Training is much more than just teaching the equine to be driven or ridden. It is a responsibility to the equine athlete to develop his body correctly so he can do the things you ask of him. This means that you must be willing to go slowly enough at each stage of training to develop the muscles, tendons and ligaments over a good frame (proper equine posture). This does NOT start in the round pen, but on the lead line. This is the first place that his posture and the correct building of muscle, etc. will take place. Showmanship work on the lead line helps to establish strength and balance on the flat in a controlled situation. Leading over obstacles adds coordination to strength and balance before they go to the round pen and learn to balance at all three gaits on the circle. If you begin in the round pen without the proper amount of time spent on the lead line, most equines will have difficulty and you can experience bad behaviors during training.
The physical loss of balance is the most prevalent and 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 will be 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 giving him the benefits of patience, kindness, respect and plenty of time to develop. Condensing the training program to teach “things” to your equine, with no regard to how long it takes to build muscle over a correct frame at any given stage, is abuse and will produce bad behaviors.
Click on the title below to see the complete question and answer.
- Mule Spooked at Gate
- Mule Won’t Unload
- Nervous Mini-Mule
- Pulling on Brakes
- Running off in the Drivelines
- Scared of Bikes and ATVs
- Skittish on the Drivelines
- Snacking on the Trail
- The “Herd Leader”
- Trained Mule Regressing at New Home
As Seen On RFD-TV
Question: The reason I am writing this is because I am very disturbed about something I saw on a mule training show aired by RFDTV. I realize you must be very busy and you may not be able to do anything about it, but I just feel like I need to bring it to your attention. I don’t own mules but I do own three horses, and I watch your show because I like the fact the you use gentle and resistant free training methods and I am glad people like you are trying to educate people on this type of training.
Last Wednesday, January 16, RFDTV aired a “Rural Heritage Horse Hour”, which was a show about these two men and how they train mules. What these two men did to mules to “train” them to pull a cart just broke my heart and I know it would break yours also, because their methods go against everything you stand for.
In case you aren’t able to view the shows, let me explain what I saw on this show. Through the whole show I was in total disbelief at what I was seeing.
It starts out with 2 mules in a large stall and one of the men trying to catch one of them. Right away it became very apparent these mules have had very little handling and wanted nothing to do with these men. When one was finally caught it was tied up so they could catch the other one.
They then brought one of them out to a metal chute, which was just wide enough for the mule to fit in, they attached a chain to the halter, put a chain behind the mule, and to my disbelief a chain over the mules back, (this they said was for the mules safety so it couldn’t rear up and go over backwards).
They also made the comment that if the mule tries to lay down they put a chain under the mules belly. The poor mule is standing there absolutely scared to death. They made a point of bringing this to your attention by pointing out that the mules back is all hunched up because he is scared. (Who wouldn’t be)! Then they put a twitch on the mule so they could get the bit in his mouth and the bridle on.
Then they put the harness on the mule, the whole time you could tell the poor mule was terrified. At one point in the show they zoomed down to the mules hind legs, which were trembling and not even touching the ground, the mule was sitting on the butt chain.
All the while the men were making comments about how you have to be careful around these animals because they will hurt you and hurt you bad! Now that they have the harness on the mule they take it out of the chute and are going to show how they “train” the mule to lead.
Once again I am shocked to see that they are going to chain it to a tractor! They drive around and around and the mule has no choice but to follow. They stop and leave the mule tied to the tractor while they bring out the second mule and proceed to put the harness on it the same way.
Then they bring that mule and tie it to the tractor also and “lead” both of them. Now it’s time to “train” them to pull a cart. They tie them both to a pole and hook them up to a two wheeled cart. While trying to approach one of the mules to hook it up, it side stepped and fell over the tongue of the cart, landing on his back and struggles to get up, with the tongue on his one side and the other mule on his other side. At this time the men just stood there and one made the comment that the mules do get “skinned” up once in awhile and then chuckles.
They now have the mules hooked up, they tie them back to the tractor, the other man gets on the cart and the cart also has a large tractor tire tied to the back of it. They said you need to have enough weight attached so they cant run off, but not too heavy that they can’t pull it. They go around the ring a few times then to my shock they take them down to the highway and drive up and down the highway, so the mules can get used to traffic noise!!
