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MULE CROSSING: Do Mules Need to Be Shod?


By Meredith Hodges

Do mules need to be shod? Those who are familiar with mules might be tempted to say, “No,” but the answer is a little more complicated than you might think. Although the mule generally has a tougher and more durable foot than the horse, all mules do not have the same feet, nor do all mules apply the same kind of stress to those feet. Therefore, each individual animal has to be considered when answering the question, “To shoe or not to shoe?”

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 mule 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.

Climate and weather greatly affect the condition of your mule’s feet. Damp weather and muddy footing will tend to soften the walls of any hoof, and perpetual exposure to mud and dampness can cause deterioration of his feet. With the light-colored hoof, which tends to soften more easily, this could spell disaster. It is wise, therefore, during damp weather or if you live in a damp climate, to provide a clean, dry place for your mule to stand. Conversely, extremely hot and dry weather can cause your mule’s feet to become dry and brittle, and they may start to crack due to contraction and expansion of the hoof. For this type of dry weather or climate, you may want to overflow your water tanks regularly so your mule has a place to “cool his feet.” If it is excessively dry, you may even need to manually lubricate your mule’s hooves as needed with one of the commercial products available. But before you use an artificial hoof lubricant, first check with your farrier to make sure that it is actually needed. Many people use hoof products too frequently, which can cause hooves to become too soft. When this begins to happen, you will see horizontal rings appear around the hoof wall, and sometimes, vertical lines. Try not to let the hoof get to this point by using lubricants sparingly, but if you see that these rings are beginning to appear, immediately discontinue use of the lubricant and allow the hoof to harden. Then check with your vet to make sure it is not a founder condition. It does not take much to adequately soften the hooves of an animal with rock-hard feet. During the really dry seasons, lubricant application once a week is usually sufficient.

Assuming that your mule has a normal set of dark, healthy hooves, he will probably not need to be shod, as long as he is used strictly for pleasure or only sporadically. However, if you are going to use your mule on excessively rocky or hard ground, you might want to look into getting shoes for him. Mules that repetitively participate in more stressful and demanding activities (such as parades, showing and endurance events) should be shod to protect their feet and to keep them healthy. Prevention of bruising or cracking and maintenance of good foot and leg posture is critical to the equine athlete.

The pack and pleasure mule that is not used much or is used on softer terrain and in places where he does not require shoes must still be trimmed for balance regularly to assure that his feet are evenly worn and that he is not putting undue stress on any joints, muscles or tendons. 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.

I believe that horses and mules, doing what they would naturally do alone—on terrain that is neither hard nor rocky—do not need to be shod. But mules that are asked to repetitively perform with a human on-board in varying surface situations should be fitted with the proper kind of shoes to help protect them from the additional weight and other demands that will be put upon their bodies. For example, my trail mules wear regular shoes on all four feet when they are being regularly used for trail riding and a variety of other activities, lessening the potential for injury. Then, when there is an occasional misstep on hard ground or rocks or when we trail-ride in the more challenging mountains, the shoes help to absorb some of the shock that would otherwise be absorbed by the hoof itself. It is my experience that young mules (and horses from two to four years of age) bear most of their weight on their front legs until their bodies are carefully and properly conditioned, and this is when you will see the most wear and tear on their feet. Because of this, my young mules that are just beginning saddle training wear regular shoes on the fronts only until their bodies are balanced and their activities clearly defined. Our broodstock, youngsters (under three years of age) and equines that are not used under
demanding conditions can go barefooted year-round, but they all still get regular trims every six to eight weeks.

All my other stock is shod for the specific purpose for which they are used: The Reining mules wear slider plates during the competition season, and the jumpers are fitted with either regular shoes, a tap and die shoe with studs or a borium shoe for non-skid, depending upon the terrain they will be negotiating.  If I were to ask one of my mules to race, I would fit him with the lighter-weight racing plates. Each equine athlete is given a set of shoes particularly designed for the best performance in his event, just as is the case with the human athlete. In the winter, if my mules have the need to wear shoes, I add rim pads to their shoes to help prevent “snowballing.”

Granted, there are a lot of mules that may not need to be shod, but there are also many that do need shoes, so each individual mule’s feet must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Because of this fact, the generalizations that “mules don’t need to be shod” and “all equines should go barefoot” are not always correct. You must take into consideration how your particular mule’s genetics affect his hooves, what he will be used for and how harsh the demands put on him will be on his feet. These important factors will determine whether or not he needs shoes, and if he does need shoes, what kind of shoes will best suit him. And don’t forget to check your mule’s shoes on a regular basis to make sure that all is well and that his shoes are staying on tight, but most of all, that he is comfortable and happy.

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, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


MULE CROSSING: Winter Fun with Your Equine


By Meredith Hodges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 1990, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


MULE CROSSING: Basic Training for Foals Includes Common Sense


By Meredith Hodges

“Imprinting” is a natural process by which an animal (most typically, when young) comes to recognize another animal or a person as a parent or other object of habitual trust. Imprinting is also the way any equine is touched when he is a foal and handled throughout his entire life. It is never too late to use imprinting with your equine, and the way you do it will determine whether or not he develops a lifelong confidence and trust in you. NOTE: Imprinting should not be utilized only when your equine is a newborn, and then never utilized again. Imprinting should continue throughout his entire life.

Equine foals must be allowed to play—running, kicking and rolling. This is how they exercise so they can grow up to be healthy adults. Like any baby or toddler, a foal cannot be expected to have perfect manners, so keep lessons short (10-20 minutes every other day at the most) and use good judgment when you are with him to avoid being kicked or bitten. If he does kick or bite while you are doing things with him, use the flat of your hand and give him a quick thump on the rump for kicking or on the side of his mouth for biting, accompanied by a loud “No!”  He will probably run off, but should be able to be coaxed back verbally and fairly easily with soothing language and an offer of crimped oats. When he finally does come back to you, reward him with a nice pat on the neck, and then leave him to play. By doing this, you are letting him know that it is okay to play, but not to kick or bite. He has learned that bad behavior will elicit an unpleasant touch while his good behavior will illicit kind touch and soothing words. You can resume more serious corrective lessons later.

The most important thing to learn when training your equine is to dispense the crimped oats reward promptly and generously in the beginning of training, and only when your equine is complying (do not use anything but crimped oats for rewards). This will solidify the connection between the two of you and begin to establish a strong and mutually satisfying relationship. If, when haltered, your equine tries to pull away from you, just let go of the rope, reach in your fanny pack and offer the crimped oats to coax him to return to you. Remember not to try to progress through lessons too quickly, as this is usually what causes disobedience. Never chase your equine! Whenever at all possible, allow him to come to you of his own free will.

Before you begin your equine’s leading lessons—and during “tying” lessons—your equine should be rewarded frequently and whenever he is not pulling against the rope. This will help him to understand that he will be rewarded when the rope is loose so he is more likely to follow you when you do untie him and try to lead him. This concept is the same for each new task in each new lesson. Each time he easily complies, he should be rewarded. At this point you can move on to new lessons, but, in order to set him up for success, be sure to break down each process into small steps. Remember to always be generous with the rewards. An equine that learns to take the oats reward politely from your hand is less likely to bite you than one who has not had enough practice getting rewarded with the oats from your hand. When the correction for biting is done properly, your equine will learn not to be aggressive toward the reward and will learn to take them more delicately and gently from your hand.

