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By Meredith Hodges © 2016 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. MULE CROSSING All Rights Reserved.
Over the past few decades, through trial and error, we equine owners and trainers have discovered that, when communicating with our equines, harsh bits are not really necessary. Rather, it is safer and more beneficial to use milder tack and equipment, to concentrate on learning correct body language and to give clear cues with our hands, seats and legs to elicit the desired response from our equines.
Nowadays, at the beginning of training, more and more riders are learning to ride “by the seat of their pants,” that is, using body language through the seat, legs and hands, rather than with brute force through the bit. Once a rarity, riding bridleless, or bitless is now part of a preferred way of training for both the equine and the rider.
If you are training your equine at home—in a controlled situation and under optimum conditions—riding bridleless and using the right kinds of techniques can be relatively easy, but there is more to consider than just getting the right response from your equine. As long as you are in a controlled situation, it is safe to ride bridleless for general pleasure riding, but if you become involved in showing at the advanced levels of performance, such as the higher levels of Dressage, Jumping and Combined Training, a finer-tuned communication, which bitless bridles or bridleless riding cannot necessarily provide, is necessary.
When it comes to rider/equine communication, bitless and/or brideless techniques do not work as well as the simple, direct rein action of the snaffle bit in concert with your seat and legs. Many people are under the impression that having a bit in the mouth is painful for an equine, and the seeming “nutcracker” action of the snaffle bit when it is in your hands suggests that it might pinch your animal’s tongue when you pull on the reins. The mouthpiece of the snaffle bit actually “breaks” in the middle, allowing it to slide easily across the top of your equine’s tongue. It does not pinch his tongue, but it does put pressure on the corners of his mouth. The snaffle bit is correctly defined as a bit that promotes “direct rein action,” meaning that when you pull right, you go right and when you pull left, you go left. A snaffle bit does not have a shank. If it did have a shank, it would be considered a curb bit, regardless of how short the shank really is (as is the case with a Tom Thumb bit).
When you pull the rein on a snaffle bit to indicate your direction of travel, the leading rein pulls on the ring that guides the equine into the direction of travel, while the ring on the other side “pushes” his head into that same direction. Always be sure you are light with your hands and that you gently pull with a squeeze/release action or you could easily pull the snaffle bit all the way through the equine’s mouth, which would cause him pain and break the line of communication. When you pull directly sideways on a curb bit, it pulls in the direction of travel where the reins are attached at the bottom of the shank, but the upper part of the shank pushes against your equine’s cheek and can cause confusion by sending simultaneous and opposite signals to your equine because he is being “pushed” in both directions at the same time. It is important to learn to ride with your balance coming primarily from your seat, which your equine can easily follow with the slightest indications from the direct rein snaffle bit and your legs. This will also promote a more secure rider position in your seat, making it easier for you to use the gentle squeeze/release motions with your hands. This way, your equine is encouraged into the direction of travel by the body language of your seat and is gently “guided” by your leading rein, while simultaneously being “pushed” into the correct direction of travel by the off-side ring of the snaffle bit and by your legs.
Learning to go forward in the beginning of your equine’s training in a snaffle bridle is paramount to properly developing his body so he will learn to carry a rider in a strong and solid frame and in good posture. The forward training teaches him to stretch his head and neck forward, to step well underneath his body to propel himself forward, and to elongate his overall frame to keep the vertebrae in his back from becoming compressed and rigid. When he is moving correctly in a straight line, he will have more suspension and flexibility to his gait, and when he turns he will be able to bend easily through his rib cage.
