Ask Meredith – Behavior

 

All equines react naturally and honestly to the people and things around them. So, when your equine is behaving badly, you need to ask yourself, “What was it that set him off?” It is important to have some general information about the animal in his natural state to understand why he reacts to things the way he does, but it is invariably the handler’s fault when things do not go well.

Even before training sessions, it is important to understand that you just cannot put all animals together all the time. For example, jacks and stallions should be kept separated from other animals because of their natural male aggression if you want to avoid injury to other animals. Though male mules are generally castrated, they, too, exhibit aggressive behaviors that can be injurious to animals other than those of their own age and stature. Foaling jennets and mares need to have their own space when birthing and raising their young to avoid stressful situations that result in bad behavior. Being aware of the environmental layout and knowing which equines can be put together and who needs to stay alone will help to keep all your equines happy and healthy.

During training, you need to be aware that bad behavior is generally brought on by fear that is generated from a loss of balance, be it mental or physical. The mental loss of balance is experienced when the handler is more often aggravated by the animal and rarely praising the animal. Mules and donkeys need to feel that they are indeed pleasing the handler and if he or she cannot be pleased, the animal eventually gets tired of trying and bad behaviors start to arise.

The physical loss of balance is the most prevalent, and is what produces most bad behaviors in mules and donkeys. When the training program takes into account the details of correctly developing muscles, tendons and ligaments over an aligned frame, using an adequate period of time for this to actually happen, the equine (horses included) will recognize that the handler is actually making them feel good all over and they are more willing to comply. Truly bad behaviors are then non-existent and the annoying behaviors they exhibit are no worse than a child testing his limits. It takes years to grow and develop properly, so be fair and considerate to your equine by setting him up for success and give him the benefit of patience, kindness, respect and plenty of time for him to develop. Condensing the training program to teach “things” to your equine, with no regard for to how long it takes to build muscle over a correct frame at any given stage, is abusive and will produce bad behaviors.

Click on the title below to see the complete question and answer.

Behavior

Behavior

Afraid to Load into Trailer

Question: I have a five-year-old molly mule that seems to be afraid to load into a trailer–she will hop into the trailer, but then will back out just as quickly, not sure if she has had any bad experiences inside the trailer.

I don’t want to force her to stay inside the trailer and cause the problem to get worse. In attempts to overcome this problem, I put up a small corral around the back of the trailer and then put her hay/feed inside the trailer, hoping that this will help her to overcome the anxiety of being inside the trailer. I also am trying to groom her while in the trailer so that she can associate being in the trailer as a positive experience. Do you have any other suggestions? Am I on the right track?

Answer: Thank you for your email. We really appreciate you taking the time to write! It sounds to me as if the groundwork was not done as consistently as it should have been if this mule is still jerking the lead from your hands at this late date. She should not have gone on to any under-saddle work until she was able to do all the leading training at your shoulder on verbal and body language commands only, first with the flatwork and then over obstacles. No rewards should be given when not complying exactly with your directions, but you also need to pay attention to how you are asking.

The anxiety is not coming from the trailer or anything else, it is coming from the relationship she has with you. Her feeding place should not be a training area. It should be a place to let down and rest. When people add obstacles and do the things you describe (and you are not the only one who has fallen victim to this way of thinking), it doesn’t give the animal any down time to relax and anxiety will persist.

We cover trailer loading in DVD #1 of our resistance-free training series—and in our new manual-both titled, Equus Revisited, (along with all the other obstacles that we introduce on the lead line). Even horses are no-nonsense kind of guys and will become suspicious of techniques such as feeding them in the trailer. It isn’t really the trailer itself that they distrust, but rather the approach that is being used to get them into the trailer. We teach our equines to be trustful and willing by developing confidence in the handler. When we begin leading training, they are introduced to all kinds of obstacles. We approach the obstacle first and encourage them to investigate everything this way and they are rewarded with crimped oats when they comply. By the time they have learned about many trail obstacles and other things around the farm that could be scary, the trailer is not a threat to them. They will most often just follow you right in, knowing there is a crimped oats reward waiting for them. They have never been trapped into complying!

For those that tend to be too timid or stubborn about going in, we use a second technique of running a lunge line from their halter into the trailer, out the side window, and back to where you would stand slightly behind and to the side of the animal. We encourage them with a tap of the whip on the fetlocks and take up the slack as they step forward. Unlike horses, mules and donkeys will not struggle against a tight rope. You just need to keep the tension for a few moments before they realize they cannot back up and they will then proceed forward. You just cannot rush them. If you are patient and consistent in your approach, they soon learn to be sent into the trailer from behind. If you do not snub the line and keep it taut, they will learn that they CAN go backwards and then they will. If you try to train them as you describe, they will learn to go into the trailer, but they won’t learn to go into the trailer when you want them to, only when they decide they want to. Horses will fight a snub line, so we do not recommend training them this way. They will usually come if you just keep the rope taut in your hands and give to the pressure when they comply.

With consistently dispensed rewards when earned, they don’t generally leave your side. They will follow you and the fanny pack everywhere! If your mule won’t follow you into the trailer, then you need to use the lunge line approach.

Bolting from Strangers

Question:
I know you have covered “flighty mules.” I have worked enough with my mule that I am able to do practically anything with him. He is still somewhat green under saddle but is doing very well. My problem is, whenever my fiance or a stranger walks up to him, he backs up and bolts away, which, of course, I let go. Now, is the only way to fix this to have the person or numerous strangers work with him? What specifically should I have them do? I am the only one training him, but he can’t be bolting away every time someone else walks up to him, especially when I want to show him and go on trail with him. Please help!

Answer:
It sounds to me as if you have gone through the leading training too fast. In the leading training, you build their confidence and they learn to have trust in you. If you have employed the reward system (crimped oats rewards) and are feeding as we recommend, they don’t usually bolt and run from strangers. Rather, they learn to wait and look to you for guidance. In order for this to occur and for them to build good core muscle strength, you need to practice these exercises diligently for six to nine months on the flatwork, and another six to nine months on the obstacles. You do this in good posture, matching your steps with theirs, while in good posture yourself. Take things in small steps, and wait for them to master a couple of steps before adding any new ones. When you take the time to do this at this stage, and then move through lunging and ground driving with the same things in mind, they do form a more solid bond with you and will learn to stop and think, rather than bolt and run.

Braying

Question: We have wanted a miniature donkey for a few years. We found a 4-year-old male one on Craig’s List that was very reasonable, and we were able to negotiate a lower price yet, because I’m laid off and couldn’t afford the asking price. We have him in a 8/10 barn right next to the chicken yard and coop. At first he went off on his hee-haw once or twice a night and every morning around 6am.

Last night he went off about every hour or 2 and several times a day and my neighbors are probably ready to lynch me. I spend time brushing him each day. We give him a scoop of oats twice a day and pet him and give him attention. He has open pasture each day then all the hay he wants. How can we keep him shut up so that we can sleep?

We only have 5 acres so the neighbors are about 100 yards away at best. We give him apple treats a couple of times a day also. My wife is ready to strangle him.

Please give us some useful advice.

PS: We can’t afford to get him a companion, our well is dry.

Answer: Donkeys do bray. That is how they talk, so braying comes with the territory! Having a definite routine and a specific longears-friendly feeding program as we recommend can lower the incidence of the braying, but there is really nothing you can do to control it. Giving apple treats during the day, in between feedings, is probably reinforcing the braying and causing him to do it more. He should be kept in a dry lot overnight, fed grass hay only in the mornings, grass hay and no more than 2 cups of our recommended oats mix in the evenings and pasture time should be limited to no more than 4-5 hours a day. He should only receive extra oats during training and no other additional “treats.” This will minimize the braying, but will not stop it. If your neighbors complain, you may need to get rid of the donkey.

Bucking

Question: We have a 4-year-old molly, which turned 4 in May 2000. She bucks sporadically off and on. When we took her to three different seminars she did not buck. At home she bucks sometimes and sometimes out on the trail. We have two saddles, which were made on a mule tree. We took the crupper off her thinking it was this. We changed her to breeching and she still bucks.

We bought her from a reputable man in Tucson who had no problems with her. However, we live in Washington State, which is much cooler. From appearance down there she was much more docile. She has a very good personality in that she does not bite or kick and come right up to the gate when we walk down to there. Please provide us with some suggestions on what to do before there are any broken bones.

Thank you so much. K

Answer: Tack and equipment can be a problem and cause bucking, but most often it is the result of a fragmented training program that causes frequent losses of balance that perpetuates bucking. An unbalanced rider will exasperate the 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 these elements of learning and provides solutions, the students 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.

Reviewing groundwork with athletic purpose in mind will help alleviate the tendencies for the mule to buck. Leading training will help develop adequate core muscle strength in preparation for lunging on the circle and sharpen the handler’s skills. Take lunging slowly enough to prevent a loss of balance at each gait. Be willing to wait until the equine is balanced at trot and offers to canter. Do not push for canter. As they gain better control of their body, they will offer the next steps. Bucking should be discouraged during lunging training with a simple “no” each time the animal bucks. If you build good habits, they will become automatic and bad behaviors are greatly minimized.

Our resistance-free training series can help. The DVDs are designed like grade school beginning with DVD #1 (and DVD #8) as Grade #1. They are intended to use in sequence whether your mule is a young foal or an older animal that needs better training. If you hit any snags along the way, I am only a phone call or an e-mail away to help.

Catching Mule Foals

Question: I have another question for you. I am working with my 3 mule foals. The first one Lilly is doing great. I imprinted her at birth. The second one Ester was doing well, but didn’t want the halter on, I knew it would just be a matter of time and I would achieve it. The third is Silver Bullet and he is just wild. He was not imprinted at all.

I had them all separated from their mothers to wean them, but they were in one pen together. Using the trust Lilly has, I was gaining the confidence of Ester, but my husband decided it would be easier to have them all in different pens to work with them. Bullet gets scared and gets them all to running. But that only happens when my husband is in the pen.

Well, the question is, when he separated them, he caused Ester to take a bad fall and hit her head on a wire panel fence. She was dazed for quite awhile, enough that I could put the halter on and doctor her wounds. Now she is afraid of me again, and runs from me just like Bullet.

I have put Lilly back in with her. Do you think she will be permanently affected by this traumatic experience or do you think she will be able to forgive me? And do you have any suggestions on how to get my hands on Bullet with out traumatizing him too! We have even tried sleeping in his pen with him. He just doesn’t want anything to do with us.

Answer: First, it will take a little time, but with patience and understanding, Ester will come around. Bullet can too, but he needs a little more from you. You need to establish yourself as his buddy and protector. You do this with a program called Behavior Modification, which is outlined, in my video series.

You need to carry oats with you in a fanny pack around your waist every time you deal with your animals and reward them for good behaviors. Other kinds of treats have adverse nutritional value for this program due to high protein or sugar content. The animal learns to rely on you for guidance. I believe your husband had the right idea to separate them while you are schooling them, or separating them overnight for individual feeding to avoid cuts and scratches, but I would make a point to turn them out to play together at least every other day.

Mules enjoy the time with their friends just like we do. A mule needs a good balance of work and play to grow to be a healthy, happy and willing individual. If you use the fanny pack and always ask your animals to come to you, they will. That’s a for sure! You just may have to keep trying and expect this to take sometime. And, be thankful for small improvements. I strongly suggest you invest in our training DVDs to help you keep things on track.

Charging and Kicking

Question: My mom and I are kind of feeling at a loss. She purchased two-miniature donkeys and a 5-year old appaloosa mule named G, basically for me to ride. I have always been a horse lover, and rode a lot while growing up, but that was many years ago.

The people we bought G from seemed sincere about him and that he “gentle enough to put my 3-year old niece on.” Well, I think we were a little impulsive and didn’t ask enough questions, etc. Neither one of us were quite aware how different mules are from horses. G is great but very hard to read. I haven’t rode him yet as we are trying to find the right saddle/bridle, etc., for him.

We have watched lots of training tapes, etc., but I am digressing. Sometimes G is incredibly feisty, loving, and hyper. I think he is lonely though. My question is, can today’s awful weather (35-40 degrees, raining, wet, damp) be affecting him in a way that would make him somewhat mean? He has housing and coverage but he has been staying out in this nastiness all day.

My mom went out to give him some food. While she was walking to his little barn, he charged her, turned, kicked at her, and then repeated that two more times, for no apparent reason. He is very one edge and I can’t tell if he is angry about something, wants to play? Why the aggression and how to handle him? He must be so cold since he is wet, and also think he is lonely, but we are lost.

Answer This is a difficult time of the year with the weather changing. All the animals seem to have behavioral changes during these times. They will be a little hyper, spooky and playful, but they are not mad. During these times, you just need to be more careful about being around them.

It is important to have a routine established that they can count on. Every time you are with your mule and the two donkeys, you need to define limits and learn to reward them for the good behaviors. Then, when they do get out of sorts, there will be certain things that they will respond to that will keep your relationship with them a safe and happy one.

Your mule is just being playful, but he doesn’t realize that what he does may hurt you. He needs to learn some limits and you need to learn how to set those limits in a kind and fair way. Our DVD training series can help you to understand the course of action that you need to take to make this work. Our series is designed to begin with DVD #1 and take the training in sequence whether your mule is a foal or an older animal that needs more comprehensive training.