If, as an adult, your equine gets too close or pushy, slap him on the side of the mouth with an open hand and a very loud “No!” Then put your hand up like a stop sign in front of his face. He should then step back or fling his head back, at which point you immediately step toward him and say, “Good Boy (or Girl),” and give him a reward for giving you your space. The next time he gets too close or pushy, simply put your hand up like a stop sign with a loud and abrupt “No!” This should be sufficient. Your equine should then be willing to back up and wait for the reward. You still need to be very consistent about when the rewards are given and when the correction is truly needed. “No” is the only negative verbal command you should ever give and should be the only word that ever denotes your displeasure so there is never any confusion (do not use any other negative verbal words or noises).

NOTE: Never leave a halter on an unsupervised equine. This is very dangerous! The halter can easily become snagged on something and can result in severe injury, a broken neck, or even death.

When thinking about the way horses, and particularly mules and donkeys learn, consider the way human children learn: They cannot accomplish many different tasks all at the same time. When tasks are not taught one by one and in a natural and logical order, confusion and failure are almost certainly guaranteed. If you want to have good results, you need to be working in a natural and logical order, with small enough steps that make sense to your equine. When training your mule or donkey, use a fanny pack filled with crimped oats, but do not offer a bucket of oats.

You should not even try to put on a halter and lead until your equine lets you touch him all over. Then you can approach with the halter. For instance, before you even halter your equine, ask him to come to you and then reward him with crimped oats when he does come. When he is consistently coming to you, the next step is to carry the halter with you without put it on him. Reward his approach toward you and his acceptance of the halter being present. Let him sniff and investigate the halter as much as he wants. Once he shows no sign of being at all bothered by the presence of the halter, you can then put the halter on him. When doing so, remember to always be polite and gentle. Reward your equine for the acceptance of the halter, and then try to loop your arm over his neck while feeding the crown strap of the halter from your left hand (from under his neck) to your right hand that is looped over his neck. This way, even if he starts to slowly move away, you can pull him back towards you with the loop around his neck and finish the process by putting his nose through the noseband of the halter. However, if he quickly jerks away, just let go of the rope. Then show him the oats and encourage him to return and try again, but do not give him any oats until he comes all the way back to your hand. Anytime he moves away, just ask him to return, but never chase him. Always make sure he comes all the way to you for his reward.

If you find that you are having difficulty during leading training, your own body may be out of good posture, causing you to take too many steps before stopping to square up. First, make sure you are in good posture. Then give the verbal command to “walk on.” Walk a straight line, pointing to where you are going with your right hand and keeping the left hand securely on your left hip. Make sure your steps mirror his front legs. Then stop, face your equine, reward him for stopping, make him stand squarely, make sure you are still in good posture and reward him for squaring up. Now just stand still for a few minutes, giving your equine time to settle and process what has just happened. Then reward him for standing quietly for a few minutes.

Next, turn and face the next direction in which you will be going, point with your right hand, give the command to “walk on,” and repeat the exercise. If done correctly, there will be many chances to hesitate a bit or stop between actions. All of these hesitations and stops will force your equine to pay attention and be ready for your next move. If you are performing each task in these smaller increments, he will be less likely to forge ahead. It will also give you the opportunity to do things slowly enough to get it exactly “right” and through repetition, your equine will be able to transform learned behaviors into automatic behaviors. If you try to hold a move too long or, on the other hand, do things too fast, your animal may not have time to properly comply, causing him to get confused, lose interest and engage in avoidance behavior.

You should not need to tug, pull or push. Just stand still in good posture when you stop and immediately stick your hand into the fanny pack and offer the reward. If you are doing all of this correctly, your equine might turn his head into your hand and swing his hindquarters around so that he faces you instead of stopping in his tracks. Not staying straight in his tracks is a temporary problem that you can fix by simply squaring him up after he has stopped and been rewarded. If he is forging ahead, one or more things are going on; either you are not doing things in small enough steps, not rewarding promptly enough to make him turn into you, or you are not using the fanny pack. These problems can be fixed by being more attentive to your own good posture and your movements, and to the times when he does cooperate. Keep lessons in small enough steps so he can be rewarded. This is called “setting up for success.”

You need to lead your equine with your left hand and shorten the lead rope, so he carries his head next to your right shoulder and cannot slip his head behind your back. He may try to walk ahead of you, at which point you can use your right hand to push his nose back into position. This will be very awkward at first and it will take time for you both to learn to do it properly. If he knows you are carrying a fanny pack of oats, he will be more apt to go in front of you than to follow you from behind or pass you, because he will be looking for the fanny pack. Again, use your free right hand to push him back into the correct position.

Without the reward, there is no incentive for him to do a task correctly, so always remember to dispense the reward promptly and appropriately, accompanied by a verbal “Good Boy!” whenever he correctly does what you ask. Do not spend more than 15 to 20 minutes every other day on lessons, as your animal can get bored and frustrated if you drill. At first, just practice “walk” and “halt.” When he has learned to stay at your shoulder, you can progress to the next step of halting and setting him up to stand squarely. Once he does this correctly, you can move on to trotting and turns. Remember—breaking the lessons into small steps, maintaining good posture and quickly rewarding will help your equine to achieve small victories because you are setting him up for success!

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

© 2016, 2017, 2019, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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By Meredith Hodges

Racing, the Sport of Kings has intrigued people for hundreds of years. Perhaps it’s the beauty of running horses, or maybe the way your heart swells with excitement as they come down the home stretch, or it could just be the money. But whatever the reason, millions flock to the racetracks each year to enjoy this magnificent sport. Over the years, racing has expanded to include not only the Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, but Appaloosas, Arabians, and Quarter Horses as well. During the past three decades, mules have emerged onto the racetrack to take their place in making racing history.

Although mule racing has just begun to take hold as a national sport, it had its beginnings in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in 1851, when Captain Boling’s cavalry troop was forced to halt for two months in the Yosemite Valley. Horse racing was one of the major sports used to keep up the spirits of the men during this unexpected respite. Army mules were included in these races to add to the entertainment. Much to the chagrin of some of the horse owners, the mules could actually beat some of the cavalry’s favorite mounts. Captain Boling purchased one Maltese, Kentucky-blooded mule (known as The Vining Mule). He was particularly impressed and bought him for one thousand dollars in gold from Lee Vining. He then went on to make many more thousands in match races with this mule against horses. To quote from the official racing program: “The Indian war of 1851 was the catalyst that started the first running of mules in California.”

The first actual pari-mutuel mule meet was held in Bishop, California in July of 1978. Exacting conditions demanded discreet organization and one of the first necessities was a condition rulebook, which was put together by Paul Voorhees of Bishop, California. On completion of the condition (rule) book, the A.M.A. (American Mule Association) was designated as the official registry for all mules entered in pari-mutuel races. These pari-mutuel mules had to carry an official A.M.A. tattoo. There has been a lot of cooperation among the A.M.A., Racing Board, and mule owners over the years for the promotion of mule racing, and thus, the widespread expansion of this relatively new sport.

Match races and Western-style races included at county fairs exhibit the true versatility of the mule. With increased interest, mule racing now assumes the professionalism of horse racing with the introduction of jockeys, trainers, and starting gates. In the early eighties, purses for mule races ranged from $300 to $700 per race in such states as Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming with pari-mutuel racing in California and Idaho. The Stakes races averaged more per race and match races were run for as much as $5000 per race. Mules ran at such exclusive tracks as Sunland Park in El Paso, Texas and Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, with an attendance of 300 or more mules shown over these three-day race weekends. In 1985, there was a match race in El Paso, Texas between the defending World Champion Cajun Queen, owned by J.B. Rogers, and an upcoming young mule, Loretta Lynn, owned by Butch Larson. Cajun Queen maintained her status winning the match race and a purse of $2000.