Although it would seem that a bitless bridle could achieve this same end, it has a different action on your equine’s head and neck, which inhibits proper bending through turns. The straight forward motion can be achieved with a bitless bridle. However, reins on a bosal (a type of braided rawhide noseband used with the hackamore-type headstall), bitless bridle reins, and other bitless configurations do not have the same lateral effect on the equine’s head and neck as does the snaffle bit. The equine’s head and neck form two sides of a triangle. The rope reins on a bosal, although lower on the nose of the equine than reins that come from the corners of the mouth, can cause the equine’s head to twist slightly sideways during the turn because, during any directional indication, the rawhide bosal around the nose twists through the rope reins which are both secured together underneath the jaw. The rope reins pull the underside of the bosal in the direction of the turn, but the nosepiece goes the opposite way and can cause your equine to improperly tilt his head through the turns.
On bitless bridles, the reins are attached substantially higher than the corners of the equine’s mouth. When you pull on the reins attached higher on the equine’s jaw than where the bit would be (as illustrated in the photo), the angle of pull is sharper and more abrupt, since the head side of the “triangle” is so much shorter than the length of the neck. It will cause the equine to try to turn his head too sharply from the poll, which can cause kinks and pain in his neck.
However, when using the snaffle bit, the direct rein pull coming from the corners of the equine’s mouth affords him a wider range of motion with his head and neck. He is able to stretch his head and neck forward and around in a properly executed horizontal arc through the turn, which, in turn, opens the spaces between his vertebrae, allowing him to bend his head and neck into the arc of the turn, painlessly and with greater ease.
To prove the point, try this experiment: Preferably using an untrained animal, take hold of the halter and gently but firmly pull on the halter in an attempt to make him bend his head and neck to the side. The higher position of the halter is like a bitless bridle and you will feel slight tension and resistance to this action before the animal finally complies. Next, gently insert two fingers into one corner of the equine’s mouth while standing at his shoulder and by squeezing and releasing your fingers, ask him to turn his head and neck to the side toward you. If done correctly, without yanking on him, he should give easily to your cue to submit and turn his head and neck. You will notice that he extends his head and neck slightly forward before turning it to the side.
Now try this action on yourself. Stand in good posture and, without extending your neck, turn your head to the side. Do you feel the tension at the brainstem on the back of your neck? Now, stand in good posture, stretch your neck in an upward and forward arc and then look around the turn. Can you now feel the release from tension in the back of your neck? Your equine experiences the same feelings. The shorter angle of the side-pulls and bitless bridles will have a more abrupt pull and can cause some pain, while the longer angle coming from the snaffle bit at the corners of his mouth will allow a smoother and painless response. NOTE: Any bit can be painful to an animal when in the hands of an inexperienced rider who uses only the bit for control.
When an equine has been properly schooled and has learned the rules of communication through the snaffle bit, he holds the bit in his mouth and waits for the “feel” of the rider’s cues at the corners of his mouth. After years of practice, he will learn to respond to seat and legs and may not even need constant support of the rein cues—except for minute corrections. As equine and rider progress together, the rider’s cues will become nearly imperceptible until the rider is virtually riding without the active use of the reins. The equine has learned to quietly carry the bit in his mouth in anticipation of any communication coming through the reins. There is no pain because there is no pressure, except for an occasional reminder with a soft squeeze/release of the rider’s little pinky fingers on the reins from time to time.
The equine that has not had this kind of advanced training will possess neither genuinely good posture nor the knowledge of how to respond correctly in an abrupt and unpredictable situation. He will be more apt to be frightened and, as a result, may bolt and run, putting you and everyone around you at risk. However, the equine that is properly and conscientiously taught how to communicate through the snaffle bit will be a safer and more reliable animal to ride and to take into public places. He has learned to stop and wait for cues (communication through the bit) and is less likely to bolt and run if frightened because he understands and trusts the communication coming from his rider. He will now be more correct and solid in his good posture, yielding confidence in his attitude, and he will be a more reliable pleasure and show animal to ride.
When you take the time to train yourself to ride a balanced seat effectively and get in sync with your equine, you will be a much safer and happier rider, and your “finished” equine will be one that you can always depend on. If you like the novelty of bitless and/or brideless riding, using a snaffle bit instead of a bitless bridle during training will help you to achieve strength in correct posture to enhance bitless riding and even brideless riding so that it can be done safely around the farm and in controlled situations like event demonstrations. Properly and consistently training with the goal of clear lines of communication between you and your equine will make everything you ask of him much easier for him to do, and he will become a happy, reliable and willing partner in your mutually satisfying relationship.