Then they bring them back up to the pen go around a few more times and decide it’s time to have lunch. They leave the mules tied to the tractor while they are gone! When they come back they untie them from the tractor, attach another tractor tire to the cart, to ensure they don’t run off and now they are going to teach them to drive.
Did I mention that they work these mules for at least 8 hours in one day, they say you have to “wear them down” to get them to learn. Through the whole show they would make comments like, “you have to show them who’s boss”, or “you have to hurt them before they hurt you”. I wonder how many of these mules don’t survive their training lessons? I shudder to think. This was part one of an apparent series of shows.
The whole time I was watching this I kept wondering what Meredith would be thinking if she were to see this. I have also sent an email to RFDTV about my concerns. These so called training techniques are cruel, and dangerous for both mule and trainer.
I feel there is no reason to air shows like this, when there are so many other trainers out there, such as yourself, who are showing people that you can train mules and horses in a safe and gentle manner and get much better results. I can’t believe these mules are going to be very safe to be around after this type of training.
I guess that I am hoping that by bringing this to your attention you may have more influence on RFDTV then I would. Perhaps you or other people could convince RFDTV that this is not the type of training shows that should be aired. Mules and horses and even other people wanting to learn to train deserve better training shows than this.
Thank you for letting me express my concerns.
Answer: This is dangerous information to be made so readily available to the public and the error of these people’s ways needs to be exposed!
Mules and donkeys are the most fair and loving creatures in the world and it is people like this who give them a bad name! But more than that, they put newcomers to the industry at risk. These animals who are trained like this may give the appearance of being broke, but these are the same animals you hear about later that have caused a wreck during a parade, or some other kind of accident. It’s no accident that these animals wind up unreliable in stressful situations.
Animals that are trained to fear are never calm and confident though they can appear to be. It is better to train with a program that lets them learn in a step by step progression that helps them to grow in a healthy manner both physically and mentally. Our program does this, as you well know. The training is totally resistance-free and the result is a confident, obedient, affectionate and reliable companion.
Beginner’s Training for Older Equines
Question: Meredith, what beginner‘s training video would you recommend? We’ve corresponded before and I am ready to tackle her training but don’t know where to begin. She is halter broken and leads well. She allows me to brush her and clean her hooves being ground tied. Very sweet.
She is six and trusts me. Comes to me to be loved on…grooms me occasionally. I can touch her and rub her all over. But she shies and backs away from strangers. My goal is for Cricket to allow my grandchildren and adults to approach her and pet her like she does me. We bought her for this reason: therapy mini. Is this realistic?
I don’t know where or how to begin. I’ve watched your YouTube videos and learned quite a bit. Thank you, T.
Answer: It was good of you to take the time to write. You should start with discs #1, #8 and #9 from my DVD series, Training Mules and Donkeys. It isn’t so much about teaching things as it is about building relationships. That is why it is so important to spend adequate time on ground work training. They can learn “things” rather quickly, but it takes time to build a relationship. The information below will clarify what I mean.
No matter how old or how well trained your animal, he needs time to do the simplest of things to get to know you before he 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 clearly outlined boundaries for their behavior in order to minimize anxiety which can lead to inappropriate behavior. The time together during leading training and going forward through lunging and ground driving builds a good, solid relationship with your equine and fosters his confidence and trust in you because you help him to feel good.
Leading training is done for a full year to not only get your animal to learn to lead and so you can develop a good relationship with him, but also to develop good posture and core muscle strength in preparation for the time when you will ride or drive him. Even an older equine with previous training still needs leading training for optimum performance and longevity. During the time you do the leading-training strengthening exercises, you should NOT ride or drive your animal, as this will inhibit the success of the exercises. (If you ride while you do these exercises, it will not result in positive habitual behavior and a new way of going.) The lessons need to be routine and done in good posture to acquire the correct results. You are building new habits in your equine’s way of moving and the only way that that can happen is through a specific routine, consistency in that routine and correctness in the execution of the exercises. Because these exercises require that you are also in good posture, you too will reap the benefits of this regimen. Interacting with longears is most definitely good therapy if you are willing to do the right kinds of things while you are with them, and once they are fully trained (and you have learned how to manage them), they can be very good therapy for others as well.
