What's New: Mule Crossing

  • MULE CROSSING: Neonatal Isoerythrolysis

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    By Meredith Hodges

    “Neonatal isoerythrolysis (NI) is a condition in which the mare creates antibodies against the foal’s red blood cells, and then passes these antibodies to the foal via the colostrum. Once the foal absorbs these antibodies, they result in lysis* of the foal’s red blood cells within 24 to 36 hours after birth. This red blood cell destruction is widespread throughout the foal’s body and can lead to life-threatening anemia and/or jaundice. (This is similar to the human Rhesus, or Rh, factor, where a woman who is Rh-negative gives birth to her second or subsequent child that is Rh-positive, resulting in destruction of the newborn’s red blood cells.)1″

    All legitimate mule breeders should be aware of this condition, especially because it can occur more often when breeding donkey jacks to mares than it does when breeding stallions to mares within the same species. If the hybrid foal’s blood type is the same as its mother’s, then there is no problem. However, when the jack and the mare have different blood types, and the foal possesses the jack’s blood type, there is potential for NI to occur.

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  • MULE CROSSING: Mules of Molokai

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    By Meredith Hodges

    It is no secret that mules, due to their innate sensibility and incredible surefootedness, are the equine of choice for packing and riding into untamed wilderness areas. Dependable mules carry thousands of tourists down the steep trails of the Grand Canyon each year. This enables many to take in the splendor and beauty of an otherwise nearly inaccessible corner of the world.

    Not limited to Mainland activities, mules are also used on the island of Molokai in Hawaii to carry tourists on a memorable ride down the Kalaupapa Trail to the Makanalua Peninsula and the settlement of Kalaupapa. Years ago, before it was discovered that leprosy was not highly contagious, afflicted persons were taken to the Makanalua Peninsula by boat and left there. The sheer cliffs on the landside of the peninsula prevented them from leaving. Father Damien de Veuster of Belgium built the first church and brought hope to the old settlement of Kalawao.

    Today, people are allowed to come and go, and the settlement is permitted to delight in some of the modern-day conveniences. Though the settlement is only 12 square miles, there are cars and mini-buses to aid in transportation. After the mule ride down the cliff trail, mini-buses give personal tours around the settlement where you can learn about everyday life then and now. You’ll see their homes, general store, dock, medical facilities, lonely graveyards, the old settlement of Kalawao, and Father Damien’s church, St. Philomena.

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  • MULE CROSSING: Racing Mules

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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 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 by 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.”

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  • MULE CROSSING: LTR Training Principles Philosophy

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    By Meredith Hodges

    No training series would be complete without examination of the principles and philosophy behind the training techniques. The philosophy of my training techniques is based on the principle that we are not, in fact, training our equines, but rather, we are cultivating relationships with them by assigning meaning to our own body language that they can understand. Since our own level of understanding changes and grows over time, we must assume that so does that of our animals, and we must gauge our explanations accordingly. In the beginning, the emotional needs of the young equine are quite different from that of an older animal. They need to overcome a lot of instincts that would protect them in the wild, but are inappropriate in a domestic situation. In this case, our focus must be on developing friendship and confidence in the young animal, while establishing our own dominance in a non-threatening manner. We do this through a lot of positive reinforcement in the beginning, with gentle touch, reassuring voice, and lots of rewards for good behavior. Our expressions of disapproval are kept at a minimum. As he grows with us, the equine will realize that we do not wish to harm him, and will next develop a rather pushy attitude in an attempt to assert his own dominance–once that he is confident that his behavior is acceptable. When this occurs, we must re-evaluate our reward system and save excessive praise for the new things as he learns them and allow the learned behavior to be treated as the norm, praised more passively, yet appreciated. This is the cultivation of a delicate concept of give and take in a relationship from the emotional standpoint. As in any good relationship, we must learn to be polite, considerate and respectful of our mules, donkeys, horses, ponies and hybrids. After all, as my grandmother used to say, “You can catch more flies with sugar that you can with vinegar!”

    From the physical standpoint, there are also a lot of things to consider of both mule and trainer. In the beginning, unless you are a professional trainer with years of proper schooling, you are not likely to be the most balanced and coordinated of riders, lacking absolute control over your own body language. By the same token, the untrained equine will be lacking in the muscle coordination and strength to respond correctly to your cues that guide him to perform certain movements. For these reasons, we must modify our approach to fit each new situation and modify again to perfect it, keeping in mind that our main goal is to establish a good relationship with our equine and not just to train him! It is up to the trainer to decide the cause of any resistance, and to modify techniques to temper that resistance–be it mental or physical. For instance, we had a 3-year-old mule learning to lunge without the benefit of the round pen. The problem was that she refused to go around you more than a couple of times without running off.

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  • MULE CROSSING: Understanding the Use of Cruppers and Breeching

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    By Meredith Hodges

    The purpose of tack and equipment has always been to give man leverage against the equine’s resistance during training, but I believe that the equine is “talking” with his resistance and this is a cue to find another alternative to achieve harmony when something isn’t working. There is an ongoing discussion about the use of cruppers and breeching when riding mules and donkeys, and even some horses. The purpose of both is to keep the saddle from sliding forward when the equine is in motion, whether he is tracking on flat ground or going up and down hills. Inappropriate use of both devices could give the equine problems. Whether or not to use a crupper or breeching is not an either/or decision. My equines taught me that in order to make an educated decision about which to use, one needs to take into account the anatomy of the equine and the effect that each has on his body in motion during different activities.

    Good conformation is important in allowing the equine to perform to the best of his ability, but the tack we use has an effect on the equine’s movement in spite of his shape. In order to obtain freedom of movement, the elements of the equine’s anatomy must be allowed to move freely through every joint of his body. Energy and blood circulation finds open tracks throughout the body and when unobstructed, will run freely from the core of the body to the extremities in a healthy equine. Core and bulk muscles that are developed symmetrically support the skeletal frame, the cartilage and ligaments that surround the joints, and the tendons that tie the skeletal frame together. All work to support the proper internal organ functions and when the equine in good posture with symmetrical strength, they are unobstructed.

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