Mules generally run races of 300 to 350 yards, although there are 220-yard, 440-yard, 660-yard and half-mile races. Like the Quarter Horses, mules tend to run better for the shorter distances. They can clip off 300 yards in 17 seconds or less. At Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico in 1984, 300 mules showed to race in a three-day meet for a total purse of $55,000. The 1985 meet was held at Sunland Park in El Paso, Texas, with the addition of a three-year-old futurity and a mule sale.

These long-eared sprinters are a breed apart from their ancestors, who were primarily beasts of burden and limited to farm and mine work. Today’s race mules are out of some the finest race-bred Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred mares, and are sired by the finest quality jacks. Because of their careful and curious nature, mules are bit more difficult to train to run straight. The mule races today prove it can be done, and done very well at that! Concerned mule owners opted for a three-year-old futurity to discourage the running of two-years-old. Mules are allowed to run as two-year-olds only after September of their second year and only if their knees have been x-rayed and approved by a veterinarian. The weight carried by a race mule must be a minimum of 140 pounds. The stoutness and sensibility of the mule has made him sounder and more economical to use for racing, with fewer leg problems than experienced with racehorses. The long-lasting durability of the mule has given cause to limit the age of participating race mules to 15 years old.

Despite sterility, race mules sold for $3000 to $10,000. The reason for this is the longevity of their racing life of 12 years and the fact that they are capable of running 2 races a day. With the price of racehorses skyrocketing, racing enthusiasts are showing more and more interest in racing mules and they are now commanding much higher prices. Executives and professionals can see the economic benefits of mule racing and appreciate the more intimate personalities of their investments. There is much to be said for racing mules. It is economically feasible, exciting and sometimes even comical, and the spectators adore them! So satisfy your own curiosity. Come to the mule races near you and see them run!

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.

© 1986, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Jack Copp and Joker


By Meredith Hodges

Jack Copp was a very special man with a very special mule. Jack was born in Fairfax, Oklahoma, about 45 miles south of the Kansas border. His father worked with mules in the oil fields acquired
from the Osage Indians by the U.S. Government years before. Although his father was familiar with mules, Jack was enamored with horses and particularly with team roping. Jack, a congenial and responsible man, worked at his job for 27 years and roped steers in his spare time.

Then came the accident that changed his life. Jack was run over by a forklift that left him partially crippled for the rest of his life. He could no longer do the things he loved the most. In the midst of his depression, he met an old man who suggested that he get a couple of mules to mess with. “They’ll git you on your feet,” he said. Jack took the man’s advice and bought Joker, a sorrel yearling mule colt, and his sister, Sissy, a weanling molly mule in November of 1978. By May of 1979, Jack had taught Joker enough tricks to entertain the audience at Bishop Mule Days in California.

This was where I first saw them. In six short months Jack had Joker (only two years old) stretching, sitting, laying down, carrying his feed bucket, rolling a barrel with his front legs, and walking on his hind legs. What he had done with that handsome young mule was remarkable, but what Joker had done for Jack was even more amazing. Jack’s life was given new meaning and his faith restored by this long-eared, little red mule. Sissy, Joker’s sister, was sold and put into training with famed mule trainer Pat Parelli of California, while Jack and Joker became the very best of friends.

Joker was sired by a Spanish jack, called Red Fox, that was killed by a hunter, and out of a Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse mare. He captured the hearts of all who were fortunate enough to witness his performances. The bond between Jack and Joker was evident as spectators delighted in watching a repertoire of 30 tricks or more. As Jack is a bashful man, Joker often had to push him into the arena to get things started. They began with a good stretch to loosen up the muscles and then Joker was ready to show his stuff. In top condition, Joker showed he could walk on three legs, then on two legs. This was pretty tough for a mule, but he did it out of love for Jack. Joker had no qualms about carrying his feed bucket to remind Jack of dinnertime. But Jack was a demanding trainer and concerned parent and made Joker earn his dinner by rolling a barrel with his front feet. When rolling the barrel forward became boring, Jack taught him to roll it backwards with his hind legs. As if this weren’t tough enough, Joker later learned to roll the barrel both backwards and forwards while straddling it! All this work is sometimes tiring, so Jack thought a short nap would be in order. Joker obliged his command by lying down–his rump made a handy seat for Jack to also take a rest.

At coffee break time, Joker took his shorter rests in a sitting position. Considerate of Jack, as a best friend should be, Joker stretched, lowering his back so that Jack could reach the stirrup easily to mount. Joker knew that tires are for traveling, but his only use for one was to plant his front feet on it, traveling around it with his back feet; or to plant his back feet on it and travel around it with his front feet. At the “End of the Trail,’ Joker placed all four feet on the tire, exhibiting his excellent balance. Jack and Joker were patriotic Americans. Joker would fly the flag while walking on his hind legs. Then Jack would take the flag while Joker bowed to the audience in appreciation for the applause!

Not limited only to tricks, Jack removed the bridle and showed people how well trained Joker really was. Without the bridle, Joker performed pleasure, reining patterns, and trail obstacles with ease. No whips, no spurs, no bats–it’s all done with patience and love that you can feel as you watch them. They were quite remarkable! Jack believed that training a mule is like raising a child. If you slap them, bang on them, or worse, they will have no respect.

Mules will either be afraid of you or fight back. Of course, discipline is in order on occasion, but you don’t have to keep doing it. Once Jack began training Joker, Joker was not allowed to run with other animals. Jack was his only close companion. Others never distracted Joker from his best friend, Jack! Jack and Joker have performed at county fairs and shows throughout the U.S. and they were both loved and appreciated wherever they went. The fees for these shows were minimal–just enough to cover their traveling expenses. What a privilege it was to witness this incredible pair!

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.

© 1986, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


MULE CROSSING: The Responsible Use of Restraints in Training


By Meredith Hodges

There is  a lot of discussion about training mules versus training horses. There are some who say that mules are harder to train than horses and others who say just the opposite. It has been my experience that it isn’t really that one animal is more “difficult” than the other. They each have their own redeeming qualities and individual limiting factors. The people who are dealing with them also have their own redeeming and limiting factors. For instance, if you are leading a horse and he does not wish to follow you, because he hasn’t the strength in his head and neck as a donkey or mule and can be more easily bullied into complying with a quick jerk on the lead rope.

On the other hand, if you are leading a mule or donkey, they can easily jerk the rope right out of your hands because of the incredible strength they have in their head and neck. When you teach a mule or donkey something one day, he will ponder what he has been taught during the days in between lessons.  He will comply more easily during the next lesson.  Regardless of how many days or weeks have passed between lessons, the horse will tend to forget and will need to be reminded where the mule or donkey will not.

It makes sense that the handler needs to adjust his training program such that the horse has more frequent and consistent lessons to refresh his memory. The mule will only need lessons as frequently as it takes to maintain good physical condition. When applying lessons more frequently, the handler has the ability to make subtle adjustments to get the best from the horse. If he wants the mule or donkey to react properly, it is critical that he teaches the mule or donkey correctly the first time as they will learn EXACTLY what the handler teaches and will continue to repeat it. The option of changing your approach during the training sequence is limited. What this all amounts to is that one is really not more easily trained than the other. Rather, it is the experience and knowledge of the handler or trainer that really makes the difference.

