler beyond what his dam may teach him. If the initial contact with humans leaves a positive impression, a foal will be more likely to be curious about humans than afraid of them. Because of this early contact, continuing imprinting then becomes an ongoing process that builds on the initial imprinting that is introduced at birth.

A calm, well-mannered mother helps produce a well-mannered foal, so if your mare or jennet is not easy to handle, she needs imprint training before the foal is born. Mares, and particularly jennets, can become very aggressive in defense of their offspring, so it is advisable to imprint even a mature mare or jennet so she will be safe to be around when she finally foals.

When imprinting your foal, think about the kind of adult you want him to be. A foal is very similar to a human baby regarding emotional needs—both need attention, love, guidance and praise to become loving, cooperative adults. Start your relationship with a positive attitude and approach your foal with love, patience, kindness and respect. Be sure to set reasonable boundaries for his behavior through the way you touch him and speak to him, the facial expressions you use, and even how you smell when you are around him so he can learn to trust and respect you and be happy at the sight of you.

It doesn’t matter if your equine is a young foal or an older animal—he needs imprint training. It will set the stage for the way he relates to humans for the rest of his life. Imprinting stimulates all of his five senses: touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight. This leaves an indelible impression on your equine’s brain as to how you expect him to behave, which—over time and with repetition—becomes his new natural way of responding.

The most important sensation to which you can expose your equine is touch. If your touch is gentle and considerate, it will feel good to him and he will be interested in your attention. When you run your fingers over his body, being careful not to press too hard on sensitive areas, he will experience pleasure and begin to look forward to your visits. Learning how your equine likes to be touched will also help things go more smoothly when you begin grooming him and tacking him up and during his training lessons, when he must learn to take his cues from your hands, legs and other aids. Even how you mount and sit down in the saddle—for instance, how your seat is placed on his back—denotes your consideration of him through touch. The wrong kind of touch, no matter how slight, can be a trigger for adverse behaviors. However, the right kind of touch—done correctly—produces pleasure in your equine and instills a willingness to perform in a positive way each time you interact with him.

To begin imprinting training, run your hands all over your equine’s body and down his legs, and put your hands in his mouth and in his ears. His reactions will help you learn how he likes to be touched. Getting your equine used to touch in this way eventually evolves into exposing him to grooming and working with tack and equipment. You are continuing to build on the initial imprinting work, but now, when you are grooming, the grooming tools will become extensions of your hands, and when you introduce various tack and equipment like clippers, they will also become an extension of your hands. Allow your equine to use his sense of touch (usually with his nose) when introducing any new object. Work toward getting your equine’s response to your touch as highly sensitive as possible, so that he can use his own body language to communicate with you. NOTE: Many owners pat their equine on the top of the head with the flat of their hand as a sign of affection, without realizing that, as a rule, most equines don’t take kindly to people patting their foreheads or faces. A pat on the forehead works if you want to distract your equine, but save it for that purpose only. It is much better to show affection by stroking your equine (always in the direction in which his hair lies), in a soothing and reassuring manner.

The tone of your voice is another important element of imprinting. If your general tone is soothing and encouraging, he is more likely to comply. Then, when he needs to be disciplined, the change in your tone of voice will convey your disapproval before you even have to touch him to make a correction—giving him the opportunity to straighten up before you actually need to apply the physical backup of negative reinforcement. If, no matter what the situation, you always speak in low tones, he will not be able to differentiate between what’s acceptable and what is not, but if you modulate your voice to clearly express what you want to convey, your equine will be much better able to understand and react appropriately.

Equines have an excellent sense of smell—for instance, they can smell danger from miles away. They can also smell people, and they are much more likely to warm up to a person who smells “good” to them. Smelling good to an equine has nothing to do with soaps or perfumes or deodorants. Oats and hay are smells that all equines immediately recognize and love, so if you dole out oats rewards correctly and you actively participate in the feeding and care of your equine, you will mostly smell like crimped oats throughout lessons, making you VERY attractive to your equine!

The next sense to which you should appeal is your equine’s sense of taste (a no-brainer). When you dispense the oats reward for all of his new positive behaviors, he associates that wonderful taste with you and will follow you to the ends of the earth to get more oats.

When the equine’s five senses are truly pleased, the very sight of you will prompt the memories and impressions on his brain that you have instilled in him during imprinting. The impression you have left with him is positive, encouraging, kind, considerate and respectful, and his reactions to you will also be positive and willing.

As you begin your equine’s imprinting, make sure you include an equal measure of fun. As with children, if you make learning fun, it comes more easily. By encouraging your young foal or older equine’s enthusiasm for learning, you’ll cultivate and enhance your equine’s desire to please and to serve.