Each DVD should be taken slowly and should take 6 months to a year to complete depending on his previous experience. Some animals can move through the series even quicker. The important thing is to remember to take your time, be patient and have fun with training. Each new lesson will produce results of which you can be proud. Think of it as cultivating a friendship with your mule that can last a lifetime.

Dogs and Donkeys

Question: We recently purchased two Miniature jack foals named Huggy Bear and Julio, who are four and one half months old. They were born on a ranch where the owner routinely took her dog in with her donkeys.

We have a Great Pyrenees and a German shepherd and both are good with our pet chickens. We would like for the two dogs, 2 pet hens, and Huggy Bear and Julio to enjoy our full two acres together.

So far we have accomplished dogs on leash and donkeys on halters to sniff noses together calmly. Should we slowly proceed forth to accomplish this goal? Are we asking too much of these two species of animals? We have read such a difference of opinion on gelding. When do you believe is the best age?

Answer:First, if you want these male donkeys to remain sweet and non-aggressive, they should be castrated at six months and preferably when the weather is still cold enough to discourage any insects that could cause infections. You have done exactly the right thing by introducing the dogs and the donkeys, but you must also let them work out the details on their own. The pasture will be the donkey’s space and they will (out of instinct) protect their space and will often chase the dogs out of the pasture.

The dogs on the other hand will learn to respect this space and generally will not invade it. If they do, they will learn to do it cautiously. This is the best you can expect from these two animals. Donkeys and mules naturally chase small animals (especially the young male mules and donkeys). They will never be best friends, but they can learn to co-exist.

Donkey Brays While Showing

Question: I have your helpful videos but did not notice any discussion about a jack braying while showing him. What should I do? I plan to show him in his first show in 2 days. He performs nicely except for the braying.

Answer:It takes time, patience, routine and many other variables during the course of your jack’s life to get him to have his full attention on you, so he is not distracted. It is when they are not focused on you that the braying will occur. Understand that there are no quick fixes for these kinds of behaviors. It is much like taking a small child to a restaurant for dinner. If he has had good manners taught at home and gets plenty of positive attention, he will not be seeking attention and will probably behave well. However, if he hasn’t had this kind of training, he will most likely be virtually out of control, loud and obnoxious at the restaurant.

If you practice your showmanship techniques exactly as we have outlined in the training series and watch your own positioning while you are working with your jack, if you stand straight and quiet, then so will he. If he does happen to bray, just ignore it and keep standing still. Eventually, he will understand that the braying will not get him anything and he will begin to do it less and less. Our training manual and DVD, Equus Revisited, explains in detail the purpose of our resistance free training series.

Donkey Nips and Bites

Question: My four-year-old donkey bites and nips. I have tried everything! I tried smacking him and saying, “No.” I have tried spraying him with water and saying, “No.” He doesn’t run away. He keeps going at us! He already bit a big chunk off my brother and I don’t want my friends to be afraid of him. He’s just so stubborn! Any suggestions?

Answer: This donkey sounds as if he needs VERY SPECIFIC ground manners. Contrary to popular belief, feeding a reward for doing things correctly does not encourage biting and can actually prevent it when executed correctly. I have described the approach below. Just remember that he should be given a treat of crimped oats -and that is what he should be getting fed and not horse feeds, as they will promote biting, too-and only when he completes a task.

If he becomes aggressive about getting his oats reward, you will need to use negative reinforcement to correct this. Limiting behaviors, or negative reinforcement, is covered in DVD #2 of our resistance-free DVD training series. If your equine gets too close or pushy, you should slap him firmly on the side of the mouth with a flat hand, say, “No” very loudly, and turn your hand over and up like a stop sign. Then he will step back, fling his head sideways and back, at which point you should tell him, “Good, Boy (or Girl)” and give him a reward for giving you your space. The next time, you should only have to put your hand up and say, “No!” The animal should then be willing to back up for the reward when you put your hand up like a stop sign, but you still need to be very meticulous and consistent about when the reward is given and when correction is truly needed. Equines who receive the crimped oats rewards will also learn to be very careful about biting fingers while taking things from your hand. Animals that don’t get this kind of practice may not be as careful.

Donkey Not Responding

Question: Do YOU RUN training programs for Donkey handlers. If you do how long are they when do they run and what cost please? I am training my donkeys but as I have not been a horse person it is a learning curve for myself.

I find it really frustrating as (my husband who is a horse person) is able to get my donkeys to work cooperatively with him but when I do the same thing I have great problems. I.E. TROTTING ON COMMAND IN AN ARENA. I have watched your videos and realize donkeys take longer to train but why do they work better for one person than another???

Answer: Longears are just like people in that they form separate relationships with each individual they encounter. When we first encounter someone, we are usually on our best behavior, polite, considerate and do not make any demands until we get to know them better. These animals are the same. Also, it is easier to get to know someone when you have some things in common in the beginning.

Your husband is familiar with equines, knows somewhat their likes, dislikes, how to approach, etc. This is why he is warming up to them faster than you are. You still have some things you need to learn. This doesn’t mean they will always prefer him. It just means you need some time to learn as well before they will trust you. Don’t be so hard on yourself and give yourself time to learn these things. Begin by doing simple things such as leading training with them.

Do the things you are comfortable with and as you learn more, you can attempt more with them. The most important thing you can do at this point is don’t ask them to do anything for you on command, Just try to be a good friend and loving companion. Learn the theory behind our video series well, how to recognize good behaviors and reward them while stopping bad behaviors in their tracks and redirecting to the positive.

When they can relate to you at this level, you can move on to the next level of having them perform for you. For more details, read the articles “How to Use Meredith’s Products,” “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 1,” and “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 2.” Training is more than just teaching the animal to do things on command…it’s a whole relationship! There are also a lot of books in the public library about Behavior Modification, if you would like more detail than we offer in the article that is posted.

Donkey Paws

Question: My donkey paws the ground when she is tied short and when in her stall. She is not in her stall in the spring or summer, only in the fall when the bears are bad. When the winter snows come and it is cold (we live in BC, Canada). Right now I am starting to put her in every night and she is terrible.

Is there a way we could cure her of this problem?

Answer: Sounds like you live in some wild country and your donkey needs to be confined for her safety. She may paw and not appreciate being confined, but if you try to make her more comfortable while she is confined, eventually she will settle down. When she is in the stall, make sure she has free choice grass hay.

Don’t keep her confined for long periods of time. Bringing her in overnight is fine. Once she knows she will get out the next morning, she will start to settle down and the pawing should cease. When she is tied, be sure you are doing things with her such as grooming, a little training, than let her go back out. If you are consistent with the way you do your routine with her, she will come to know what to expect and will settle into the routine. Just be patient.

Donkey Shows Teeth

Question: What does it mean when ever a donkey shows it’s teeth? Is it good or bad when they do this? my mom was outside one day and dolly our 1 year old donkey opened her mouth and showed her teeth to her.

Answer: A donkey will show their teeth for a number of reasons:

*If they are angry, the ears will go flat back and they will lunge at you with teeth bared.

*If they think you have something to feed them, they will be more timid in their approach and appear to nibble at you.

*If they get something stuck in their teeth and they want you to help get it out, they will open their mouth and move their lower jaw from side to side.

*As a reaction to strange smells, or if they are in heat, they will do what is called the Fleshman’s expression where the nose and upper lip are raised, exposing the upper front teeth. This is what I suspect she probably did since it is Spring/Summer and the height of the breeding season.

Donkey Training

Question: I am a new owner of a 17-month jennet, and very pleased to report that we are both learning rapidly, largely thanks to your excellent books! We can now lead, turn, walk through/over natural obstacles, lift feet, groom, etc., and plan to prepare for showmanship classes with my grandson. “Sweetie” is by a nice spotted jack, out of a BLM jennet, and is now 42″. I plan to train her for riding and/or driving, and hope that my grandson will be able to show her in performance classes.

Given her breeding, I am not sure that halter classes will be appropriate. However, she is lively, light on her feet, pretty, (mouse brown, dorsal stripe, shoulder stripe, leg stripes), and a very affectionate temperament. I think she may become a good performer at the pleasure class level.

She learns in a flash, and my problem is to keep new tasks coming and enough variety to avoid too much repetition or drilling. We have a round pen, walk out along a private road and forested area, and I let her out to graze and play (fast gallops, kicks, jumps over brush heap) when I am gardening. I would appreciate any information you could supply on donkey maturation and appropriate age for tasks such as bridle training, ground driving, weight bearing, driving with cart, etc.

Can you refer me to information you have published? (I have your books, but not the videos.) I do have access to Dr. Tex Taylor at Texas A&M, and have recently joined the Gulf Coast Donkey and Mule Assoc., but so far I have not located anyone who can answer questions concerning maturation and tasks, or who knows how working with a donkey with a feral parentage will vary from donkeys with more “regulated” breeding. I have measured her for potential athletic ability, with good results, but I have noticed that your examples are males, and would like more information on how jennets differ in potential, and/or maturation, and performance.

Thank you very much for your good work! It’s so refreshing to see such excellence!

Answer: The information you request is contained in our resistance free DVD series. It is designed with a lot more detail than the books. DVDs #1 through #7 are designed to begin with DVD #1 and to be taken in sequence. It is similar to what grade school is for humans. Each DVD should take six months to a year to complete. DVD #8 deals with fitting, grooming, general management and advanced showmanship. DVDs #9 and #10 deal with techniques that are specific to donkeys and should be used in conjunction with the first seven DVDs. These DVDs are to be used this way whether your animal is a foal or an older animal that needs better training.

Your mule or donkey should not be ridden or driven with weight until he is at least 3 years old and preferably not until he is almost four. There is plenty of work to keep you busy until then that will lay the foundation for the more advanced work to come. If you use our program the way it is designed, your animal will be physically, mentally and emotionally conditioned to do what you are asking without resistance. If you encounter resistance, you are probably moving through training too fast. I have found that there is really little difference between the males and females, feral donkeys or domesticated.

Donkey Twisting Head on Lead Rope

Question: My donkey will lead really well most of the time, but sometimes he will twist his head, turn away from me and drag me to the point where I have to let go of the lead rope. How do I stop this behavior?

Answer: Showmanship training is not just for the showmanship class at a show. Perfecting your showmanship technique every time you have your equine on a lead line will command your equine’s attention to detail, build his confidence in you and ensure that he is strengthening his muscles properly throughout his body at a fundamental level.

Just as a baby has to learn to crawl before he can walk, your equine needs to learn to walk at your shoulder in nice straight lines with his balance equally distributed over all four feet, so that when you ask for a halt or a turn he is able to do it easily, without a loss of balance. Be conscious of your own body position when practicing. When preparing to walk off, make sure you hold the lead in your left hand, face squarely forward, extend your right arm straight forward, give the command to “Walk on,” and take a few steps forward. Make sure you walk straight forward in order to give your equine a lead to follow that is definite and not wobbly.

When you ask for a halt, stop with your weight balanced equally on both feet (still facing forward), hesitate for a second or two and turn to face your equine’s shoulder. If his legs are already square, you can then give the crimped oats reward for stopping. If they are not, take a moment to square up the legs and then give the reward. Praise him for standing quietly for a few seconds to allow him to settle. You can then turn back to your forward position, put your right arm forward again, give the command to “Walk on,” and proceed a few more steps before halting again. Each time he complies, you can add more steps before halting. When you practice the turn, he should always be turned away from you to the right, never into you while you are on the left side!

When executing the turns, ask your equine to take one step forward with the right front foot then cross the left front foot over the right to make the turn. Your own legs should execute the turn the same way, again giving your equine a good example to follow. Turns to the left should be schooled to develop the muscles equally on both sides. To do this, just change sides and execute the leading, halting and turning from the other side with the lead now held in your right hand with your left arm extended. Repeat the exact same exercise, but now from this position (though you will rarely have occasion to actually lead from this side). Be sure to dispense rewards only when he is settled and has done what you ask.

Paying attention to this kind of detail will greatly improve your animal’s conditioning, his balance and his attention to your commands over time. Equines will learn EXACTLY what you teach and will be only as meticulous as you are. Lead your animal this way every time you have him on the lead to build good habits, facilitate good posture and to give him the few seconds before each move to prepare for what comes next. The result is a relaxed, compliant and confident companion!

Escaping Mule

Question:I just purchased a weanling female mule. It was separated from its mother when I took it home. It is 4 1/2 months old. It’s very upset and tries to jump out of everything I put it in. It’s had a lot of work before I got it – she’s well halter broke, you can pick her feet up and she ties.

I tried putting her with a horse when I first brought her home, but 2 days later when I tried to take her away from the horse, she jumped out of her paddock. I now have in a 10X10 stall and don’t know if I should let her out in the paddock again or not. Or should I always turn her out with a horse so she doesn’t try to jump out? I don’t want her to be dependant on always having a horse nearby.

What do you suggest?

Answer: Your mule is upset for a very good reason. She is actually still too young to have been weaned. Equines do better when they are weaned at six months. They have many things to learn while they are with their dams in the first six months. It is not just a matter of feeding. In the wild, equines don’t actually wean their offspring entirely until the next one is born which can be as long as a year, and sometimes longer.

Since it is too late to “go back,” you should do the next best thing. Your mule needs companionship. Isolation is not the way to alleviate the anxiety your foal is feeling. Having a companion can help alleviate this anxiety, so I would say to leave her with the horse as a companion. Don’t worry, you and the horse can both be her friends. Isolation does not guarantee a bond between you and the mule. In fact, it will have the opposite effect and she will resent you for keeping her away from other friends.

