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By Meredith Hodges
While making the entry to our first actual Combined Training event, I was excited, apprehensive and maybe even a little afraid! Questions raced through my mind: “Are we really ready for this? How will they receive my mule in an all-horse event?” Mae Bea C.T. and I had worked three long years for this moment. We’d been taking Dressage lessons from U.S.D.F. instructor/trainer Melinda Weatherford once a week for even longer, and Stadium and Cross Country jumping lessons for the past four years. We practiced Cross Country jumping at Beebe Draw in LaSalle and at Lory State Park in Fort Collins, Colorado, not far from our ranch. Now the day for actual Combined Training competition was drawing near.
The Preliminary and Training Levels were A.H.S.A. recognized. Would they even let us in the show at the U.S.C.T.A. recognized Novice level? After all, I was to be riding a mule! What would they think of her? Would she annoy anyone with her presence? Would she do anything to embarrass me? Would I do anything to embarrass myself? I desperately wanted to be able to test my skills under the real conditions that those with horses could do on a fairly regular basis. There were no Combined Training events strictly for mules. There just weren’t enough folks doing Combined Training with mules in any one area to warrant such a show. I had to rely on the generosity and kindness of those in the Mountain States Combined Training Association. Would they let us in? I didn’t know for sure, but I had nothing to lose by asking. All they could say was, “No!
Weeks passed as I waited to hear from them. I was on pins and needles! There had been so much talk and discrimination against mules competing in American Horse Show Association recognized events that I just didn’t know what to think. Clearly, they were not allowed by the A.H.S.A. and I understood that they did not want interference in competition for A.H.S.A. Championships.
However, the decision of whether they could compete in non-A.H.S.A. divisions was generally left to local show committees and technical delegates. I could stand it no longer! A week and a half before the competition I had to know, so I called Susan Robinson-Farmer, owner of Abbe Ranch and operator of the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials in Larkspur, Colorado, that was to be held on June 28-29, 1991. What a nice person she was!
Susan told me they had discussed the mule issue and asked me if there had been a mule that competed in the United States Combined Training Association earlier in the East somewhere? “Yes!” I replied enthusiastically. “That was Maryster Farm’s Kit, owned by Edith Conyers of Kentucky!” It was Kit who had inspired me to try Combined Training with a mule! We spoke for about twenty minutes and Susan kindly put my fears to rest. I assured her that we would do anything necessary to keep from interfering with the other competitors. All we wanted to do was to test our skills and to learn all we could from those with similar interests. The next day our ride times came in the mail and we were in!
The day before the show, I bathed and brushed Mae Bea C. T. until she shined! I braided her mane and tail, wrapped her legs and polished her hooves. I covered her with a light sheet, hoping that she wouldn’t get too dirty overnight. My excitement afforded me little sleep. The next morning Mae Bea C. T. reminded me that, first and foremost, she was a mule and loved dust baths! She was a disheveled mess, so again we bathed, brushed, braided, and polished!
During the drive from Loveland to Larkspur, I went over my Dressage test in my mind at least a hundred times. My daughter was going to ride her gray Hanoverian gelding, Polacca’s Prince, in the event. She thought her mother was being ridiculous to be so excited. My husband assured me that both the still-shot and video cameras had been packed and were with us to document this special event. It was still early morning and our dressage test time was not until 1:18 P.M. We arrived in plenty of time, but time flew by quickly and it was no time before we were warming up in the first practice arena. After about five minutes, the ring steward ushered us to the second practice arena. They were ahead of schedule! We were abruptly ushered out of the second practice arena and into the third, then the final arena for a last minute tune up.
Finally, we were ready! Mae Bea C. T. entered her Dressage test down the centerline with her hindquarters engaged, shoulders up and with the most active trot she has ever had! She seemed to sense that this was the time to do her very best! She halted squarely, I saluted the judge and she proceeded with the same enthusiasm. I was so excited that halfway through the test, I forgot where I was going! I couldn’t believe it! My mind just went blank! The little bell rang to remind me I was in error. It only took a few seconds to regain my composure and find my place again in the test. We were back on track and finished the test well with plenty of impulsion, rhythm with good cadence and totally relaxed for the first time ever in our Dressage experience.
As we exited the arena, I began to cry. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten my test! There were a group of seasoned riders who leapt to my rescue as I exited the arena with stories about their own stupid mistakes. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group of people! My coach, Melinda Weatherford, was also there to lend support as she did with all her students who competed. A smile once again graced my face.
Then I prepared to walk the Cross Country course for the following day’s ride with all the other student competitors. We had done a clinic on this course a few weeks before the event to familiarize all Melinda’s students with what would be expected. We had practiced specifically with water and bank jumps.
First, Melinda took all of us around the course, discussing strategy at each obstacle. Next, we all assembled for the official course walk. Dick and Susan Farmer gave us all a warm welcome and introduced us to Ground Juror, Jackie Fischer-Smith; Technical Delegate, Karen Bjorgen; Stabling Steward, Lee Thomas; Photographer, Tricia Jones; and our resident security guard. There were many other volunteers who helped the event run smoothly. I remember thinking, “What a friendly and enthusiastic group of people!” I was thrilled to be included! We took our official course walk, and then we headed to our motel for dinner and a good night’s sleep.
The next day, things were buzzing in anticipation of the Cross Country experience. We walked the course once more while the Preliminary Division riders were going out. As I took my place in the starting box at 12:18 P.M., people threw encouraging remarks our way, “Looking good! Good luck! Have a great ride! Now there’s class!”
“You are the classy ones for giving us such a warm welcome!” I thought silently.
Mae Bea C. T. came out of the starting box as she had seen the horses do before her. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was supposed to do. She jumped clean over the first two fences, but unsure of the rocks and railroad ties, she skidded to a halt at the third fence. We re-approached and cleared the third fence on the second attempt, after which she galloped freely and jumped the remaining fifteen fences with no problem. She finally figured it out and she loved it! So did I!
What a thrill! I think I was more tired than she was when we finally finished the course and rode in for our vet check. She passed, but the vet suggested that we needed more galloping in practice to improve her respiration. I wholeheartedly agreed! I knew then I had to improve my own respiration as well!
As we walked back to the trailer, there were more votes of confidence,”I’ll take that mule as my mount anytime! Good going! Great ride!” I swelled with pride and gratitude for such a wonderful experience.
A couple of hours later, Mae Bea C. T. and I cleared the eight fences in the Stadium Jumping phase of the event and finished in 8th place in the Pre-Novice Division.
This was considered very respectable for the first time ever in a formal horse trials competition. We cordially thanked everyone for giving us the opportunity to compete, for the support to keep us going and for the time of our lives!
There was a lot of work yet to do. We had to increase our stamina and strength. I spent a lot more time at home just galloping around the perimeter of our hayfield. It was a mile all the way around. My goal was to do three miles easily, so I began with one lap every other day. Over the following months, we worked our way up to three laps with 3-minute breaks between miles. We practiced galloping in three-point at schooling shows around Colorado and Wyoming, and soon found we were gaining stamina. The courses were becoming less stressful for both of us and we were having the time of our lives!
I needed to introduce Bea to a whole lot more types of jumps so she would be confident on the Cross Country course. We schooled at various clinics and participated in the smaller schooling shows to gain experience for another attempt at the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials at the Novice Level the next time.
By 1992, we were better prepared to again test our skills at the Abbe Ranch Horse Trials in the Novice Division. My heart was beating fast as we stood in the line-up with all those beautiful and talented horses. Our confidence and enthusiasm soared when we were placed second! The knowledge we had gleaned from the people at the first competition had paid off!
Then in 1993, Bea and I competed in the Novice Division again. They had changed the course and made it more challenging than before. There would be a water jump, bank jump and jumping over a wagon! We were lucky to have spent a lot of time practicing, so Bea and I felt more ready than ever! Still, I was a bit hesitant over the wagon jump…but I felt completely exhilarated afterwards!