Imprinting training is truly an ongoing learning experience. When touching a newborn foal, keep in mind that the foal is coming out of the protected environment of the womb, where he’s had pressure from the amniotic fluid over his entire body. Suddenly, he’s born into an entirely foreign environment and, soon after, a human appears out of nowhere and begins touching him. Initially, this is like being tickled all over, so at this point, imprinting serves as a desensitization technique to human touch. Desensitization doesn’t mean you want your equine to become totally desensitized to you—just that you don’t want him to jump out of his skin every time you touch him. Always strive for a positive interaction between you and your equine.

Pay attention to the way your equine’s hair lays and stroke his coat in that direction only. There is more fatty tissue down the neck and over the back, so you can press a little harder when touching these areas. Going with the hair and using the flat of your hand, learn to gauge how much pressure you can apply to the fatty areas. Then, as you work your way down to where the fatty tissue becomes thinner, be sure to ease up on the pressure over the bony areas.

Always keep an eye on your equine and watch his face—he’ll let you know if he is experiencing pleasure or displeasure. If you observe wrinkling around his mouth, if his ears are laid back flat or if he stomps a foot, he is showing displeasure. A soft eye, a relaxed, contentedly chewing mouth and an absence of tension in his body denotes pleasure. So when you are engaged in training, pay special attention to your equine’s body language and adjust your own touch accordingly.

Work on evolving your own body language as a natural and truly wonderful way to “talk” with your equine. You can also use verbal language, but body language should be your primary form of communication.

Making use of your equine’s five senses to expand the meaning and benefit of imprinting can really work in your favor and will leave an indelible impression on your equine’s brain that will engage his attention and expedite the learning process. The result will be a deep and meaningful relationship with your equine not just now, but for the rest of his life.

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.

© 2013, 2016, 2020, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Longears Music Videos: All Turnouts Must End

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MULE CROSSING: Love Thy Neighbor: The Rural-Urban Conflict

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 By Meredith Hodges 

As the lines between suburbia and rural living continue to blur and subdivision dwellers encounter the sights, smells and sounds of farm and ranch life, lifestyles collide and questions arise about how to treat both sides fairly. There are no easy answers, but one important point to consider, as city and county councils all over the country debate these issues, is the great benefit equine centers in particular can provide for their communities. 

Anyone who’s fortunate enough to have exposure to equines knows that time spent with these animals is the best antidote to the stress of today’s world. For young and old alike, the therapeutic benefit of equines is undeniable. Working with horses, mules and donkeys promotes:

  • Responsibility 
  • Consideration 
  • Consistency 
  • Compassion 
  • Cooperation 
  • Patience 
  • Trust 

Boarding and training facilities, therapeutic riding centers and other equine-related facilities are part of our national landscape both literally and figuratively. The suburban resident whose house abuts a horse, donkey or mule farm might not enjoy the animals’ early-morning vocalizations or the pungent smell of manure, but we can only hope he or she can appreciate the value of a young person learning to be a better communicator, a diligent worker and a dutiful caretaker for another being. This must be considered during discussions of ways to regulate these equine businesses so they are not constrained to the point where they cannot sustain themselves. 

My Colorado-based Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park at Lucky Three Ranch is located only a short distance from a rapidly increasing sub-urban community and was recently involved in this kind of discussion in my county. As a trainer, author, producer and advocate for equines and especially Longears, I know the immeasurable value of the time I’ve spent with these animals. Through my support of Hearts & Horses, Northern Colorado’s renowned therapeutic riding center, I have developed a profound appreciation for their work and the work of other facilities like them. 

These businesses and organizations don’t have big budgets. Yet, they provide an incredibly valuable service to the community, and we should be diligent about making sound decisions where they are concerned and promote sponsorships and donations on their behalf to keep these valuable services going forward into the future. 

Urban growth continues to be an issue, but just as developers are increasingly called upon to give wetlands and natural habitats a wide berth, they should also give equine facilities the same consideration. Developers who bulldoze the countryside without a true understanding of the nature of the land do a disservice not only to rural inhabitants but also to the very consumers they serve. Developers know their job, but rural people know their land and animals. They know that you don’t build next to ponds and reservoirs unless you want an annual invasion of mosquitoes and possible flooding. They know that weeds don’t distinguish between one property and another and, if not managed properly, can easily jump the fence to infiltrate the neighbor’s hayfield. Rural farmers and ranchers know about water, about waste, about food production—the list goes on. It just makes sense that we should provide greater leniency in the regulation of equine business owners, not only for what they do but also for the knowledge they possess. 

Because I am someone that has operated an equine training and breeding facility for more than four decades, my interest in rural education is paramount. In addition to management and training books, DVDs and television shows, I produced Walk On: Exploring Therapeutic Riding as part of my documentary series, Those Magnificent Mules. This therapeutic riding television program and DVD drew an enthusiastic response from therapeutic riding program operators and participants all over the country, thanking me for shining a positive light on these organizations. We also offer tours of my ranch to help educate a public that might not be familiar with ranch life and rural art. 