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.
Bucking at Canter
I just recently got a Molly mule. She is 7 years old and has only been ridden a few times and she does fine. I was told she will walk and trot all day, but when you ask her to canter she will buck. Do you have any advice on how to train her in the future to avoid that behavior? I am not a person that wants to canter a lot, but if it happened I would not want the bucking to start. Thanks, J. M.
A mule that bucks to align its spine is similar to you twisting your own body when your back gets out of whack. It isn’t the only reason for a mule’s bucking, but it is one of many reasons for bucking. Other reasons include insufficient training to build up the body correctly for equine activities, ill-fitting tack, an unbalanced rider, the saddle slipping too far forward (failure to use a crupper), confusing signals from the rider, pulling too hard on the reins and soreness from an injury, just to name a few. It sounds as if this mule cannot balance the rider at the canter due to insufficient muscle strength. Also, the tack may not fit well, particularly the saddle, which may not be placed in the correct position on the mule’s back and held in position with a crupper. I would go back to the beginning with leading training to build core muscle strength and forget about riding her for a while. If you go through the logical progressions of exercises that are outlined in my training series, she will soon be in good enough condition to carry a rider efficiently and the bucking will cease.
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!
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?
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 Shy, Hard to Catch Donkey
Question: A couple weeks ago, I took on a project donkey. Someone I know had a 30-year-old Arab and this donkey. He’s 12 hands, and nine years old. I’m aware donkeys are happiest with other donkeys, but he’s been a lone donkey his whole life and at this point, I’m just trying to help THIS guy. His pasture buddy died suddenly, leaving him alone. Within two days, I was there to pick him up. At nine years old, he had never had his feet done and also had not been beyond his fence lines. You can guess how long it took to get him to just MOVE outside of the pasture, get him loaded, get him to my place and unloaded, and into the barn. I have him in with a pony and a mini. He and the pony are really bonding….they’re quite good buddies. But the donkey is NOT happy with me. After all, everything in his world changed, and I was there for all of these transitions. I am trying with treats. Eventually, I can usually walk up to him, but I have to crouch to his level, not maintain eye contact, and let him know I have something for him. Once he gets the treat, I scratch him and rub him and he stands for it as long as I don’t go near his head. I’m giving him lovins’, then just walking away. Letting him know, for now, I don’t expect anything from him except taking treats, scratches and rubs. I want him to quit walking away from me, and seeing me as a threat with a lead rope.
There has been no lead rope in sight for him. He also, within a couple days, had his feet done by my natural farrier. They had never been trimmed and were cracked, peeled, curled up, broke off, and once the adrenaline from the move wore off, he was horribly lame. So that trim happened with sedation and he was wonderful. Trying to make every experience a good one for him, but his feet were a requirement, so I took a short cut there with the sedative. I’d just like to know that I’m doing everything right, or that there may be something I should be doing differently. Thank you!
Answer: I fear that your natural farrier may have cut too much off his hooves all at once. When they founder, their feet get like that and need to be SLOWLY trimmed back over a long period of time or they will become awfully lame, as you describe, and you will not be able to get the hoof to grow back properly. I can only hope that he did not take off too much all at once, but if the donkey went lame, he probably did and I would look for another more qualified farrier who may be able to fix any damage that might have been done. The information below should help you with further management. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. That is what I am here for.
No matter how old or how well trained the equine, he still needs time doing the simplest of things to get to know you before he will learn to trust and have confidence in you. The exercises that you do should build his body slowly, sequentially and in good equine posture. Just as our children need routine, ongoing learning and the right kind of exercise while they are growing up, so do equines. They need clearly outlined boundaries in order to minimize anxious and inappropriate behaviors. Also, the exercises you do together need to build your equine’s strength and coordination in good equine posture. The time spent together during leading training and going forward builds a good, solid relationship with your equine and fosters his confidence and trust in you because you actually help him to feel physically better. A carefully planned routine and an appropriate feeding program are both critical to healthy development.