When you wish to work with her, take the horse along with you for awhile. Work with them both at the same time. While you are doing something with one, you can tie the other nearby. When your mule foal is leading well, negotiating obstacles on the lead line, becoming more focused on you and more confident within herself, you can start bringing her out by herself, but keep the sessions short and sweet (20-40 minutes, no more!).

I think you would find our resistance-free DVD training series helpful as we show you how to do these things in their proper order. It is designed to begin with DVD #1 and take the training in sequence no matter the age or experience of the animal. If you follow our guidelines, the problems you describe will not occur. Your mule just needs a routine in her life that is balanced, kind and fair, with friends she can count on, not unlike what we humans require for happiness.

Fence Jumper

Question: My father is an avid reader of Mules and More magazine. And I also enjoy reading through it as well when I have the time. We live on a farm in Iowa, about 40 miles north of Omaha, NE. My father has two teams of mules. One team is around 21-22 years old; they are little short red colored mules, Jessie and Joni.

Sometime in the middle of July, Jessie, (the younger of the two) figure out she could jump the fence and get into greener, better grass. Also found the ground corn in the calf lot. Since then, she has just been roaming the farm free and easy, hanging out with the Holstein calves when she feels like it, or jumping back into the mule yard with the others, when she feels like it.

My Dad finally caught her and got a halter on her, he then hooked a long lead rope to her halter, because he had heard that the rope would keep her from jumping. Well, that worked for about a week, if that, and she was out again, still dragging the lead rope around with her. At one point a couple of weeks ago, he tied an old heavy tire rim to her rope. But when she walked with this thing dragging behind her, it scared her so bad she ran right through one of the fences, leaving the tire rim on one side of the fence free of the rope, and her on the other.

Last week he tied her to a fence in the mule yard, close to food and water. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he untied her a couple of days ago, less than a week of being tied up, and of course, she was off and out again, dragging the lead rope with her.

Do you have any advise or suggestions that you could give that would help to keep Jessie in with the other mules and breaking her of jumping fences? Your help would be so much appreciated.

Answer: The problem you are having with your mule jumping out of his pen is a common problem with mule owners. Mules are very intelligent animals and are also very sociable and love to be able to go where they please. There is really no training technique that will inhibit this behavior once it has begun. The best advice I can offer is to install an electric fence around the pasture in which you plan to keep the mule. They respect this type of fence and won’t even test it if it is installed properly.

The hotwire should be placed at the top of the fence, to the inside, and a bottom wire may be necessary if you have shorter animals that could go under it. There are solar fences, which do not require a plug-in. This will also help preserve wooden fences that they could chew on and the posts that hold your wire fence. There is less maintenance cost when they aren’t chewing on the wood.

Gelded Male Or Female?

Question: Thank you for your quick reply to my last email. I am planning on purchasing your videos about 6 months before getting the mule and learning them forwards and backwards.

Also I will be getting the weanling from a dear friend with lots of experience who has agreed to mentor me. I am confused about your warning about getting a male. I thought gelded males were the most predictable. As I mentioned before I am not planning on getting the mule for two years, so I can be well prepared. If it is for the best of my equine friend I could consider getting another equine for company. What do you suggest?

Answer: What you have heard about gelded males is probably in reference to horses, dogs and other animals, but mules are more like humans and react to the person who handles them. The females appear to be more forgiving of mistakes, more accepting and more independent in their approach to things that are new. Thus, training them can be a little easier than the males.

The males are more sensitive, less forgiving of mistakes and require more support from the handler. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It just requires more attention from you. Basically, they just get scared more easily. It is always better if they have a companion of some sort and better if it is their own kind and near their own age, just like people. However, if you can’t afford a companion, or don’t want one, I believe the female mule would do better alone than a male. Hope this answers your question. I admire you for preparing yourself ahead of time! I wish more people would take the same approach. they could save themselves a lot of trouble! I’m here to help if you need me!

Gelded Mule Breeding?

Question: How wonderful to be able to talk with you! My gelded mule is pasture breeding his field mares. Why is this happening? I know he was properly gelded and is not a crypt orchid. Can the behavior be squelched via hormone injection? Please let me have your advice. I have admired your training techniques as featured in Mules and More. You need to be on Ohio’s agenda for Equine Affaire. Would you be interested?

Answer: Your gelding mule is very typical and what he is doing is probably bothering you more than it is him or the mares. He can’t really “do it,” though it may look like it. My advice is to ignore the behavior. I find that it is usually the midrange males (3 years to 12 years) that do this and after awhile, with age, the drive disappears.

If he is injuring your mares, then he should be separated, but if not, just ignore it. Any kind of medical interference for these kinds of behaviors usually doesn’t do much to remedy the problem anyway and can have adverse long term affects.

It’s better to be flexible and adjust to the behavioral changes as they occur. Your gelding probably won’t be jumping on the mares for more than a few months out of the year anyway. So, rather than taking a chance on him getting frustrated and possibly more aggressive, just let things be as they are and ignore his behavior.

Hard to Catch, Stiff in the Neck, Ear Shy Mule

Question: I raised and started Quarter Horses for a long time. I have patience and respect for animals. I know nothing about training mules. I have had this mule (June) for two weeks. The former owner had her for 10 years. She rides good and neck reins, has a good stop and will back. She has several issues I need to work on.

1. Hard to catch: I started yesterday with the plain walking up to her with the halter in the round pen. When I get her caught, I take her straight to the stall where there is half of her feed and tie her ‘til she eats. I will do this twice a day hoping this will help.

2. She won’t give me her head: VERY stiff in the neck. When I ask for her head, she moves her back & her rear in the opposite direction. I have always been successful doing this with horses. Can I hobble her to keep her from moving and try to get her to flex?

3. Ear shy: Have to bridle like a halter. I rub her head toward her ears and then retreat before she moves her head and can, after a while, rub her ears, but I know I couldn’t get a bridle over her head. I am making progress and hope to someday bridle her without unbuckling the bridle.

Do you have any DVDs on these problems? Or any suggestions?

Thanks,
J. B.

Answer: There really are no effective and safe quick fixes for bad behaviors. They are the result of what I call “fragmented” training. Mules and donkeys need to be raised and trained much like children as they are growing up, or even when they are just getting used to new owners. They need to learn over time just what is expected of them in a way that is non-threatening, yet defines limits. No matter how old or how well-trained the animal, they need time doing the simplest of things to get to know you before they will learn to trust and have confidence in you. Just as our children need routine and ongoing learning while they are growing up, so do mules and all other equines. They need boundaries for their behavior clearly outlined to minimize anxious behaviors and inappropriate behavior. The time together during leading training and going forward builds a good, solid relationship with your equine and fosters their confidence and trust in you because you help them to feel good.

Head Resting, Corralling the Handler

Question: My 10-year-old molly mule puts her ears in the half-backrest mode and rests her head on my shoulder. If any of the others, boss horse included comes near, she will step in between me and the approaching critter and give her best ear pinning and head tossing routine, then come back to me. She only does this if I’m out in the field cleaning hooves, brushing, picking up manure etc.

This so called “head on shoulder” thing doesn’t seem to me to be a normal equine habit, in my thinking, so I am hoping maybe you could shed some light on why they are doing it and what it means in equine lingo. Besides all of us having spoiled animals!

Answer: This is a dominant behavior, but it is also an extremely affectionate and protective behavior. Your molly is just letting the others know that you are “her person.” Whether or not the behavior becomes dangerous depends upon how well you set limits for her during the training process and the training process should include anytime you are working with her. Her heavy head could certainly do damage if you don’t let her know how much she can lean on you before it becomes a problem. You will need to let her know when her head is getting “too heavy” by either pushing her head away or pushing up on her jaw until she eases up. If her blocking gets in your way, tell her to walk on and flag your arms at her. If she still won’t clear the way, then take a crop in with you and use it politely to get her to move until she moves easily after which you will no longer need it.

Herd-bound

Question: Thank you so much for you’re past tips & advice on the proper use of this aid. After speaking w/ a local saddle-maker I’m beginning to think it is my saddle that needs replacing & not my trying to patch the proverbial “leak in the boat”.

I’m curious if there’s any cure for “herd-bound”? Re: whenever I go on any group rides & have him tied to the trailer (I usually trailer alone & meet someone at the trailhead), all it takes is someone, any equine he’s familiar w/ or not, to leave his sight & he starts rearing-up, straight-up. The way the previous owners taught me to deal w/ this is NOT to get angry but simply hobble him. I do that & it helps but he’s still able to rear-up.

My presence seems to help calm him (I guess he likes me a little) but it’s still disconcerting to all around. It’s even worse on overnighters because the bond is stronger! Naturally he’d be better if I didn’t have him tied to my trailer, but on a shared highline (or picket) it upsets those also connected. I realize there’s no easy solution for ‘what comes natural’, just looking for an expert’s view.

Answer: The only cure for being herd bound is to allow your mule time to grow up and time to establish a good strong positive relationship with you. You will need to learn some things yourself along the way to make sure that you are being fair in this relationship and doing the kinds of things that will bring about the response you desire from your mule. This takes time.

The behaviors you describe are typical behaviors for an animal that is experiencing stress. A lot of times, this can be a matter of age. The mule that is under 6 years of age, who is rearing and pawing when tied is usually an animal with excess energy to burn and not a lot of interest in their human counterparts. Their interest in the owner will increase with the proper training program and the negative behaviors will diminish.

An older animal who is exhibiting these behaviors is experiencing stress from improper training and has anxiety about what will happen next. Calming these animals will take longer than it would with the younger animal. Hobbling is just a temporary fix that works on some and not on others. In fact, it can have a negative effect on the mule since it restrains them and causes more anxiety. It would be better to be more supportive of the animal in general and in time, he will learn to lean on you for support rather than seeking it elsewhere.

Herd-bound, Hard to Catch Mule

Question: My mule is hard to catch and will not leave his pasture mates easily. When we try to ride off, he wants to turn and go back to the barn. What do I do?

Answer: Many people think their animals are “herd bound” when really they just enjoy the company of their “friends” as anyone would. Your task is to become as good a friend to your mule as his equine friends. The first step is to allow him to have his equine friends. Don’t separate him unless he is a new animal who needs to get acquainted with the others “over the fence” before you actually turn them in together.

When the animals are together, start slowly. When you go to catch your mule, always wait for him to come to you. Show him a reward of crimped oats to encourage him. If other animals in the pen come first, halter them, take them out of the pen and tie them off to the side, or run them into another area. Then, go back to the gate and ask your mule to come to you. Do not go after him. It must be his idea to come to you.

Introduce yourself to the animal by doing short training sessions (20-40 minutes) every other day. Begin with very simple ground work and keep your expectations and communication clear and consistent. Even if your mule is already fully broke, going back to initial ground lessons will help the two of you create a secure bond that will eventually decrease his need to be with the other animals. Eventually he will find a “more interesting” friend in you-one who finds all kinds of fun things to do besides just grazing! Remember to be patient and take the time for this relationship to blossom. You can’t make a good friend overnight. When you finally do get to the stage of riding, your mule will have the confidence to leave his friends, and he’ll be perfectly happy to spend that time with you!

Hinny Chewing/Eating Wood

Question: My hinny has gnawed on wood in his stall, picked up twigs from branches as thick as my fingers and would start to eat them til I could get them out of his mouth, and this morning ate my sewing yard stick that I used to support a flap of buttle rubber to go across the bottom of his stall door in the winter (because he doesn’t like the draft coming in at the bottom of his door). He ate 4 inches and then some of the yard stick. Is this normal behavior or boredom/nervousness, or is he missing something? He has a mineral block as well as regular salt block. Can you help me with this?

Answer: Mules and donkeys like to chew on trees and other woods no matter what you may try to do. This does not necessarily mean there is a deficiency in their feeding program. It is more of a behavioral thing that they sometimes do out of boredom or natural anxiety. It is much like people who like to smoke or chew gum. The best thing to do is to loosely wrap your trees in chicken wire so your animals do not kill the trees. You can also use chicken wire to line the walls of wooden barns and around posts to discourage chewing. If you have a wooden fence, the best thing to do is to line the inside of a fence with one or two rows of hotwire to keep them from chewing the fences down. It is my experience that there is no product on the market that can be “painted” on to really solve this problem easily. Your mule just needs to have his living quarters adequately protected from the chewing, and he needs a regular routine of exercise (every other day or at least a couple of times a week) so he has activity that he can count on. A well-rounded and healthy lifestyle is the best medicine!

Horses Attacking New Mules

Question: Our question is about horse / mule interactions: We have four mules that we use for trail riding and packing, typically riding over 1000 miles in our short North Idaho riding season, so they are not pets, but valued members of our High Country Happy Trail Time! Three are john mules (2 – 11 yrs; 1 – 10 yr); one molly mule (11 yr.) Two of the johns we have had for two years, the other two since last spring. We also have five horses, two geldings, three mares, ages 26, 25, 23, 11, & 10 and have had all since their birth.

The two younger horses (11 yr. maiden mare & 10 yr. gelding) are 1/2 brother / sister out of the 25 yr. mare, who is a 1/2 sister to the other two oldsters. The three oldsters are the dominant herd animals, with the 26 yr. gelding being the ‘benevolent dictator,’ meaning he never uses violence to get his way, just body language; no one ever questions his authority.