For more information about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive correspondence training program, Training Mules and Donkeys, please visit www.LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Also, find Meredith Hodges and Lucky Three Ranch on Facebook and Twitter. And don’t forget to check out her children’s website at www.JasperTheMule.com and her new Colorado State Certified equine school at www.TMDEquineUniversity.com.
“It’s a beautiful Fall day, Augie! Where do you think we are we going this time?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have asked!”
“It wasn’t really THAT bad, was it, Spuds?!”
“Hey, Spuds, come look in here! It’s pretty cool!”
“Has she finally lost her mind, Augie?! We can’t fit in there!”
“It’s okay Fellas! We aren’t really going to try to climb in there! I was just kidding!”
“Guess the joke was on us this time, eh Augie?…Hmmmm…what’s this?”
“THIS is a big ditch full of water with a floating culvert, Spuds!”
“Oh fun!…Another mountain! I’m get to go first this time, Augie!”
“Boy, are these guys BIG, Augie! They are all really nice though!”
“Oh good, we get to see even more of our BIG friends, Spuds!”
“Where are we headed now, Augie!”
“It looks like we have some gate-training going on here, Spuds!”
“Remember to stand quietly while she shuts the gate, Augie!”
“She’s really proud of this new bathroom they are building, Spuds, so be sure to seem interested so you don’t hurt her feelings!”
“Okay, I’m in Augie, but I am also ready to exit stage right!”
“Wait a second, You Guys, I have a rock in my shoe!”
“Wait, Spuds, Mom has a rock in her shoe!”
“Isn’t this a cool statue, Spuds?”
“Yeah, that one was cool, but this one is my favorite, Augie!”
“Hey, Spuds! This one is just our size!!!”
“More gate training and we’re home again! What a great time we had on such a gorgeous Fall day!
When I posted this on Facebook about mules in the Bible…
Origins: The mule is mentioned in mankind’s earliest records. Consider this passage from the Bible: “And Absolom met the servants of David. And Absolom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the Heavens and the earth, and the mule that was under him went away.” (II Samuel 18:9). If you choose to ride a mule, you will need a good sense of humor!!!
…we were asked about mules really being in the Bible. We sent an email to a Rabbi inquiring about the translation of the ancient Hebrew word for “mule” or “pered.” Here is the reply:
“Solomon rode on a mule (1Ki 1:38) because his father David told Zadok, Nathan, and Benaiah to “cause Solomon my son to ride upon mine own mule” (v 33). This is the word for a “she-mule” (BDB, TWOT). Its three Old Testament uses are all in this passage (see v 44), referring to one mule, David’s. Solomon’s riding on David’s mule in company with David’s advisors gave a clear message: he was the successor David had chosen. Years later in secular history, female mules became preferable for riding and males for bearing burdens. That may have been a factor in David’s having this special mule. Second, an observation. David’s sons all rode on (male) mules (2Sa 13:29) and Absalom rode a mule at the end of his life (2Sa 18:9). Since a mule is crossbred between a mare and a male donkey, and since crossbreeding was prohibited in Israel (Lev 19:19), mules were likely imported (TWOT), and were thus more valued. They (along with horses, silver, and gold, etc.) symbolized the wealth that other kings brought to Solomon annually (1Ki 10:25). Third, a suggestion. The greatest reason for David’s choice of a mule rather than a horse may have been God’s prohibition for kings (Deu 17:16): they were not to multiply horses to themselves. David was careful in this. Solomon, to his own destruction, was not (1Ki 10:26, 28).”
Our miniature donkeys, Spuds & Augie, have a day in the “spa”. Watch the adorable music video compilation of their grooming sessions.
This is a repost from Brooke USA.