Bea placed first over 56 horses in the Dressage phase at her third show, and won the Novice Division overall! I couldn’t have been more pleased with my beautiful little mule! Bea was a real star! I will always remember the warmth and consideration we received from everyone at the event and how the little mule that would, became the little mule that could!
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 1991, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
Before most of us learn anything about horses, mules and donkeys, we tend to initially perceive them as large, strong and durable animals that can safely carry us anywhere we want to go and can participate in any number of equine events. This is essentially true. However, there can be a number of pitfalls along the way if you do not educate yourself and practice good maintenance, feeding and training practices.
Equines, like people, are comprised of living tissue, bones, muscles and tendons that can often experience improper growth and development, which can compromise their performance. This is why it is important to feed your equine’s living tissue, bones, muscles and tendons a healthy diet and exercise him in a way that builds these elements using natural and non-stressful techniques that will help your equine to strengthen properly in the right frame, or posture.
It is also important to make sure the tack you use fits well and is adjusted properly. An equine that is experiencing soreness from ill-fitting tack will be distracted from his best performance. Improve your own skills by taking care of your own body as you observe and condition your equine. The person who eats healthy food, exercises in good posture and improves his or her own general conditioning, coordination and Horsemanship skills will not be out of balance and will not compromise the equine’s ability to perform.
Let’s take this one step at a time. First, make sure that your equine is stabled in a place where he has adequate shelter from the elements, plenty of room to exercise himself when you are not there, clean water and a good feeding schedule. When an equine is nervous or high strung, it can usually be attributed to this very elemental beginning. Many show horses are kept in 12-foot by 12-foot stalls with limited turnout during the day, usually only an hour or two. Think about this for a minute. The equine is a grazing animal and his natural health is enhanced by what he eats and the fact that he is moving with his head down most of every day of his life. The only time his head is truly raised is when he is on alert.
The equine that is stabled in a stall isn’t urged to have his head down for any more time than it takes to eat up the loose hay after his feedings. His body is forced to remain in a very small range of movement and he can become stiff and sore when asked to do things that require more flexibility in his work. When fed high protein feeds in this situation, he is not able to expend the energy to burn this feed, and it can manifest itself in nervous and anxious behavior. Therefore, it is critical to your equine’s health that he is not only fed the right kinds of feeds and supplements, but that he is able to expend this energy in a healthy way for his body to grow and develop properly.
Muscles in the equine’s body, like our own, are structured in distinctive layers and are supported by ligaments and tendons. These muscles need to be strengthened in a specific order for optimum performance. Whether he is a foal or an older animal, his athletic conditioning needs this taken into consideration. The first exercises should be passive and easy to facilitate the strengthening of the core muscles closest to the bone. This is done with exercises on the lead line. It is not as important that he learns to negotiate obstacles on the lead line as it is how he negotiates the obstacles on the lead line.
On the approach to an obstacle, your equine needs to be relaxed and comfortable. It is your job as his trainer to show him how to do this. When you lead in good posture, walk straight lines and make smooth, gradual arcs and turns, you will encourage your equine to do the same. Using short pauses between changes of pace or direction will help your equine to stay calm and receptive to training.
For instance, when approaching a bridge, walk with your equine’s head at your shoulder as if you were in a showmanship class. Stop at the foot of the bridge and encourage your equine to stretch his nose down and investigate the bridge in order to allay any fears he might have. When your animal has indicated he is not afraid by once again raising his head level with his withers, you can proceed. Face the bridge straight on, looking straight ahead and, while keeping his head at your shoulder, take the first step straight forward and onto the bridge, making sure he follows and places one front foot on the bridge itself. Next, ask him to place the other front foot onto the bridge, stop, square up his four feet (as in Showmanship) and reward. Continue forward in a straight line. Once all four of his feet are on the bridge, stop, square up and give him a reward. Then continue across the bridge maintaining your own good posture, hesitate at the last step, and then step off carefully, in good balance and with a coordinated effort. Ask him to place his two front feet on the ground while leaving the back feet on the bridge, stop, square up and reward. Your equine will learn to follow your lead and execute the task in the same balanced and coordinated manner and will be able to halt on command at any location.
In the beginning, your equine may be fearful and nervous about going over the bridge or any other obstacle. It is enough at this time that he gets over his fear and just crosses it, whether it is done with finesse or not. Once he is over the fear of crossing the obstacle, you can begin working on his ability to cross with finesse, balance and coordination. The longer you work on perfecting the negotiation of an obstacle in a balanced and coordinated way, the stronger the participating muscle groups will become and the more comfortable and automatic the movement will become until it develops into a habit.
The part you play in all of this is very important. You will discover that if you are not in balance and coordinated in the way you move with your equine, the less balanced and coordinated he will be. If you don’t walk straight, then neither will he. If you are not confident in your approach, then he won’t be either. Even something as simple as the tack you use will play a big part in your equine’s performance. If the halter is too small or too large, it can cause irregular pressure on your animal, preventing him from complying with your wishes. How you move your equine’s head with the halter and lead line can affect his performance. Pay attention to how hard you need to pull to get even the smallest response and be ready to release pressure immediately upon compliance. But again, when releasing pressure, just give him enough slack to release the pressure and not so much that you have a lot to take back later. This will help him keep his attention on you and the task at hand. Keep this minimal degree of pressure-and-release throughout his work. Even if he backs away from an obstacle, just give little tugs followed by a release to allow him to back and then encourage him to re-approach the obstacle by coming from another angle or by coaxing him with the promise of a reward upon his attempt. Another approach is to go to the end of the lead rope, keep the rope taut and invite him to come forward by revealing the oats reward he will get when he complies. Take up the slack as he approaches. Avoid resistance at all costs!
Halters that are too loose allow too much lag time between the time you ask by giving a tug and the time the equine receives the message. This usually results in an over-reaction from your equine and then an over-reaction from you as you try to correct the mistake. A halter that is too tight can be a distraction because it can create sore spots—the equivalent to a headache and no one likes to perform with a headache! The lead line typically should be a length that you can easily handle and that will give your equine some room to move away, but that can be reorganized easily, usually about six to eight feet long.
No matter how careful you may be, there will always be times when your equine will experience some kind of soreness from playing too hard in the pasture or from kicking in a stall, to any number of daily hazards. How he is negotiating his obstacles and how he performs certain movements will give you clues to how he is feeling. Learn to watch every step your animal takes, how his feet are placed, how his body is moving and the look on his face as he performs a given task.
This is when it can be beneficial to know the basics of equine massage therapy. There is a lot that you, as your equine’s trainer, can do without a professional equine masseuse, but you should always consult with a professional for lessons on how you can do your part. Make sure that the equine masseuse you decide to use is a person who knows equines and has at least 500 hours experience with equine massage therapy. Once you learn some massage techniques, you can often alleviate minor soreness exhibited by your equine. When your equine senses that your goal is to make him comfortable as well as successful in his work, he will be much more willing and able to comply.
The specifics of training techniques covered in this article can be found in the Equus Revisited manual and DVD.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 2004, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
There are so many equine-related products on the market today that it is difficult to decide which ones you really need and which ones you don’t. For instance, the subject of splint boots and leg wraps can be very confusing. How do you know when to use them? What types of leg wraps or splint boots are best? Do they really help? In what ways do they help? What type of material should they be made from? And the list of questions goes on.
Splint boots and leg wraps vary as much as their uses. The easiest and most obvious use of a leg wrap comes when traveling with your equine. If you are taking your animal any real distance, it is always advisable to use full cover, padded shipping boots on all four legs. The shipping wraps help prevent your animal from injuring himself due to his own movements, on objects inside the trailer or because of other animals that are traveling with him.
If you have an animal that is fidgety and has difficulty standing still, applying leg wraps is the perfect opportunity to teach him to stand quietly while you handle his legs. You can begin training for leg wraps by putting them on your equine while he is outside the trailer in your grooming station, and then removing them in the trailer before unloading. Make sure he is standing quietly while you put the leg wraps on him. Also, get in the habit of always removing the leg wraps while he is still in the trailer. This makes him learn to “wait” for you before he departs the trailer. If he expects to have his wraps removed while he is still in the trailer, he is less likely to become excited and possibly bump or step on you while waiting to exit the trailer.