Visitors who come to meet my animals and tour the grounds invariably gain a new perspective on equine training and the facilities where it’s done. They are enamored by the life-sized bronzes of all kinds of Longears that grace the ranch. By highlighting the benefits of these kinds of facilities to our communities, we might change people’s aggravation to smiles when they hear the sound of a donkey’s bray coming through the window bright and early in the morning! 

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.

© 2014, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

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MULE CROSSING: Living with Longears

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By Meredith Hodges

In the beginning, my home, Lucky Three Ranch was a 10-acre sheep ranch with a small house and hay barn, an old Quonset hut, a feed barn, four three-sided sheds, and a perimeter fence made from sheep fencing with barbed wire on top. It was crossed-fenced around the sheds with some heavily chewed board fences and anything else the previous owner thought could be used for fencing. I’d already had experience with horses, but it wasn’t until my first mule, Lucky Three Sundowner and my first donkey jack, Little Jack Horner, finally arrived at the new Lucky Three Ranch that my lessons with Longears really began!

One of the first things I found out about Longears is that they are incredible artists, and they will “sculpt” anything and everything they can get their teeth, rumps or hooves on! My Longears immediately set to work sculpting the posts on three sheds that were near the house and the fence posts around them. We tried everything to get this to stop, but to no avail, and in three short years, we ended up with posts that were no bigger than toothpicks in some places and marvelously contoured from top to bottom, into all kinds of remarkable shapes. We hated to put a cramp in our mules’ artistic style but, clearly, the wooden posts and sheds had to be replaced.

By now, we had bred three more mules, so while we were working on replacing the three sheds, we put the whole herd of mules and mares into a five-acre pasture. One day, while we were working on the new sheds, the whole herd suddenly showed up behind us! Apparently, one of our equines had pulled a “Houdini,” opening the gate and letting everyone out of the pasture. Being the affectionate and curious animals they are, our Longears (and horses) then decided they’d better come see if we needed any help.

When we rounded up the herd and took them back to the pasture, we almost fell over! The herd had sculpted all three support posts on the last existing shed that was in the pasture, so it now looked just like the other three sheds we had just replaced!

With all this creative woodworking going on, we realized the new barn would have to be made of steel. We built a 14-stall, Port-A-Stall barn with steel panels in the runs, and stall floors six inches higher than the floor of the barn alleyway to help keep it from flooding. We added four inches of pea gravel in the runs for good drainage but, after several seasons, the runs on the north side of the barn began to get soft and muddy again and more pea gravel was needed. Rather than doing the runs one run at a time, the seven mules on the north side of the barn were turned out, and we took down only the panels on the north side, so the delivery truck could dump the pea gravel directly on the site. The remaining mules on the south side of the barn were left in their stalls and runs.

It took us all day long to take down the panels, and by the end of the day, we were pretty exhausted. The truck would be bringing the additional pea gravel the next day, so we wrapped up the chores and went to bed. What I didn’t know was that Lucky Three Eclipse (aka “Ely” in the last stall on the south side) had been watching us all day long through the openings in the barn doors. When we came out in the morning, we found that Ely had pulled the pins from the side panels, and by putting his head through the bars of each panel, had arranged them into a huge pen for himself that ran the full length of the barn, trapping the other mules and the stallion in their stalls! Now that the south side pens were also opened up, we decided to use the first truckload of pea gavel on the south side pens and ordered yet another load of pea gravel for the north side pens. After we got the pea gravel in place on the south side, we put the panels back where they belonged, freeing the other mules and stallion on the south side from their stalls. We then put Ely back where he belonged in his stall and pen on the far end, finished the north side pens, returned all the mules from the north side of the barn back into their stalls and runs, and finally got things settled down. I can guarantee you we all had a new appreciation for Ely’s ingenuity!

We spent the next several years taking down barbed wire, mending old field fences and replacing the old sheds with steel Port-A-Stall sheds, replacing cross fences with vinyl, building two more steel barns and lining our indoor arena with steel. As we all know, Longears are very intelligent, and they will use their “smarts” to figure out a way to simplify a task. If you want to step over a fence but it’s a little too high, what do you do? Well, if you’re a mule, you sit on it to push it down, and then you can step over it. Although the horse fencing we used to replace the sheep fencing was fairly high, my Longears still managed to sit on the middle of it, bowing it out into incredible, irregular shapes…after they had first shorted out the hotwire, of course. This was their daily ritual. Maybe they had a crew meeting first thing every morning and planned how they’d do it. Who knows?