At Lucky Three Ranch, we do leading training for a full year not only to get our equines to learn to lead and to develop a good relationship with them, but also to make sure they develop good posture and core muscle strength in preparation for carrying a rider. Even an older equine with previous training still needs this training for optimum performance and longevity. During the time that you do the leading training strengthening exercises, you should NOT ride your animal, as this will inhibit the success of the preliminary exercises. If you ride while you do these exercises, it will not result in the same proper muscle conditioning, habitual behavior and new way of moving. The lessons need to be routine and done in good posture to acquire the correct results. You are building new habits in your equine’s way of moving and the only way that change can take place 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, your body will also reap the benefits of this regimen.
Today’s general horse training techniques do not usually work well with mules and donkeys. Most horse training techniques used today speed up the training process so people can ride sooner, which can make a trainer’s techniques seem more attractive, but most of these techniques do not adequately prepare the equine physically in good posture for the added stress of a rider on his back. Mules and donkeys have a very strong sense of self-preservation and need work that builds their bodies properly so they will feel good in their new and correct posture, or you won’t get the kind of results you might expect. Forming a good relationship with your equine begins with a consistent maintenance routine and appropriate groundwork. Most equines don’t usually get the well-structured and extended groundwork training on the lead rope that paves the way to good balance, core muscle conditioning and a willing attitude, but it is essential if he is truly expected to be physically and mentally prepared for future equine activities. (With donkeys and mules, this is of especially critical importance.)
Response: Thank you for all of the great information! Having had donkeys before, everything I read here is right on. They aren’t the kind of animal that you can send off to a trainer….they need to bond with their person! And asking things of them is often much more difficult than asking a horse.
I, too, was a bit concerned when I saw how much he was taking off. I thought it would take several visits to slowly get those feet where they needed to be. Webster walked off like nothing, but was a bit sore the next morning. Now, he’s running and bucking around after his buddy, Merlin. They enjoy playing together. He’s definitely growing on me, and fast.
I will read, and reread, your info here several times. I also used to be a member of ADMS, and have several of their older membership magazines here still. Thank you SO much for taking the time to respond. I believe I saw you on RFD-TV, a Training Mules and Donkeys show, and I was intrigued by it. So I knew you were the person to go to!
Thank you….from me and Webster, also.
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!
Jumping Miniature Equines
Question: We have previously watched you show miniature donkeys and know your expertise is much respected. We have never shown here in Minnesota, but last year sold two foals to a lady who has been successfully teaching them tricks. She is wondering at what age can they start jumping? I know some weight-bearing activities should not be done until two to three years of age.
Answer: Like human athletes, all equine athletes need to be prepared properly with feed and exercise over a long period of time for the activities they will be doing. The information below will explain the steps. Jumping is an advanced thing and should not be done until much later in their training program. In addition to the information given here, I would suggest that you read my series of articles about minis, titled “Getting Down with Minis,” available on our website.
Although we begin our DVD series with Foal Training, you should always begin training with imprinting, no matter how old, 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 or donkey. 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.
Losing Balance on the Lunge Line
Question: Our Friesians pull on the lunge line and lose balance at canter and sometimes at trot. I saw your post about them learning core strength and finding balance. Can you let me know what I need to consider getting from your program, so I can begin to condition them to help them have better balance?
Answer: I LOVE Friesians! Although I learned many important training techniques from my longears, when I applied these techniques to my horses, I got the same amazing results! I realized that it is really just a matter of changing one’s perception. Instead of focusing on just doing movements or “things,” it is important to focus on building the equine body in a slow and easy way, beginning with more work on the lead line, lunging and ground driving in order to prepare the equine for his task of riding or driving. This has made all the difference in the world, and all my equines now exhibit good posture, confidence, self-carriage and strength in good posture that can only be attained by a slow, logical and sequential process.
Once your equine is exhibiting self-carriage after leading training and he is able to balance on a circle in the round pen, you can teach lunge line training. Remember that you must always teach lunge line training in the round pen before you teach it in an open area.
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 Won’t Unload
Question: Just got your Training Mules and Donkeys book and I LOVE IT!! I wish I bought it sooner!! Your resources and website are now my official ‘go-to’ place for mule education.
I’m hoping you can help me, I’m completely stumped and don’t know what to do.