The best shipping boots are the ones that are full-leg, quilted on the inside and attached with Velcro straps. Some materials can collect bedding or debris and cause discomfort or pressure sores (the fleece-lined wraps are notorious for this). The best shipping boots are made from a quilted nylon material and most cover the entire leg and hoof.
You can also use quilted cotton pads and leg wraps, but they are primarily for use while your animal is stalled, in order to prevent cuts and abrasions at shows and events. Polo wraps (a soft pliable cotton wrap with no quilted pads) are also used for support during training. These types of wraps generally cover only the cannon bones and not the fetlocks and pasterns. If you do use Polo wraps or quilted cotton pads and wraps, learn to wrap them correctly to avoid pressure points that could cause problems. Consult with a professional to learn the proper wrapping technique.
There is a wide variety of splint boots available on the market and each of them is designed for a particular use. When doing light work in the arena or for trail riding, you might want to use a “front and back” set that are designed for minimal support, while providing the legs with greater protection from injury. In beginning training, you might use splint boots only on the front legs, since your animal will not likely be using his hindquarters efficiently enough to cause a problem. But once you have begun activities such as Reining or lateral work, the rear boots become important.
When making a decision about which type of protection to use, it is important to first assess your animal’s physical development and the types of activity he will be doing. Boots that are designed primarily for protection do not always lend much support to the muscles and tendons.
They do, however, protect the animal from cuts, bumps and bruises and are advisable for use during hard work, gymkhana events, trail rides in mountainous areas and other more stressful workouts. If you do use splint boots while trail riding and they get wet, do not leave them on the animal for very long or they will lose their ability to support and can cause sores from rubbing. In order to prevent this from happening, boots should be removed, cleaned and dried out immediately after use.
Since, in beginning training, the goal is to condition your animal’s muscles and tendons, “light support” splint boots are a good thing to have on-hand. At this early stage, if a boot gives too much support, the animal does not necessarily develop correctly and the areas under the boots can become weak. Muscles and tendons above and below the boot will gain too much strength and cause possible knotting of the muscles, compromising the function of that entire leg due to uneven conditioning.
After basic training, when your equine is participating in more stressful activities such as jumping, endurance and racing (or in the case of an injury), it may become necessary to use a more supportive boot to lightly support already-conditioned muscles and tendons. Support boots are designed to provide equal support over the entire area they cover. Be careful that they are neither too tight nor too loose. You don’t want the boots so tight that they cut off the blood supply to the area covered or are not flexible enough to allow the joints to move freely. However, you don’t want them so loose that they ride down on the legs.
Although the hooves look tough, they, too, can be adversely affected, particularly in gymkhana events and jumping. This is why “bell boots” may be needed for hoof and coronet band protection. The coronet is a very sensitive area and can cause severe lameness if damaged even by a small, seemingly insignificant, cut or bump. If a hoof is unusually dry, severe cracks can occur, and so it is also advisable to routinely use a hoof dressing in addition to the bell boots, in order to make sure a trauma to the hoof will not cause cracking.
When trying to decide which splint boots, leg wraps or other devices to use assess your plan for the day. Leg wraps and splint boots can change from time to time, depending on the conditions of the day. Most shows do not allow splint boots or leg wraps in certain classes. If an animal is in good physical condition, he should not need splint boots or leg wraps for the short time of the performance unless it is extended, as in gymkhana events. In this case, your animal should be conditioned well enough to forgo the actual support-type boots and would only need boots that would primarily offer protection from injury.
You may be asking yourself, “How can I tell a minimal support boot from a fully functional medical support boot?” This can be very confusing, considering all the different kinds of leg wraps and splint boots out there. Some even look identical, as in the case of the high quality Pro Choice splint boot versus an off-brand. Although the off-brand may look identical, it is often made from inferior-quality materials that do not afford the degree of flexibility needed for successful therapy. Although these off-brands are designed for support and do cover the joints, should be considered as more of a protective boot. Splint boots are strictly for protection of the cannon bones, because they do not cover the joints and offer very little support.
In the case of leg wraps, there are those that stretch and are used for support (as in the Polo wraps used for Dressage schooling), and those that do not stretch and are used over padded quilt squares for traveling and while in the stable. When researching which product will best suit your needs and the needs of your animal, equine professionals, your local tack shop or feed store, shows and expos, and the internet can all be valuable sources of information.
To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
© 2003, 2014, 2016, 2019, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
Hauling long distances needn’t be a problem with your Longears, if you use a little common sense and consideration. Their natural durability and good sense make them basically easier to haul than horses. When hauling for more than four or five hours, there are a few things to consider.
First, you should be sure that the trailer in which they are to ride affords safety and comfort. Before you leave, you should check over your trailer thoroughly. Make sure the hitch is secure and in good repair, and that there are no weakened welds anywhere. Check your trailer’s tires, bearings, axels and brakes for maximum performance, and make sure all the lights are in working order. Take the trailer mats out and check the floor boards for rot and other weaknesses, and replace any boards that are even questionable.
Using bedding such as shavings or straw in the trailer may afford a little extra comfort, and can encourage urination on the trip, but it isn’t always the best thing to do. The wind can cause the bedding to fly around inside the trailer, causing irritation to your animal’s eyes, ears and respiratory tract, particularly if you use shavings. If you wish to use bedding, straw is the better choice. In addition to the straw bedding, choose thicker trailer mats (rather than those that are thin) for your trailer. Thicker mats allow for more absorption of trailer vibration, as well as dispersing the moisture from urination. The trailer you use should give each animal ample space in which to stand. If your mules and donkeys are crowded in too tightly, they will be tense and anxious throughout the trip and will tire easily. This can result in battles between animals, increasing the potential for injury.
Mules and donkeys, like horses, should be “dressed” for their trip. For their overall comfort during long trips, halters should be fleeced, at least over the noseband, to protect from excessive rubbing that can result from being tied. Shipping wraps for their legs are also advisable to prevent injuries from a loss of balance, misstep or kick from another animal in the trailer. Depending on the weather and the kind of trailer you have (either a stock trailer or enclosed trailer) you can use sheets or blankets to protect the rest of your animal’s body.
Donkeys tend to sit back on whatever is behind them while they ride, so they should always wear an oversized sheet or blanket that drops down behind the rump to prevent chafing. If they are not protected in this way, they can develop terrible raw spots on their tails and hindquarters. Using a tail wrap on mules and donkeys is rarely successful, as these tend to slide off (even if they are taped). If they are put on too tightly, they can cut off the circulation in the tail and cause problems.
When loading your mules and donkeys, pay special attention to each individual’s needs. Animals that lean one way or the other generally do better in a slant load trailer rather than in an in-line trailer, but if you must use an in-line trailer, make sure that the animal that leans has a solid wall or partition on the side to which he leans. You always want to put animals next to each other that get along well, so if you must load a leaner on the wrong side, be sure to put him next to an animal that is able to tolerate his leaning without retaliating if there are no partitions. If you have an open stock trailer, another alternative is to load your animals into the trailer and tie them facing backwards. Many equines actually prefer to ride facing backwards because they find it easier to balance. Note: This alternative is not advisable in a partitioned in-line or slant-load trailer.
Once on the road, try to keep your equines’ routine as close to their “at home” routine as possible. Keeping grass hay in front of them will help to alleviate some of the stress of the trip, and will encourage them to relax and accept the situation. Feeds such as grain and alfalfa hay should be avoided, since these highly mobilize the intestines and can cause contractions that can lead to colic, particularly if your animals are not drinking enough water along the way. They should at least be offered some water (whether they drink it or not) at every stop you make along the way and ideally, once every two to three hours. Note: Water that your mules and donkeys are not used to may smell or taste strange to them and can be flavored with something they like. For instance, my donkey jack, Little Jack Horner, has a preference for iced tea to flavor unappetizing water on the road. Lightly flavoring your equines’ water may encourage them to continue to eat and drink throughout the trip, and will help keep them happy and healthy.