Mules and donkeys, sensitive and intelligent creatures that they are, seem to be more concerned about the overall attitude of the trainer than are horses. With the intelligent use of negative reinforcement, a positive attitude and informed use of restraints, modifying the behavior of any equine becomes a lot easier.

When mules do not comply with our wishes, you need to get first his attention and do something to temper his defensive attitude. When we are intelligent about a situation, it minimizes the animal’s negative reactive responses. Our politeness and consideration promote an overall positive attitude on both parts, and opens the lines of communication. Since these animals outweigh us by several hundred pounds, careful and informed use of restraints must sometimes be used to perpetuate the close relationship between you and your mule or donkey (and sometimes horses) in the training environment. Restraints should be used to help “explain” what you wish your mule to do, but should not be used as a perpetual training “crutch.” Intelligence, attitude and restraints should always be used in conjunction with a “path of least resistance” to promote successful training sessions.

If we realize that correct development of mind and muscle takes time, we can relax, let the animal learn at his own pace, utilize these helpful restraints to minimize resistance in difficult situations and actually enjoy the training process with our animals. For example, in the case of Draw Reins, they should only be used lightly in conjunction with your regular reins and only when necessary. In the beginning, this might mean at every stride. It is rather obvious how the Draw Reins can be phased out over time, but what about a restraint such as the Scotch Hobble, which is a seemingly inflexible restraint?

The first time you use the Scotch Hobble, you will probably have to secure the hind foot so that it cannot touch the ground. As your mule becomes quieter and more accepting of what you are doing, you can loosen the Scotch Hobble a little at each session. If your mule’s behavior is good, adjust the Scotch Hobble so that his toe rests on the ground. Next session, you might let him stand on all fours with the rope tied loosely into position, until he has complied to the point where the rope is actually around only the hind foot and is lying loosely on the ground. Naturally, if he becomes fidgety, just back up one step and tighten your connections on the rope.

There are many restraints available for use in the equine industry today: martingales, tie-downs, side reins, draw reins, hobbles and the list goes on. In my estimation, these restraints are being used much too freely as “crutches” and are responsible for terrible body posture and limited responsiveness among today’s equines. A restraint should be used only as a helpful tool to allow you to attain a certain positive response from the animal. Once you get the proper response, it is your responsibility to phase out the restraint in order to instill in your animal the correct behavior itself.

Early in a mule’s life, he should be taught to be calm in restraints, which makes daily tasks much easier. Your veterinarian and farrier will thank you and it may save your mule’s life if he should get caught in a fence, fall into a hole or encounter any other such potential for disaster. The goal is to teach him to think before he struggles or bolts and tries to run. Many Longears do this naturally, but it is always better to reinforce this pause for thought with lessons.


The following technique is useful when working around very young mules, although it works on adults as well. You must remember to step back if your mule begins to struggle—give him space to learn the situation.

To use the Face Tie:

  1. Wrap your lead around the hitch rail once until your mule’s face is over the rail and held tight against it.
  2. Slip the rope through the noseband of the halter and around the hitch rail again and secure it. For a more secure tie (or to keep your mule sideways to the rail for vaccinations), you can run the rope through the throatlatch and around the hitch rail again.

Use the Face Tie to aid in clipping your mule’s bridle path and other light weekly trimming to prepare him for show clipping later on. It can also be used to teach a difficult mule or donkey to be bridled.

If your mule is difficult to lead, you can use a Quick Twist in your lead rope to give you more leverage. Twist a loop in the lead rope and bring it behind the noseband of the halter. Slip the loop around your mule’s nose and pull it snug. Pull on the lead until it is tight around his nose, and then just stand still, holding the tension in the lead rope until your mule steps forward. Do not keep pulling or jerking on the rope or he will become resistant and go backwards instead. By using the Quick Twist, when you ask him to come forward, you are not just pulling the halter—you have more leverage. Repeat as necessary.

NOTE: Do not tie your animal up while using a Quick Twist. Remove the quick twist and use the face tie if needed when tying.

To further perfect your equine’s Showmanship technique, you can also use a Lead Shank with a chain under the jaw, but always tie him with the lead rope only—never with the Lead Shank.

A soft, three-foot (one-meter) rope can be used to make a set of front leg hobbles. Leather hobbles are generally considered an “appointment” (equipment accessory), and are sometimes attached to the saddle when showing in Western classes. They are dangerous and not very effective because they can easily break. So if you have a need for hobbles, be sure to purchase those that are meant to be used on the equine’s legs and not those made of thin leather that are meant only as an equipment accessory for your saddle. Be careful with nylon hobbles as they can chafe the equine’s pasterns if they are not lined with a softer material.

Probably the most helpful restraint there is when it comes to mules and donkeys is the scotch hobble. This restraint helps to facilitate good ground manners and prevent kicking by restraining one hind foot, causing the mule to stand still while you work on him, whether it’s clipping or shoeing him, or saddling him for the first time. But, as with any restraint, you should keep in mind that it must be phased out sooner or later. The first time a restraint is used, it will usually have to be used in its full capacity to get the desired response.

To make the 15-foot (5-meter) scotch hobble:

  1. Tie a nonslip knot around your mule’s neck.
  2. Take the excess rope down to the hind foot and around the pastern, then back up through the neck loop and back around the pastern a second time.
  3. Pull the rope just tight enough so that your mule must stand on his other three feet for balance.
  4. Wrap the excess around the ropes going to the foot and back up to the loop around the neck.
  5. Tie with a quick-release knot. By wrapping the ropes going to the foot, you prevent the foot from slipping loose.

The first time you use the scotch hobble, you will probably have to secure the hind leg so it cannot touch the ground. As your mule becomes quiet and accepting, you should loosen the hobble a little each time until you are not really using it at all. This is called “phasing (or fading) out the restraint.”

When he has learned to stand calmly in a scotch hobble, you can use a twisted lead rope (with no snap) in a figure eight to hobble his front legs with a safety knot. The same lead rope can be used to tie up one front leg by wrapping the rope around the bent leg, forcing the mule to keep all his weight on the other three legs. This type of hobbling is particularly useful when clipping the hair on the front legs of a mule. As you work on the leg that is not hobbled, your mule will quickly learn that with the other leg ties up, it is to his advantage not to try not to move the leg you are clipping.

On a difficult mule, you may have to use the twisted lead rope in conjunction with the scotch hobble. Adjust the scotch hobble so only your mule’s toe touches the ground for balance, but not enough to bear weight. Once he is accustomed to this restraint, you can safely put him in sheepskin-lined chain hobbles.

Do not use nylon hobbles—they can cause severe rope burns if they are not lined with a soft material! Leather hobbles are fine as long as they are intended for restraint use and not just as a saddle accessory. Now you can think about taking your mule into the high country, hobbling him and turning him loose to graze while you set up camp. You should be able to find and catch him the next morning, because mules generally do not wander far from their “families.” But keep in mind that mules are very smart and can quickly learn to hop along while hobbled. Also, if you have a horse with you that likes to wander, be sure to tie him up because mules will follow horses.

Choosing the right restraint for a given situation takes thought and consideration. You must ask yourself, which restraints are available to me? Which restraint will most likely bring about the response I desire from my mule? Will the response with this restraint come with little or no resistance and is it humane? Will it cause other more serious problems in the animal? And finally, can the restraint be phased out relatively easily?

Keeping these things in mind when using restraints will help to keep the relationship with your mule from becoming a battleground. Bear in mind that whichever restraint you use might vary from situation to situation and from animal to animal, so carefully consider your options. Remember, using intelligence, a good attitude and an informed use of restraints can greatly enhance your training experience 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.