Lexington, Ky. – November 15, 2016 – Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer Vicky Busch and her mule “Slate” continue to spread awareness of the plight of working equines in the developing world and the work of Brooke USA. Most recently Slate and his young rider, Busch’s student Isabella Rodwig won their Training Level Test 3 class at the dressage schooling show at Amen Corner Farm in Folsom, LA.
The pair did so in style and with a nod to Brooke USA, with a large Brooke USA heart painted on the mule’s rump. Busch uses Slate’s engaging personality and the novelty of seeing him at a dressage show to educate the crowds he draws about the mission of Brooke USA. She hopes that Slate and his young rider will continue to compete in more dressage shows this year with the goal of qualifying for the USDF Region 9 Championships sponsored by the Houston Dressage Society.
Since learning about Brooke USA, Busch and her husband Eric have been generous supporters. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of equines who work in some of the poorest communities on Earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous equine welfare challenges actively improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world.
Owning Slate has made the work that Brooke USA does – helping working equines including mules around the world – a cause close to Busch’s heart. She hopes that she can use the attention that Slate attracts to bring more awareness to Brooke USA, and put a personal touch on it. Busch is eager to tell Slate’s admirers at shows about the important work of Brooke USA and how they can help improve the lives of working equines around the world who are not as lucky as Slate to have such a wonderful home.
About Brooke USA
Brooke USA is a 501(c)(3) charity located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which exists solely to support the overseas work of Brooke, the world’s largest international equine welfare charity. For more than 80 years, Brooke has been alleviating the suffering of horses, donkeys and mules who work in some of the poorest communities on earth. Brooke’s scientifically proven, practical and sustainable solutions to enormous welfare challenges improve the lives of equine animals and the people who depend on them across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central America. Last year alone, Brooke reached 1.8 million equines, benefiting 10 million people in the developing world. To learn more, visit BrookeUSA.org.
While dressage has long-been regarded as a horse and Pony Club sport, Meredith Hodges opened the doors to mules in dressage in the United States Dressage Federation Schooling Shows in 1986. With the help of Carole Sweet and Leah Patton of the American Donkey and Mule Society in Lewisville, Texas, they were formally accepted by the United States Equestrian Federation at their convention in Los Angeles in 2004. Laura Hermanson has since taken full advantage of this amazing opportunity. In 2015, she qualified for the United States Dressage Federation Finals with her own mule, “Heart B Dyna”, that is to be the subject of an upcoming documentary. The film is titled ”Dyna Does Dressage,” and is produced by Sarah Crowe and Amy Enser, who describe it as an “Underdog story [that] follows Dyna and her owner/rider, Laura, as they defy the odds to find their place among this elite world of horse riding.” Laura Hermanson is breaking through the stigma that dressage is only for horses and ponies as was previously defined by the USEF Rulebook. Much like Meredith Hodges herself, what began as a love of horses evolved into the championing of the noble MULE, an equine ambassador that truly deserves our respect. This year, Laura is competing “Behold the Desert” (aka Beasley) owned by Troy and Carol Delfino of Bakersfield, California and bred by Candace Shauger of Genesis Farms in Bremen, Ohio, in the upcoming U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, November 10-13. Let’s all give our support to this amazing team!
A letter from George Washington, written in 1786, was recently put up for auction by bookseller William Reese. The letter is in regards to a donkey sent to Washington’s Mount Vernon ranch for the purpose of breeding. Washington is well-known for his agricultural brilliance and for breeding the first American mule. The correspondence was written a during a breif period of retirement and a few years before Washington became president.
Washington writes: “Dear Sir, When your favor of the first inst., accompanying the she ass, came to this place, I was from home – both however arrived safe; but Doct. Bowie informs me that the bitch puppy was not brought to his house. Nor have I heard any thing more of the asses at Marlbro’, nor of the grass seeds committed to the care of Mr. Digges. I feel myself obliged by your polite offer of the first fruit of your jenny. Though in appearance quite unequal to the match, yet, like a true female, she was not to be terrified at the disproportional size of her paramour; and having renewed the conflict twice or thrice it is to be hoped the issue will be favourable. My best respects attend [Mrs. Sprigg] & the rest of your family. With great esteem & regard, I am Dr. Sir Yr. most ob. serv. Go. Washington.”
