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In 2007, when Meredith Hodges decided to film a television documentary about therapeutic riding, she headed to Loveland, Colorado-based therapeutic riding center, Hearts and Horses. There, she met five-year-old Sarah Foley and her mother, Diane. Sarah was born with generalized body weakness, making it difficult for her to perform tasks that required any sort of physical stamina or strength. Luckily, Diane is a physical therapist, and began looking for creative ways to help strengthen her daughter’s body. A pony ride at a friend’s birthday party immediately captured Sarah’s attention, and she began hippotherapy when she was two years old. By the time we interviewed her, Sarah had moved from hippotherapy, where the horse was being used as a modality to assist with her low tone, to therapeutic riding, where she was developing riding skills, controlling the horse independently of her volunteers.
Today, Sarah is twelve years old. We caught up with her and Diane to talk about how their lives have changed since that original interview. Even now, Diane notes that riding plays an important part in Sarah’s life. “She is still riding once a week,” said Diane. “She’s kept it up pretty much the entire time.” After a period of vast improvement, in which she was showing no signs of disability or physical deficits, Sarah ended up developing arthritis. Diane termed it “A little bump in the road, so she got more active in horseback riding, and has now overcome that also.”
When we speak on the phone, Sarah sounds like any bright, happy and enthusiastic preteen. “I’m feeling really good,” she says. “I love horseback riding, and I swim a lot, and I like playing with my dog.” She dreams of becoming either a teacher or an actress on Broadway some day. Sarah still does her riding at Hearts and Horses, and is now paired with a speckled gray horse named Boomer, that she describes as a very big challenge—but one that’s very close to her heart. “If Boomer went up for sale at Hearts and Horses, ever, I would buy him just like that,” she says. In general, Sarah describes horseback riding as an empowering experience: “I feel like we have a connection kind of. I can do anything when I’m on a horse. “
Sarah eventually moved from needing the assistance of two sidewalkers and a leader to only a leader. With the increased strength and confidence, Sarah’s instructor began to incorporate preliminary vaulting moves to strengthen her core and sense of independence. She was thankful for the assistance of the side walkers though, as it showed her she was capable of amazing things even in her first days of riding. “It made me feel more confident in myself, that I could ride on my own,” she recalled. “As [I used] the side walkers less and less and less, I started to get more confident … and finally I’m to the point where I am right now.” Equine therapy is more than just physical rehabilitation, as it also focuses on training people to be better riders and gain confidence, regardless of their starting capabilities. “I’m a really good rider now because of horse therapy and what they did for me,” says Sarah, also pointing to the inspiration of her parents: “My parents had a big part in it, making me not quit horseback riding and keep going with it—not that I would want to quit, but they would not have let me quit, that’s for sure.”
At the age of twelve, Sarah has accomplished a great deal in her life already, but describes it with an air of humility, simply saying, “It’s been a long road.” As advice for other people in her position, she stresses the benefits of positive thinking and optimism. “I think that anything can be overcome,” she says. “Maybe not always physically, but overcome mentally,” adding that physical transformations are sometimes possible too, like her success with arthritis. “I think people can do anything if they really, really want to,“ she says, and it’s clear that Sarah’s unflinching belief in that statement, along with her equine therapy, will help her accomplish anything she truly desires.
Visit Hearts and Horses’ website to find out more about their commitment to therapeutic riding, and watch Sarah’s full episode of Those Magnificent Mules, “Walk On: Part 2,” available to rent on demand.
September 16 – 19, 2014
Last chance to sign up for Richard Shrake’s Resistance Free Clinic in Littleton, Colorado! Register by calling 541-593-1389 or visit the website www.richardshrake.com.
Years ago, I believed that all I needed to have an equine was a halter, bridle and saddle, a water bucket and a patch of grass with a fence around it. I didn’t even think about shelter until much later when I finally decided that a garage would do. I now know that there is a lot of responsibility in taking care of equines and that it is an ongoing learning experience. Like most of us, I was a little lazy and wanted shortcut ways to deal with my equines so I could get right to the pleasure of riding. After many heart wrenching experience, I discovered that I did not have to be overwhelmed with management and training responsibilities, just more organized and practical. Finding simple, logical and appropriate answers to management and training questions became my mission.
