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MULE CROSSING: Gate Training
By Meredith Hodges
Learning to go through a gate with respect and consideration for the handler is an important lesson for your equine to learn. Your considerate and consistent approach to retrieving him from his stall, pen or pasture can make all the difference in safety and pleasure for you both. This begins from the time you take him from his stall. Do not go into his area, but rather, ask him to come to you. If you have been consistent rewarding your equine from your fanny pack with the same oats he gets fed every evening, this should not pose a problem. The reason for feeding the oats in the evenings is so he is given the motivation to come back in during the spring months when pasture time must be limited. Feeding only grass hay in the morning gives him incentive to come to you to be haltered for lessons, as he knows his efforts will be rewarded with extra oats. Use verbal commands to “come on!” prefaced by his name. This reinforces his response to verbal commands and familiarity with his name. This will come in handy when you need to fetch him from a pen of multiple animals.
Going through a gate seems simple enough, but you can really get into trouble if it is not done correctly. Ask your mule to follow your shoulder to the gate and halt squarely, and then reward him (crimped oats) for standing quietly while you unlatch the gate. When going through the gate, if possible, the gate should always open away from you and your mule. When the gate is hinged on the left, transfer your lead line from your left hand (showmanship position) to your right hand, and open the gate with your left hand. Switch positions if the gate is hinged on the right, but always be sure to keep your body, rather than your mule’s body, closest to the gate. Ask your mule to walk through at your shoulder, to turn and face you on the other side of the gate, and to follow you as you close it. Then reward him again and latch the gate.
After latching the gate, turn back to your mule and reward him yet again for being patient and standing still while you latched the gate. This repetitive behavior through gates will teach him to stay with you and wait patiently instead of charging through, or pulling away from you. This is especially helpful when you are leading several animals at once. This way, you can get through a gate safely with as many animals as you choose to lead through together. Even if the gate is only two mules wide, you could lead as many as four through by simply lengthening the lead lines of the back pair, asking the first pair to come through first then encouraging the second pair to come through directly behind them before you turn back to the gate. When trained this way, your mules will all line up like little soldiers on the other side of the gate to receive their rewards. They will stand quietly while you latch the gate and will only proceed from the gate when you ask.
When you return your mule to a pen with other animals, wave the others away from the gate and return the mule to the pen the same way he was taken out. Lead your mule or mules through the gate, reward them, and then reward the others for staying back.
If you have any problems with kicking, carry a whip with you to keep the problem children at bay while you reward the others first. Do not vary this routine.
The repetition will build good habits. Once the others have learned that they cannot approach when you wave them away, and each mule knows the routine of going through the gate properly, and you want to take one animal from the herd, you can call his name, wave the others away with your hand, open the gate and allow him to come through and turn (receiving his reward, of course) to put on the halter. You never have to get in the middle of their sometimes-dangerous playfulness again, and your animals will all be easy to catch.
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.
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Another Augie and Spuds Adventure: Big Turnout With Little Friends: 11-20-20
CHASITY’S CHALLENGES: The Hourglass Pattern for Good Posture: 4-14-20
The “Hourglass Pattern” is an amazing therapeutic approach to conditioning that I have used with all of my equines of varying ages, sizes and breeds. It builds a foundation of symmetrical strengthening at the core involving the ligaments, tendons muscles and soft tissue that support the skeletal frame and promotes even wear of the cartilage between bones in the joints. It can prevent arthritis as the animals age. This is vital to your equine athlete’s health. Chasity and I open the gate to her rebalancing and rehabilitation exercises in the “Hourglass Pattern.”
The red “X’s” in the pattern represent the points where you are to halt, square up, reward and wait. This process becomes helpful as your equine learns to navigate gates properly and learns to wait patiently through repetition and consistency in your behavior. Always go through gates exactly the same way so your equine knows what to expect. Abrupt actions lead to chaos.
We want to promote self-carriage, so we do not hold the lead rope in the right hand when leading from the left side where it can subtlety cause movement in the head and neck from side to side, adversely affecting their balance. Rather, we hold the lead rope in the left hand when leading from the left side and in the right hand when leading from the right side. We lead from the inside of the arcs in direction through the pattern. Always, say the animal’s name, give the command to “Walk On,” look where you are going, point in the direction of travel with your other hand and walk in sync with the equine’s front legs. This facilitates good posture for both of you!
When negotiating the “Hourglass Pattern,” there is an internal pendulum that swings back and forth and comes to center each time the animal halts and is squared up. If you were to work only along straight lines there is an optical illusion that takes place along the perimeter and makes the animal’s body lean to the inside of the track, and when halted, they cannot find the center of balance. Every time you halt, square up your equine and reward with the crimped oats that you keep in your fanny pack around your waist (other “treats” will not work the same way!). Then wait until they finish chewing so they can settle into their perfect balance unobstructed.
As they progess, they learn to bend to the arc of the turns through their rib cage, carry their body erect in good posture supported by stronger ab muscles that round the back upward as they learn to give to the “Elbow Pull” such that it remains loose. When it is tight, they are simply having difficulty holding their good posture and lean on the “Elbow Pull” much like a beginning ballet dancer must use the bar on the wall. Many people think that you do your equine a favor by not putting a bit in their mouth, but you cannot affect their posture without one. The animals that are not bitted and schooled in good posture can have all kinds of postural issues as they age. Chasity is falling in and out of good posture because she is only in Week Three of her training. As she improves, she will be able to keep the “Elbow Pull” loose for longer periods of time until it is always loose.
As this way of moving and standing becomes more habitual, so does their comfort in these positions. When they rest, they will stand 4-square instead of with splayed legs, or a hip dropped and a foot cocked. They are happy and deliberate in their movements and good posture continues to improve until this become their new habitual way of moving and resting. You will see marked changes in their play and rest patterns while in turnout.
Adding rails to the center of the pattern keeps them attentive, alert and teaches exact hoof placement (hoof-eye coordination). As their movement becomes more deliberate and balanced, their confidence is increased as is their trust in you for making them feel so comfortable in their own skin. They learn to wait for your command before moving. They look forward to their time with you and will gladly leave the herd to be with you! No more herdbound behaviors!
We build this foundation through the “Hourglass Pattern” first during leading training, then after obstacles and lunging training during Ground Driving, and finally Under Saddle. Each stage produces new challenges to the equine’s body and mind that add to their overall development in a logical, sequential and healthy way. Because of all these small steps, with gradual difficulty, it is easy and fun for both you and your equine to do. You are never over-faced with difficulty and you learn to appreciate the little victories along the way! Chasity was somewhat of a pushy, bully to start with, but she now waits patiently when I ask and navigates movement in much better posture, even after only three short weeks! More dramatic changes to Chasity’s body and mind are still to come! It’s not just about the end result. It’s all about the journey!