But to this day, I still don’t know how they shorted out the hotwire! One thing my Longears have taught me through our years together is that, if you are going to have mules, you’d better learn to have a good sense of humor or you will never survive their pranks! We learned to drill holes in the posts for a hotwire across the top of the new vinyl fencing and that worked very well, but that was only after they had removed all the vinyl rails from the fence overnight. They were delighted that I had given them their own “Tinker Toy” set. They never left the pen, although they could have! Each time our mules have made “art,” pulled pranks, or managed amazing escapes, we learned how to improve our system and materials, until finally upgrading to an all-steel facility with vinyl fencing topped with a relatively inaccessible hotwire. Now we no longer need to worry about what the mules and donkeys might do…until the next time. (PLEASE don’t tell Ely I said that!)

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.

© 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: On the Trail with Mules

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By Meredith Hodges

With the hectic schedule of spring and summer slowly tapering into fall, thoughts of cool, refreshing mountain streams, the sight of a massive bull elk, or the quiet majesty of the rugged mountain peaks on a relaxing trail ride, mountain hunt or pack trip begin to ease their way into our minds. What better time to share with your mule or donkey? What better place for him to show you what he was born to do? A mountain trail ride or pack trip are both perfect ways for you to get to really know your Longears and strengthen the bond between you.

Mules are remarkably strong and durable animals, making them excellent mountain partners. The cupped shape of their hooves allows them to track the rough mountain terrain with much more surefootedness than their counterpart, the horse. A mule’s superior intelligence and strong sense of survival help him to carefully negotiate the placement of his feet, insuring the safest ride possible. This is both important and comforting to know when heading for the mountains. The mule’s strength and endurance are sometimes unbelievable, but always dependable. On a hunting trip, he will take you through rough mountain terrain for days then pack out the “elk of your dreams” with the greatest of ease.

Around the campfire, he is wonderful company on those lonesome mountain nights. His blatant curiosity can make for some fun—and funny— situations, and his loving ways will win your heart. But first and foremost, he is a reliable companion when the going gets tough.

A few years ago, some close muleskinner friends of mine decided to take a hunting trip into the Rocky Mountains. Packing in, the weather was beautiful with warm temperatures, calm breezes, and not a cloud in the sky. After setting up camp and tending to their horses and mules, the hunters set off tracking elk. Hunting was good, but after a few days, the evening brought with it an unpredictable snowstorm of incredible intensity. The hunters crawled from their tents the next morning to discover their camp buried in more than four feet of   snow!

With no chance of the storm lifting, the hunters packed up what they could on their horses and mules and quickly got under way. Since time was of the essence, tents and much of their gear had to be left behind. As they left the campsite, the snow deepened and the terrain underneath was steep, rocky and treacherous. They had gone only a short distance when the snow became so deep and the terrain so hazardous that the horses refused to go one step farther. Anxiety was high when the horses could not blaze a trail out. The hunters were worried they wouldn’t make it off the mountain alive.

In the face of this great danger, my friend asked his trusted mule, Goliath, to break trail for the others. With slow, careful, deliberate steps, this well-trained, loyal mule led them all down the mountain to safety. Once there, they freed their trucks and trailers, which were buried in snow, loaded them up, and made their way back to the lowlands to safety. The storms on the mountain worsened and it was spring before the hunters could return for the rest of their gear, but they were eternally grateful to Goliath the mule for leading them safely down the mountain!

There are many stories like this one, where mules and donkeys have emerged as heroes in precarious situations. However, if you prefer not to take risks like my hunter friends, there are other less daunting activities you can enjoy with your donkey or mule.

Why not take your longeared companion along to the mountains for a hike or a picnic? He would thoroughly love just being with you in those beautiful surroundings. While you walk the trails, enjoying the marvels of nature, your donkey or mule can carry the lunch essentials. While you enjoy the wildflowers or try your hand at fishing a mountain stream, you can be confident that your Longears will enjoy the peaceful solitude and be able to stay out of serious trouble at the same time.

If you question taking excursions such as these with your longears because of a lack of training, there are fellow Longears lovers who can help you. All over the United States, excellent mule trainers are available to help beginners. A Longears lover once told me that his love for burros and mules began years ago when he found Dusty, a three-month-old wild burro caught in a blizzard. He took her home and cared for her, and, a year later, he entered her in the National Western Fall Classic Donkey and Mule Show. He and Dusty were awarded the title of Reserve Champion Donkey of the Show! Ever since, he has sought to help others enjoy Longears and horses in any way he can. In addition to breaking and training wild mustangs at his Medicine Bow Stables, he has included free clinics for burro owners to teach them how to handle and care for their animals.

Getting proper training for your donkey or mule can only enhance your relationship with them and in turn, they will enrich your life. This fall, why not take the time to really get to know these remarkable animals by letting them share in the fun, be it hiking, hunting, packing, or picnicking. The life you enhance may be your own!

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.

© 2010, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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LTR Training Tip #46: When Stage Two Leading Lessons Aren’t Working

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If leading lessons aren’t working, try asking yourself these questions to figure out what’s going wrong.