To celebrate Mule Appreciation Day, we invite you to learn the history of the American mule and the amazing contributions they have made to the building of our great country.
“Hey, Augie! The sign says, ‘Beware of the Ass,’ but I say, ‘Beware of the Ass Trainer!’ We might actually have to do some work!”
“It’s nice to have a “Header” to follow right out of the Tack barn! That way we can start out on the right “feet!”
“One, two, three, four…one, two, three, four…I wonder where we are headed today, Spuds?!”
“Oh, WOW! We get to go to the hayfield, Spuds. Wide open spaces are FUN!”
“Be sure to stay in sync, Spuds! One, two, three, four…one, two, three, four…”
“Gotcha, Augie! Boy is this grass GREEN!”
“Great halt, Spuds! Now remember we can’t move or we won’t get our oats reward!”
“Aah, what’s this, Augie!”
“It’s just a culvert so we don’t have to jump the water in the ditch anymore, Spuds!”
“This is A LOT easier, Augie!”
“I guess we’re headed for home now, Augie!”
“Another wonderful adventure, eh Spuds?! Maybe we really don’t have to ‘Beware of the Ass Trainer’ after all!”
The Lucky Three mules willingly come off the grass pasture at any time of the day that they are beckoned. This is the result of routine management, humane training practices and an ample reward system. Not one equine here is herd-bound as we have become as good friends with them as their equine buddies!
Update: The Bureau of Land Management responded to public outcry on Wednesday, saying that the department has no current plans to kill the horses and will continue caring for any horses that are not sold at auction. The department has not yet formally replied to the advisory board’s proposal, but will do so at its next meeting, Reuters reported.
Please take the time to make your voice heard and stop this tragic decision. The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign has information to contact your Senators and Representatives.
On September 9, the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voted to recommend the killing of as many as 45,000 captured wild horses and burros in government holding pens as an “emergency” measure. The agency wants to clear the holding pens so that it can round up 40,000 more wild horses and burros from their homes on the range.
The danger is imminent, but can only become reality if Congress and the Administration authorize this mass killing.
Take a Stand Today! Tell Congress and the Administration NO killing or sterilization of America’s mustangs and burros.
Our innocent and iconic wild horses and burros should not pay the ultimate price for the BLM’s continued mismanagement. Please send your emails today!
Everyone loves learning to drive and miniature donkeys, Spuds & Augie are no different! Watch their progress as Meredith puts them through their paces.
When Rock and Roll came to me in 2010, they were both in dire straits. We were able to keep both of them sound from December 2010 to December 2011 and although Rock had a shattered hip, with our core strength postural training exercises, he only needed Bute 3 times during that year for a five-day stretch. Roll was able to graduate from the postural leading training to lunging in the round pen and later ground driving. He met his final goal of being ridden around the hayfield, but had a set-back with White Line Disease in his left hind foot that began in January 2016. Roll is now 23 years old and the White Line Disease is practically all grown out now.
I could not be happier with his progress! Today Roll got the shoes replaced on three of his weight-bearing feet and a trim on the left hind.
We put shoes on the three feet so that the balance of the feet would not be compromised as he tried to keep the weight off the injured foot. Our concern was the other three feet could become unhealthy if the weight was unevenly distributed.
The affected foot is growing out nicely and we figure we only have two more trims until he is completely grown out.
By paying attention to the weight-bearing surfaces, we were able to control not only the way the feet were growing, but the musculature in his body as well. He could very well have developed uneven muscle conditioning over the past seven months. Because of his core strength leading exercises and the changes we made in his body before he got the White Line, he was able to sustain his strength and good posture. At twenty-three years old, he continues to improve with each new day!