If your trailer is large and has good suspension, your mules and donkeys can ride for as long as twelve to fourteen hours without too much discomfort, provided that you make frequent fifteen-to-twenty-minute stops every two to three hours along the journey. This should not interrupt your travel schedule, as you will already be stopping for gas along the way. If your animals are riding in a smaller trailer with more vibration, it is advisable to stop, unload and walk your animals every four to six hours, in order to give them time to stretch, relax and rest their legs. If you have a difficult animal, loading him last is often easiest, since he won’t want to be left behind and will be more likely to follow the other animals into the trailer. This can be inconvenient if you have any animals that are difficult to load because of the extra time involved, but it is always a good opportunity to train them to get in and out of the trailer simply by repetition. By the end of a long trip, they will be loading and unloading much more easily. Just make sure that, if you have equines that are difficult to load, you have allotted yourself enough travel time to include this kind of training.
Long before you actually go anywhere, get your animals used to being handled inside the trailer. When unloading, always make them stand and wait. I usually remove my animals’ shipping wraps before I let them come out of the trailer, but if they are packed in pretty tightly, I just remove the leg wraps I can reach. The removal of leg wraps before unloading adds purpose to your Longears’ waiting time (which they quickly come to understand). Frequently offering water at stops gets your animals used to you moving about the trailer while they are loaded. Most equines realize that all of this is for their benefit and you should find them mostly cooperative and appreciative.
There are times when weather can change drastically and depending on what the weather and temperatures are doing, your animals may need sheets or blankets either put on or removed. When you teach your animals to stand quietly while you climb around inside the trailer ahead of time, putting on leg wraps or taking them off should help them feel more relaxed and accepting of the whole situation.
When loading or unloading your animals, you must always be very careful not to move too quickly or abruptly, which could possibly startle them and even get you trapped. But if you do have an emergency to attend to en route and your animals have been trained in the manner described above, you should be able to get to the animal in trouble with minimal problems. It sometimes takes a little more patience to get horses to stand quietly in the trailer. Once they realize that you are truly concerned with their best interests, mules and donkeys (intelligent creatures that they are), will usually be very cooperative and your long hauls can become relaxing and enjoyable road trips.
© 2000, 2003, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
“Behold, thy King cometh unto thee:
he is just and having salvation; lowly
and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt
the foal of an ass.” – Zechariah 9:9
These words have been an inspiration to all who have heard them since the time they were written—to those of us who love Longears, the words carry the message of a lifetime and the secrets of a dream. Not only did the Lord Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the back of an ass, but remembrances of that ride are clearly marked on the backs of many asses since in the form of a cross. One can really only guess why asses received this unique blessing, but as the Lord blessed the asses, so they have in return endeavored to bless us with their righteous ways.
It would seem that the asses were chosen because they represent more fully the characteristics in all of us that are just and good. The most evident inspiring characteristic of the ass is his undying affection for humans and the patience he exhibits when dealing with them; an excellent portrayal of this affection and patience is found in Marguerite Henry’s story of “Brighty of the Grand Canyon.” In addition, asses are not possessive creatures. They do not seek to impress, nor do they have inflated ideas of importance. They are humble, not greedy or selfish and are content to give freely all that they have to give. There is no limit to their endurance and no end to their trust. Unpleasant moments are undoubtedly remembered, yet forgiven when requested and owners are inspired to be more constructive in their management and training methods. Within asses, there is a hidden hope of happiness, contentment, peace and brotherhood. The inspiration of these noble characteristics does not go unnoticed as they ennoble those around them.
Throughout our lifetimes, we are faced with challenges and choices, most of which are met by trial and error. Asses limit and simplify our choices, leaving us less room for trial and error and more chance for success. An example of this could be the man who could not make his donkey cross the bridge over a deep, wide canyon. Failing to cause the donkey to cross the bridge, the man spent much extra time walking his donkey down one side of the canyon and up the other. As they rested at the far side of the bridge, a horse and rider approached the same challenge. The horse balked, but the rider forced him onto the bridge. About the middle of the bridge, the boards were rotted and horse and rider plunged to their death – a costly lesson. “He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe” (Proverbs). Stop, look, and listen with your heart as well as your ears. Your donkey has much to teach you.
Man has always sought to better himself and his environment. He seeks to set shining examples to all, however, he falls short due to negative aspects in his character. The ass, who has always been humbled, does not seek to set examples, he is an example with his honest and faithful ways. He is quick to accept that which is good and tolerant of all else. This unique character coupled with his physical abilities makes him an excellent life partner.
Perhaps, the most important and unselfish contribution the donkey has made in this world is his willingness to produce offspring not of his own species. We can only imagine the reasons for this. Perhaps, he saw a chance to combine his incredible character with the physical beauty of the horse, again to try to please us humans and make him more attractive to us. But whatever the reasons, mules and donkeys are attracting more humans with each passing year. They instill in us a desire to support and promote their cause, which in turn becomes our cause. What human can detest the cause of happiness, contentment, peace and brotherhood?
It is apparent, like never before, the impact that Longears are having on people all over the world. The shows and events including them have grown tremendously over the last 50 years, and the number of people affected by them has increased so much that we now see people in localized areas putting on their own events. In Colorado, for example, the only shows for Longears were incorporated into larger shows such as the Colorado State Fair and the National Western Stock Show. Today, counties are taking initiative to include mules and donkeys in the county fairs, and local riding clubs are inviting them to participate in annual All-Breed shows. Increased understanding and appreciation for the positive qualities of Longears brings more and more people together all the time. Their generous ways have positively influenced people toward a genuine pursuit of happiness. Why is this phenomenon occurring? Because, “We may not realize that everything we do affects not only our lives, but touches others too. A little bit of thoughtfulness shows someone you care and creates a ray of sunshine for both of you to share. Yes, every time you offer someone a helping hand, every time you show a friend you care and understand, every time you have a kind and gentle word to give, you help someone find beauty in this precious life we live. For happiness brings happiness, and loving ways bring love; and giving is the treasure that contentment is made of.” (Amanda Bradley).
© 1985, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
Achieving balance and harmony with your equine requires more than just balancing and conditioning his body. As you begin finishing training on your equine, your awareness must now be shifted more toward your own body. Your equine should already be moving steadily forward in a longer frame and be basically obedient to your “aids” (your seat, legs and hands). The object in finishing training is to build the muscles in your own body so that your aids become more clearly defined and effective. This involves the shedding of old habits and the building of new ones. This takes a lot of time and should not be approached with impatience. There are no shortcuts!
In order to stabilize your hands and upper body, you need to establish a firm base in your seat and legs. Ideally, you should be able to drop an imaginary plumb line from your shoulder through your hips, through your heels and to the ground. To maintain this plumb line, you must work to make the joints and muscles in your body more supple and flexible through correct use, so that this line becomes your automatic posture.
As you ride your equine through walking exercises, try to stay soft, relaxed and following forward in your inner thighs and seat bones. Get the sensation that your legs are cut off at the knees and let your seat bones walk along with your animal—lightly, and in rhythm with him. If he slows down, just bend your knees and nudge him alternately with your legs below your knees, while keeping your seat and upper legs stable and moving forward. While your legs are still, they should rest gently on his sides in a “hug.” Do not push forward in your seat, but allow him to carry you forward. When collecting the walk on the short side, just bend both knees at the same time, nudging your equine simultaneously on both sides, while you squeeze the reins at the same time.
In order to help you stay over the middle of your animal’s back on the large circle, keep your eyes up and ahead, shift your weight slightly to the outside stirrup, and “feel the movement.” Bend your knee and set your inside leg snugly against your equine at his girth. As you do this, be sure that your outside leg (the leg on the outside of the arc) stays in close contact with his body, well behind the girth. He will begin to bend his body through contact with your legs in this position. Your inside leg (the leg on the inside of the arc) will support the bend and help to keep him upright, and the outside leg will drive him forward through the arc of the turn, or circle. On straight lines, keep your legs even, slightly behind the girth and look straight ahead. To keep his shoulders from “dropping” while executing a turn, look up and a little to the outside of the circle. This will bring your inside seat bone slightly forward and your outside seat bone slightly back, allowing your legs to easily be in the correct position for the circle. Your weight should be shifted to the outside leg. This is particularly helpful during canter transitions.