Mules and donkeys, contrary to popular belief, are sensitive to colic and founder when left on pasture. They can develop fat rolls and patches all over their bodies when allowed to graze freely. This eventually will become a very expensive and potentially devastating condition if left unattended. Muzzles have been developed to keep equines from grazing too voraciously and hopefully, this can prevent the incidence of colic and founder, but I can’t help but think that there will be a certain amount of frustration involved when using such short cut devices that can manifest itself in other areas of interaction with your equine. The animal will take to the muzzle because there is a reward of grazing to follow, but to be prevented from fully enjoying their grazing has to be frustrating at times.
Beyond the incidence of possible frustration is the simple threat of them getting the muzzle caught on something with no one around to help them if they do get caught on anything. One of my strictest safety rules is to never leave a halter on an unsupervised animal for the same reason. I have seen too many animals maimed, paralyzed and even killed by leaving anything around their neck and head.
The muzzle encircles the delicate muzzle of the equine where the skin is very thin and sensitive. The lips can become scabby and sores can develop on the tongue.
A muzzle can chafe and burn these sensitive areas with prolonged use and create a very sore mouth. Again, if they do get sore, using a bit can become painful and cause resistance in training.
It is easier to employ simple management practices to keep your equine healthy and happy. Your equine should be kept in a smaller area for evening feedings, overnight and for morning feedings. This has several benefits: 1) Each animal can be checked every day for any injuries or anomalies, 2) He will not have to fight for his food, he can sleep uninterrupted and be more calm and fresh each day, 3) You will then be able to turn him out at specific times for grazing during the day and he will willingly come back from the pasture each night. This way you can monitor his grazing intake so he will not be able to overgraze and colic, or founder, 4) the smaller area affords you a confined space for beginning training so there is no need to chase him, or be interrupted by other animals.
If you feed only grass hay in the mornings and feed his oats mix in the evenings with grass hay, you can monitor his pasture time easily. In the spring when the grass is growing and very rich, you can begin to turn him out an hour before feeding time and he will happily come back in to get his evening oats. Then add an additional hour each week to slowly accustom his digestive tract to the new grass until you have worked him up to a maximum grazing time of five hours. This will generally produce a healthy, happy animal of any age that can maintain his ideal weight and body condition.
When you feed only grass hay in the mornings, he will look forward to his lessons with you and be waiting at the gate, knowing there are oats rewards to be earned. What your animal is eating can have a direct impact on his response to training. Many feeds can cause hypertension in Longears (and horses, too!) and an inability to focus for any length of time. Mules and donkeys require a lot less feed than horses because they are half donkey and donkeys are desert animals. Too much feed or the wrong kind of feed and you run the risk of colic, or founder.
We feed an oats mix to our average sized mules of 1-2 cups of crimped oats, 1 oz. of Sho Glo vitamins (by Manna Pro) and 1 oz. Mazola corn oil (for hooves, coat and digestive tract regularity). The oats must be broken open in some way (crimped, steamed, rolled, etc.) as equines cannot digest whole oats. We feed this once a day in the evenings, grass hay twice a day and we monitor weight gain with the hay and pasture intake. Miniatures get one fourth as much of the oats mix and grass hay, and draft animals will need twice as much. Do not alter or modify this with other products in any way for the best results.
Also, make sure they have access to a trace mineral salt block for their salt and mineral needs. We worm our equines with Ivermectin in January, March, May, July and September and then break the cycle with Strongid in November. We vaccinate in the spring and fall. Consult your veterinarian for the types of vaccines you will need for your area. You should never feed Longears (donkeys, or mules) any pre-mixed sweet feeds, or products high in alfalfa. This is actually a very easy and inexpensive way to manage the feeding and grazing of your equines without the worry of muzzles. It’s just a matter of getting into this healthy routine.
The following is an excerpt from a post by The Donkey Sanctuary.