The other two mares are also kindly towards the herd hierarchy, but can be a little ornery at times. The 23 yr. mare, LOVES all mules, and has been a bell mare when Bob actively packed / outfitted. The other mare, dam to the two young horses, tolerates mules, but doesn’t go out of her way to be friendly with them.

These older horses have been the horse/mule behavior imprinters for the younger set. The two young horses had a mule buddy from birth until two years ago, when he died of colic. This mule they tolerated, the gelding even playing with him frequently. The young mare, was sort of friendly, but mostly tolerated him, similar to her dam. We were mule-less for about 6 months, then got the two johns, then about 8 months later the other john and molly. The oldsters tolerate these mules, with the bell mare being her typical ‘in love’ with them all.

The young horses HATE them! They are polite and tolerant when they are caught (haltered/tied/trailered, etc.) under saddle on the trail, either being packed or ridden, but in the pasture, they are vicious and hateful, chasing and cornering them to kick & bite whenever possible.

We have them in a wide open 15 + acre pasture, semi-hilly, some woods, plenty of dodge and dash space. We have separated the horses, turned them loose with hobbles, used a buggy whip against them when close enough to catch them being bad, used very stern language, etc. The young horses are remorseful & penitent for a short while after discipline, but soon revert to their hateful ways.

Meanwhile, the mules are sweetness personified! They seem to be in wonder and awe as to why they are so hated? The young horses are well bred Tennessee Walking Horses and well trained and fine tuned to be as dependable and quality a mountain using animal as you can find, so selling them isn’t an option.

The mules are becoming fine – tuned and trained to our ‘program’ and are becoming a valued part of the herd also, so selling them isn’t an option. BUT, What to do??? The horse animosity is so bad sometimes, that we are amazed that no animal has been hurt, other than a bit of missing hair.

The husbandry logistics of our place is that we can’t really separate them, especially during winter with one thawable water tank and the hay barn being a long ways from the pasture where the horses could be separated to. Do you have any ideas?

And, we’ve contemplated breeding the young mare to a jack, other than her attitude towards these mules, she is a fine animal (good conformation, size, gait, gentleness, trainability, sense, manners, etc. all of the qualities that a mule mom should have) but we are afraid what she might do to a mule foal??? We don’t like to think about it… This is a long question, but I wanted to be thorough with the background information. Any and all thoughts you have would be valued.

Answer: Mules and horses are really much like people and like people, they have their likes and dislikes depending on their own life experience. The experience of the 2 younger horses was to be with the 3 others and a mule that they grew up with. Their relationship and their pecking order was established. Upon the loss of the other mule, the 2 horses became closer and tighter in their relationship. They are the offspring of the 25 year old mare and would naturally want to protect and isolate THEIR MOM from any new and aggressive (which mules are, more than horses)”intruder.”

But, Mom is older and not so concerned about such things, so the fight becomes between the younger pair and mules in general, since their mule friend is gone and these others are virtually newcomers. My first impulse would be to separate the 2 horses from the herd since they are the ones that could most likely become injured, but since you have not offered that option, my only advice would be to let them sort it out. You have enough acreage for them to get out of the way of each other. You will just need to make sure there is plenty of distance between them when feeding, so you don’t give them a reason to fight. Since you can’t always tell who will be at what pile of feed, all the piles would need to be amply spaced to avoid conflict. Then, whatever they do with each other in between feedings, will just have to be tolerated. I would guess that this bickering will subside over the years as they age.

Jack Biting At Open Sores

Question: We have a Jack. He is just a pet. I call him my big dog! Age unknown, but not young. We never owned one before, so know little about them. He has a bleeding sore on his leg, I put the antibacterial Nitrofurazone on him, but he bites at it and it is getting worse, {Bigger}

Oh and he does not like it put on him. May be it burns? He gave me a little KICK, Got me in the hand. Is there some thing better to put on it? And what is the best thing to put on to keep the flies and bugs OFF him. Thank you.

Answer: It is important that the jack be stabled in a clean environment. That means cleaning corrals everyday. That will eliminate most of your fly problems right away. Then you can use TriTech 14 fly spray. We have found this is the best and the most long-lasting (1 week).

As for your jack’s sores, we use Neosporin or if they persist, “Animax” (Panalog) on the sores our jacks have had.

It is my experience that feeding is also important. If you are feeding more than 10% protein to your jack, it can cause hypertension and a predisposition to nervous behaviors such as biting himself with the slightest irritation.

Donkeys shouldn’t get alfalfa, or alfalfa products…grass hay only! What also helps is to have training activities for your jack other than just breeding. When they have something “else” to do, they are less apt to develop negative behaviors that stem from boredom.

Injured Mule Head Shy

Question: Our mule injured his forehead and is now very head shy. We have had to leave his halter on him and ride him in only his halter. We tie his bit to the halter. If you even get close to his ears he throws his head back and rears. He has tried to paw my husband several times. We are at a loss. He rides very well, even in just the halter. We do not want to give up on him. He is only a three year old.

Answer: This mule appears to have gotten what I call fragmented training and has not had enough time spent on the basics to cultivate confidence and trust in his handler. I would go all the way back to leading training and go through the proper steps to help him, rather than jumping ahead and using the restraint method I have described below, as you may not need it after spending enough time on groundwork.

First, leaving a halter on the animal is very dangerous. He could get it caught on something and either break his neck or at the least, paralyze him if it gets snagged!

Mules and donkeys learn like children and you cannot throw a lot of different things at them all at once, especially when they are not really done in a natural and logical order! When training, use a fanny pack filled with oats and do NOT offer a bucket. It does not produce the same results! You should not even have a halter and lead on your equine until he lets you pet him all over! Then you can approach with the halter. Our video series is done in a natural order and if you want to have the right results, you need to be working in that natural and logical order.

For instance, you would begin before you even halter him by asking him to come to you and then reward him with crimped oats when he does come (Do not reward with anything else!). When he is consistently coming to you, the next step would be to carry the halter with you but not put it on. Reward his approach and acceptance of the halter being present.

Once the presence of the halter doesn’t bother him, the next step is putting the halter on. Be polite. Reward your equine for the approach and acceptance of the halter, then try to loop your arm over his neck while feeding the crown strap of the halter from your left hand to your right hand that is looped over his neck. This way, if he starts to move away slowly, you can pull him back towards you with the loop around his neck and finish by putting his nose through the noseband of the halter. If he jerks away quickly, just let go and encourage him to return and try again by showing him the oats, but do not give them to him until he comes back to your hand. Anytime he moves away, just ask him to return, but do not chase him! Make him come to you for the rewards.

Apparently, your mule has very sensitive ears and is now worried about anyone or anything hurting them. He can be retrained to bridle fairly easily, but it may take a few sessions.

For animals that are hard to bridle, use the “face tie” as is demonstrated in DVD #2 of my resistance free training series. Make sure you have a nylon halter that fits snugly around the face (but not too tight). Make sure your lead rope is stout and tie the mule’s nose directly to the hitch rail by looping it over the rail, come back through the noseband of the halter, take another loop and tie it off tight. If he struggles, just back off for a minute and let him settle. He will eventually quit struggling (unlike horses that would break their necks trying to get loose).

Then you can approach him safely with the bridle in hand. Stroke his face on the forehead bringing the headstall up the front of his face. Stop when the bit gets to his mouth and hold it there while you press on the bars of his mouth to get the bit in, then pull the headstall up a little farther and hold it for a moment with the bit in his mouth, stroking his forehead again before you try to get it over her ears. When he gets quiet again, slip your hand through the opening above the brow band and in front of the headstall and slowly wrap your hand gently around the ear and try to bring it forward through the headstall. Be sure to be gentle with the ear while you do this and any time he starts to get violent, just stop before going any farther.

Once you get headstall over the first ear, take the loose end of your lead rope and tie the cheek piece of the bridle on that side to the halter with a loop that you can undo easily. This will keep him from throwing the bridle off his head when you change sides. Then, go to the other side and approach it the same way. Once the bridle is secured to his head, loosen the “face tie,” tell him how good he was and give him a reward (crimped oats).

When you come back after riding, put him back in the face tie again, and take the bridle off being cautious about his ears again. Don’t give him the opportunity to yank it away or get into any kind of battle with you. After a few times of doing this way, he should begin to relax and comply when in the “face tie.” Some will take longer than others. But when he does accept it all easily, you can then begin tying the “face tie” a little looser each time until it isn’t needed any longer.

The important thing to remember is to stay calm and deliberate yourself and non-invasive, just firm. If he also takes exception to the reins going over his head, just undo them and bring them up each side. No sense in creating more stimulus than he can handle. This will take a lot of patience and understanding on your part, but I’m certain you can get him over this. I have had this problem with a few mules in the past and this approach does work. It just takes time.

Introducing New Mule

Question: I have a 23 year old john mule that’s ‘in retirement’ from a pack string. Just a sweetie when it comes to people. I bought a new Mollie, 16 years old a couple of months ago, and they’re having a real hard time adjusting to each other.

The chasing has stopped (he chases her), and they will tolerate each other long enough to stand in adjoining stalls to eat. But whenever I go out to catch them up (or any other time I go out and they are in close proximity to each other), it’s pretty dangerous due to all the nipping and kicking. Not at me, but at each other. I’m always on edge, concerned that I might get caught in the crossfire. Can you offer any suggestions on how to deal with this behavior?

Answer: This is a common problem and there are no quick fixes. You need to establish a detailed routine with these two. When I say detailed, I mean, first you have to learn how to establish yourself as the dominant one in this “herd!” There are ways of doing this, but it takes time and experience.

When you go out with them, you must insist that they behave while you are feeding. Carry a short riding crop with you. If one starts to nip or kick, say, “NO!” in the loudest voice you can muster and hold the animal at bay by raising the crop in front of you and point it at him or her. Then continue what you are doing.

When they are being good, be sure to talk to each of them calmly and quietly and encourage niceness! When you have animals eating together, you really should avoid going into the pen with them at that particular time. It is wiser to throw the feed over the fence or into the feeder from a safe spot. Space the feed a good distance from each mule and let them work out their differences by themselves. If you’d like to know more about these animals and their behaviors, I would suggest looking into our resistance free training series.

Jumping Fences

Question: We have just purchased the nicest saddle mule, but he will not stay in our fences. He just jumps out for a while and comes back but I am concerned that sometime, he may not come back. What do you think of hobbles on him or if it would even help?

We have 80 acres so it’s not that he doesn’t have enough to graze on. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Answer: Sorry to hear your mule doesn’t want to stay home! Mules are often quite clever and view the world as their own private playground, especially while they are younger animals. If there is a way out of a pen, these clever individuals will find it.

The only things that I know work with mules is first to have a hotwire on inside of the top rail of your fence and keep it charged. They will respect this and will rarely hit it more than once, if even once. The other thing is to make sure that you have chains on all your gates with a clasp that is smooth all around. They can undo snaps! The trucker’s clasps work best. If you have a wooden fence, this will also discourage cribbing.

Lazy Mule

Question: Thanks for the reply. I would like to further pick your brains on this matter. I am 53 and have been riding mules for 6 years. A lot has been on my own. I started with a 20 year old easy going guy that I still have–mainly trail work. Two + years ago I bought a well-trained mule who had been shown a fair bit in eng. equitation, western pleasure, hunter etc in mule shows up and down the east coast.

I have never been able to get a lot of info/support from the previous owners on him, however. Anyway, I have done a lot of lessons privately with him both trail riding with another woman and then dressage basics–which I really want to continue doing. However this mule is not forward–I really have to get after him with the dressage whip. He just doesn’t seem ‘into’ ring work.

We have made progress, mind you, but we don’t believe he has it in him to go beyond training level dressage. He is willful–when I ride down my road he tries to dive into the neighbor’s yard and we have worked on this one a lot I am not asleep at the switch, but he thinks he can muscle us where he wants to go.

Getting jerked this way and that isn’t what my body needs, frankly. Is it just that it takes quite awhile to get the trust and compliance of ones mule, or can it be this guy is just a extra headstrong case, and might I do better to look again….for something that REALLY works well in a snaffle and likes dressage, and is willing and obeying in general.

Can such a mule transfer to a new owner who is fairly experienced and very willing and not heavy handed??? Does Lloyd really get mules trained English?? I have your book and your videos and they are great, although if I had a pocketful of oats as a reward, my guy would never get his face out of my pocket! I love your books and videos, they have great info. Thanks for your advice. I feel stuck, frankly.

Answer: The reason you are having problems with this guy is because you are not “paying” him enough to really put forth an effort for you. The very heart of our program is the grain reward they receive for their efforts. No reward, no effort. I agree that he would try to be in your pockets, but it is up to you to do the corrective training that is described in DVD #2, if he bites, or kicks.

If he nips, or bites, he would be slapped on the side of the mouth for intruding on your “space,” which will cause him to throw his head back and prepare to run off. In the instant that he hesitates with his head in the air, you would tell him, “Good, Boy (for backing off and stopping), then give him his grain reward while he is NOT in your pockets. You would do the same thing when he runs off; go after him and reward him for “Stopping.” This is called “Behavior Modification,” rewarding good behaviors and stopping bad ones in their tracks and redirecting to the positive.