Most of us feel that we do not balance on our reins as much as we actually do. If there is any balancing on the reins at all by the rider, your equine will be unable to achieve proper hindquarter engagement and ultimate self-carriage. Here is a simple exercise you can do to help shift the weight from your hands and upper body to your seat and legs. Begin by putting your equine on the rail at an active working walk. On the long side, drop your reins on his neck and feel your lower-body connection with him as you move along. In order to maintain your shoulder-to-hip plumb line, you will find that you need to tip your pelvis forward and stretch your abdominal muscles with each step. If your lower leg remains in the correct position, this will also stretch the thigh muscles on the front of your leg from hip to knee. There is also a slight side-to-side motion as your animal moves forward that will cause your seat bones to move independently and alternately forward. There is no doubt that you can probably do this fairly easily right from the start, but to maintain this rhythm and body position without thinking about it takes time and repetition.
When you are fairly comfortable at the walk, you can add some variation at the trot. Begin with the posting trot on the rail. Always post down in your seat to meet the equine’s front leg that comes back and underneath your outside leg. Post upwards as the equine’s front leg goes forward. Once your equine’s hindquarters are adequately engaged, you will begin to feel his hind legs coming under your seat. However, when starting out, it is easier to learn to post using a visual of the front legs, and rely on the physical sensation of the hind legs coming under your seat later. When your mule is going along the rail in a fairly steady fashion, drop your reins on his neck and continue to post. As you post down the long side, remember to keep your upper body erect, your pelvis rocking forward from your seat, your knees bent such that your legs are gently hugging the barrel of your equine, and your arms raised and straight out in front of you, parallel to your shoulders.
If your animal drifts away from the rail, you will need to post with a little more weight in your outside stirrup. As you go around the corners, be sure to turn your eyes a little to the outside of the circle to help your positioning. As you approach the short side of the arena, bring your arms backwards and straight out from your shoulders in a “T” formation, while keeping your upper body erect. As you go through the corners, just rotate your arms and upper body slightly toward the outside of your circle. When you come to the next long sides, bring your arms, once again, in front and parallel to your shoulders and repeat the exercise.
Notice the different pressure on your seat bones as you change your arm position. The forward arms will somewhat lighten your seat, while your arms to the side tend to exert a little more pressure. Consequently, you can send your animal more forward by using your seat as you go down the long sides, shortening that stride with a little added pressure from the seat bones on the short sides. When you wish to halt, put your arms behind you at the small of your back to support an erect upper body, and let your weight drop down through your seat bones and legs. Also, remember to use your verbal commands often in the beginning to clarify your aids (effect of the seat, legs and hands) to your equine. If your equine doesn’t stop, just reach down and give a gentle squeeze/release on the reins until he stops, but be sure to remain relaxed and continue to drop your weight into your seat and legs. Keep your inner thighs relaxed and flexible. Do NOT squeeze! Think DOWN through your legs on both sides. Before long, he will begin to make the connection between the weight of your seat and your command to “Whoa,” and your seat will take precedence over your reins.
When you and your equine have become adept at the walk and the trot, you can add the canter. At the canter, however, keep your arms out to the side and rotate them in small circles in rhythm with the canter. Be sure to sit back and allow only your pelvis, seat and thighs to stretch forward with the canter stride. Keep your upper body erect and your lower legs stable in the gentle “hugging” position. Once your equine has learned to differentiate seat and leg aids during each gait and throughout all transitions on the large circle, you can begin to work on directional changes through cones.
As you practice these exercises, you will soon discover how even the slightest shift of balance can affect your animal’s performance. By riding without your reins and making the necessary adjustments in your body, you will begin to condition your own muscles to work in harmony with those of your equine. As your muscles get stronger and more responsive, you will cultivate more harmony and balance with your animal. As you learn to ride more “by the seat of your pants,” you will encounter less resistance in your equine, as most resistance is initiated by tension in the seat and legs and by “bad hands,” an ineffective and uncommunicative dragging on the reins. Your hands should remain quiet and supportive in contact with the bit. Keeping your legs close to the sides of your equine’s body in a sort of hug will clarify the “track” he is to follow (much in the same way a train is confined to its tracks). As you learn to vary the pressure in your seat accordingly, so will you encounter less resistance in your animal through his back, and the stability in your lower legs will give him a clearer path to follow between your aids.
© 1992, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Meredith Hodges
Long before the Founding Fathers drafted our constitution, the roots of America were as a religious nation under God. Today’s mule also has his roots in religion. The mule’s ancestor—the donkey—is mentioned in the Bible numerous times as an animal acknowledged by God and blessed by Jesus Christ. The donkey was even chosen to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and, later, as the mount Jesus himself used for his ride into the city of Jerusalem.
Throughout the development of our country—one nation under God—the American mule has been used to pull the mighty Conestoga Wagons of the pioneering settlers moving Westward, as a pack animal for settlers, miners and traders, and as an important part of our country’s defense in times of war.
As early-nineteenth-century America continued to develop and its population grew, the American people came to depend more and more on self-sustaining agriculture. Because of the mule’s extraordinary ability to work long hours in sometimes harsh and unrelenting climates, his sure footedness which allowed them to cross terrain not accessible by any other means, and his resistance to parasites and disease, he became the prized gem of agriculture and remained so for the next hundred and fifty years.
From the day the Erie Canal first opened on October 26, 1825, mules and donkeys were always used to pull the heavy barges. Inevitably, songs like Thomas A. Allen’s “Low Bridge, Everybody Down,” which praises a mule named “Ol’ Sal,” became part of America’s folk song tradition. In the early days of the Erie Canal, men and their mules lived side by side on the barges—the mules were even brought onboard when they were not towing, and safety ramps were placed at intervals up the banks of the canals, in case an unlucky mule accidentally slipped into the canal and could not negotiate its steep walls to climb back out.
In 1882, the Harmony Borax Works opened with one big problem—how to get their product 165 miles across the treacherous Mojave Desert from Death Valley to the nearest railroad spur. The answer? Mules! “The borax wagons were built in Mojave at a cost of $900 each…When the two wagons were loaded with ore and a 500-gallon water tank was added, the total weight of the mule train was 73,200 pounds or 36 and a half tons. When the mules were added to the wagons, the caravan stretched over 100 feet. The Twenty Mule Teams hauled more than 20 million pounds of borax out of Death Valley between 1883 and 1889.” 1
When American coal mining was booming, the mule was such a valuable member of the mining process, that a good mining mule was considered to actually be more valuable than a human miner. Mining has always been a dangerous business, and the mining mule’s innate sense of self-preservation was well known. “Mules are very smart…They know what they can do and would never do anything they couldn’t or would not want to do. Mules were known to pull at least three full mine cars full of coal. If you hooked up a fourth car they would balk at any commands and just stand there. No way would they pull the fourth car!” 2
Because of their traits of strength, intelligence and loyalty, mules were a crucial part of our country’s greatest conflicts, from the Civil War through the Spanish American War, and in both World War I and World War II. A well-known tale from the Civil War states that, “In a battle at Chattanooga, a Union general’s teamsters became scared and deserted their mule teams. The mules stampeded at the sound of battle and broke from their wagons. They started toward the enemy with trace-chains rattling and wiffletrees snapping over tree stumps as they bolted pell-mell toward the bewildered Confederates. The enemy believed it to be an impetuous cavalry charge; the line broke and fled.” 3 During World War I, mules and horses were still the primary way that artillery was carried into battle. Although the 75mm Howitzers proved too heavy for most horses, it was a common sight to see the big guns strapped to the back of a sturdy mule.
One of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Grand Canyon, has been home to mules since the 1800s. First brought in by prospectors, it was soon realized that the tourists wanted a way down to the Canyon floor, and so began the Grand Canyon mule pack trips. Famous mule-riding visitors to the Grand Canyon have included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft, famed naturalist John Muir and painter/sculptor Frederic Remington.
