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HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017! Let’s go forward loving and learning together with our equine companions! When kindness is used in training, greatness can happen. That is the story of Beautiful Jim Key. The sickly colt was adopted by “Dr” William Key, a freed slave and self-taught veterinarian. Using his veterinary skills and training with no force, the colt grew into a healthy adult with some special abilities – he could read, write, spell, do math, tell time, sort mail, cite Bible passages, use a telephone and cash register. Together, they were seen by an estimated 10 million Americans and hailed as the “Marvel of the Twentieth Century”. Dr Key died at the age of 76, being universally praised for his service to humanity and Beautiful Jim followed three years later at the age of 23. As TIME magazine declared, “This wonderful horse has upset all theories that animals have only instinct, and do not think and reason.”
The Lucky Three mules willingly come off the grass pasture at any time of the day that they are beckoned. This is the result of routine management, humane training practices and an ample reward system. Not one equine here is herd-bound as we have become as good friends with them as their equine buddies!
Are equines prey or predators? Although some trainers base their methods on the idea that equines should be approached as “prey,” this blog post by Sara Annon explains that the answer may not be that simple.
The real lesson in this is that the predator/prey model of horsemanship is inaccurate. Rodents are prey animals. Horses are herd animals. Their enemy is the weather (click here and here). Horses die from hypothermia in winter, drought in summer, and starvation when grazing is scarce. Weakened animals are picked off by the occasional courageous wolf pack or lion. I say courageous because it only takes one quick smack with a hoof to break bones, and for a predator that is a death sentence.
The “Elbow Pull” is a self-correcting restraint that encourages the equine to use his entire body to go forward in a relaxed and correct postural frame. It promotes the stretching and strengthening of the topline and results in the hind legs coming well under to support the body and to keep the hind quarters (motor) providing active impulsion. In the “before” pictures, the equines are simply moving their front and back legs underneath the torso, but the torso is not really moving due to inactivity in the rib cage muscle groups. In the “after” pictures, you see that the equine posture has dramatically changed and now produces an active and “rippling” effect throughout the rib cage muscle groups (which can be seen in the moving videos). This is the basic difference between a really good dressage prospect and one that might be passed over.
ADMISSIONS EXTENDED UNTIL JULY 31.
TMD Equine University is an online school founded by Meredith Hodges and certified by the State of Colorado. Students engage in a full year of study in this two-semester program. The comprehensive equine study covers everything involved in the safe and enjoyable management and training of your equine.
Our museum display affords students lessons in anatomy and its relationship to motion.
In addition to the group graduate clinic, new students enjoy a private, scheduled day with Meredith Hodges to explore Lucky Three Ranch and ask questions.
Students are able to see and experience first-hand the results of this equine management and training program in the actual ranch environment and meet the Lucky Three equines.
The whimsy of Jasper’s Bunkhouse always brings a smile to the faces of our visitors.
Upon arrival for the group clinic, students enjoy an introductory film and welcome from Meredith Hodges. Everything in both the personal and group clinics is filmed, and footage and photos are provided to students afterwards.
The morning class covers all core strength and balance leading exercises both on the flat ground and then over obstacles.
“Food For Thought” by Chef Vincent caters this first-class event to make sure our students are properly prepared for the rigors of the afternoon classes.
After lunch, Certified Massage Therapist (human, equine and canine) Joanne Lang gives a presentation and physical demonstration about the benefits of massage therapy.
Then it is off to the indoor arena for lessons in lunging and the transition to ground driving, always keeping things manageable, relaxing and enjoyable for both equines and their student handlers.
Even students who have never touched an equine before can practice with confidence throughout the clinic and put their learned TMD-EU academic skills to practice with assistance from Meredith and her staff.
When the ground driving is completed, the final class is done under saddle in the hourglass pattern to help facilitate good rider position, rhythm, balance and harmony between equine and rider. Throughout the clinic, the pace and demands of the tasks are carefully measured to prevent stress and exhaustion of the participants.
The result? Lots of smiles, laughter, encouraging interaction, and happy horses and humans for the educational experience of a lifetime!
Donkeys have a lot of behaviors that owners might find strange. One of these is dropping their spine, or “sinking,” when you put a hand on their back. Not all donkeys will do this, but many of them will, especially when they are young and or haven’t been handled routinely. I’ve personally had experience with donkeys sinking to the point that they’ll go down to the floor on their knees and bellies. You may also commonly recognize this behavior in cats and dogs.