© 1989, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All rights reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: The Road to Success with your Mule!


By Meredith Hodges

When equines are trained in a logical, consistent and respectful way beginning with detailed lead line training, even “cycling females” is not a problem. Appropriate lessons need to have a logical beginning and be taught in a sequential fashion. The logical beginning in any athletic conditioning program should be to strengthen the core muscles that support bony columns. The length of the lesson and order in which lessons are presented facilitate strength and balance at the core. Adequate length of each stage of training and the way the lessons are delivered instill a sense of security, confidence and trust in the handler that cements the relationship and become part of the equine’s automatic behavior.

Think of it in terms of teaching children. Children have difficulty learning and paying attention when they have not been eating in a healthy way or exercising properly, when the teacher is unclear in their delivery and the material does not flow together easily, when the teacher moves along too quickly, when there is too much repetition and when they have to stay in one position too long. When the teacher is more aware of the elements of learning, delivers the information in a logical and sequential manner with attention to mental and physical health, and provides solutions, the students will thrive!

We are often in too big of a hurry to ride and do not spend enough time at the lower-level stages of training. We don’t understand the implications of moving along too fast because these animals are so much larger than we are that we can’t imagine that they would have strength, balance and coordination issues that would be counter-productive to our expectations.

How could we even know? There are multiple trainers out there who believe that an equine can be ready to ride in 60-90 days. This is highly publicized and does not afford the average person to think any further than just being able to ride. However, if you ask yourself if you could be ready for a 25-mile marathon in 60-90 days, then the picture starts to become clear…there is much more to think about and it takes much longer to be ready for such activities. You cannot strengthen muscles, balance the body and instill body awareness adequately in this short period of time, and core muscle strength might not be addressed at all!

Leading training is not just teaching to follow and many people spend too little time on leading training. In leading training, the equine gets the benefit of isometric-type exercises that strengthen the muscles closest to the bone while you work on forward and backward straight lines, smooth arcs through the turns and square halts, all facilitating good balance and proprioception (body awareness). This promotes good core muscle strength that will enable your equine to move to the round pen stage of training and do remarkably well because he won’t be fighting his own awkwardness and lack of balance while trying to balance on the circle at all three gaits.

This kind of training requires that you really pay attention to your own good posture and execution of the tasks in leading training. You must be consciously aware of your own posture. Stand straight and tall, holding the lead in your left hand while using the right to keep the animal at your shoulder, not too far forward, not crowding you and not too far back. Wear your fanny pack full of crimped oats (the reward) to keep your equine interested in staying at your shoulder and not lagging behind.

When you walk, make sure your legs are following the movement of their front legs, stepping forward with your corresponding feet and not stepping any further forward than they do. When you stop, stop with your own feet  together (in a balanced fashion), turn and face the equine’s shoulder and square up his feet every single time you stop. This causes the equine to be conscious about balancing weight over all four feet evenly that will result in the balance becoming steadier as the task demands and speed increases.

You can tell your equine is ready to move from the flatwork leading training to the obstacle leading training when you can throw the lead over his neck and you receive his compliance though all he has learned without you touching him. Next, we add the element of coordination during lead line training over obstacles. The first task of lead line obstacle training would be to introduce the obstacles and ask for reasonable negotiation of the obstacle to instill confidence in the equine and trust in you. The second stage would be to break the obstacles down into smaller steps to manipulate coordination and balance and to instill adequate self carriage through the obstacles.

Taking time to do these exercises correctly at the walk and trot on the lead line will help immensely before the equine goes to round pen training where the exercises become more active and demanding. The core base from which the animal must work will be much stronger and he will be better able to stay erect and bend through his rib cage on the circle in the round pen instead of leaning like a motorcycle.

When we finally do graduate to the round pen, it will become important to maintain good equine posture and balance. When equines are allowed to run freely in the round pen, they naturally get excited and want to hollow their neck and back. This is why we employ the self-correcting device I call the “Elbow Pull.” There are separate ways to adjust this, one is for horses and one is for mules and donkeys. More details about this and leading training can be found in my manual and DVD combo, “Equus Revisited.

By the time you finally do ride, your equine will not only be strong, balanced and coordinated enough to do more complicated activities, but if you are unbalanced at all, he will be better able to cope with that as well. This is particularly important with cycling females as they already have a marginal, but normal amount of aches and pains while they cycle. If they are to maintain a good attitude and good balance with a rider, they need good core muscle strength, so they can overcome the normal menstrual aches and pains and deal with the rider in a reasonable way. They will also be more mentally and emotionally tuned into you and less likely to become disengaged. It is my observation that most disobedience is due to a lack of balance whether it is mental, emotional or physical.

With good core muscle strength, even cycling females will be better able to perform to their full potential at the time when you lower your expectations. The level of their mediocre performance will still be higher than most of their competitors. Equine mares are difficult enough, but jennets and mollies that are not trained in this logical way will be distracted, tune you out when they are cycling and revert to their instinctual behaviors like squatting, peeing, clacking their teeth and they will remain “on alert!” This can cause a lot of problems for the handler.

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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MULE CROSSING: Benefits of Postural Core Strength Training


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: Train for the Pleasure of It


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


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


 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: Training for Health, Happiness and Safety


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


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.


MULE CROSSING: Mule Fever, Part 1


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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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.


MULE CROSSING: In Celebration of Mule History


By Meredith Hodges

George Washington imported the first jacks into the United States on October 26, 1785. The two jacks were a special gift to him from the King of Spain, although one died during the crossing. Royal Gift made it to become the sire of Washington’s mules at Mount Vernon. Two hundred years later, October 26th became Mule Appreciation Day as a result of mule’s increased popularity in modern times. George Washington was one of the very few in his time who recognized the value of breeding good mares to jacks for the best mules, at a time when most people were breeding mares that were unfit for horse production. The mule, being the hybrid cross between a male donkey called a jack, and a female horse called a mare, generally inherits the best characteristics from both parents. He is a stronger and more durable animal than the horse, requires less feed for good health, is more surefooted and is more resistant to parasites and disease than is the horse. He is smarter and less likely to injure himself than the horse, and if bred and trained properly, he possesses a disposition that is affectionate, humorous and more willing than that of the horse. In 1992, the American Donkey & Mule Society celebrated its 25th Anniversary in support of mules and donkeys.  In 1967, inspired by “Platero,” a gentle donkey and friend owned by the Hutchins family, the A.D.M.S. was founded by Paul and Betsy Hutchins and has grown into an appreciative organization of over 4000 members. They have encouraged people internationally to start their own clubs and organizations in support of Longears. As a result, the mule has enjoyed more different working and recreational uses now than ever before!

Although his primary use has been and still is as a pack animal, the mule has become a viable saddle animal, competing in all of the same types of events as horses. He has his own shows, as well as competing against horses in other types of shows. He is a curious animal and commands attention and interest wherever he goes. Mules and donkeys have been exhibited in the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Equestrian games years ago. There was an A.D.M.S. entry in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day 1992 and they have been exhibited at many horse shows and events across the United States. Special interest groups have been formed to help to preserve the integrity of these wonderful animals in an effort to educate people as to their use in the world today.

The Donkey Sanctuary in Great Britain rescues abused donkeys and allows them to live out the rest of their lives in peace, comfort and good health. Some of the donkeys are used at yet another place called the Slade Centre in Great Britain in a handicapped drive and ride program, while the Donkey Protection Trust provides experts in the field to poorer countries for healthier and more economically productive use of their donkeys where lives are actually dependent upon them. Interest in these remarkable animals has spanned many miles around the world and has brought people and cultures together for a common cause.