Luminiţa (which means ‘little light’) has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties. When she was brought to the Don Orione orphanage she had signs of being institutionalized, including being extremely withdrawn, banging her head and pulling her hair out. She was unable to walk but has since had an operation and access to a physiotherapy programme, including donkey riding therapy three times a week through our Romanian project, to combat her leg stiffness and increase her leg and core strength.
Her physiotherapist Carmelia is thrilled with her progress, Luminiţa can now walk with support and is gaining the strength to stand and climb. Her character has also grown and she has become a happy, inquisitive little girl who clearly loves her time with the four donkeys, Boss, Claudio, Ioan and Sile. She also benefits from learning about caring for the donkeys, grooming them and understanding how important it is for them to be happy.
Carmelia added “It can be difficult for these children to learn to empathise and relate with others but each moment with the donkeys is a simple and rewarding interaction. The donkey’s needs and movements aren’t complicated like those of humans. Movements or affection can be taken at face value and the children learn that they are safe to form positive relationships that are rewarding for the children and the donkeys.
“In addition, the donkey riding therapy provides enormous physical benefits for Luminiţa as she builds her balance and stretches during her sessions. Her legs can be very stiff but riding therapy helps to loosen her muscles and make her more comfortable.”
When breeding for mules, a teaser stallion is needed to get the mares to show heat, as they will not show heat to the jack. In 1988, Lucky Three Ranch needed a good teaser stallion to use in our breeding program, so we began scanning the Colorado countryside for the right horse. I went out to a huge farm in Haxton that had 50 head of assorted horses on 2000 acres. The owner said I could have any of the 20 two-year-old stallions that I could catch. I strapped on my fanny pack full of oats and started walking into the field with horses all around me running away in all directions! It didn’t take long to spot the beautiful dun stallion in the herd galloping, leaping and rearing in the middle of the excited herd. I asked the owner his name and he told me, “Kip!” I hollered and showed him the oats. He immediately stopped what he was doing and began to approach me. He was a bit suspicious and a little shy, but soon came up and took the oats from my hand. “I’ll take this one,” I told the owner. I put on the halter, loaded him easily into the trailer and took him home.
A.Q.H.A. ROM registered, in his first two years here Kip received all the same kind of core muscle conditioning as the other Lucky Three equines, and at three years old began saddle training. When he was four, he became the teaser stallion for Little Jack Horner’s mares. At first, I had Kip and L.J. separated from all the other equines, but they both seemed lonesome, so I decided to see if stallion and jack could be penned next to each other. Lo and behold, my good manners training not only held true between me and the equines, but among the equines themselves as well! Kip and Little Jack Horner were both happier in each other’s company and would even play respectfully with each other over the fence. One day I came out and Kip had jumped into L.J.’s pasture and they were romping around, but clearly not hurting each other at all. I just called Kip, he came and I put him back into his own pen.
I realized then that a lot of the old stories I had heard about stallion management were not necessarily true. Eventually I had to move Little Jack Horner elsewhere during construction, and ran out of space near the other equines for Kip. But he was so stressed in this lonely living situation that he wouldn’t stop running the fence and was losing weight rapidly. I decided to reinforce the fence between a small pasture and the larger pen and pasture where we kept the mares, and put Kip in the small pasture. He calmed right down, and has been there ever since—a complete joy to be around now. Previously, he had been a little rambunctious during the teasing of our mares and the breeding of our neighbor’s mares, but once pastured next to the mares, his entire demeanor immediately changed.
No longer in solitary confinement, he appreciates the company of his girls and is not averse to leaving them to come with us upon request. His manners are always impeccable. He was trained the same way I trained the mules, and to this day, he is a perfect gentleman. I recently posted the first picture in this piece on Facebook and people seemed to think that the dangling lead rope was somehow attached to his feet, hobbling him to make him manageable. No such thing! We were doing some filming for our Equus Revisited manual and DVD and I left the lead rope on him so I could easily grab him when we were finished filming, and not have to fumble with catching him and putting on the halter. The entire film crew was in the background around him while he created his dramatic teasing segment upon command. When we were done, I just called his name and he stopped the drama immediately and waited for me to come and collect his lead rope.