If you follow this course, this mule should be able to perform for you obediently and willingly. No mule will be “bomb proof,” unless you develop a good working relationship with them where they depend on your guidance and feel that the safest place is with YOU! Our program can help you to do this safely. I have trained all my mules this. My mules are all very trustworthy and will do anything I ask willingly and safely. The biggest part of this isn’t the actual training exercises, but rather, their trust in me! I suppose you could say I have earned it. Loyd Hawley trains mules for trail riding in a gentle way that works, but regardless of where you get the mule, the relationship is up to you!

Limiting Bad Behaviors

Question: I am following your video series. My molly mule is three and had some “heavy handed” training before I purchased her the spring of 2006. I am on the first video. I keep my training sessions short. I started out in her stall with imprinting. This spring I started training sessions in a small paddock and in her pasture. I am positive, patient, and work hard at rewarding good behavior with oats.

As she has gotten to know me and understands what I am asking, she sometimes goes into this “poor me” and/or “pushy” mode and “decides” whether she wants to do what I am asking or not. When this happens, I ignore the attitude, back up, and get her to do something else, then reward her for it. Am I handling this right? Is this just a “phase” or should I be correcting her in some way?

One more thing, she doesn’t seem to have issues with kicking. Should I do the whip training anyway?

Answer: Limiting behaviors, or negative reinforcement, is covered in DVD #2 of the DVD series (biting and kicking). If your equine gets too close or pushy, you should use the “biting” approach for correction and slap him on the side of the mouth, Say “No” very loudly and put your hand up like a stop sign. Then he will step back, or fling his head back, at which point you should tell him, “Good, Boy (or Girl)” and give him a reward for giving you your space. The next time you should only have to put your hand up and say, “No!” The animal should then be willing to back up for the reward when you put your hand up, but you still need to be very consistent about when the rewards are given and when correction is truly needed. “No” is the only negative verbal command and will be used as the only word that denotes your displeasure, so there is never any confusion (do not use any other words or noises!).

To discourage kicking, we tie the animal to a stout post and run a buggy whip over his whole body paying particular attention to the rear quarters. When he kicks, yell “No” as loud and as abruptly as you can, then strike the fetlock with the whip, once for every kick. If the mule, or donkey, is not bothered by the whip, or is showing some tolerance, take this opportunity to encourage him and reward him with crimped oats for being quiet and allowing his whole body to be touched with the whip, without so much as a flinch.

A mule that is not bothered by the touch of the whip will probably not need further kicking training. Be assured that this will make your mule or donkey nervous in the beginning, but it usually only takes about 15 minutes to a half hour, one time, and he will learn to wait, tuck his rear and stand instead of firing a kick. After this training, if he is agitated and wants to kick, he will slowly raise a leg and if you say, “No!” he will put it back down. This approach is the best way to avert problems with kicking, which can have injurious or fatal results.

There will be times when you will need to set these limits to keep the animal from becoming pushy and dangerous, but usually they get the corrections immediately. As you see by the correction, we let the animal know that the behavior is unacceptable with negative punishment (which does not really hurt them, I might add) and then immediately go to the positive and reward their good behavior of stepping back and giving you your space. Then they will learn they will be rewarded for stepping back and will do it when you simply raise your hand like a stop sign and say, “No!” They will learn to stop, think and wait for the next command from you.

Loaner mule

Question: What do you do with a new mule that is a loaner? I have one who is 21 yr. old, stays off to her plus has gotten her in trouble by either stepping in a hole or snakebite.

Her fetlock is real swollen & I have been hydrating it & putting DRAW on it. She is very sweet & will appear at the end of the day for some feed but she hides like a deer. Any suggestions?

Answer: It sounds like this mule has never really been socialized.

If you want her to start coming to you, then you have to take the time to establish a rapport with her. Wear a fanny pack with oat treats in it and encourage her to come to you for treats. Then spend time stroking her and massaging her body all over from head to tail, paying attention to the things she likes most. Don’t ever chase after her. Make her come to you.

In the beginning, she may be a little slow about it, but over time, she will be happy to see you and will come to you anytime, anywhere. Our resistance free training series can give you the guidelines you need to do this. They are designed like grade school where you would start with DVD #1 and work your way through one step at a time, taking the DVDs in sequence whether the mule is a foal or an older animal that has not had the benefits of a complete training course. If you need help along the way, you can call me. I can help you through any rough spots.

Lunging a Wild Burro

Question: I’ve adopted a wild burro at the BLM adoption and have started gently leading him. I had progressed from stroking all over and scratching and brushing to picking up his hoofs. I have a 20×20 pen in which he lives and in which I work with him. I want to know if lunging would work in this size pen. We have been working on Whoa, and stand and he does well with backup.

Sometimes he wants to stop when I use the lead rope and use this as an opportunity to say whoa. He has at times been unwilling to proceed forward. So I use this as a time to teach move left or move right using his halter to help with this.

Any suggestions to help me keep him moving since we are still building trust. I would like a book reference for training tips. Any information you can provide me will be helpful. I will thank you in advance for any advice you can give.

Answer: Training donkeys is even a little more different from training horses than training mules. They have a very distinctive way that they want to learn. It sounds as if you are started the right way, but there is a lot to do on a lead line before you even begin to lunge him. The pen you describe would be too small. It is difficult enough to do circles in a 40-foot pen (45-50 feet is ideal).

We do have a resistance free series that you would find most useful, I’m sure. You should get the whole series (DVDs # 1-#10), but if you can’t afford them all, then I would definitely recommend getting DVDs #9 and #10 that deal specifically with donkeys.

Male Mules in the Herd

Question: When can I turn my weaned male mule back into the herd with the other animals?

Answer: You can turn your weaned, male mule back into the herd when he is two years old. It should be fine to put him back in with the mare after weaning. Mules will always love their mothers, and that connection will always be there. During training, you want your mule to learn to think of you as his “other Mom.” If he does, he’ll enjoy being with you enough to go with you without getting stressed about being away from his equine friends.

I keep my mules separate from the mares, because the mules were driving the horses crazy with their need to be near them. A male mule will assert his dominance much like a stallion would. They can’t breed the horses because they should be castrated, but they can bother them enough to cause anxiety. My male mules were claiming certain mares for their own, so the mares were not able to peacefully graze together. They were at the mercy of these male mules. The molly mules did not pose this problem; they just grazed with the mares and, in some cases, kept the male mules from getting too obnoxious with the horses. My mares are much happier by themselves in the “retirement” pasture.

If you have a larger group, you should consider the aggressive behaviors of the male mules. You should not put any younger (2 years and under), older (18 years and older), or smaller animals in with your mules. The mules will chase them, possibly causing injury or even death. Cattle, goats, etc., should never be pastured with male mules and some molly mules. Mules can learn to accept the presence of animals such as dogs when you’re working with them or trail riding, and the smaller animals will learn to give the mule some space and not go into his pen. This is a mutual respect that develops with your help when the animals live in close proximity. The best companion for a mule is another equine of a comparable size and age.

Mare Suddenly Rearing

Question: I watch your show a lot and really enjoy. However, I don’t have a mule question. I have a horse question. I have a 4yr/mare and all of the sudden has started to rear. She has never ever offered to rear before.

My mare has started to back up when she doesn’t want to go down the road. I have a huge ditch on one side, and an electric fence on the other. The past few days, when I’ve been riding her, she goes so far down the road, and then she wants to go back, and when I won’t let her, she tries to back up.

The past few days, when I won’t let her back up, she’s started to rear. Is there any way to nip this backing up and rearing in the bud, before it gets worse? I just don’t understand, she’s never, ever tried to rear before. Thanks a lot….

Answer: The behavior you describe is typical of a horse that has what I would call fragmented training. She has, at her young age, been exposed to the basics in training and performs the tasks, but does not have a secure bond with the rider nor the adequate muscle conditioning to perform these tasks.

This happens when young animals are pushed too fast through the training process from the very beginning. Many trainers begin what they call “training” in the round pen, but this is not where initial bonding and basic learning skills occur. It is not where the muscles that surround the bony columns obtain strength. The core muscles need passive exercise that comes from extensive lead line training to become strong.

It is much like raising children. Before they are able to be placed in a school and learn the technical aspects of growth, children need to be nurtured and encouraged to interact with rewards for their good behaviors from the time they are born while dealing with the seemingly smaller issues such as routine bathing, going to bed, etc. Exercises need to be appropriate for growth phases.

These routines shape and mold the way an individual will react to different situations in life. The animals need this same kind of nurturing and support from the beginning. We do this with imprinting, and with employing a process called Behavior Modification in which we learn how to identify positive behaviors in our animals and then reward them, set limits for negative behaviors and encourage a more intimate relationship with the animal that is built on mutual respect and consideration. We spend a lot of time in lead line training establishing good core muscle strength, balance and coordination. The animal will then learn to trust your judgment and will gain confidence to “go down the road” easily later.

The work done in the round pen just fine tunes this mutual respect and working relationship, moving on to issues such as dominance and tasks to be completed. Without the social skills before the round pen work, the animal can become lost and confused and negative behaviors such as you describe begin to arise. It is much like the child who has not had the benefit of a loving family and good exercise before he enters school.

I encourage people to back up and use our resistance-free DVD training series to establish better working relationships with their animals. It is designed to begin with DVD #1, where you develop these skills, and take the training in sequence no matter the age or experience of the animal. By doing this, you will improve the communication between you and your horse and she will gain confidence and a willingness to do anything that you ask.

Mare-Minded Mule

Question: I just recently bought a 7-year-old gelded mule. I have had horses my whole life and been riding my whole life. My mule was amazing when I first rode him before I bought him, and even the multiple times I rode him before I brought him home. Since I brought him home though, he does not want to leave my other mares. When I take him out of the barn, I have trouble getting him to come willingly. He gives me such trouble when riding because he just wants to go back to the horses. I read up on mules and training them before I bought him so I wasn’t completely lost. I do know enough to realize that he does not respect me and I am working on that, but I don’t know what to do about the riding problems. Anything you can tell me would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: To start an equine properly in the bridle, it is important to maintain the integrity of the direct rein contact of the Eggbutt snaffle bit for ultimate communication. That means when you pull the right rein, the animal’s head moves to the right, and when you pull left, the animal’s head moves to the left. When you pull back, the equine goes back and when you release, they can go forward. The equine feels the vibration of the reins in the corners of his mouth, and as he learns what you want, he will respond to less pressure each time he is schooled. Pretend that your reins are made from thread that can break if you pull too hard. This is how we get equines to be “light” in the bridle. Curb bits are fine for an equine that has had good basic training because they have learned to “follow your seat.” Then you can hold both reins in one hand. This is true “neck-reining.” Many people believe that if an animal is not complying that they just need a stronger bit. The truth is the rider needs to address his own riding practices and learn how to “cooperate” with the animal instead of trying to “control” him. Bosals, bitless bridles, side pulls, and anything other than a snaffle bit (that works from the corners of the lips) will not allow the best communication with your equine. These devices can cause resistance problems as you try to balance your equine’s body when riding or driving. The information below will explain the sequence that training should take for the best results. You will need to be patient and willing to restart this mule the right way from the beginning. You will find him a lot more cooperative if you do.

Although we begin our DVD series with “Foal Training,” no matter how old, you should always begin training with imprinting and move forward from there with attention to feed as well. This will ensure a positive introduction and will help to build a good relationship with your mule. Our methods are meant to be done in a sequence, and taking shortcuts or changing our method in some way will not yield the same results. After many years of training for other people, 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. People are encouraged to use the series and to contact me via mail, email or telephone for answers to any questions. This way your questions can be answered promptly. But bonding is not the only consideration. In order to move correctly, they must also be fed and trained correctly.

Molly Mule Cycling Behavior

Question: I had written to you before about wanting to know a little more on mule behavior. I already have a mare horse and she is very moody, much like most mares I have seen. I was wondering, even though mare mules are sterile do they come in season and are they moody like most mare horse?

Answer: Any living creature will go through cycles of what you are calling “moody.” Some days are just better than others and living creatures will react accordingly.

When a female cycles, there are times close to estrus when the body is crampy and uncomfortable and that is what the mares and mollies react to. On those days, it is important for you to be considerate of the way they feel and not ask as much from them. That doesn’t mean that they can’t do anything, but it does mean that some things will be more difficult for them and it is better to wait to do those things during a time when they are feeling more “like themselves.”

So, yes, molly mules do cycle like all females and will exhibit the same kinds of behaviors in varying degrees just like humans do. There are surgeries that can be done to prevent the animal from cycling normally, but these surgeries don’t necessarily prevent the secondary symptoms like cramping to cease, so they don’t always solve the problems and could even cause more trauma and anxiety. It is better to just be sensible about what you ask from your animal and when. Even the males will be more aggressive and more difficult to work with during breeding season, so each gender has it’s moments…so to speak. It’s best to just lower your expectations at that time. It’s just life.

Mule Charging Back To Stable

Question: I have since acquired a molly mule, 13hh about 20 or 25 years old. She is very pretty, black with a blaze and stockings. Amongst other things she has been used for endurance riding, pulling a trap single, transporting kids double on an animal farm and giving mule rides to kids. She was found by a friend of mine at an abattoir in very poor condition.