In order to understand what’s happening, it is important to understand the intervertebral equine anatomy. “Intervertebral” refers to the opening between two jointed vertebrae for the passage of nerves to and from the spinal cord. When a foal is first born, their bones and cartilage are soft and flexible, and their nerves in these areas are hypersensitive —especially over the spine.
A foal that has not had the benefit of imprinting will be much more sensitive and generally reactive to touch than one that has been imprinted. Imprinting begins to desensitize nerve endings throughout the body wherever the animal is touched. However, the primary focus when imprinting is usually on the head, neck, ears, around the eyes, mouth, and down the legs, with only a passing swoop over the back and croup. Thus, the back does not get as much desensitization during imprinting and is largely ignored until grooming comes into the picture, and later, tack and equipment.
As the foal ages, muscles begin to develop under and around the nerves thanks to ongoing exercise. When muscles get harder and toned, though still maintaining their elasticity, they put pressure on the nerves from the inside of the body. You will start to notice that the foal that used to “jump” out from under your touch is now increasingly tolerant, and his reactions are not as abrupt and overdone. Foals that are more active in their exercise tend to be less likely to sink their backs, as their hardened muscles have begun to desensitize the nerves to some extent. Softer, untoned muscles do not affect nerves in the same way, so less active foals will usually have a more drastic reaction to touch.
With the right kinds of controlled passive leading exercises, the foal’s body can grow properly, conditioning muscles symmetrically and allowing the body to develop balanced equine posture. This conditioning allows for efficient movement, maximum blood circulation, internal organs working as intended, joints bending correctly, and nerve impulses firing in an unobstructed and healthy manner. When the animal is not exercised with good postural balance in mind, his way of going can be compromised. Though his unbalanced movement may not be apparent to the untrained eye, it can still produce pinched nerves and pain. If you have an animal that sinks to your touch, it is up to you to determine whether the reaction is a case of sensitivity due to minimal touch, or a more serious case of pinched nerves.
You can help desensitize your equine in a healthy way by continuing to imprint throughout the training process. Don’t just limit imprinting to a birth exercise, but pay attention to every phase and opportunity for touch. When grooming with the shedding blade for instance, pay special attention to the pressure over different places on your equine’s body. You can apply more pressure to fatty areas, but be sure to lighten up over the bony areas, as it can cause pain. Too much pressure over the spinal nerves will produce the sinking effect. When using your brushes over the body, be sure to use short flicks instead of long strokes. Short flicks induce more passive pressure over the nerves, which not only removes dirt more efficiently, but also provides more endurable pressure over the nerves that will eventually minimize your equine’s sensitivity. With these careful and detailed practices, the sinking effect will soon disappear.
These kinds of initial training practices will greatly enhance the training experience for both you and your equine. All behaviors, bad or good, arise from the way you do things with your animal, and you will only gain his trust when you make him feel good. When he feels good, his behavior will be good. Preparing him properly before asking him to carry tack and equipment, and later, a rider, will make the process much easier for him to accept, and will avoid the adverse behaviors and even painful or severe consequences that can develop without proper preparation. Be patient and always take the extra time to do the little things that will enhance your time together. It will be well worth the effort!
The equine vacuum cleaner is not only a way to dry clean your equine, but it can also be used as a muscle therapy tool and to promote good circulation. Of course, the first thing to do is to gently introduce the equine to the vacuum cleaner.
As you vacuum, do it slowly and purposefully. The vacuum will remove dirt and grime and leave a healthy bed for hair shafts to grow.
The suction from the vacuum cleaner grabs large patches of hide and pulls subcutaneous muscle tissue and blood vessels towards the surface. This allows more room for muscle tissue and blood vessels to expand and develop in a healthy way. Here I am vacuuming our rescue draft mule, Rock’s shattered hip where there is a lot of internal damage to the joint and severe atrophy of the muscles involved.
On the left is 39 year old mini mule, Franklin before vacuuming, and then after vacuuming on the left side only in the picture on the right. As you can see, you get measured results almost immediately. The vacuum gently shapes and molds the muscle tissue into a more uniform area.
When Rock first arrived, although being a 17 year old Belgian Draft mule, he had severe muscle atrophy throughout his entire body.
After only six months of vacuum therapy, chiropractic, massage, proper diet and only fifteen minutes a week of leading exercises, his body was completely transformed!
Side passing is an advanced lateral move that should be prefaced with extensive leading training, first on the flat ground. Your equine will be ready to move to obstacles when you can throw the lead rope over his neck and he will obediently follow at your shoulder.
You know he is ready to move on to lunging when he will freely follow at your shoulder obediently through all the obstacles both straight forward such as tires, and through lateral obstacles such as the tractor tire.