 

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MULE CROSSING: Training for Health, Happiness and Safety

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By Meredith Hodges

Whether you just want to use your equine for pleasure riding or for show, the way your equine should be managed is still the same. He still needs to be fed, managed and trained correctly for optimum health and performance in order to be a safe, happy and healthy companion. What you do with him each and every day lays the foundation for future challenges. When he is schooled in a logical and sequential way that allows muscles to be slowly and symmetrically strengthened in good equine posture, he will feel better overall than the equine that is not schooled this way. He will not only be able to do tasks safely and more easily, but will actually be happy and have fun engaging with you. The incidence of resistant behaviors becomes practically non-existent. Taking shortcuts with training will never produce the trust and confidence of an equine that is logically and sequentially schooled.

Even pleasure riding produces physical challenges.

Balance in good posture separates the winners from the rest at shows and other public events.

Encouraging good manners and offering the food reward of oats will begin positive negotiation with your equine right from the beginning. He will eagerly learn to look forward to his time with you.

The food reward assures that good behaviors will be repeated and your consistency in routine will transform the equine into one that remains calm, that  will ultimately stand quietly upon request.

Being promptly rewarded for confidence and bravery during the execution of fearful tasks such as negotiating obstacles will begin to lay a foundation of trust between you.

When your equine trusts your judgment, trail loading and similar tasks are no problem at all. He will follow you anywhere, anytime…even in stormy weather!

Teaching your equine to execute gates the same way every time results in learned behavior

 …the halter and lead rope become incidental.

He will always go through and turn back to you for his reward and can then be easily haltered outside of the pen or easily caught anywhere, anytime.

When you need to lead teams, they will all learn to negotiate the gate the same way.

Even multiple animals will still exit the gate, turn to you and wait for their halters and rewards.

Practicing showmanship techniques as a matter of course and not just reserving it for a show, gives leading a purpose that your equine can easily understand. It begins to develop strength in good equine posture that makes him comfortable in his body.

Standing still while mounting is never a problem when your equine is properly prepared and knows what to expect. The anxiety that causes movement is no longer present.

Carefully planned and controlled exercises in the round pen with the “Elbow Pull” gives your equine the freedom to move in good posture with a passive support system. It will help him to hold that posture for more than a few strides at a time. It gives muscles the time to be properly conditioned in good posture before the rider is ever introduced.

When the rider is finally introduced, he is strong enough in his own ideal posture to be able  to sustain his balance while dealing with any shifts of balance from an inexperienced rider or variations of terrain.

When your equine has had ample leading training for good equine posture, it is easy to make the transition to ground driving in good posture, whether driving single or with teams…

…large or small, your equines will be in sync with you, and with each other. They can easily learn to pull evenly, stop squarely and stand quietly.

Learning to negotiate obstacles correctly and in good equine posture aids in symmetrical muscle development and the ability to stand balanced and comfortable in a variety of postures…

…this makes it much easier for handling by the veterinarian and farrier, and during practical applications such as taking x-rays from blocks.

Learning to stand off the end of a bridge during leading training exposes how unbalanced most equines really are until they learn how to negotiate these kinds of strengthening and balancing exercises. No mammal is automatically born in good posture. It must be taught.

When it IS taught, standing on the x-ray blocks behind is easy for your equine and will not cause anxiety and the necessity to move. If he gets stuck in a strange position he can wait and sustain the position much longer if he has core strength and is balanced in his body.

The equine that has had adequate schooling in good equine posture during leading training to promote good balance in the Round Pen with lunging and ground driving will be much stronger and better balanced overall.

This makes for a much smoother ride and a happier animal!

Practicing jumps first on the lead rope and then in the drive lines helps to build strong muscles in good posture that is essential for body control over jumps with a rider on board later. He learns to not only balance his body, but to jump only as high as needed to clear the fence.

This conservation of energy allows him to tuck his knees neatly underneath his body and clear jumps with alacrity and grace. It allows the rider a smooth ride over fences with plenty of stamina on the cross country courses. This logical and sensible approach to training will always keep you and your equine safe and happy 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.

© 2014, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Mule Fever, Part 2

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By Meredith Hodges

With the hectic work schedule of spring and summer slowly tapering into fall, thoughts of relaxing mountain hunting and pack trips begin to ease their way into your mind: thoughts of cool, refreshing mountain streams, the sight of a massive bull elk, or the quiet majesty of the rugged mountain peaks. What better time to share with your mule or donkey? What better place for him to show you just what he is capable of doing? A relaxing mountain trail ride or pack trip is the perfect place for you to get to know your longears and strengthen the bond between you.

Mules are excellent mountain partners. They are a strong and durable animal. Due to the cupped shape of their hooves, they can cover the rough mountain terrain with much more surefootedness than their cousin, the horse. Mules’ superior intelligence and strong sense of survival helps him to negotiate careful placements of his feet, ensuring the safest possible ride. This is both important and comforting when looking for a relaxing ride in the mountains. The mule’s strength and endurance is sometimes unbelievable, and always incredible. He will take you through the rough mountain terrain for days, and then pack out that “elk of your dreams” with the greatest of ease. Around the campfire, he is a wonderful companion on lonesome mountain nights. His blatant curiosity can make for the most humorous of situations and his loving way can win your heart. But more than that, he can be relied upon when the going gets tough.