When I got her she was listless didn’t want to eat and panicked badly if put in a stable. Would scream and yell if taken away from her friend. When I rode her, her first reaction was to rush back to the stable. She also did this when we tried to drive her. She was not being naughty, but it seemed to be a fear related response.

She has been with me for a month now and is responding well. She has put on weight, comes when called, follows me around, is more comfortable in her stable, gallops around with my Sec C welsh driving pony, and has even been seen to give the occasional buck! I have not tried to work her since the first time.

My question to you is. How can I stop her charging back to the stable? It is not too bad if you are riding her but jolly dangerous in a carriage. She does not like to be on her own and might be better if driven in a pair, but I do not have a suitable pairs horse as my Welsh pony is very hot and forward moving. Daisy is also forward moving with an exceptionally long stride.

Answer: We assume that because these animals have performed for someone else that they would perform the same way for a new owner, but this simply isn’t true. It is important for each individual to establish their own relationship with any animal they acquire. This is how trust and compliance is cultivated in a relationship.

Though the animal may be a show champion and broke to death, they will not be able to trust you unless you have built this trust over time on a good solid foundation, just as the trainer did who trained them. It is not unlike human relationships. You wouldn’t ask a new friend to do the same things for you as you would an old friend. It takes time before you can make demands and get compliance. I think you would find our resistance-free DVD training series helpful. We teach you in a natural step by step manner how to gain their trust and compliance through the use of Behavior Modification.

For more details, visit our website at www.luckythreeranch.com and read the articles “How to Use Meredith’s Products,” “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 1” and “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 2.” If the articles are too general, you can find more about Behavior Modification at your public library. It works the same no matter what animal or person you are talking about.

Mule Clubs-Separation Anxiety

Question: I’m not from the states and I wasn’t sure if your website included Canada, until I saw that one of the clubs on you list was from Alberta…my dad owns a team of mules and plans on breeding them when we get to our new farm. I was just wondering if there are any mule clubs in Ontario and if you could inform me of any. If you could do this it would be a big help but if not that’s ok. I just can’t seem to find any anywhere in Ontario.

Also I was wondering if you could help me on a little problem we have with our team. You see they are very attached to each other (like many are). For example, we were at a show and one of our mules went into the line class and the other was back at the trailer and started freaking out… not to mention kicking anything that came into view including myself.

Would it help at all to separate them or just to leave them together and get them used to getting separated? Or do you have any other suggestions. I would really appreciate hearing from you sometime.

Answer: I do not know of any clubs in Ontario, but there may be one I don’t know of. You might try contacting the American Donkey & Mule Society, PO Box 1210, Lewisville, Texas, 75067, (972) 219-0781, FAX (972) 420-9980, lovelongears@hotmail.com, http://www.lovelongears.com/. They may have a more updated list than I do.

In answer to your question about working teammates individually, it is important to develop your own relationship with each of the team members, so they are as confident with you as they are with each other. It is much like having more than one friend. You may have a friend that is your best friend, but there are others that you can have fun with as well. This takes a little time and effort.

Before taking them to a show, you would need to work them individually at home. The training would begin with very simple things done on a lead line that are rewarded when done correctly. You may have to begin by doing the exercises in DVD #1 with the other teammate present for a while, much like we work foals with their dams. Training sessions are kept short and positive to avoid resistant behaviors.

When done correctly and in an orderly fashion, the animal learns that it is just as fun to be with you as it is to be with their teammate. Then, they don’t mind spending time with you, knowing they will be returned to their “other” friend afterwards.

Our resistance free DVD training series is designed to help you to do this. It is designed to begin with DVD #1 and take the training in sequence no matter the age or experience of the animal. You will learn how to develop an animal’s confidence in you, how to reward them to help this to occur and how to limit negative behaviors and stop them in their tracks in a fair and equitable manner.

If you don’t have donkeys, you won’t need DVDs #9 and #10. Be sure to read the articles “How to Use Meredith’s Products,” “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 1” and “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 2.” These articles explain the theory behind the DVD series to help you approach it with the right attitude for the best results. You can also read more responses to questions I have received about these issues and more in the “Ask Meredith” section. There is a lot to this process, but it can be simple and enjoyable if you don’t get in a hurry. The results speak for themselves.

Mule Harder to Train Than Mustangs

Question: My cousin bought a 6 yr old mule. They can’t catch him unless they run him in a chute. He can’t mount unless snubbed or tied. They tried keeping him tied for a few days and leading him to water and feed, then exercising. The mule does not want to lock on at all.

He’s had the mule to my house and he doesn’t want anybody to touch him. I have gentled and trained two wild mustangs and they were not as nasty as this. My thought was to work with him like I did the mustangs, slowly and very gently. With the mustangs, I kept them in a 12×12 stall, they learned that I fed and loved.

If they would let me touch them with a finger, they got a small bite of alfalfa. Within 3 or 4 days they were let out into their run, as by that time they would accept my touch almost anywhere. Is it too late for this mule?

Answer: It is not too late for this mule, but there has to be a drastic change in attitude towards training before he will even begin to respond. You are on the right track with gentle breaking him like the mustangs and you may have to keep him in a smaller area to begin with but not just a stall. He needs room to move about. Be willing to give him more freedom as he begins to comply.

Feeding is also very important and longears do not do well on alfalfa at all. It actually causes hypertension in the equine. We feed grass hay and a limited amount of a crimped oats mix (see “Diet”).

I would not keep him in the smaller area all the time. I would feed him there and keep him overnight. If I decided to work with him the following day, I would do it and then turn him out for awhile. If I wasn’t going to work with him, I would still give him limited turnout time. Mules need no-stress times just to be a mule like we need time to ourselves to stay on track. Be generous and reward his every positive response. Our resistance free DVD training series can be a great help to you. It is designed like grade school where one thing builds upon another, slowly and logically.

Mule Kick Questions

Question: I have a few questions about mules:
Does a mule kick with its front or back legs? What speed/strength can a mule give a full force kick? What would provoke a mule to kick?? If a person and a mule were to have a “kick off” who would win? Can a mule’s kick kill a person?

Answer: If a mule is treated fairly and humanely, the incidence of kicking is very rare, if at all. People who get kicked by mules are generally responsible for the animal’s reaction. If you learn how to approach and communicate with equines with the right attitude and the right approach, the safety factor is greatly increased. There is a point in training where kicking and biting are dealt with.

In answer to your questions:

1) A mule can strike with the front legs and can kick in a 180 degree radius with his back legs (that means forward, sideways and backwards).

2) It can happen at great force in a fraction of a second, basically, before you know it.

3) A mule will retaliate if he is being abused; or, if he is startled suddenly. In other words, he might kick if he doesn’t hear, or see you approaching.

4) THE MULE!

5) MOST DEFINITELY.

Mule Spooked at Gate

Question: The other day when I was leading my mule through the gate of the pasture, he spooked and practically ran over me! Then, when he got to the other side, before I even had a chance to close the gate, he jerked the rope out of my hand and ran off! How do I stop this?

Answer: Going through a gate seems simple enough, but you can really get into trouble if you don’t do it correctly. Ask your mule to follow your shoulder to the gate and halt squarely then reward him with crimped oats for standing quietly while you unlatch the gate.

When going through the gate, whenever possible, push the gate away from you and your mule. Transfer your lead line from your left hand (showmanship position) to your right hand and open the gate with your left hand if the gate is hinged on the left (switch positions if the gate is hinged on the right, but be sure to keep your 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. 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 and turn then encouraging the second pair to come through. When trained this way, they will all line up like little soldiers on the other side of the gait and receive their rewards. They will stand quietly while you latch the gate and will proceed from the gate only when you ask.

When you return your mule to a pen with other animals, wave the others away from the gate and return to the pen the same way we described. 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 though the gate properly, you can take one animal from the herd by calling his name and waving the others away. Open the gate and allow him to come through and turn (receiving his reward, of course!) then 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!

Mule Trained – Owner Fearful

Question: My problem is that I spent $800.00 for 60 days training for my 4 year old molly mule and still don’t feel safe. I went each week and participated. I didn’t like the way things were going by the fourth week. Ruby was getting very sour about working in the round pen I spoke to the trainer repeatedly about getting her outside to experience other things.

Her cues and basics are very strong. The problem arises when we try to trail ride and something scares her, then it’s every mule for themselves. I really don’t feel safe on the trail with her and she is so sour to the round pen that I can barely get anything from her. She is a kind gentle mule who hasn’t really gotten the idea of who the leader is.

My horse trainer, Taren, has volunteered to take her next spring to put some ranch miles on her. Do you have any suggestions as to what would be best for Taren to work on with Ruby to make her safe? I will be going over to ride her as the work progresses. I already have three of your tapes and will ask my horse trainer to watch them. Any input?

Answer: Each week I get numerous e-mails and phone calls from people like yourself who are experiencing adverse behaviors with their mules on the trail, in the pasture, stall and even in the round pen. These adverse behaviors arise out of mistrust, generally caused by putting undue demands on the animals. One simply cannot expect to train an equine to be safe and obedient in 60 days.

Communication, whether it be between people, or between people and animals, takes a lot of time to cultivate before the elements of trust and acceptance come into play. It takes time to get to know a “friend” before you can start making demands on them. You have to earn their trust. In turn, this fosters confidence in those involved. One should not even begin riding their mule until this bond is established. Then, there are steps to be taken between bonding and riding during groundwork training that are all essential and should be an integral part of their development and training. I believe that the owner should be the actual trainer and the trainer should be a guide to help the owner. After all, you wouldn’t ask someone else to go out and make a friend for you!

All equines can learn to work nicely in a snaffle bit, provided the rider learns to use the bit as a tool for positive communication, and not a means to force the animal into submission. Hackamores and curb bits are quite severe and will cause adverse behaviors if used on a beginning animal, or by an inexperienced rider. Better that the rider learns to have soft, accepting hands and respects the damage that a bit can do to the soft tissues of the mouth that can ultimately result in avoidance behaviors. This really is the very heart of dressage training.

Not only do we need to respect the emotional and mental needs of our equines, we also have to respect the physical well being of the animal we are training. It takes a lot of time to build muscles correctly in your equine, so he can carry you without soreness from a shifting load, poorly fitting tack, too much weight and a host of other things that people seem to forget when they want to do things with their equine. If someone were asking this of them, they might reconsider the approach.

Our resistance-free video training series can help you to address all these issues in a logical and healthy progression for your animal while teaching you to be patient, consistent and flexible to your animal’s needs. When you do this, things progress smoothly. Be sure to read the articles “How to Use Meredith’s Products,” “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 1” and “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 2” for the best results with your mule. I am always here to help should you have further questions.

Mules and Dogs

Question: I have Tennessee walking horses and am interested in mules because of a childhood association with them at my grandfathers. I cannot get them off my mind the older I get. However, I also raise English setters and quail hunt and train dogs horseback.

I am concerned that a mule may have the tendencies that a donkey has concerning dogs. My neighbor uses donkeys to protect his sheep and they have killed many coyotes. Question, do mules automatically hate dogs or can I use a gaited mule to work dogs and hunt quail? Thank you for indulging my question.

Answer: Mules and donkeys have a tendency to chase smaller animals. It’s their instinct, however, they can be taught to behave and tolerate smaller animals that they live with. The smaller animals learn to respect the mules and donkeys and will learn to keep their space.

Years ago, I did train a Tennessee Walking mule for use in the dog trials and she did really well. I see no reason why you couldn’t use a gaited mule for working dogs and hunting quail. It just takes time to adapt the mule to what you want to do. Developing a good working relationship with your mule is the most important thing. For more details, visit our website at www.luckythreeranch.com. Be sure to read the articles “How to Use Meredith’s Products,” “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 1” and “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 2.” If you use this approach, it will be easy to socialize your animals with one another. Behavior Modification works on all animals and humans as well.

Nervous Mini-Mule

Question: My husband and I recently (two months ago) purchased a Shetland and her foal. Her foal is the offspring of a Mini-Donkey. So I believe the baby would be called a Mini-Mule. I have just recently began to work with her and she is so nervous. She jumps and runs at the slightest noise or quick movement. I would appreciate any advice you can give on training her. Or if you would recommend specific videos or DVDs I would appreciate your input.

Thanks.

Answer: No matter what size, how old or how well-trained the equine, they need time doing the simplest of things to get to know you before they will learn to trust and have confidence in you. Just as our children need routine and ongoing learning while they are growing up, so do mules and all other equines. They need boundaries for their behavior clearly outlined to minimize anxious and inappropriate behaviors. The time together during leading training (and going forward) builds a good solid relationship with your equine and fosters their confidence and trust in you because you help them to feel good.

I do leading training for a full year to not only get them to learn to lead and to develop a good relationship with them, but also to develop good posture and core muscle strength in preparation for driving or for a rider. Even an older equine with previous training still needs this for optimum performance and longevity. During the time you do the leading training strengthening exercises, you should NOT ride or drive your animal. If you ride or drive while you do these exercises, it will not result in habitual behavior and a new way of going, and will inhibit the success of the exercises. The lessons need to be routine, rewarded and done in good posture to acquire the correct results. We are building NEW habits in their way of moving, and the only way that there can be change is through routine, consistency in the routine and correctness in the execution of the exercises. Since this also requires that you be in good posture as well, you will also reap the benefits from this regimen. The result will be many years to really enjoy each other’s company! My Training Mules and Donkeys DVDs and books can help you to achieve your goals!