We Americans have worked alongside our mules and donkeys for centuries and have often taken their generous contributions for granted in the course of our country’s fast-paced growth, but the mule and donkey are likely to remain with us as long as they can find a way to make their contributions to society.
Those of us who attend Bishop Mule Days every year and many longears lovers across this country are very well-acquainted with the incredible assets of the mule, and look forward to singing his praises every year on October 26th, when Mule Appreciation Day rolls around. Let us never forget to thank our trusted companions for all they have contributed to building this great country of ours!
© 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
2 Mine Stories, The No. 9 Mine & Museum,Lansford, PA.
3 The Horse in the Civil War, by Deborah Grace
By Meredith Hodges
In Part 1 of Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking, we discussed the evolution of man’s self-discovery and how he applied this to his approach to equines. If we want to manage our equines in a healthy way and accomplish even the most basic performance with them, there is much to consider during the training process. In Part 2 of Look Who’s Talking, we learned that equines are honest in nature and produce quick and honest reactions to a stimulus. Therapeutic Riding provides an exemplary teaching experience for both human and equine, and those of us with our own equines can now derive much more from the relationship than we ever thought possible.
During centuries of use, equines have been asked to perform many tasks, as they have always been essential tools in agriculture, for transportation in cities and as a fighting partner in the military. People who worked regularly with these animals had an appreciation for their general health and longevity. Although people were limited by their own experience, they would generally provide the best possible care because the equine was an integral part of their economy. Many horses and most mules and donkeys worked hard to build this world and support people in their endeavors. It is always amazing when one realizes just how much these animals have contributed to our wealth and welfare.
Original dressage training was concerned with the systematic conditioning of the body of the horse in a way that would make him a durable and viable war partner for soldiers. The horse was revered and allowed time for his body to mature and grow slowly. The training followed suit, yielding a healthy and formidable opponent in any competition. This goal was achieved only when the animal was trained in correct posture, and given adequate time to complete each stage of training as his own potential dictated.
When attention is given to the development of core muscle strength from the very beginning, the equine develops strength evenly throughout his body as he grows. Muscles are stressed and rested at critical intervals, allowing for healthy mental, physical and emotional growth. When the equine feels good in his body, it clears his mind to concentrate on his performance, and the result is an equine that is happy in his work and his world.
Colonel Alois Podhajsky (1898–1973), former head of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, said, “I’ve got time!…We only can achieve the highest goals in the art of riding only when we increase our demands on the horse in a systematic manner.”1
The same holds true with any athlete. No animal can perform at their highest level and remain healthy without building up the body correctly over a significant period of time. Forcing and moving too fast through training levels does not allow healthy athletic conditioning to take place. This conditioning art is becoming lost in the economic world of today, as equines are no longer used for necessity. They have become a hobby or a sport in more developed countries, and are an economic necessity only in Third World countries that are not equipped to provide the extensive care that a healthy equine demands.
Dressage training has evolved from a useful tool to strengthen a useful horse to just another name in big business. Today, animals are thought of as economic “material” or a “breeding investment,” and are used in events such as Reining, Cutting, Stadium Jumping, racing, Steeple Chases, Eventing, hunting, Dressage and just-for-pleasure riding. Monetary investment is high, and never was the old adage “horse poor” more prevalent than now.
Owners can expect to spend thousands of dollars in a year for no more than a pleasure-riding equine, and the cost increases with the status of activities. The cost of supporting an equine provides economic success to a multitude of businesses, such as feed, tack and equipment, truck and trailer sales, drug companies, motels, gas stations, county fairgrounds, breed registrars, brand inspectors, clothing stores, veterinarians, farriers, and the list goes on.
In any business, moving product faster is always better because it decreases overhead costs. Anything long lasting takes more expense to produce and does not afford repeat customers as often for the same product and is, therefore, less valued. But good business sense is in direct opposition to what is actually good and healthy for the equine. Good business sense is what drives people to train equines faster, and why people ask young equines to perform way beyond their level of capability to promote a faster sale of the equine, which ultimately results in the untimely demise of that equine.
Breeding for bigger, better and faster equines has given people the false idea that these horses perform almost solely from their heredity. This has changed how they are being trained and judged. Today, many equine competitions are no longer judged by an expert who knows the definition of correct movement. We are inundated with terminology from the masters that is most often misunderstood and distorted.
For instance, “collection” is defined by the United States Equestrian Federation as, “a. to further develop and improve the balance and equilibrium of the horse which has been more or less displaced by the additional weight of the rider, b. to develop and increase the horse’s ability to lower and engage his hindquarters for the benefit of lightness and mobility of his forehand, and c. to add the ‘ease and carriage’ of the horse and to make him more pleasurable to ride.” To those who are not schooled in Dressage, collection can mean a lot of things that are contrary to the actual definition, including the belief that it means to merely break at the poll and arc the head and neck.
People also believe that an equine is “on the bit” if he arcs the head and neck and “flexes” at the poll, when this actually means that the equine has taken contact with the bit and can feel the hands of the rider through the reins and responds lightly and obediently whether his head and neck are arched or not. “Vertical flexion” is the result of correct “collection,” where the equine is flexible from head to tail with the hindquarters properly engaged. It is not the act of bringing the equine’s chin to his chest. “Lateral flexion” is when the equine bends his body, including his rib cage, to the arc of a circle, and is not just bending his head and neck to your knee.
All of these movements take many years to cultivate if they are to be done correctly, and there are specific exercises to do at every stage to make sure the equine is developing properly and executing these movements on his own, with only the most subliminal support from the rider. Most equines that are shown today are not engaged sufficiently behind and are doing “high school” movements out of good posture. They are clearly on the forehand and unbalanced.
If one is to develop the equine in a sound manner, then one must learn to appreciate the smaller victories at each stage of training and during each new lesson. One needs to learn to appreciate the incredible ways one can affect balance and movement during leading training. Leading training can teach the equine good balance, proprioception (body awareness) and regularity of the footfall patterns. The equine will become strong and balanced in his core muscles using these simple tasks and, when led over obstacles, coordination will be added to the mix. Only after your equine is able to take responsibility for his own balance and negotiation of these movements should he be asked to go to a round pen to learn to balance on the circle.
Only after he is able to sustain his own balance on the circle through all three gaits (walk, trot, canter)— stop, back and reverse— and has been ground driven long enough to submit to the bit through these same movements, should he be mounted and asked to carry a rider. Even lunging on a lunge line should first be taught in the round pen, so when you do take him in the open, he knows how to balance himself and can physically balance on the circle without tugging on the lunge line at all. The equine that has had the benefit of this core training will be safer on the trail and flawless at the shows. If you take the time to develop your equine properly—during all of these seemingly boring tasks—you might very well discover a healthier and happier you!
It is difficult for judges without roots in agriculture to have a conflict with the roar of the audience, as they see pretty equines with fancy moves. But if the judges do not hold true to what is correct and allow themselves to be swayed by the audience, the integrity of the equine industry is lost. Our equines will continue to be used and abused for profit and gain, and many equines will continue to suffer at the hands of the ignorant because there are no clear standards to educate people. The equine that is properly trained should appear to be performing by his volition. If he does not appear this way and is constrained or forced, he is not in correct posture or balance and cannot perform correctly. The integrity of his movement is lost and the longevity of his life is compromised.
When you take the time to feed, care for and train your equine as he should be trained as an athlete, his personality will begin to emerge. You will be surprised at the relationship you will have with him and the wondrous sensations you can feel when you are in real harmony with him. You will no longer be an observer but, rather, a friend and a partner in performance and in life. You will have laid the foundation for your personality and the personality of your equine to grow in the most positive way and meld with each other. The conversations you now have with your equine become a two-way street that will continue to inspire for all time, and will produce a “high” like no other!
© 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.