In the fall of 1984, Loveland, Colorado muleskinner Buddie Stockwell and farrier, Jerry Banks, along with a few friends, decided to make a hunting trip into the Rocky Mountains. Packing in, the weather was beautiful with warm temperatures, calm breeze and nary a hint of what was to come. After setting up camp and tending to their horses and mules, the hunters went about the business of tracking elk. Hunting was good, but after a few days, one evening brought with it an unpredictable storm of incredible severity. The hunters awoke the following morning to find their camp buried in more than four feet of snow, with no chance of the storm lifting.

Quickly, the hunters packed up what they could on the horses and mules. Tents and a lot of gear had to be left behind since time was of the essence. As they left the campsite, snow deepened and the terrain underneath was steep, rocky and treacherous. They had only gone a short distance when the snow became so deep, and the terrain so hazardous that the horses refused to go one step father. The horses would not blaze the trail out! Anxiety was high and the hunters were fearful of never making if off the mountain.

In the face of great danger, Buddie asked his trusted mule, Goliath to break trail for the others, and with slow, careful, deliberate steps, Goliathled them all safely down the mountain to their trucks and trailers, which were also buried in snow. In bitter cold, they freed the vehicles, loaded them up and made their way back to the lowlands to safety. The storms on the mountain worsened, and it was spring before Jerry and Buddie could return for the rest of their gear. But both men and their friends were grateful to Goliath for leading them down the mountain to safety.

There have been many stories such as this, where mules and donkeys have emerged the heroes in precarious situations. If you are the type who likes to take risks, it is comforting to know that your odds are better when paired with a mule. However, if you are one of those who prefer not to take such risks, there are other activities you can enjoy with your donkey or mule.

Why not take your longeared companion to the mountains for an enjoyable hike and picnic? He would thoroughly love just being able to serve you in such a beautiful surrounding. While you walk the trails enjoying the marvels of nature, your donkey or mule can carry the essentials for an elegant lunch. You can enjoy the lovely wildflowers or try your hand at fishing in the plentiful mountain streams. Your Longears would enjoy the peaceful solitude of such an excursion, and you can be confident of his ability to stay out of serious trouble.

If you question taking excursions such as these with your Longears because of a lack of training, there are Longears-lovers nearly everywhere now who can help you. All over the world, mules and donkeys are being revived in their use. With this revival comes a vast number of mule enthusiasts with varying abilities, but they all have one thing in common. They are all willing to lend a helping hand when they can. In this country, “Mule Fever” has spread like wildfire and we are now fortunate enough to have many competent mule trainers available to beginners in all sections of this country. Rocky Mountain man Curtis Imrie made his mark as a Champion pack burro racer for more than a decade and showed the very same burros at the National Western Stock Show during the winter.

Mule and donkey trainer from Bailey, Colorado, Dick Nichols’ love for burros and mules began when he found Dusty, a three-month-old wild burro caught in a blizzard. He took her home, cared for her and later entered her in the National Western Fall Classic Donkey and Mule Show, where both he and Dusty were awarded the title of Reserve Champion Donkey of the Show. Ever since, Dick has sought to help others enjoy Longears and horses in any way he can. In addition to breaking and training wild horses at his Medicine Bow Stables, Dick included in his program free clinics for burro owners to teach them how to handle and care for them. The program was simple enough that he could generally help owners get their burros ridden and driven by the end of the first day! Getting proper training for your donkey or mule can only enhance your relationship with them and in turn, they will enrich your life. So, consider taking the time to become acquainted with these remarkable animals by allowing them to share in your fall activities whether it be hiking, hunting, packing or picnicking. The life you enhance may be your own!

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.

© 1985, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Mule Fever, Part 1

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By Meredith Hodges

During the last 50 years, thousands of people in this country have become afflicted with a rather unique condition. The symptoms include childlike behavior coupled with loyalty, integrity, honesty, maturity, humility and moments of overwhelming humor. Those who have this condition are among the happiest people in the world, for they are fortunate enough to experience “Mule Fever.”

“Mule Fever” begins when you gaze into the soft brown eyes of a big beautiful mule and he cocks an ear in your direction. Timidly, you request a ride, the mule complies, and the fever begins. A couple of miles down the road, a pheasant runs out of the brush and under your mule’s nose causing him to shy and unseat you. You lie in the road pained by your bruises, cussing the mule when he suddenly returns, nuzzles your face and gazes back at you with a perplexed and concerned look. Those soft brown eyes burn through to your soul, warm your heart and invite you to get up and try again. Once astride your mule again, you’d swear he is being extra-careful to avoid further mishaps. He seems sorry enough, so you forgive and forget and the bond between you strengthens and deepens. This is called “Mule Fever” and once it is contracted, one rarely recovers. Mules will remain in your heart and soul until the day you die!