I have a yearling molly haflinger mule who recently developed the opinion that she doesn’t want to unload out of the trailer. I say ‘recently’ because all trailer loading practice prior to ‘that day’ was fine…no issue whatsoever. In fact, we’d play hopping in and out just for fun without her halter on. She has NEVER had a bad experience loading or unloading, so I don’t know where this resistance is coming from. She is completely happy and compliant in all other ground work exercises, crossing poles, logs, tarps, bridges, you name it. It took me almost 2 hours to get her out. I went really slow, didn’t rush her, but I haven’t loaded her back up since I can’t identify what the problem is. She does enjoy playing games, so maybe that was comical to her, but I’m not sure if there is an underlying issue. Before I load her up again, I really want to be sure I handle the situation correctly. We hit the trails several times a month, so she has lots of trailer rides in her future. Naturally, I haven’t been able to find much information on ‘unloading’ challenges so I’m stumped.
Answer: It sounds like you have been rewarding for getting into the trailer (and through all other obstacles) very consistently, as you should, but have you been rewarding for coming out? Every single time and the instant she hits the ground? Sounds like she thinks the only way she will be rewarded is if she is IN the trailer! Even though it took two hours to get her out, I think you did exactly the right thing in taking your time!
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.
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!
Pulling on Brakes
Question: I bought a team of little mules at a auction. 1 molly mule 4 year 600lb. and 1 john mule 1.5 year old 500 lb.. We only work to wagon. They have yet to jump at anything on the road, cars, etc. The molly mule always wants to keep pulling and can never seemed to get relaxed and just walk along without pulling and the drive lines heavy which as her mouth sore. It seems to be when the brakes are applied to the wagon she wants to just pull harder. I have had them a month now and yesterday was the first time she bucked twice in the harness hooked to wagon. Don’t know what kind of life they had before me. I don’t beat a mule to teach them, but very gentle with them and don’t raise my voice. I have broke a couple of mules to ride and work. But I am at my wit’s end on the little mule. Any advice would be very much appreciated.
Answer: It sounds as if you have not given this mule adequate time to learn about things with groundwork before actually hitching her to the wagon. She will need to go back to leading training and then go through all the stages of groundwork before hitching her up again or the problem you are having will only escalate. Here is information that will explain why this is important and how to do it:
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.
We 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 the rider. Even an older equine with previous training would still need this for optimum performance and longevity. During the time you do the leading training strengthening exercises, you should NOT ride the animal as this will inhibit the success of the exercises. If you ride while you do these exercises, it will not result in habitual behavior and a new way of going. The lessons need to be routine 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 can 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.
Horse training techniques do not generally work well with mules and donkeys. They’re too smart. Most horse training techniques used today speed up the training process so people can ride sooner and it makes the trainers’ techniques more attractive, but most of these techniques do not adequately prepare the equine physically for the added stress of a rider on his back. Mules and donkeys have a very strong sense of self preservation and need work that builds their bodies properly so they feel good or you just don’t get the results you might expect. Forming a good relationship with your donkey or mule starts with a consistent maintenance routine and appropriate groundwork. Most equines don’t usually get the well-structured and extended groundwork training on the lead rope that paves the way to good core muscle conditioning and a willing attitude. This is essential if they are truly expected to be physically and mentally prepared for future equine activities. With donkeys and mules, this is very important. Even Pat Parelli will tell you that mules must be treated the way horses should be treated.
Running off in the Drivelines
Question: My mule is running off in the drivelines. What do I do to make her stop?
Answer: First, I have, over time, come to appreciate the fact that different equines have different personality types. It does seem that a general rule applies: the larger the animal, the more docile the personality. I’ve also learned that when a donkey or mule has a tendency to bolt and run, it’s typically because they don’t agree with what you’re trying to do, or how you are trying to do it. It is ALWAYS the handler’s fault!
I have a mule that is acting the same way. She will allow me to walk beside her and drive her that way, but if I get too far behind her, she’ll run off. I have had to deal with this problem with a few mules and donkeys in the past. What I do is continue to walk beside her and gradually lengthen the distance one inch at a time until she has accepted the drivelines correctly–no matter how long it takes. I will work her no more than 20 to 40 minutes every other day. I will make sure she gets her treats for “Whoa” and “Back.” I will do a lot of “Back” while still close in to her and repeat “Back” frequently at every increased or decreased distance behind her, and I will keep things at a very slow walk until I feel her relaxation through the drivelines (not a trace of pull). I will always be calm and slow around her, willing to take all the time in the world if necessary. I will constantly review the lessons in showmanship in DVD #1, DVD #8 and DVD #9, going to and from the work areas, and during any ground interaction to help her really, truly bond to me on a very personal level. I will treat her as my very favorite. (I actually treat them all this way anyway, but sometimes there are those who are less confident and need this extra moral support.)