The next stage is to first teach him the basics of lunging to build bulk muscle…
…and then begin straight forward and lateral exercises on the drive lines both in the round pen and then in the open arena to enhance core muscle strength, balance and coordination. He has learned body awareness (proprioception), knows where his feet are and is able to be completely responsible for his own balance without leaning on you. The end result of all this attention to detail is the ability for your equine to execute all movements in good equine posture that makes it much easier for him to comply with your wishes.
Now that your equine has built up his core muscle strength and is more balanced and coordinated, he is ready to learn to Side Pass the “T” on hand signals alone. Your equine originally learned to side pass a single rail and the “T” on the lead rope and then on the drive lines. Now begin to Side Pass the “T” with just the halter.
When your equine is easily Side Passing the “T,” you can remove the halter, use a dressage whip as an extension of your hand and ask him to do the same movements with only slight indications from your whip along his side.
It’s always great to hear from people who have used our training materials successfully with their equines, so we loved getting an email recently from Becky of Becky’s Homestead, showing off a video of her formerly hard-to-catch mules, Emma and Charlie. Using Meredith’s methods, the mules now come to the gate and exit quietly, and turn to Becky to await further instructions—no chasing required.
Becky writes: “I love your method because you don’t have to be a tough, roping cowboy to train your problem mule. I also really like that you say people need to train their own mule so they develop a relationship. I have seen it countless times, where someone sends their horse or mule out to a trainer and the animal is perfect for the rough, tough cowboy or cowgirl trainer—then it goes home to the middle-aged woman and acts the same old way. Bottom line, there is no short cut to developing a good relationship with your animal.”
One of the keys to Becky’s success was that she did not try to modify or rush the exercises, and did them exactly as laid out in the training program. Although it can be tempting to quickly move to more advanced lessons, like riding, your equine needs to build those skills—and muscles—on the solid foundation provided by beginning training. And as Becky experienced, these methods can produce amazing results!
Years ago, I believed that all I needed to have an equine was a halter, bridle and saddle, a water bucket and a patch of grass with a fence around it. I didn’t even think about shelter until much later when I finally decided that a garage would do. I now know that there is a lot of responsibility in taking care of equines and that it is an ongoing learning experience. Like most of us, I was a little lazy and wanted shortcut ways to deal with my equines so I could get right to the pleasure of riding. After many heart wrenching experience, I discovered that I did not have to be overwhelmed with management and training responsibilities, just more organized and practical. Finding simple, logical and appropriate answers to management and training questions became my mission.
Mules and donkeys, contrary to popular belief, are sensitive to colic and founder when left on pasture. They can develop fat rolls and patches all over their bodies when allowed to graze freely. This eventually will become a very expensive and potentially devastating condition if left unattended. Muzzles have been developed to keep equines from grazing too voraciously and hopefully, this can prevent the incidence of colic and founder, but I can’t help but think that there will be a certain amount of frustration involved when using such short cut devices that can manifest itself in other areas of interaction with your equine. The animal will take to the muzzle because there is a reward of grazing to follow, but to be prevented from fully enjoying their grazing has to be frustrating at times.
Beyond the incidence of possible frustration is the simple threat of them getting the muzzle caught on something with no one around to help them if they do get caught on anything. One of my strictest safety rules is to never leave a halter on an unsupervised animal for the same reason. I have seen too many animals maimed, paralyzed and even killed by leaving anything around their neck and head.
The muzzle encircles the delicate muzzle of the equine where the skin is very thin and sensitive. The lips can become scabby and sores can develop on the tongue.
A muzzle can chafe and burn these sensitive areas with prolonged use and create a very sore mouth. Again, if they do get sore, using a bit can become painful and cause resistance in training.
It is easier to employ simple management practices to keep your equine healthy and happy. Your equine should be kept in a smaller area for evening feedings, overnight and for morning feedings. This has several benefits: 1) Each animal can be checked every day for any injuries or anomalies, 2) He will not have to fight for his food, he can sleep uninterrupted and be more calm and fresh each day, 3) You will then be able to turn him out at specific times for grazing during the day and he will willingly come back from the pasture each night. This way you can monitor his grazing intake so he will not be able to overgraze and colic, or founder, 4) the smaller area affords you a confined space for beginning training so there is no need to chase him, or be interrupted by other animals.