Nipping and Biting

Question: I recently purchased an orphan jack miniature donkey that is 2 months old. He is very attached to me, but constantly nips and bites when I am around him. He is turned out with my mare that baby-sits him, and he does not bite her.

I have tried various methods of correction, i.e.; pinching with “no”, slapping chest with “No,” and most recently, walking with a small stick, that I gently, but with continued determination poke him with, when he even attempts to bite. For an animal that is so cute, he sure is nasty. Is this behavior going to continue, or will he outgrow it as he ages. I will have him gelded at 6 months.

I do not know if this is “baby behavior”, and my corrections are not understood due to his young age, or if he is always going to be like this. Help. I purchased your foal tape today, looking for guidance. He is being fed out of a bucket only, and I do not feed him any treats by hand.

Answer: This is a common problem with young donkeys and can be with any equine. He just does not know what the limits are on his behavior because there is no predictable consequence to his actions. Believe it or not, you would have more success with him if you did use the treats as described in DVD #1 of our resistance-free training series.

We give the treats for desired behaviors only and withhold them when the animal is not cooperative. They can get aggressive for the treats, but in DVD #2, we tell you how to correct bad behaviors such as biting and kicking. After getting treats for desired behaviors, it is natural for them to test the limits and begin to demand treats much as a child would.

When they bite, for instance, they are making a demand. What is important is how you handle this. Be assertive! Not abusive. A biter should be slapped very hard on the side of his mouth and told, “NO!” in a very loud voice. Slap the side of the mouth then put your hand up like a stop sign. They will throw their head back in the air and act like they are being abused. As soon as the head goes back, there is an instant that they are still, before they decide to back up, or run off. It is at this time that you should immediately change your demeanor from punitive to friendly and say, “Good, Boy! (Or girl) and give them a treat for backing off and giving you your space.

When this is done properly, they may try to “test” you again, but you should only have to put your hand up in the “stop” position and say, “NO!” and they should back off, stand and wait for the treat. Animals will work for the right “payoff.” When you learn to dispense treats diligently and not randomly. They will want to perform that which yields a treat. They can learn limits because the treats give you leverage to teach them the limits. Also, they learn to be careful about taking the rewards and are less likely to bite your fingers than one who has not had this practice.

They are not “paid” for bad behaviors. Bad behaviors are stopped immediately and reversed to a positive direction which is immediately rewarded. If you do not correct and redirect, they can learn avoidance behaviors and things get progressively worse over time. In addition, the equine who receives rewards regularly will learn to take them gently from your hand. The one who does not could easily take your fingers as well from a lack of practice! For more details, visit our website and read the articles “How to Use Meredith’s Products,” “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 1” and “Intro to Behavior Modification Part 2.”

Pasturing Recently Gelded Jacks Together

Question: We have a donkey family, adopted six mo. ago–mother, father (now gelded) and 8 mo. old boy (also now gelded). We want to pasture them together. They’ve been in adjoining pasture/stall since birth of boy. Gelding took place one mo. ago. We put them together yesterday and all was fine for c. 4 hrs. Then boy was a little more “playful” and dad grabbed hold of him by the neck.

As the father is a much larger, stronger animal, we were concerned and separated him from mother and boy once again. Was this normal? Should we have interfered? How can we assure that all will be peaceful? The father is normally gentle and affectionate, at least with humans. All of them are used to being handled. I would appreciate any help/info you might be able to provide.

Answer: Though your two boys have been gelded, they have not had the time to adapt to their new roles as gelded males, nor do they even know what it means to be a gelded male. I think I would be inclined to put the 2 geldings together and keep the jennet separate from them for one year. Then, she can be integrated with them after a year’s time.

The grabbing of the neck is a playful male gesture, as well as one of determining dominance, and only becomes dangerous when males are vying for the attention of a female. If you take the female out of the equation, they will become playful buddies. Since the one male was a full adult when castrated, keep a close eye on the two of them as Spring approaches and watch that the older male does not get too aggressive towards the younger one. His instincts could still emerge as a full blown male, even if he isn’t and he could hurt the younger jack if the jennet starts to cycle. You should be able to tell the difference by then between a playful grab on the neck and a full blown attack. Don’t integrate the female until next Fall when her cycling drops off.

Chances are, you won’t have this problem, but I am telling you about the potential problem, just so you are aware and so you will check things a little more closely in the Spring, before something bad happens. If the two gelded jacks don’t act differently towards each other in the Spring, then there should be no problem.

Protect Young Goats from Donkeys

Question: I acquired 2 young donkeys, ages 2 and 3, in the hopes that I could put them in with my goats to keep them safe from predators. Both were jacks, and I had them gelded. Several of my goats had kidded a few months ago and I caught the 2 donkeys and my mini donkey playing soccer with one of the kids.

Thank goodness I was home and stopped them before they killed it. Is there anything I can do to train the donkeys to leave the kids alone? I’m also having this same problem with my Paso Fino horses. If a kid gets its head stuck in the fence the Pasos will kill it. I’m afraid, now, that the donkeys will do the same thing. Help!

Answer: I would imagine that it is only a certain personality type and the fact that he’s brought up with certain smaller animals that produces a “guard donkey.” Most mules and donkeys will chase and harass animals that are smaller than themselves. But, just because the younger animal grows up with the smaller animals, it does not guarantee that they will not chase them as adults. If they have an aggressive personality type, they may still chase them. Training and socializing them properly as they grow together would help, but the animals you describe are already too old for this process and will need to be kept separately. If you want to keep your goats and other small animals safe from predators, you should keep them inside overnight in a safe barn.

Punitive Training a Gentle Mule

Question: I live in Va. and am disabled. I bought a small 12.3 hand high mule from a man who was abusing her. I had her for a year and when she got to trust us, she was fine. My husband rode her around the farm and we had no trouble. We never drove her as we have no harness.

I sold her to a retired couple that wanted one to ride some and work some. Five days later, they call and say she’s crazy. The first two days, all was well. Then on the third day, Miss Emily decided she had worked enough and quit. When the man tried to make her go, she bolted to the barn – dragging him along behind. She did this twice to him. The first few days, they had small children on her and she was fine.

After the bolting thing, she then reared on the 30 yr. old son who was trying to ride her. They seem to think that Miss Emily was trained for 45 minutes to a hr. each day and that’s all the work she thinks she has to do. Could this be true? We never used her much, we are both disabled but Miss Emily never acted up on us.

If this is true, how can we correct it? She will be no good to anyone this way. I am taking Miss Emily back tomorrow and can use all the advice I can get, as I am totally stymied. The man I bought her from was tying ropes to her front legs, beating her into a gallop then pulling her legs out from under her – he said he was teaching her not to run away. When I got her, she had no hair and very little meat on her knees and a great fear of people.

When she left here 5 days ago, she was a lovely mule with the best manners, even small children could ride her – but then, I never worked her for a very long time either. Could this be true?

Answer: Many people think they can treat mules and donkeys like they do horses and it will work. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mules and donkeys are very intelligent, thinking and feeling animals. If they are not treated with patience, kindness and understanding, they are intelligent enough to try to leave the situation any way that they can which, in this case, is bolting.

The problem here is not with the mule, but with the man who has chosen to approach her in an abusive manner. She is simply defending herself from what she knows is an abusive situation. Children are innocents and do not put pressure like this on animals until they have learned to do it, so equines generally do not have a problem with children.

It sounds to me like this is a simple case of a poor match. When you buy a mule or donkey, you are buying more than just a riding or driving animal…you are investing in a friendship. If you want it to go well, you need to be willing to take the steps along the way that will help the friendship develop in a positive way, which you have obviously done with this mule.

Our books and video tape series can help people who are willing to learn how to do this, but you must also realize that there are people who are resistant to change and they may not want to learn. Better to send her to a person who is of the same beliefs in gentling an animal than one who uses forceful methods. If your mule enjoyed the company of these people, she would be willing to spend all day with them and not just the 45 minutes. If they can learn this method, I guarantee that the mule would work for them the way she did for you!

Quicksand

Question: Last year a local radio station had a quiz that went “What is the only animal that won’t sink in quicksand?” The answer was a mule.

I called the radio station to find out why, and they said that they got it from a source that did not explain the answer. I am still wondering what the explanation might be. I think that mules would probably be too smart and avoid it but that is my opinion.

Answer: You are absolutely correct! They are too smart to do something that would be harmful to them. It isn’t really a case of intelligently knowing that it is dangerous. It is more a case of their senses alerting them to danger and they pay attention to their senses. Often, there are those who might feel danger, but will go ahead anyway. A mule is not like this. He takes heed and will not budge.

Rearing and Pawing

Question: First off I would like to thank you for getting back to me the first time. I have one more question though. When I tie my mule, she tends to rear up when she gets frustrated. I’m afraid she might put her foot through the fence. How do I keep her from doing this?

Answer: Rearing and pawing is a common behavior with mules, particularly younger ones. It is an expression of anxiety, a way to command attention or express of dissatisfaction and impatience. There are ways to minimize rearing and pawing and to teach the animal not to paw while you are working on them, but to expect them never to rear or paw is unrealistic.

Anxiety can be caused by feeding. If the feed is too hot, the animal cannot help but react to the hypertension the feed is causing. Making sure that her feeding program is appropriate will help minimize anxious behaviors like pawing. She will be calmer and more receptive to training.

Mules also do not like being by themselves, especially in a strange place. You can minimize anxious behaviors like rearing and pawing simply by tying another animal with her and leaving yourself plenty of room to work on each animal independently.

Rearing and pawing can be a way to command attention, if the animal has not learned that she can get more attention and rewards if she is compliant. If the animal is rearing and pawing during grooming, or tacking up at the hitch rail, it is important that you learn to wait for her to stop rearing or pawing before you approach. If she rears or paws on the approach, just turn away from her and ignore her until he stops.

If she starts to rear or paw as you are working on her, just stop what you are doing, say “No” in a loud voice, back off and wait for her to stop. When she finally does stop, then quickly go to her and reward her with the crimped oats reward and stroke her. She will soon learn that she won’t get your attention unless she stops. While you are waiting for the rearing or pawing to cease, you will need to speak to her in a calming voice and encourage her to calm down and be patient. If you get mad at her, the behavior will only escalate.

Mules will often rear or paw when they have been left tied somewhere by themselves in a spot where they are not comfortable like to a trailer at a show or a hitch rail at home that is not strategically placed. Mules have been known to rear or paw and then swing around the end, or jump over the hitch rail. If your hitch rail is strategically placed along the side of a building, they will not be able to swing around the end, or jump over.

If you are tying to your trailer at a show, make sure your inexperienced animal has a “buddy” that can stay with her at the trailer and help keep her calm until she has some age and is more confident being alone with you. Make sure you tie her with the ideal length of rope, not so short that she feels constricted and not so long that she can get a foot over it. You can also hang a hay net filled with grass hay, so she has something to keep her busy. This is called setting the animal up for success.

Winning your mule’s trust and confidence is the best way to minimize any anxious behavior, but it takes a long time and much patience and consistency to convince her that you are trustworthy and she has no reason to worry. Spending enough time on the simple groundwork exercises and doing them properly will facilitate confidence and trust more than any other stage of training. Of course, there are some mules that will still rear or paw intermittently no matter what you do, but at least it can be minimized, and they can learn to at least stand quietly while you work on them. Young mules will often be more aggressive about rearing, pawing and not standing still, but this will usually subside with age if it is given the right kind of attention which, in most cases, is no attention at all.

Response to Claim of Abuse

Question: I recently visited your site and I love it! I was raised around mules and have been a farrier for 15 years and have recently started raising mules again. I would like to ask you about the incidence of facial markings on mules. I had a foal born this fall with a star.

I would really like to know how many you have come across in your dealings with mules. Keep up the wonderful work on your site letting people know how great these long eared friends really are. I also enjoyed your response to the person who said you were being cruel when using the whip on “Angel’s” legs.

If more people would learn how to properly discipline their animals they could enjoy them more.

Answer: We have tried to be quite diligent about how we present things to get the best results. Kicking is a very dangerous equine habit and the results can be severe injury or death. I don’t think people realized at first that the “kicking training” is louder and more intimidating with the big movements and loud voice than it is punitive with the whip. The whip is hitting “Angel” at the fetlocks and though it looks powerful it really isn’t.

The point was not to whip the fetlocks harshly, but rather to do what was necessary at the time to get her attention and define limits. Mules are considerably larger and stronger than us and can cause serious injury and possibly even death if they are not taught limits in their behaviors.

Actually, this training session is only one or two fifteen-minute sessions that will keep your mule a safe animal for the rest of its life. After the initial session, you may only have to yell, “No” if they ever threaten to kick again. After the first time, you don’t usually need the whip. Mules just hate it when people start acting crazy and loud, so if you get that way when they are misbehaving, it usually startles them into standing still after which you are able to reward them for paying attention. Works like a charm! And, as you say, it keeps your farrier and veterinarian safe when they need to work on your equine!

Runaway Mule

Question: I have a female mule that is 57″ tall & 8 yrs old. I have one other mule that is 14yrs old and the same size (Mare). My problem is that when my wife and I trail ride the younger one doesn’t like to be a way from the other. For instance, if I have to stop and take a break and my wife rides on, this younger mule is a hand full.