Patience, kindness, respect and good manners go a long way! Your equines will mirror your demeanor and will behave in a confrontational way only if you do. When you treat the relationship with your equine as an equal partnership (with both of you taking turns being the leader), there is no end to what you can learn together and the joy of the relationship deepens with each new experience. It is not unusual for me to go out and stand between Kip and the mares while we all enjoy the “OATS FEST” and each other’s company!
The following is a post from the American Wild Horse Preservation.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is planning to send 100 federally protected wild burros to Guatemala as “working” animals. The BLM knows that shipping 100 burros will not make a dent in the problem it has created by stockpiling nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros in holding facilities. But the agency is looking at this as a “pilot program,” which could open the pipeline for the shipment of thousands of America’s wild horses and burros to foreign lands.
Working horses, donkeys and mules often suffer from exhaustion, dehydration, malnutrition, and abuse as a result of excessive workloads and limited animal health services in developing countries.
Now is the time to tell Congress and the BLM that this ill-conceived plan must be immediately scrapped. The BLM should not be in the business of shipping our cherished burros (or wild horses) to foreign countries where the welfare and fate of these animals cannot be ensured. Please be sure to share this alert with friends and family — our opposition must be so loud and strong that the BLM cannot ignore us!
Please take action by submitting a letter to your congressional representative by clicking here!
Roll and I finally got some time to begin warm up exercises after a whole year off. I was pleasantly surprised to find him much stronger in his new posture than I thought he would be after so much time away from his exercises. All he did for the past year was regular maintenance, turnout, massages and farrier work. It seems that after three years of posture training prior to last year, it has become his normal way of moving and has sustained his good condition with only turnout for exercise.
Time to start making plans for your fall, your spring and the rest of your career—the application deadline for the upcoming 2014/2015 school year at TMD Equine University is July 15!
TMD Equine University is an online certificate course that gives a comprehensive overview of Meredith Hodges’ training and care methods for equines, as well as giving students a foundation of what it takes to work in the equine industry. This unique combination shows you how to manage, care for and understand all breeds of equine, from foal to senior.
The course also includes a special Immersion Clinic for students to get some hands-experience on site at the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado. This five-day clinic will take place in the summer following the completion of TMDEU’s academic program, and will allow students to work with and participate in the care of the Lucky Three animals and learn about the maintenance procedure of the ranch. Students will have one-on-one time with Meredith Hodges as well as working in groups, and will benefit from the experience of partnering with animals in varying stages of training for hands-on work, including horses, mules and donkeys.
The school is accredited by the Colorado Division of Private Occupational Schools, but classes can be taken from anywhere with an internet connection, on your own schedule. Find out more about the school here and remember to complete your applications by July 15.
Even though I know how well trained my equines are, they never cease to amaze me! I can be dog tired and know that this is the day they must be groomed, wormed and vaccinated…all thirty of them! The very thought is quite literally exhausting on occasion. Though my staff helps with maintenance doctoring what are now mostly older and geriatric individuals, I still basically train and manage all my equines by myself. When I am tired and a job must be done, I am repeatedly reminded of how well I have done with all of them. All the worry and stress about having to go out and work is washed away the minute I get out to the barn with their never ending affection, interactive neighs and brays and ultimate compliance. Continue Reading »
Meredith is pleased to have contributed an anecdote to the first edition of a new book series featuring humorous, equine-related stories called Horse Tales for the Funny Bone, Volume 1. The tales were collected by Bonnie Marlewski-Probert at Whitehall Publishing, who also put together the Horse Tales for the Soul series. Horse Tales for the Funny Bone features stories about all breeds, all styles of riding, and all age groups—60 in all. This book is sure to brighten your day and put a smile on your face, and makes the perfect gift for all the equine lovers in your life! Also, the book will be used to help fundraising efforts for therapeutic riding centers. Get your own copy of Horse Tales for the Funny Bone, Volume 1, here!
The following is post from the American Wild Horse Preservation.
Burros are amazing, hardy animals who manage to survive under the harshest conditions. Sadly, just like their wild horse cousins, they cling to a tenuous existence on our public lands due to a shrinking habitat and a federal management program that rounds them up and removes them from their homes on the range.