If you feed only grass hay in the mornings and feed his oats mix in the evenings with grass hay, you can monitor his pasture time easily. In the spring when the grass is growing and very rich, you can begin to turn him out an hour before feeding time and he will happily come back in to get his evening oats. Then add an additional hour each week to slowly accustom his digestive tract to the new grass until you have worked him up to a maximum grazing time of five hours. This will generally produce a healthy, happy animal of any age that can maintain his ideal weight and body condition.
When you feed only grass hay in the mornings, he will look forward to his lessons with you and be waiting at the gate, knowing there are oats rewards to be earned. What your animal is eating can have a direct impact on his response to training. Many feeds can cause hypertension in Longears (and horses, too!) and an inability to focus for any length of time. Mules and donkeys require a lot less feed than horses because they are half donkey and donkeys are desert animals. Too much feed or the wrong kind of feed and you run the risk of colic, or founder.
We feed an oats mix to our average sized mules of 1-2 cups of crimped oats, 1 oz. of Sho Glo vitamins (by Manna Pro) and 1 oz. Mazola corn oil (for hooves, coat and digestive tract regularity). The oats must be broken open in some way (crimped, steamed, rolled, etc.) as equines cannot digest whole oats. We feed this once a day in the evenings, grass hay twice a day and we monitor weight gain with the hay and pasture intake. Miniatures get one fourth as much of the oats mix and grass hay, and draft animals will need twice as much. Do not alter or modify this with other products in any way for the best results.
Also, make sure they have access to a trace mineral salt block for their salt and mineral needs. We worm our equines with Ivermectin in January, March, May, July and September and then break the cycle with Strongid in November. We vaccinate in the spring and fall. Consult your veterinarian for the types of vaccines you will need for your area. You should never feed Longears (donkeys, or mules) any pre-mixed sweet feeds, or products high in alfalfa. This is actually a very easy and inexpensive way to manage the feeding and grazing of your equines without the worry of muzzles. It’s just a matter of getting into this healthy routine.
An article in the U.K.’s Daily Mail reports that one-third of recreational riders are too obese for their equines, putting the animals at risk for health problems including lameness and back pain, citing a study from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.
This is a big issue for equine health, as an equine expected to carry a rider that is too heavy for him can cause both physical and behavioral problems. Rules like “the rider’s weight should be 10% of the equine’s” are often used as a general guideline, but are by no means absolute–there are many other factors to consider. Below, Meredith offers her advice in how to choose the correct equine for the rider.
The maximum weight a horse or mule can carry will depend on a lot of variables. Mules and donkeys can carry proportionately more weight than a horse of the same size, because of the unique muscle structure of the animal. However, you do need to be careful about making broad generalizations. Obviously, an equine that has not been conditioned properly will not be able to efficiently carry as much weight as one who has been conditioned properly, so it is all relative to the situation. Also, the rider with better balance and riding ability is going to be easier for the equine to carry than one who is not balanced regardless of the difference in actual weight. The size of the equine and the proportion of the equine to the rider will also affect balance and carrying ability.
The amount of weight an equine can comfortably carry or pull depends on many things, beginning with the animal’s overall fitness. If he is fit, he will be able to carry more than those who are not, but conformational abnormalities will also have an effect. If he has any deviations in his bone structure (i.e. crooked legs), it can compromise how he moves and put undue stress on certain areas depending on the defect. The easiest way to test for weight tolerance is to watch the way the animal moves. If he is halted and seems to be have difficulty moving, the weight is obviously too heavy. If he is unable to trot, or is resistant to trotting, the weight is too heavy. This would be the same in harness. If he cannot move freely, the load is too heavy. So, it’s not just a matter of how old he is, but rather how he is conformed and how fit he is at any given stage of training and the weight and ability of the rider that will dictate how much he can carry, or pull. Be careful about generalizations, because there are always hidden variables to be considered.
For instance, it is commonly believed that an equine should be able to carry 10% of his weight. But if a 2000 lb. animal is carrying the 200 pounds over a back that has not been physically developed correctly, it could be very difficult for him. If he possesses more strength over his topline and through the croup, then he may actually be able to carry more than 10% of his body weight. Any additional weight (as with saddle bags) also needs to be considered. If he is weak over the topline and in his back, then he shouldn’t be carrying even a 150 lb. person, much less anything behind the saddle. The weight does need to be placed and balanced over the bearing areas and the shoulder and hips do need to be kept clear for optimum movement. Anchoring the saddle with a crupper is always a good idea to keep loads from shifting and placement and security of the foundation tack to which you secure all these things needs to be assessed as well. When you add weight to the saddle, check to see if the girth you are using is adequate to keep the saddle in place without rubbing sores on your animal’s body.