Special people dedicated to the positive promotion of Longears have educated others about these valuable assets to our society, and have helped to dispel old rumors and unkind attitudes about them. The result of their work is apparent in the lives of many people who have had the opportunity to be exposed to mules and donkeys. Mules and donkeys have bridged gaps among people, cultures and religions. Their contributions can be found in many aspects of our lives.

In 1992, the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, in keeping with the spirit of Longears, developed an apprenticeship program for students wishing to learn about the many aspects of the Longears industry. It originated as an effort to have a cultural exchange of ideas and attitudes worldwide. It was basically a program to teach the student how to train and manage mules and donkeys, but it also covered the economic, commercial and social aspects as well. We were proud to accept our first student, Ruth Elkins from Great Britain, in October of 1992. It was her wish to not only learn as much as she could about Longears, but to introduce an American Dressage Mule to her country when she returned. She had hopes of inspiring a new and interesting challenge to others in her own country. How appropriate that our first student should arrive during the very month that we have designated to appreciate mules! This now online program has since been revised and is called the TMD Equine University – open to students from the U.S. and around the world who can understand English. For those who cannot, we have our website at www.luckythreeranch.com translated into French and Spanish, and three manuals that correspond with our Training Mules and Donkeys DVD series are also translated into French, Spanish and German.

Historically, mules have been primarily responsible for helping to build this country into what it is today. They aided the cavalries in the acquisitions of land. They pulled covered wagons of settlers thousands of miles across the new frontier. They worked in the coal mines, along canals and in the Southern cotton fields, as well as other crops. Mules helped build some of our major recreational facilities, such as the Rose Bowl, and have helped provide safe access to treacherous mountain recreational areas, such as the Grand Canyon, where the use of horses is questionable… and the list goes on!

Today, the mule still makes his tangible contribution to our social growth and development. He is an animal which has evolved with the times and there seems to be no end to his capabilities and contributions. New uses are continually being discovered for this highly versatile and adaptable animal, limited only by our own imaginations. It’s only fitting that we take the time to appreciate Longears on October 26th, an animal who has contributed so much to all of our lives. Thank you, mules…and donkeys, too! Life might not be as sweet, were it not for 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.

© 1992, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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By Meredith Hodges

Donkeys are indigenous to desert areas that are often extremely hot or extremely cold. They are tough, surefooted due to the unique shape of their hooves, resistant to parasites, and disease and can withstand wide variations in climate. They require very little to survive and actually prefer the wide variety of brush and weeds that occur naturally in the desert with one of their favorite foods being dandelions.

Donkeys possess an incredible hair coat that does not shed off completely like horses do in the summer months. In their first year, a young donkey will keep his thick hair coat throughout the summer and won’t lose most of the hair until August.

In August, he will not have the thick hair coat, but will retain some longer, wispy hair unlike the horse. This thick hair is meant to insulate the foal against extreme heat and cold until he is able to develop enough body fat to help regulate the temperature throughout his body. It will stay thick inside the ears and will protect the donkey foal from parasites, bugs and severe trauma.

In one short month, the young donkeys will begin to grow back their thicker, winter under-coat in September in preparation for the cold.

As the donkey ages into the prime of his life, he has a covering of body fat to help keep his temperature insulated and the thicker hair is no longer as long and shaggy. Of course, there are some breeds of donkeys that will grow more thick hair than others, but the shaggy hair as an adult is generally reserved for the French Poitou Donkeys.

As the donkey gets to be over 25 years of age, he will begin to grow thicker hair year round to compensate for his loss of body fat due to old age.



When we show our donkeys, we body clip them, but if this is done, it is imperative to blanket them if it gets too cold and provide a light sheet during the cool summer nights.

Understand that they now no longer have the PROTECTION of their unique hair coat. When traveling, donkeys will sit back in the trailer and can rub themselves raw during the ride, especially if they have been clipped. When unclipped, the hair coat will keep this kind of damage to a minimum.

If your donkey does get these kinds of sores, they can usually be healed fairly quickly with a daily application of Neosporin ointment (Photo below was taken one week later). Note that when you clip, there is also the consideration of sunburn.

If you clip your donkey for show and need to haul any distance at all, you should protect his precious rear end by using a blanket or sheet secured over the hind quarters. The best course of action is not to body clip your donkey at all if you do not show. Remember, he’s a desert animal and Mother Nature has already provided him the protection that he needs against the elements.


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.

© 2017, 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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MULE CROSSING: Little Jack Horner


By Meredith Hodges

Little Jack Horner
, 13 HH Sire-Supreme of the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, was the last jack born at the famed Windy Valley Ranch in Healdsburg, California owned by my mother, Joyce Doty. He was foaled June 11, 1980, by the renowned Windy Valley Adam (14.2 HH) and out of Windy Valley Maude (15 HH). His ancestry can be traced back to the original breeding stock of George Washington’s farm at Mount Vernon, Virginia. 

In 1984 and 1985, Little Jack Horner captured second place in the Bishop Mule Days World Show Halter class for Standard Jacks. His impeccable show record consists of first and second place standings at Halter in his home state of Colorado, and in 1986, he placed first at Halter in the American Donkey and Mule Society Registered Jacks class at the A.D.M.S. Nationals in Dallas, Texas. 

In 1984, he made his debut in performance at the Colorado Classic Horse Show, placing first in Donkey Driving and Donkey Pleasure. His willing disposition held him in good stead, placing him first in Donkey Pleasure and Donkey Driving at Bishop Mule Days in 1989. Little Jack Horner (by his own enthusiastic request via running the fence) was trained in Dressage and Jumping along with his numerous offspring mules. He reached Second Level Dressage over three years and jumped four feet in exhibition at Bishop Mule Days in 1991 where he received a Specialty Award for his efforts. At Bishop Mule Days in 1993, he placed first in Donkey Pleasure, Donkey Pole Bending and Donkey Keyhole.

Although Dressage proved difficult (as it would be for any donkey), it helped to set the stage for his incredible athletic ability to jump. He soared over fences to 4’6” without a rider and worked up to 4’ with the rider on board. In keeping with traditional Dressage, Little Jack Horner worked on a Pas de Deux in Jumping with another Colorado Standard Jack, Blue Zebulon owned by Fran & Larry Howe of the Bitterroot Mule Company. Those who know the difficulty of working jacks together at all will appreciate their unique dispositions and good manners! Little Jack Horner proved himself to be not only a well-conformed breeding jack, but also a true athlete! He was inducted into the Bishop Mule Days Hall of Fame in May of 2014. 

As a breeding jack, Little Jack Horner produced some of the finest saddle mules in the world. Consistently, his genetic makeup was responsible for extremely attractive heads, refined straight legs and good angles in the hip and shoulder of his offspring mules and donkeys. In addition, these mules and donkeys reflected a smooth flowing topline, with depth of girth and a good length of neck for overall balance and beauty. Little Jack Horner’s mule and donkey offspring generally grew to the mare’s (or jennet’s) height or 2 inches taller despite L.J.’s own smaller size.

Lucky Three Firestorm never lost a Halter class and was an all-around English Champion Arabian mule.

It didn’t seem to matter with what breed of mare or jennet he was bred. His superior qualities shone through in his offspring, giving the mules an appearance more like really nice looking horses (and donkeys!), only with longer ears! 