In celebration of burros, the American Wild Horse Preservation has declared May as “Burro Awareness Month.” They’ll be featuring burros and interesting facts about them in their enewsletter and on their Facebook page.
To kick off Burro Awareness month, AWHPC is asking you to share any photos, videos or personal stories you have regarding burros. You can email them or post them on their Facebook Page. Meanwhile, visit their Burro Awareness Webpage to learn more about the steadfast and intriguing burros of the American West.
“Hey, we haven’t seen you guys in a while! How have you been?! We get to go for another adventure with Meredith today!”
“What do you suppose she has in mind for us today, Spuds?”
I have been called “the Mule Whisperer,” but I must admit that the mules have been whispering right back at me for over forty years now! Mules have taught me practically everything I know about training equines and for that, I am eternally grateful…and so are the people and their equines who learn from me! I am so proud of my fans and the successful accomplishments they’ve had with their equines! Thank you all for your kind updates and correspondence! Keep up the great work!
So what do you do together when it’s snowing outside? Roll looked like he was wearing SNOW boots when he first came into the tack barn. So, first we had to remove all of the icicles, but I had to be very careful because they don’t exactly come off easily. Roll let me know when I tugged too hard on the shedding blade and suggested that I warm them with my hand before I pulled! Good plan!
By the time I got to the back end, they had all melted!
We then decided to mess around with halters. Roll much prefers the fit and action of his nylon halter…and, it’s comfortable to wear!
The snugger fit allows him to feel the tug on the halter almost immediately and he can then comply promptly and without fear of reprisal. His ears indicate he is concentrating on stepping back with the slightest indication.
The fit and action on a rope halter is much different and it takes Roll a minute to figure out what I am asking. Note his questioning and confused look!
The halter puts uneven pressure across Roll’s face and he doesn’t seem to be confident about what to do…” Would you like me to stretch or just take a step forward?”
Because we have worked solely in the nylon halter except for the demonstration with the rope halter, he is happy to stand quietly and wait for me…no pain, no fear!
Even when we were interrupted by a loud noise, Roll remained engaged in his stretching activity. We both just turned our heads calmly to the side to see what it was!
…and then we resumed our stretching exercise in a sea of oats!
Making our way back to the paddock, Roll happily matched me stride for stride, staying in balance with good equine posture!
A professional trainer, judge and animal inspector, Crystal Ward owned the Ass Pen Ranch in Placerville, California, where she raised and trained horse, mules and donkeys. The first year she came to Bishop Mule Days was in 1979. She happened to be coming through Bishop on vacation and it really intrigued her. She thought the mules were simply outstanding. Crystal had a show career with horses, but the following year she decided she had to own a mule. She showed up the next year with a horse trailer in tow, and at that point Bishop Mule Days was still offering an auction. She swiftly bought a mule at the auction and had been coming back ever since.
Her first mule was a wild little critter that didn’t make much progress. So the following year she bought a mule named Skeeter Sea from George Chamberlain, a dealer in mules in Los Alivos, California; the mule was previously owned by Slim Pickens. When Slim Pickens showed up as Grand Marshal in the Bishop Mule Days Parade, he told Crystal, “We used to own that mule.” She showed him with 55 mules in the class and won the Western Pleasure class that year. Although he was nice in the Western Pleasure classes, she couldn’t see owning this mule for the long term due to his generally bad manners. Later, she picked up a mule in Northern Montana and brought him back and started training him…his name was Final Legacy. He was a good honest mule and she kept him for the long haul.
Back in the early ‘80s, Crystal got really interested in riding side saddle, so she joined the International Side Saddle Organization and ultimately rode in the Presidential Inaugural Parade with Final Legacy in 1993, hauling him from California to Washington, DC, in the middle of January. He was a good honest mule and she loved him. She showed him in many classes at Bishop Mule Days over the years…from Western to English, dressage, driving and side saddle.
In more recent years Crystal switched to raising and showing donkeys. She had a variety of donkeys, from miniatures to mammoths. She fully understood that you have to take a different approach when training a donkey and produced training videos with Napa, California, videographer, Video Mike. She truly appreciated a good donkey: “Donkeys are like potato chips—you can’t have just one.”