The best place to witness this phenomenon is at Bishop Mule Days in Bishop, California over Memorial Day weekend each year. Thousands of mule enthusiasts gather together with their mules and donkeys to exchange stories, ideas, and even mules. The current economic troubles of the country are quickly dispelled with solutions such as: “Out of fuel, ride a mule!” and “Out of gas, ride an ass!” “And what of kicking?” asked an inquisitive bystander. A good-natured muleskinner replied, “You can’t kick while you’re working” and “You can’t work while you’re kicking!” Bishop Mule Days is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to share and enjoy a memorable weekend. Mules are the catalyst that brings people together, building new friendships and renewing old ones.

One of the most memorable cases of “Mule Fever” broke out in the city of Ogden, Utah when three dedicated mule men decided to ride their mules 600 miles to the famed Bishop Mule Days in California. Mark Romander of Meadow Brook Mules in Ogden, originated the idea to ride to Bishop two years before, but his plans were delayed. Mark had planned to make the trip alone, but a few weeks before his departure in 1983, someone let his stock out and his mule was hit by a car and killed. This tragic event quelled Mark’s plans for 1983, but made him more determined to make this ride. In 1984, his plans were again foiled by economic troubles, but his will to make the ride was strengthened. In 1985, he was more determined than ever to make his 600 mile ride with his partners, Scott Van Leeuwen, and Jerry Tindell, a Del Monte, California, horseshoer.

Mark, Scott and Jerry left Ogden on May 1, and began their long trek south through Utah to Highway 6 and across some 400 miles of desert and mountains to Bishop, California. Spring had been good that year, and grass in the desert was plentiful. They averaged about 35 miles per day, sometimes going as far as 40 or 50 miles in a day to reach water. During the nights, they camped. They reached their destination on May 19, 1985.

The three men agree that the best part of their long journey was all the wonderful people they met along the way who did everything they could to help them reach their destination. People extended their hospitality, allowing them to bed down at their ranches along the route. Others met them at strategic points with feed and water and other necessary supplies that would be difficult to carry along with them. Many new friendships were made on the trail to Bishop. Now that Bishop Mule Days is past, Mark, Scott and Jerry plan to go back and visit their newfound friends and extend their gratitude for helping to make their ride a tremendous success. For the future, they planned a 300-mile wagon ride to Bishop. We wished them the best of luck and supported them in their journey.

Ogden was fortunate to have Mark and Scott’s Meadow Brook Mule Ranch. They stood several jacks of all sizes and colors and had many different kinds of mules for sale. They were always more than willing to help anyone who wanted to know more about mules and they cooperated with other mule operations in the area to further the promotion of mules. These men are still doing all they can to educate the public about the versatility and exceptionality of mules. In addition to the 300-mile wagon ride, they sponsored an All-Mule Branding in the Tonopah and Ely, Nevada area where cowboys all rode mules to brand the cattle. Also, a hundred mules were present in the Ogden Parade on July 24th, 1986 and they hoped to have the Ogden Rodeo announced from the back of a mule. There are over 70 members of the Ogden Ass Association, all of which have contracted “Mule Fever.” There is no doubt in my mind there would be many more mule enthusiasts before long.

There are as many different kinds of mules as there are individuals to care for them. In observing the social behavior in a mule or donkey herd, you can see that the rules are simple: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” Each mule observes the other’s “space,” yet when closeness is needed, it’s, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Humans are a mule’s best-loved companion, since each mule can generally have one all to himself to train and condition. We humans would like to believe that we are the trainers, but take a moment and reflect on the qualities in ourselves that mules have been responsible for like loyalty, honesty, maturity, humility, and humor. People who think that those of us with “Mule Fever” are riding inferior animals should get off their high horse and onto a mule. False pride will tear people apart where the truest pride of mules can bring people together!

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.

© 1985, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: The Round Pen

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By Meredith Hodges

The round pen originated as a useful training aid for Western trainers who were trying to “break” the wild mustangs that were brought in off the range. There has been spirited debate between English and Western trainers as to the real value of the round pen as a training aid, since it can produce undue stress on the fragile joints of the equine-in-training. Do not begin training your equine in the round pen, because an unbalanced and inexperienced equine in uncontrolled flight can easily injure himself. Specific types of leading exercises must be used to teach him to be in good equine posture and balance on straight lines and gradual arcs before your equine is introduced to the round pen and asked to balance at all three gaits on a circle. When your equine is properly prepared beforehand, the round pen can then become a viable and important training tool.