Not only did Little Jack Horner seem to improve on the characteristics of the mares with which he was bred, but also with the jennets as well. At Lucky Three Ranch, we endeavored to produce a Mammoth Donkey with these same refined characteristics as Mammoth’s typically have a lot of thick bone in the joints and in their faces which I wished to refine. Little Jack Horner sired two jennets, Lucky Three Pantera and Lucky Three Serendipity, who indeed retained his refinement within a much larger frame. Pantera, as a two-year-old gray jennet, stood at 14.3 hands and Serendipity as a yearling, stood 13 hands, the very same height as her sire. Pantera matured to 15.2 hands and Serendipity matured to 14 hands. When we bred the daughters back to Blue Zebulon from the Bitterroot Mule Company, the offspring jacks did indeed retain Little Jack Horner’s refinement with no unsightly boniness in the heads and joints. His offspring were most often taller than both the mare and sire. Little Jack Horner proved time and time again that the jack is indeed responsible for the shape and thickness of bone, and not necessarily for the overall height of the offspring. 

Be it donkey or mule, Little Jack Horner’s offspring always placed at the top of the Halter classes in the early shows and in the top five when they began competing in performance classes. 

In January of 1989 at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado, Little Jack Horner and nine of his offspring, both mules and donkeys, made a clean sweep at the show and won everything in every class in which they were entered. 

Appaloosa mule, Lucky Three Ciji never lost a Halter class, placed in the top five in the Western Performance divisions at multiple shows across the country and was a Side Saddle Champion, and Reserve Champion the following year, against horses in the International Side Saddle Organization. 

Appaloosa mule, Lucky Three Eclipse won the Bishop Mule Days Champion Warm-Up Hunter class in 2000. At the Lucky Three Ranch in 2017, we still have multiple Little Jack Horner offspring from various horse breeds (Appaloosa, American Quarter Horse, Arabian, Thoroughbred and Paint) including one Warm Blood mule bred from a Trakehner mare that I acquired for the expressed purpose of doing Dressage due their their extraordinary movement. Little Jack Horner’s offspring here at the ranch are all healthy and are still being used for ranch work, even though most of them are well over twenty-five years of age, and some are thirty years and over.

When I said good night to Little Jack Horner one chilly fall evening on October 5, 2014, I noticed that he was unusually calm and serene. He stood motionless with a colorful rainbow arched over his pen showering him in a surrealistic light as the sun began to set behind the Rocky Mountains that he loved. Little Jack Horner passed away quietly that night at the age of 34 years, but his legacy remains.

He set the bar exceptionally high for Longears everywhere and because he did, the interest in mules and donkeys has increased exponentially over the past 40 years. The old myths about donkeys and mules being stubborn and hard to work with are being laid to rest because of his efforts. What he taught me will go down in history to become my legacy as well. His story and that of his offspring needed to be told, so I documented everything I learned from them to pass on to future generations. I was very blessed to be the steward of such an extraordinary individual and to be able to go forward as the keeper of his children. He was a very special donkey for a very special time!

Little Jack Horner has left quite a legacy! It does my heart good to see how the quality of mule and donkeys has improved exponentially over the years with foundation sires such as Little Jack Horner and…

 Black Bart, bred by Sybil Sewell from the famed Windy Ridge Farm in Canada and owned by Don and Irma Mode of Oregon. Mules, once bred from culled mares, are now being bred from the best! Through more careful donkey selection, they have also improved substantially in conformation and have thereby produced incredible breeding jacks and jennets for the future!

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.

© 1988, 2016, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved

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MULE CROSSING: Suitability of Donkeys and Mules For Children


 By Meredith Hodges 

Many have inquired as to the suitability of mules and donkeys for children. As with any equine, choosing the right individual for your child is of primary importance. However, as a general rule, we find that donkeys make excellent mounts for beginning riders because of their patient, quiet nature and good common sense. They can be the best possible babysitter. There are things to consider when choosing a donkey for your child:

The first rule to observe is never get a donkey jack for your child! Though he may be sweet and docile by nature, he is still governed by strong natural instincts so his character is not consistent. He is a stud and must be treated as such. 

Donkey jennets are good prospects for children provided they are not in heat or in foal. When a jennet is in heat she may become cross and if she is in foal, or has one at her side, she is also governed by instinct for the protection and welfare of her offspring. 

The best possible mount for a child is a donkey gelding. He possesses all the positive traits of the donkey without being subject to primitive instincts. Since most donkeys are small in size and possess an affectionate attitude, they make excellent companions as well as mounts for children. 

Since a donkey can became quite stubborn when treated badly, it is important that you take the time to help your child and donkey get started properly. Even an untried donkey with proper help can be a wonderful mount for a child. In the first few weeks, the child and donkey should simply spend time getting to know one another. Teach your child the correct way to handle and groom the donkey. The personal bond between them will develop on its own. 

When your child and donkey have developed confidence in each other, you can begin to teach them the fundamentals of riding. Tack up the donkey in a small saddle and snaffle bridle and take him into a small pen on the lunge line. Allow your child to sit astride the donkey as he walks around you. Explain to your child the basics of turning and stopping with a direct rein, commonly called plow reining. Be sure to instruct the child not to pull hard or jerk the reins. Donkeys have very sensitive mouths and do not respond correctly when they are in pain. 

Teach your child to use verbal commands in conjunction with the reins and leg cues. When he wants to go forward for instance, tell your child to ask the donkey to walk. Tell the child to squeeze with his legs – don’t just kick. He should get the desired response. If the child wishes to turn, tell him to ask the donkey to “Haw” (left) or “Gee” (right). Instruct the child to pull gently on the direct rein and push the donkey into the turn with the opposite leg. When stopping, tell the child to first say “Whoa,” and then pull gently on the reins and sit deeper in the saddle to initiate the stop. When the donkey complies with the commands given, do not be afraid to reward him. He will be more than willing to perform the next time you ask him. 

Love and caresses are an excellent reward and a reward of crimped oats certainly does no harm. Donkeys are very appreciative animals. If the child and donkey are supervised correctly, it can greatly enhance the entire riding experience. The donkey will protect your child with his excellent judgment and the child will learn to be a patient and understanding person through interaction with his donkey. The reason is simple; donkeys will not respond unless treated fairly. Many an equestrian in Great Britain has spent his early years astride a donkey and have become better riders because of it! So if your child expresses an interest in riding, consider starting with a donkey gelding, or maybe even a jennet. Besides being patient with children, his size is more suitable, he has ample strength to carry them and is an easy keeper so feed and vet bills can usually be kept at a minimum. 

What of the suitability of a mule for child? As the mule is half donkey, he possesses many of the fine characteristics that make him suitable for children. But at this point I must caution you that he is also part horse and will generally get his disposition from the mare. So if you wish to get a mule for your child, be sure he is an individual with a quiet disposition. Then you can consider such things as size, color and other traits. The right mule can be just as good a babysitter as the right donkey, and usually more reliable than any horse! 

Children and donkeys or mules, have not been seen together much in this country in the more recent past. Perhaps it is because we have not given children a chance to show their Longears publicly. Realizing this need, as in horse shows, youth classes have been included in the Longears shows of today to encourage our youth to take an active interest in the promotion of Longears. The jobs these “kids” are doing with their mules and donkeys are marvelous and their contributions are extensive. The values learned by children when dealing with donkeys and mules will stand them in good stead throughout their lives, not to mention the joy they will discover in having such a companion. So during this season of giving, consider making Longears a part of your life and give a homeless donkey, burro or mule a chance. Your child will welcome this affectionate and sensible companion. If you adhere to the guidelines I have given to you, you should not be disappointed. 