In our interview in 2009, Crystal told me: “We call them [donkeys] ‘desert canaries,’ but that goes hand-in-hand with donkeys. They do like to talk and it can be loud, but you know I’ll still take a donkey any day. I live with the noise, but then again, I’ll have peacocks, barking dogs and roosters in my backyard. Donkeys are just one more noisy farm animal that I can certainly live with.”
For Crystal, it was always a matter of learning…English, Western, Side Saddle…the whole nine yards! She always performed to the best of her and her mule’s ability and she believed a lot of it was a matter of finding just the right mule!
Crystal enjoyed her interview for my documentary series, Those Magnificent Mules; she appeared in “The Bishop All Stars” episodes. (We have all of these episodes available to watch online.) She said: “We were showing back in the early ‘80s, beating the paths to Bishop Mule Days. The one thing I know about mule and donkey people is that it’s fun competing…nice rivalry. When you come out of a class, your fellow competitors will shake your hand and offer you a bit of encouragement. It’s like family when you show at a mule or donkey show. It’s something you always look forward to until the next time.”
You are so right, Crystal! You will remain in our hearts, forever a part of our longears family… we will miss you!
“Hey, we haven’t seen you guys in a while! How have you been?! We get to go for another adventure with Meredith today!”
“What do you suppose she has in mind for us today, Spuds?”
Continue Reading »
My good friend, Tennessee mule artist Bonnie Shields, recently introduced me to sculptor Dennis Page from the Rocking Horse Ranch in Riverton, Utah. Dennis is working on a hand-carved “rocking mule” that is modeled after Bonnie’s ceramic sculpture of Kathleen Conklin’s Champion Driving mule, John Henry. I am so impressed with Dennis’s work that I decided to purchase the wood-sculpted rocker. What an amazing addition it will be to the Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park here at Lucky Three Ranch!
Jasper the Mule stops by your TV screen once again this Christmas! Celebrate Christmas with Jasper and all his friends as Jasper: A Christmas Caper airs on Rural TV (Dishnet Channel 232) on Christmas Eve.
It’s the Christmas season and Jasper and his human family are in high spirits as they travel to visit far-away friends a few towns over. When Jasper and his pal, Moxie the dog, get out of the yard and wander down a strange alley, the two friends are headed straight for one big adventure!
Presents disappear, mysterious strangers appear and friends go missing. But junior detectives Jasper and Moxie are on the case. With the clock ticking, Jasper has to use his “mule smarts” to tackle this puzzle of a mystery and put the pieces together before the big parade. But will he solve the mystery in time?
Airing on Rural TV (Channel 232 on Dish Network or check your local listings).
Tuesday, December 24 at 7pm and 11pm ET (4pm and 8pm PT)
If you don’t get Rural TV or miss the airings, all Jasper episodes are also available for rental on demand.
Colorado Gives Day is an initiative to increase philanthropy in Colorado through online giving. On this one day–Tuesday, December 10, 2013–Coloradans will come together to raise millions of dollars for nonprofits. Last year, $15.7 million was donated. Presented by Community First Foundation and FirstBank, Colorado Gives Day has taken place during a 24-hour period each winter since 2010. Donations are accepted through the website ColoradoGives.org, with a goal to inspire and unite Coloradans in supporting local nonprofits.
This is Hearts and Horses’ first year as part of Colorado Gives Day and their goal is to raise at least $10K for their amazing programs.
Why contribute through Colorado Gives Day? There are no fees, so 100% of your donation goes to Hearts and Horses. Donations of $10 and above are accepted, empowering MANY to participate. Hearts and Horses will also be vying for thousands of additional dollars to be awarded to Larimer County non-profits based upon unique donors, social shares, and dollars raised. This prize program is available in addition to the statewide Incentive Funds and exclusive to the 94 participating organizations in their region.
And this year, Meredith Hodges will match dollar for dollar all funds raised for Hearts and Horses on Colorado Gives Day, to continue helping them attain the resources necessary to become one of the premier therapeutic riding programs in the country.
Click here to schedule your donation to Hearts and Horses, or bookmark the link to donate on Tuesday!