1Tug of War: Classical vs. Modern Dressage by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, pg. 38, Copyright © 2006 Wu Wei Verlag, Schondorf, Germany, English translation Published by Trafalgar Square Books, North Pomfret, Vermont, 05053, USA 2007 (Footnote: Podhasky, Alois, ibid: Mossdorf, Carl Friedrich (1989), p. 142)
By Meredith Hodges
In Part 1 of Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking, we discussed the evolution of man’s self-discovery and how he applied this to his approach to equines. If we want to manage our equines in a healthy way and accomplish even the most basic performance with them, there is much to consider during the training process. In the not-so-distant past, the prevalent belief was that, if you had a reasonably large patch of grass with a fence around it, you could have a horse. We now know it takes much more than this!
Following the assessment of Characterology and body-type, Structuralism developed from the concept that man’s attitudes and behaviors were not just a product of the things he experienced, but also the sensations he felt and the images that were produced in his consciousness. This expanded his understanding of ways to explore himself. From his own introspection, man began to perceive the equine in different ways that would be most beneficial to him, but failed to examine what would actually be most beneficial for the equine.
Born in Athens, Greece in 431 BC and referred to today as the original “Horse Whisperer,” Xenophon is considered to be the founder of military Horsemanship. He is credited with the beginning of structured, classical equine training over 1,000 years ago, when equines were trained with military defense in mind.1 The equine’s training was critical to the defense of his rider, and this meant that the animal had to be strong, healthy and obedient. Man discovered that when he paid attention to the mental and physical needs of the equine, he got a more willing and obedient response, and the result was a healthier and more protective companion than one that was forced into submission. Harnessing the defense mechanisms of the horse was not only awe-inspiring but effective.
Mules and donkeys became primarily “beasts of burden,” rather than the mount of choice, as it was more difficult to harness their independent nature without a full understanding of their character and personality. However, their ability to carry heavy loads and maintain footing in precarious places was unparalleled.
Functionalists regarded psychology as the study of man’s ability to adjust to his environment, of the instruments he developed to aid him in his adjustment, and of the ways in which he could improve his adjustment through learning. As man began to understand his relationship to his environment, so he began to study the equine’s adjustment to its environment.
As man’s environment changed, he changed with it. However, when dealing with equines, he neglected to realize that he had changed the equine’s natural habitat forever and had begun a compression of space and freedom that would ultimately result in anxious and nervous behaviors in the equine. The equine’s negative response to this environment was most obvious when he was subjugated by man. Man misperceived the equine’s adverse behaviors as deliberate disobedience.
This was still primarily an observational approach. Man did not give enough thought to the equine’s new environment and how it might be perceived by the equine. The equine wasn’t given adequate time to adjust to its new environment or situation, or time to react honestly to it.
Sometimes the response to a stimulus in the environment is predictable and sometimes it is not, so we need to be careful of stereotypical statements like “horses are wild and need to be mastered.” At one time, it was predictable that equines in the wild would take flight from a presumed predator and so would pose difficulty in training. But present-day “horse whisperer,” Monty Roberts, talked to mustangs in the wild and proved that, with patience, and given time, the equine might change this behavior and not run from a perceived human predator—he might actually “join up” with a human being. Equines possess a natural curiosity that can often override instincts when they perceive that they are safe. Thus, we can conclude that, perhaps, the natural instincts of the equine can be significantly changed and his adverse behavior may not be deliberate disobedience. We just need to start looking at the bigger picture—the equine as a whole being.
Behaviorism is a psychology based on stimulus and response. Behavior grows more complex through the process of forming new connections between stimuli and response originally unrelated. Americans were strongly influenced by their association with purely scientific testing with animals. However, man should not neglect the component of equine psychology, no matter how difficult the study. The unconscious of the equine is much like the unconscious of humans in that it is primarily instinctual and hereditary, and will always be present.
The learned behaviors coming from other sources such as environment do not replace but, rather, become yet another integral part of the whole equine. It is easy to believe that if you reward good behavior it will be repeated, but not so easy to identify all good behaviors and reward them promptly. It is even more difficult to learn to identify bad behaviors, punish them accordingly and re-route behavior to the positive again. This requires the handler to move away from an observational post and become involved and engaged with the equine on a whole new level.
As the study of psychology progressed, the Gestalt Theory emerged. It placed more emphasis on the whole of the pattern of behavior or experience, rather than breaking it down into elements. The whole of the experience of behavior is more than the sum of its parts. It has derived many of its principles from the Laws of Physics, especially those involving fields of force, which are believed to be more applicable to psychological events than the concept of connections between independent elements. Even elements take their character from the whole.
We can try to harness the ability of the equine, but, ultimately, the Laws of Physics will apply. If we ask too much from an equine at any given stage of training, we will experience resistance from the physical structure of the equine, resulting in adverse behavior. This is often mistaken for intentional disobedience. When we are in line with the Laws of Physics and in line with the body and mind of the equine, he develops properly through the attitude we have and the activities we ask from him. One then sees an entirely different sort of animal emerge with an entirely different attitude and movement. He begins to “speak to us” and we not only listen, but we actually “hear” what he is saying. We respond with our own voice and our own body language—with attention to his healthy physical development and not with some artificial device.
The sum total of the effect an individual has on others is referred to as his “social stimulus value.” The social stimulus value of a human being takes into account his or her height, hair color, general physique, vitality and so forth. It includes distinctive behavior patterns such as habits and mannerisms. The sum total of the effect an individual equine has on other equines is referred to as his “status in the pecking order.” It also includes distinctive behavior patterns such as habits and mannerisms.
When becoming involved with your own band of equines, you will begin to see these same elements emerge and determine status. I have observed, for instance, that equines do possess the same “racial” and “decisive” biases as we humans do. They form their own “cliques” that are often based on age, status and color. They will even form cliques of “oddballs” in certain situations. When left on their own, my dark mules would hang together, my bay mules would hang together and those who were not born here were ostracized by all the others regardless of age and hung together in their own “oddball herd.” I was eventually able to modify and change these “biases” in my equines during training with an emphasis on patience and good manners.
At first, it disturbed me when I could not turn my much older animals out with the adult male mules. I thought they should be able to get along, until I began to think of them in terms of rebellious teenagers who did not appreciate the sage advice of their elders. The “guidance” of the elder equines was not appreciated at all, so I separated the groups during turnout and later integrated them during training, after they had learned to be polite and considerate to the other equines.
Surprisingly, it worked well. They still needed to be grouped accordingly during turnout (their free time) but are now much more manageable and tolerant of each other during their workouts together. The younger ones actually do pay more attention to how the elders perform during the sessions, and even seem to learn from them.
Personality includes not only social stimulus value, but intrapersonal organization as well—how the person views himself from within. Without the evolution of training practices, it would be impossible to get any idea as to whether or not a horse actually possesses any introspection at all. Horses do exhibit timidity, but still provide reciprocal warmth and affection. Mules and donkeys demand a kind response from their human counterparts or they simply disengage. They are openly suspicious and great judges of character regarding their handlers. In my experience, I have noted significant changes in an equine’s facial and body expressions, especially those who have come from abusive situations. They will show either a clear sense of fear or stoic behavior in the beginning.
As they proceed through the training program, their expressions soften with acceptance. They then begin to show interest that ultimately results in an animal that is confident and trusting. You can see the soul emanating from their eyes and watch their overall carriage change to one of confidence and trust. These are simply behavioral manifestations of the equine’s introspection, or the way he perceives himself in his world. Change his world in a kind and understanding way and so will his perceptions change. The equine whose personality develops in a healthy way will exhibit more courage and less fear in the face of stressful situations and extreme weather conditions. The bond and trust in the handler is stronger than his sense of fear and you can see it in his face.
Why are equines so therapeutic? The answer is simple; it’s because they will communicate honestly with us if we open our hearts and minds and truly “hear” them. They will return the same acceptance, warmth and affection we give to them. In addition, we receive a physical benefit of exercise while working with them. Those who learn to interact with their equine during maintenance and grooming will have a better chance of getting to know the whole equine. They will learn how to give pleasure appropriately and elicit an honest response from the equine. The equine will give “hints” of pleasure with behaviors that will reinforce good behavior in the human as well. Those who do not become engaged and intimate with the animal will fall into habitual “use” of animals instead of learning to “care.”