On several occasions I have taken this younger mule on rides by herself and she hasn’t a care in the world. She rides in the front, middle or rear of the pack with no problems. But it’s not fun to have a run a way mule in a ride of about 50 riders, as was the case this weekend.

Answer: The younger mule is just that, a younger mule. Sometimes we forget that they are very much like us in their growth process. When they are younger, they rely on older animals for leadership and confidence. As they mature, they become more confident in themselves and their handlers. Good habits build good partners

Any animal would have problems standing while another rider, or group, rides off. One of the rules of safety is to wait for all riders to mount before taking off. This just saves you a lot of trouble and protects your health! Your mule will gain confidence about leaving a group as she gains more confidence in you.

If you are considerate and understanding of your mule and employ good basic groundwork training, your relationship and her behavior will improve. If you get impatient and try to force her to do things she simply isn’t ready for, you’re in for a rebellion! Our books and training series will help you stay on the right track with your mule.

Runaway Riding Mule

Question: We have a very nice App. Mule and have been riding her every week before a western trip. I got a map out of the backpack when I was on her and she got out of control. Took off at a fast canter, not able to stop her with the bit that was in her mouth.

It was a schooling bit, something like a Harsha but with a straight port. Had to bale or lose my head in the trees. Did have to have stitches in my head from the fall, but will still ride equine. I think I’ll use a helmet from now on. Is there a bit out there that takes control of your animal?

She has no other bad habits other than not to stop her from running off and not able to stop her.

Answer: I was sorry to hear about your accident. I would say this is not a case for a more severe bit, but rather an opportunity for you to learn how to get along better with your mule. There is no bit in the world that can stop a mule that has decided to run off. If your mule was paying attention to things around her and was not warned that you were going to pull something noisy out of the pack, then it is really no surprise that she ran off.

When we ride our mules, we set the standards that we expect from them. In groundwork, you set the stage for the riding behaviors to come so it is important to spend plenty of time with the right kind of groundwork before you even begin riding your mule.

If we are inconsiderate and punitive, the animal becomes rebellious and more difficult to deal with. If we approach them in a kind and considerate manner, they respond with submission and a willingness to serve. Every day you have with your mule, you set the terms of your relationship. If you take the time to learn to communicate effectively with your mule through your voice, hands, legs, seat and general body language, the mule will not be surprised about the things you ask and will become calmer in his response.

When training, you would need to use an egg butt snaffle bit. It is a mild bit and has direct rein contact to make communication as clear as possible. When you lightly pull on your left rein, for instance, you would try to keep it very light and help your mule to understand what you are asking by following the rein pressure with pressure from your right leg to push him towards the turn. Just learning a few basic riding techniques will help you and your mule get along better and will help you to ride a lot safer. Still, it is important to do the groundwork first to develop your bond and working relationship with them.

It sounds like you really have a basically lovely mule. Give her a chance and give yourself a break. Spend a little time on these things and you will be amazed at how much more you can enjoy things with your mule! Our resistance free series, DVDs #1, #2 and #4 will help facilitate the working relationship and DVD #5 deals with helping riders become more effective with their animals through their own riding skills.

Scared of Bikes and ATVs

Question: I purchased a 13 yr molly mule last May. She is beautiful and a joy to ride, but she is really scared of bikes and ATVs. I ponied her around our area, which is full of the above-mentioned offenders, and she makes sure the horse is between her and them. On different trails where we have encountered bikes in the past, she is nervous always looking behind her. I would like to ride her by herself, but I am worried we will encounter the evil things. Any suggestions as to how I can help her conquer her fears (and mine)?

Answer: I would suggest going back to the beginning and perfect your groundwork with this mule before you do any more riding.

Most people are in such a hurry to ride that they either completely overlook, or rush through groundwork. Groundwork training is probably the most important part of your equine’s training. It sets the stage for your equine’s physical ability, mental processing and emotional stability. Equines are born with natural instincts (i.e., flight, kicking, biting, etc.) as a response to fear. When groundwork exercises are done correctly, their physical structure and natural instincts can be modified and refocused to produce an animal that is confident, trusting and obedient to your requests. When you take adequate time and pay close attention to good posture during leading training, core muscles that support the bony columns become strong, and movements that are required become easier for the animal to do. When it is easier, there is less stress and frustration between you. When he is afforded time to process what you ask, the occurrence of anxiety and fear is practically non-existent because this approach prompts thought rather than an instinctually quick response to any situation. He will learn to think before he acts.

Emotionally, he begins to see that you have his best interest at heart and this fosters mutual trust and cooperation. It is a common misconception that you can desensitize animals to particular “things” such as ATVs, bicycles, etc. If you really want to have a calm and safe partner, you would teach them a way to handle their fear in ANY situation by teaching them to look to you first for support and direction. Extensive groundwork exercises can do this. Then if they see anything that bothers them, they will stop, look to you and listen! Does this sound a lot like raising children…well, it is!

Socializing New Mules

Question: We have a new mule and would like to know how we should socialize him with the others that we have. What should we do?

Answer: Generally, the best thing to do with a new animal is to put him in a pen of his own adjacent to the pens with your other animals for about two weeks, just so they can be introduced “across the fence” before you turn them in together. Jacks and stallions should never be turned in with other animals. When you finally do put your mule in with the others, they will establish a new pecking order. As long as they do not get completely vicious with each other, you can be reasonably sure that they will work this out and things will calm down over another two-week period. Of course, there may be irreconcilable differences in personality or size that will affect your mule’s behavior. If he is incompatible with the other animals, he may need to be kept by himself, or with a partner that is more suitable for him.

Standoffish Mini Mules

Question I have two mini mules I have had for nine months. They are one-year-four-months old and one-year-three-months old. They were never handled when they were born so they are very much “don’t touch me.” I have sat in their paddock for hours on end trying to be able to approach them. At first they would come up and eat oats. Now they are not much interested in any oats or treats, so they keep their distance. I was able to get a halter on the molly a while back, which she still has on. No halter or lead on the little john as of yet. They are in a paddock together that is 50 feet x 100 feet. Do I need to separate and put them in smaller enclosures to regain some trust or do you have any suggestions as to what I should try? They have never been abused by me or the previous owner, and have a danger-free environment next to my two big mules’ paddock. I raised my big mules from 10 months old and have broke them to ride and pack myself and never had this much trouble with them and they are now both five years old. Any advice or reading that you could share with me would be greatly appreciated. I also am doing this by myself and do not have any outside help that I can rely on (which could be helpful in some instances). I have tried all I have learned on my big mules and am at a loss. I really need to handle them so I can give them the best of care that they require. Thank you for your time and anything that you can share.

Answer: Everything you do with your mini mules should be carefully structured and have purpose. Mules calm down and submit when they have a predictable, routine lifestyle and training program, and a reward system that is carefully used and does not include bribery, only rewards for tasks that are done (even just for coming to you willingly). The leading training is very specific. The leading exercises should be done in a small fenced area and should not incorporate any bending and such exercises, only straight lines, smooth arcs, halts, turns and backs. While doing these, it is important to hold the lead rope in your left hand, stay in a good upright posture yourself, point in the direction of travel and match each of their front footsteps with your feet. If you are always ready to get out of the way, you are subliminally telling them there is something to be afraid of. I have found that when things go wrong for any reason, it is ALWAYS the fault of the handler and the way in which the animal is being approached. When approached in a purposeful, considerate and routine manner, they are always honest in their response. When they don’t react as you think they should, just make sure you are clear in your communication. Even mollies that are in heat are no problem if you follow my guidelines as intended and don’t put your own spin on it. Just sitting in a chair and waiting for them to come to you and feeding them with no specific purpose will result in disinterest as you have experienced.

It will take self-discipline on your part to make sure you don’t fall into old habits that you might have learned from other trainers, but if you notice, they don’t train mules and donkeys as a rule because their techniques will not always work with them. If you are feeding the crimped oats as I described (with the Mazola corn oil and Sho Glo vitamins as directed, and dispensing the rewards diligently from a fanny pack that you should ALWAYS wear around your waist), both of your mini mules should be motivated by the food reward. Change positions in your work area so they are prompted to follow you to the different locations and can be rewarded for that. If you are feeding anything else and using anything else for reward and not dispensing the rewards consistently yet lavishly for a task well done, it will elicit a much less desirable response. Consistency is key. You can reread my series of articles entitled, “Getting Down with Minis” in the Mule Crossing section of my website and it might help you to restructure your approach so you can get the right kinds of responses. Watch this training tip video.

The “Herd Leader”

Question: I have had my mule since she was a foal-and she does everything I ask from the ground perfectly. She is not seeing me as the “Herd Leader” (I assume with her being insecure), especially when outside horses are present. She “joins up” with me when I work her in the round pen…we are really bonded. If you can suggest 1 or 2 exercises that would help with this particular issue? I really am at a loss since I have done so much ground work with her!

Answer: This has nothing to do with being a “herd leader.” You learned that from the horse trainers. Mules and donkeys don’t respond well to their methods because they do not take the full health of the equine into consideration. They just teach them to do “things” without making sure that they are physically capable of doing those things. Your mule is insecure, but not in the way you think. She has not had the benefit of a sequential training program that addressed her physical, mental and emotional needs.

For instance, leading training is not just to teach them to lead, but also to condition the muscles that are closest to the bones and vital organs. These muscles can be conditioned only through a very passive series of leading exercises, and you must do them regularly for at least one year to teach the brain to fire to these muscles automatically, which keeps the animal in good posture before moving on to round pen work.

The program needs to be consistent and predictable, and with purpose. Then your animal can relax and learn to keep cool in any situation. I hate to say this but…you may have done ground work, but if it wasn’t with this in mind, then the exercises were not beneficial and you really do need to start over, if you want your mule to feel good and strong and have confidence and trust in you.

Mules will all be friendly with people when it is easy. It’s when things get a little tougher that you find out how well they have actually bonded with you. For instance, if new horses come on the scene and she ceases to pay attention to you, you aren’t as bonded as you might think. There are no quick fixes. However, when they are cared for properly, mules can live into their fifties, so you do have plenty of time to do things in a slow and beneficial way for both you and your mule.

Yearling Jenny Hard to Catch

Question: We got a yearling last fall and are making slow but steady progress and now things are going in reverse. We have been patient and never raised a hand to her. We had her halter broke, leading her successfully all around our small ranch. We have been able to groom her, worm her, and starting to pick up her feet. She decided she didn’t want to be caught anymore. She spins any time I get near her. The only way we can get a halter on her is to pinch her off between 2 corral panels. Once the halter is on, everything is fine. S is never malicious, she doesn’t kick at us, and she just runs away. I have broken a number of colts (no mules) and never experienced anything like this. We do not want to do irreparable damage, should we give up? What is the big training gap that we have missed? Any suggestions would be welcome.

Answer: First, just a warning: Never leave a halter on an equine! Leaving a halter on the animal is very dangerous. She could get it caught on something and either break her neck or at the least, paralyze her if it gets snagged!

Mules and donkeys learn like children and you cannot throw a lot of different things at them all at once, especially when they are not really done in a natural and logical order! When training, use a fanny pack filled with oats and do NOT offer a bucket. It does not produce the same results! You should not even have a halter and lead on your equine until she lets you pet her ALL OVER! Then you can approach with the halter. Our video series is done in a natural order and if you want to have the right results, you need to be working in that natural and logical order and then be consistent about it every time you work with her. There will be days she may not want to come to you. in that case, just walk away and save it for another day.

For instance, you would begin before you even halter her by asking her to come to you and then reward her with crimped oats when she does come (Do not reward with anything else!). When she is consistently coming to you, the next step, would be to carry the halter with you but not put it on. Reward her approach and acceptance of the halter being present.

Once the presence of the halter doesn’t bother her, the next step is putting the halter on. Be polite. Reward your equine for the approach and acceptance of the halter, then try to loop your arm over her neck while feeding the crown strap of the halter from your left hand to your right hand that is looped over his neck. This way, if she starts to move away slowly, you can pull her back towards you with the loop around her neck and finish by putting her nose through the noseband of the halter. If she jerks away quickly, just let go and encourage her to return and try again by showing her the oats, but do not give them to her until she comes back to your hand.

Anytime she moves away, just ask her to return, but do not chase her! Make her come to you for the rewards. If she won’t come, just leave and try again another day. No compliance, no rewards.

Young Mule Pawing

Question: I have a 2yr old molly mule named Fannie. Fannie and I are doing very well together so far. However, our one big problem I have not been able to overcome is pawing when tied and left alone or left in a stall when she wants out. I do mean pawing; she has dug over 3 ft in a very short period of time. If I am close to her she does not paw, but if I get out of her site she starts. Will I be able to fix this? Can you tell me how?

Answer: Two-year-olds are pretty much the same whether they are human, or mule. They are simply full of themselves and anxious about everything. It is my experience that if you have a normal routine that you follow to do your brushing, tacking up and other tasks, do it in the same place each time, and if you simply ignore the pawing when you are not close to them, this eventually goes away by itself. Conversely, if you try stopping them in any way, it gives more attention to the pawing and makes it worse.

Feeding is another consideration. If the protein content of the feed is too high for a mule, this can also cause anxiety that will result in pawing and other bad behaviors.

I think you would find our resistance-free training series helpful. DVDs #1 through #7 cover training and psychology and DVD #8 deals with feeding, maintenance and advanced showmanship. If you don’t have donkeys, you won’t need DVDs #9 and #10.

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