When choosing the site for your round pen, pick a spot that is surrounded by activity and even near the road, so it can serve a dual purpose. Not only will you begin to build your equine’s muscle during training sessions—you will get his attention under a variety of distractions. When he is exposed to noise and activity in the round pen at this early stage, it is less likely to bother him later under saddle or in harness.

Try to pick a site that is flat and not rocky. Ideally, it should have a solid base of hard-packed adobe soil. If your ground is not flat, you will need to grade a flat spot and then bring in fill-dirt, shoot it with a transit to make sure it is truly flat, and then make sure it is tamped and hardened before the three-inch depth of sand is added. The diameter of the round pen should be approximately 45 feet, so you can easily reach your equine on the rail with your lunge whip when you stand in the center.

Uneven terrain can cause uneven balance, rhythm and cadence to his gait and will cause irregularity in the footfall pattern, which can result in uneven development of your equine’s muscular-skeletal system. A smooth, hard under-surface below the sand gives your equine a smooth surface on which to place his feet without fear of injury to the sensitive parts of his hooves from rocks or other debris. Even and level ground will assure his regularity of gait and sustained balance on the circle that will build muscle symmetrically as he circles, maintaining his erect posture and bending through his rib cage with energy coming from the hindquarters. Making sure the circle is actually round will help him learn to bend his body properly through the rib cage while he is traveling on the circle.

Once the site is prepped, dig post holes at eight-foot centers on the circle and twenty-three feet from the center of the round pen to give you the 45 foot diameter. Next, pour concrete in the bottoms of the holes and measure the depth of the posts so when the posts are placed in the holes, they will all be at the same height. (There should be three feet of post in the hole and five feet above ground.) Use eight-foot posts, and when using wooden posts, try to use redwood. All types of wood are toxic to equines to some degree, but treated woods can contain arsenic and should be avoided. The best posts to use are made from steel—they will last much longer than wood. Also, steel posts can be welded with “winged plates” so the boards can be easily bolted to the posts.

Use two-by-twelve-inch wooden boards for the walls, and a smaller two-by-six-inch board around the bottom to keep the sand inside. Stack four two-inch by twelve-inch boards around on top, with three-inch spaces between the boards and a three-inch top of the post showing.

The spaces between the wider boards will allow you to get a toe into the fence so you can easily climb in and out of the round pen, and it gives you a place to tie an animal at any post. Unlike a round pen made of corral panels, the twelve-inch boards keep your toes from getting caught and twisted when riding close to the rail. It’s a much safer design and truly functional for all levels of round pen training. For both trainer and equine safety, the use of electric and wire fences and materials such as pallets and tires should be avoided completely.

Tie rings can be added onto the outside of selected posts to secure extra equines outside the round pen while they wait their turn. A round pen with solid walls should be avoided. An equine that learns to work in an open round pen is less likely to feel “trapped” and fearful of abrupt movements and noises, so he can concentrate on his work. He learns to acknowledge and accept interruptions and will keep on working.

Using bolts for the two-by-twelve inch rails makes for easy replacement as the boards become worn, and putting a metal cap around the top with angle iron will discourage chewing when you are not there to supervise. The gate posts should always be steel, as wooden posts tend to sag over time. The gate itself should be framed in steel to keep it from warping and sagging. The latch on the gate should be easily accessible from both sides, but the gate needs only to swing into the round pen for easy entrances and exits. The round pen gate pictured swings in and has a sliding barrel bolt at the top that just catches through a four-inch sleeve on the post wing.

Once the cement at the bottom of the post holes is level and completely dry and the posts are sitting in the not-yet-filled post holes, attach the top and bottom boards all the way around, check each post and rail with a level, and then attach wooden braces to the entire round pen at each post to hold the position. Next, set in the gate (either finished or not) and close it to complete the circle. Check the diameter of the circle and the distance to each post from the center to make sure it is truly 45 feet round and that all posts are upright and level. Now pour the concrete into the holes around the posts. Allow enough time for the concrete to set up before removing the braces.

When the concrete has dried completely, clean the excess concrete from around the holes. Then finish hanging all the board rails, cap them with angle iron and add whatever tie rings you want to the outside of the posts.

Let some time pass before adding the sand to your round pen. Wet weather will actually help to further compact the base, which should be hardened so it can last for many years, so if you are expecting rain or snow, all the better. Once the base is hard and dry, add three inches of clean sand to the round pen—no more and no less. If the sand is not deep enough, the hard ground can hurt your equine’s limbs and possibly cause laminitis. But if the sand is too deep, it can damage ligaments, tendons and soft tissue. If your equine ingests the sand he may colic or founder, so make sure to use your round pen for training only, never for turnout or feeding. The round pen can be used as a holding pen, but do not place food or water inside and use only for short periods of time. Good round pen construction makes all the difference. With proper construction and attention to detail, your round pen will serve a multitude of uses for years to come.

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.

© 2014, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

3

Mule Crossing: Moving Beyond Prey vs. Predator

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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.

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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.

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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 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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