Learning to be polite and considerate and giving pleasure with concrete reasons that are physical, mental and emotional in nature yield true health, and not just a perverse image. Be careful of arrogance. Arrogance stems from a masterful or Godlike approach, devoid of humility, that may elevate one’s ego, but invariably creates a “victim” equine instead of a willing and grateful partner and companion.
The benefits of therapeutic riding programs are more than just physical in nature. They provide a source for at-risk kids to experience warmth and validation of their existence. They get a true and honest response for their efforts and feedback that has been foreign to them. Animals are honest in nature and produce quick and honest reactions to a stimulus. Therapeutic Riding provides an exemplary teaching experience for both human and equine, and those of us with our own equines can derive much more from the relationship than we ever thought possible.
In Equine Behavior: Look Who’s Talking! Part 3, we will explore the ways in which you can enhance the relationship between you and your equine.
© 2011, 2016, 2017, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.
1Wikipedia and The Spanish Riding School:,Its Traditions and Development From the Sixteenth Century Until Today by Mathilde Windisch-Graetz, Barnes & Co., Inc., 1956
By Meredith Hodges
What kind of equine handler are you? When interacting with your Longears or any equine, are you an observer or a participant? Are you fully aware of the reasons for your equine’s behaviors? Behavior in general is most often motivated by a stimulus that elicits a response, yet the early years of physiological development are most dependent on heredity. Heredity includes not only physical characteristics, but mental, emotional and instinctual behaviors as well. We are taught that if an equine’s knees are beginning to fuse, he is ready for training. Is the animal really ready for training just because his knees are beginning to fuse? Physical development is called maturation, and we often determine the equine’s capabilities by maturation alone, with no consideration for the whole animal.
The mule inherits its incredible strength, intelligence and freeze reflex from the jack, and its athletic ability, beauty and the flight reflex from the horse. Some of these characteristics are physical, while others are instinctual, but each contributes to the animal as a whole being. Mental and emotional personality traits are not as easily defined in animals, since they do not speak the same language that humans do. So it makes sense that the equine is often first regarded as a large and potentially dangerous “beast.” In the past, those men who overpowered the “beast” and gained control were revered by others for their ability, no matter how cruel the approach. Because of the vast difference in size, man was viewed as the underdog and his conquests were celebrated.
Characterology, man’s first exercise in psychology, is based solely on casual observations of the personality and individuality of a human being. This is how man initially perceived equines as well as himself in the early days of psychology. The evolution of man’s understanding of himself is not that different from his understanding of equines. It began with casual observations. The equine was first regarded as an animal to be feared because of its potential to do great damage to a person’s physical being. However, no regard was given to the horse’s propensity toward timidity and vulnerability as a prey animal. Man eventually got close enough to the equine to realize there was far more to learn than what he could simply observe. Characterology has been found to be as unsatisfactory when describing the whole human as it has turned out to be with equines.
We’ve learned, through observation, the behaviors the equine will exhibit when left to its own devices in its own environment. In a herd of wild horses, the stallion is king and there is only one mature stallion per herd. He may allow other young stallions to stay to the outside of the herd, provided they show no aggression. But if they do show aggression, the two will battle it out until the weaker one is either run off or killed.
The actual leader of the herd is the most dominant mare in the herd, called the “boss mare.” When the stallion signals danger, it is this mare that will lead the herd, while the stallion generally brings up the rear. During estrus, the mare cycles every 21 days during the warmer months of the year. The mare accepts the stallion for only seven days out of the 21-day cycle. The stallion may cover her several times during that period and will do the same with the other mares in the herd. Not all mares will accept the advances of the stallion at certain times and, because they are as different as people are in their genetic makeup, not all of them will become pregnant every time.
When it is time for the foal to be born, the mare will go off by herself to birth the foal and then return when the foal has gained enough strength to run with the herd. Equines will always show aggressive behaviors in a herd. It is their nature and they learn their place (“pecking order”) within the herd through this process.
Donkeys are a little different in their herd behaviors and, although they do have a “pecking order,” they operate more like a family and it is not unusual to see multiple males in the family herd. Donkeys have a freeze reflex instead of a flight reflex and will stand their ground before wasting energy in flight. Donkeys seem to be loving and affectionate creatures at first glance, but they can be a formidable rival to most any other animal. In certain situations with a well-planned psychological approach, donkeys can make good guard animals for the very same smaller animals that they might otherwise chase.
Being a hybrid, the mule possesses behaviors from both the horse and donkey. It is in the mule and donkey’s nature to chase smaller animals such as dogs, cats, goats, etc. When supervised, they can be taught not to attack smaller animals, but if left alone, it IS in their nature to run these animals down and they will often kill them for sport. This is not seen as often in the females (it depends on personality as well), but it is still present and should be heeded.
A mule will pin its ears when it is concentrating very hard and when it is following you and wants attention. Mules and donkeys are basically very friendly and rarely lay their ears flat back in pure anger like a horse will. When they are angry, you will know it. Scratching in different areas will produce different results. If you scratch their jowls, for instance, they may perk their ears forward, but when you rub their forehead, they will lay their ears back. If you scratch the insides of the ears, some will like it and tilt the head sideways with quivering eyebrows while others will jerk away at your impolite intrusion.
Donkey jacks really should not be allowed to roam with the jennets and/or mares and pasture breed since they can get angry at the drop of a hat and kill a weaker animal in an instant. It is even more dangerous to leave jacks with foals and horses (they will go after adult horses as well!). Mules, being half horse, will usually only chase other horses if they are smaller or if they are males. Since their dam was a female horse, they will often unintentionally harass female horses, but unless the mares are smaller or weak, the mules will do little damage and are more likely to receive a smart kick to the chest for their insolent behavior. Horses have a flight reflex when they feel threatened…the donkey has a freeze and prepare-to-fight reflex…and mules can go either way depending on the situation.
All of these characteristics are part of the equine whole, but they do not explain who the horse, donkey or mule is as a personality. Most characteristics are a means by which we can judge predictable behaviors that would be considered normal. People possess predictable behaviors that do not change and are valuable in profiling. Profiling enables one to establish a base from which to begin to determine a positive plan of approach that will elicit a positive reaction with any given person. The same is true in the development of the human/equine relationship. But Characterology was not a scientific approach, so man continued to find other ways to investigate and challenge his knowledge of himself and the equine.
Phrenology followed and was regarded as a true science, putting forth the idea that personality was comprised of “faculties” that were housed compartmentally in the brain. Therefore, an individual’s personality could be identified by the shape of his or her head. These same scientific observations were also made in reference to the equine.
At first, Arabian horses were thought to be silly and difficult—not the ideal mount for the common man. Later, the intelligence of the Arabian was discovered and explained by saying that, because the Arabian’s eyes are set lower in the head and the forehead is broader than most other equines, there is more brain space in the skull. This is also true of most mules and, particularly, Arabian mules. Once man believed in the equine’s intelligence and had a scientific reason for it, training was modified and approached a little differently. Man was then able to learn even more about the horses he was training. It wasn’t long before man discovered that this didn’t always hold true and there had to be more to consider when assessing the whole human being and, consequently, the whole horse.
The idea that body type could reveal personality type evolved from man’s belief that certain personalities were characterized by certain body types. Man applied this knowledge of psychology and behavior to equines, and then made generalizations about certain breeds of equines according to their body type and temperament. For instance, the solid body type and quiet temperament of the Quarter Horse denoted a capable, willing and even-tempered personality, while the more lithe body, tall stature and flightiness of the Thoroughbred yielded a personality that was more suspicious, aloof and, sometimes, difficult to train.
Much time has passed and man has learned that there is a lot to consider if we want to manage our equines in a healthy way and accomplish even the most basic performance with them. In the past, the prevalent belief was that, if you had a reasonably large patch of grass with a fence around it, you could have a horse. We now know it takes a lot more than this! Stay tuned for Part 2 of Look Who’s Talking, when we further explore the equine personality and how to develop the best relationship you can have with them.
© 2011, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.