These types of personalities simply take much longer to come around, but with great patience, kindness, trust and respect, they eventually do. I just wouldn’t necessarily use them for driving, but they can be very good under saddle. In fact, once they do bond more strongly with you and look to you as their “Protector,” they are the ones who will have more “Go” and thus, more athletic aptitude and ability. Figuring out what kinds of things they like to do naturally also helps.
I have dealt with many animals that were the same way, and I know it takes tremendous patience, but I also know they can come around. You might just need to back up and do things even more slowly and more meticulously than you ever thought you needed to, but you should get positive results if you do. Lower your expectations of her for a while, and try to have more fun with the basics.
When she does bolt, never hang on to the reins, lead, or drivelines. Just let go of her if you are on the ground or let them loose if she bolts under saddle. Just make sure you work in areas that are adequately and safely fenced, so you can catch her easily again. Whether on the lead line, in the drivelines or under saddle, once she realizes that you aren’t going to play “tug-o-war,” that she will get a reward for staying, and it is a waste of her energy to keep running, she will do it less and less.
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!
Skittish on the Drivelines
Question: My mule will do all the obstacles easily on the lead rope and most of the time when I am riding him, but he won’t do it on the drivelines without getting skittish and weaving. What should I do?
Answer: When doing obstacles on the lead line, keep in mind that you are not only teaching the animal to negotiate an obstacle, but you are also conditioning the muscles closest to the bone, teaching balance, coordination and control as well.
If your mule doesn’t approach the obstacle easily, do not withhold the reward until they actually negotiate the bridge, tarp, ground poles, or whatever. Lower your expectations and go back to your lead line training. Walk to the end of your lead line, hold it taut and wait for the mule to step towards you. When he does, give him a reward (crimped oats) and tell him how brave he is being and praise him for it. Let him settle, then walk to the end of the lead line again getting even closer to the obstacle and repeat the same way. When you reach the obstacle, step up onto the bridge, or over the first ground rail and ask again. Stop him if he tries to run through, or over the obstacle, and reward him for standing with front feet into the obstacle. You might even want to back him up and reward for that before proceeding forward. Then go away from the obstacle and come back, putting all four feet into the obstacle. Repeat this procedure yet again and ask him to negotiate the entire obstacle slowly and in control. Breaking the obstacle down into small steps like this will facilitate control and keep your mule’s attention on you.
After he is more willing to come through the obstacle, you can regain your showmanship position with your left hand carrying the lead line and your right arm extended in front of you pointing to the direction you are going. When the mule is finally listening and will follow your shoulder over or through the obstacle, stop or back at any point during the negotiation of the obstacle, you can then turn your attention to whether he is actually traveling forward and backing in a straight line and whether he is stopping squarely. How he negotiates the obstacle will have a direct bearing on how his muscles are conditioned and how his balance and coordination develop, so don’t be afraid to ask for more perfection! Do this the same way first on the lead line, then in the drivelines and lastly, under saddle.
Snacking on the Trail
Question:I got my molly (my first mule) from an outstanding mule trainer and she has been the safest trail ride I have ever had, very responsive, not reactive, and points out every possible danger to me whether it is a cloud of bees, deer, hunters, etc. Since she was trained for arena and showing I think this common sense is remarkable. But she has one fault that I need help correcting. She snacks during trail rides, pulling at grass and tall weeds, etc. She does not stop to do this, but it is very distracting and makes the ride unpleasant. After last fall’s riding season ended I found myself with shoulder issues due to my corrections via reins. I have just finished physical therapy to fix my shoulder and so I would like to find a solution that will retrain her without stress to either one of us. Our trails are narrow with steep drop-offs that prevent circling or other maneuvers that might be useful when correcting on the flat. Thanks for any help.