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.

© 1985, 2016, 2018, 2021 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 


MULE CROSSING: Longears Loving Impact


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.

croplj11-16-11-005Man 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).

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.

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



MULE CROSSING: Assessing Your Equine


By Meredith Hodges

Just like humans, all equines have different personalities. They’re not cookie cutters and should not all be treated the same way, so observe your equine whenever possible and see what he naturally likes to do, and then adjust your training program accordingly. Although each animal must go through the same kind of basic training to make sure he is building good core muscle strength in balance and good posture, he will have his own way of learning, so your presentation of the tasks may differ from one animal to the next. When you have multiple animals, treat each one of them like he’s your favorite.

Before you invest a lot of time and effort deciding whether to continue training your equine or that he will be happier as part of the stud barn, take the time to evaluate his athletic potential. The principles discussed in this article—which are applicable to donkeys, mules or horses—were developed by my mentor, the renowned resistance-freehorse trainer, Richard Shrake.

First, let’s look at conformation. It goes without saying that your equine should appear wellbalanced and in good proportion, with flat knees and smooth joints. He should be free of unsoundness. There are published standards on most breeds, or you can pick up a good 4-H manual or a judging manual to give you an idea of what the ideal is for each breed with regard to conformation

Next, we’ll look at body measurements that are used to gauge your equine’s athletic ability. These measurements will help you assess the kinds of activities for which your animal is best suited, so you can plan whether or not to take his training beyond the basics.

Begin with a six-foot piece of baling twine or string. The first measurement is from the poll to the middle of the withers. Then measure from the middle of the withers to the loin at the base of the rump. If these measurements are the same, you have a balanced animal that will be able to perform with more ease. If the neck is slightly longer, he will still be athletic because the head and neck are used for balance. But if the neck measurement is shorter, it will be difficult for your equine to balance through certain movements and transitions during all activities.

Next, measure your equine around the throatlatch. Then measure around the collar from the withers to the chest at the point of shoulder and back to the withers. This measurement should be twice that of the throatlatch, which indicates that your equine will be better able to flex at the poll,making him easier to collect and bring into the correct framefor optimum performance.

Now measure the top of the neck from poll to withers and the bottom of the neck from throatlatch to chest. The top line should be 1.5times that of the bottom, enabling your animal to perform nice, soft movements during all activities. A “u-necked”animal cannot bend properly and will never be able to achieve good collection in balance and good posture. His neck and back will be hollow, making it difficult for him to efficiently carry a rider, which can result in future soundness problems.

Next, measure the equine’s legs from the elbow to the coronet band, and then from the stifle to the coronet band. Both measurements will be the same in an evenly
balanced animal. This means he will be a good pleasure prospect, with smooth movements at the walk and trot. If he’s a bit longer in front, he will be a good prospect for Reining, jumping or Dressage because his trot and canter will be smooth,with greater impulsion from the hindquarters with an uphill balance.  An animal that is higher in the rear will find it difficult to balance, so he’s probably not going to be a good athletic prospectbecause the weight will be unevenly dumped on his front quarters.

Ideally, your prospect should also be graced with 45-degreeangles at shoulder and hip,and with the same angle at his pasterns. This ideal angle will result in softer gaits and transitions, whereas a straighter hip and shoulder will result in abrupt transitions and a rougher ride. The higher the angle (90+ degrees), the longer the stride will be; and the shorter the angle (90- degrees), the shorter and quicker the stride.

Now let’s see how your prospect moves. Stick a piece of masking tape at the point of his hip as a visual reference point. Ask someone to assist you by trotting your equine on a lead as you watch the way he moves. Does his hock reach underneath and pass in front of the tape? If it does, his hindquarters will support strenuous athletic movements, his transitions will be more fluid and smoother, and his head and neck will stay level. If his hock does not reach underneath him sufficiently, he will be out of balance and must raise his head and neck through transitions.

Finally, ask the person assisting you to lead your equine while you watch him walk through smooth sand. Does his hind hoof fall into the track made by his front hoof? If he is exact, he is graced with the smooth, fluid way of going of a world-class pleasure animal. If he over-reaches the track, he has wonderful hindquarter engagement and you may have a candidate for Reining,Dressageor jumping. If he under-reaches the track, he is out of balance, causing him to raise his headand neck. He will have difficultythrough transitions and movements, which will undoubtedly make him unsuitable for advanced athletic activities.

These measurements can be quite helpful in determining your animal’s athletic future, and they can be trusted because the laws of physics are at work. But there is more to being a great athlete than just conformation. You must also assess at the personality of each individual animal. Again—these principles apply to mules, donkeys and horses.

First, let’s look at your animal’s trainability. One of the benefits of owning a registered animal is that you will have plenty of background information regarding his gene pool. Some lines are famous for being smart, athletic and good-natured. Some are known as being high-strung and nervous, perhaps making them inappropriate for certain riders. Plan to do your research before you look at a prospective animal being sold by a private owner or at an auction.

There are some practical tests you can do to help you assess an animal’s trainability. First, ask the person assisting you to hold your equine’s lead rope while you pick up a handful of sand, and then trickle the sand through your fingers near your animal’s head. Does he turn and look at you? If so, this is a good indication that he is interested in what you’re doing, which usually means he will be more trainable than an animal that ignores you.

The next test is to run your finger lightly from your equine’s girth, across the barrel to the flank. Do this on both sides. Does he tolerate this with little movement, or does he twitch and even flinch? This test will give you an idea of how he will react to your legs when you are riding. (The animal that is less touchy will be the one who learns your cues most efficiently, whereas the one that flinches is more likely to overreact.)

Now stand at your animal’s shoulder and gently put your hand over his nose, and then ask him—with a gentle squeeze and release action from your fingers—to bend his head and neck toward you. Do this on both sides. Does he bring his nose around easily or do you feel resistance? If he gives easily, it is a good indication that he is submissive and will be willing to learn more quickly.

The final check is a simple test to assess your equine’s reaction under pressure. Ask the person assisting you to hold the lead rope while you make an abrupt move, such as jumping and flapping your arms. What is your equine’s reaction? If he tries to run off, he’s probably not the best candidate for equine sports such as Side Saddle or driving, which require a steady animal. On the other hand, if he stops to look at you and tries to figure out what you’re doing, he may be a really great candidate for advanced training.

When you go through the basic exercises on the lead line and in the drivelines, there may be times when you experience resistance from your equine. Think of your animal’s resistance as a red flag that could be telling you that you either need to reassess your approach and consider a different path to the same end, or that you may simply need to break a current action down into smaller and more understandable steps. Don’t get caught up in the blame game (“It’s his fault, not mine.”) and lose your temper just because things aren’t going the way you expected. If, instead, you adopt the attitude that your equine is trying to communicate with you and that, when you meet with resistance, it is your responsibility to change what you are doing, you can avoid a lot of frustration during training and things will go more smoothly between the two of you.

And remember, just because a certain approach worked with one equine doesn’t mean it will work the same way with a different equine, so treat each animal as an individual and stay on your toes. Equines are as diverse in their personalities as humans and each individual may have a different way of learning from one to the other. Look at training as the cultivation of the relationship you want to have with each individual animal and adjust your own actions accordingly.

Keep in mind that, regardless of conformation and trainability, when you do the right kinds of exercises toward good posture and balance in their correct order—and with adequate time spent at each stage—and adjust your approach to the training of each individual, the result will be that your equine will feel much more comfortable. He will recognize your efforts on his behalf and, as he progresses, training will come more easily for both of 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.

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