Answer: Although we begin our DVD series with “Foal Training,” you should always begin training with imprinting—no matter how old your equine is—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. This is how they learn to bond and have respect for you and vice versa. If you do our beginning imprinting and leading exercises, it will foster more attention from your mule when you do ask her to keep her head up while riding! 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. But bonding is not the only consideration. In order to move correctly, they must also be trained correctly. I would suggest spending some time with our leading exercises in order to prevent any more undesirable behaviors from coming up in the future. Meanwhile, if you do not opt for the long term fix and just continue to ride (which you should not be doing during the groundwork exercises), the simplest fix (although NOT long term!) would be to ride in a western saddle, shorten the reins to the point where she cannot reach very far and keep the reins looped over the saddle horn, so if she pulls, you can just lower your hand a little more and let her pull against the saddle horn and not your arms!
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.
Trained Mule Regressing at New Home
Question: Hi. A week and a half ago, I brought home our first mule! She is 10 and getting along well after an initial break-in across the fence with my two geldings (a horse and small pony). There are many things I really like about her, but after her arrival here, about five days after just letting her be in a stall or pasture, I cross-tied her and she weaved quite persistently. I tried gentle reprimands to re-guide her. Nothing worked.
Later I tried just a single tie. She still was weaving. This molly showed NO EVIDENCE of this previously, and upon calling the previous owner, her response was, “Really?” I’m hoping there is just an acclimation period, and that this molly’s “nervousness” will stop! She has already come up to me in the fence, and I think we’re on our way to a bond. However, I am quite disappointed to see her weave! Is there any hope that this may truly be temporary, due to an acclimation period, etc.???? I had hopes of taking her to shows, trail rides, parades, etc. Now I’m concerned about her ability to “handle” such things. Thank you for your feedback.
Answer: There is no reason this mule can’t work out for you, but you need to be willing to forego any shows, parades, etc. this year and maybe even half of next year so you can build a good relationship with the mule first. She obviously is nervous and that is because she was “hurried” through the training process. The information below will give you the guidelines you need to build a better foundation for activities and will help to build a solid relationship between you! I am here to help along the way with any questions you might have.
No matter how old or how well trained the equine, they still need time doing the simplest of things to get to know you before they will learn to trust and have confidence in you. The exercises that you do should build the body slowly, sequentially and in good equine posture. Just as our children need routine, ongoing learning and the right kind of exercise while they are growing up, so do equines. They need boundaries for their behavior that are clearly outlined to minimize anxious behaviors and inappropriate behavior, and the exercises that you do together need to build their strength and coordination in good equine posture. The time spent together during leading training and going forward builds a good solid relationship with your equine and fosters his or her confidence and trust in you because you actually help your animal to feel physically better. A carefully planned routine and an appropriate feeding program are both critical to healthy development.
We 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 carrying a rider. Even an older equine with previous training would still need this for optimum performance and longevity. During the time you do the leading training strengthening exercises, you should NOT ride your animal, as this will inhibit the success of the preliminary exercises. If you ride while you do these exercises, it will not result in the same proper muscle conditioning, habitual behavior and new way of moving. The lessons need to be routine 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 can change is through routine, consistency in the routine, and correctness in the execution of the exercises. Since this requires that you be in good posture as well, you will also reap the benefits from this regimen.
Overall, today’s horse training techniques do not generally work well with mules and donkeys. Most horse training techniques used today speed up the training process so people can ride sooner and it makes the trainers’ techniques more attractive, but most of these techniques do not adequately prepare the equine physically in good posture for the added stress of a rider on his back. Mules and donkeys have a very strong sense of self-preservation, and need work that builds their bodies properly so they will feel good in their new and correct posture, or you won’t get the kind of results you might expect. Forming a good relationship with your equine begins with a consistent maintenance routine and appropriate groundwork. Most equines don’t usually get the well-structured and extended groundwork training on the lead rope that paves the way to good balance, core muscle conditioning and a willing attitude. But this is essential if an animal is truly expected to be physically and mentally prepared for future equine activities. With donkeys and mules, this is critically important. When you take the time to do this, your animal will be pleased that you have her best interests at heart and will not engage in the anxious behaviors that you describe.