The Missouri mule is a well-known symbol of American strength and perseverance, thanks to its significant contributions both within the state and throughout the country. Today, the mule still serves as Missouri’s official state animal, so the connection remains strong. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has put together a great photo slideshow about the history of these iconic equines and their role in the Show-Me State—click here to see the full slideshow!
Today was the perfect day for a summer bath. Roll is feeling well and his left hind foot has nearly grown out from his bout with White Line Disease. During the duration his White Line Disease that began in January, he has not spent one lame day.
Every time I clip Roll’s bridle path, it is an exercise in frustration, but he exhibits great patience with me as I stretch the skin and clip over the deep scars between his ears. Someone must have taken the idea about “hitting a mule with a two-by-four” quite literally.
The mule that used to hide behind his partner Rock, trusts me completely and even enjoys the cool water on his face on a hot day!
He knows his good behavior will always elicit an appropriate reward!
Roll likes his Wonder Blue Shampoo and doesn’t even mind a bucket of soapy water in the rear! He knows it makes his tail REALLY PRETTY and remarkably swishable!
Ours is a relationship of many negotiations. One of our regular deals is “He eats oats from the fanny pack and I spray!”
In the summer, one needs to be aware of the eggs that the flies lay in specific spots on each of the mules. They LOVE Roll’s lower legs! A Shedding blade and a Bot Block are about the only things that will remove the sticky eggs.
Using a regular hairbrush, I use Wonder Blue Shampoo to bring out the buttery whiteness in Roll’s mane and tail. In this photo, you can see how well the left hind has healed so far.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness as my grandmother used to say! Thank you, My Friend, for a lovely day together!
Are equines prey or predators? Although some trainers base their methods on the idea that equines should be approached as “prey,” this blog post by Sara Annon explains that the answer may not be that simple.
The real lesson in this is that the predator/prey model of horsemanship is inaccurate. Rodents are prey animals. Horses are herd animals. Their enemy is the weather (click here and here). Horses die from hypothermia in winter, drought in summer, and starvation when grazing is scarce. Weakened animals are picked off by the occasional courageous wolf pack or lion. I say courageous because it only takes one quick smack with a hoof to break bones, and for a predator that is a death sentence.
HUGE congratulations to Sadie who has won the prestigious PATH Intl. Equine of the Year Award for Region 10 (CO, UT, WY, AZ, NM) and is also up for the International Equine of the Year award! We are so proud of Sadie who’s been one of our four-legged therapists since 2006! Next time you’re at Hearts And Horses, be sure to give her an extra pat!
IDAHO SPRINGS – Long ago before his long beard and long hair turned white, Bill Lee thought about what to be.
An oral storyteller, yes, because that, he felt, was a noble profession. That was needed in the ever- urbanizing West. But what to be?
“I decided on the mountain man,” said Lee, 67, reflecting in his log cabin, “because it was a really short-lived era in history.”
So he would go as the mountain man, fur coat and musket and all, to schools and libraries in towns up and down Interstate 70, to tell the kids about what used to happen in these mountains. And inevitably he would talk about the burro – Spanish for donkey – and he’d tell of the animal that was relied upon for toting supplies through the surrounding wilderness.Toward the end, he would jump two centuries to the present. And he’d tell the kids about what they might decide to do with the burros one day:
Run with them.
“Hey, Augie! It sure is hot…great day for a bath don’t you think?”
“Well, Roll seems pretty pleased after his bath looking in the window at
himself like that! Who needs a mirror?!”
“Hey, Spuds! I found a gold mine of oats AND grass!!!”
“A little WET, but not too bad!”
“Oooooh! That water is kinda cold, Spuds! Shocking!!!”
“Don’t pout, Spuds! It isn’t THAT cold and she will be done with you
in a minute! Suck it up!”
“What’s up, Spuds? Eat your oats!”
“I can’t be BOUGHT, Augie!”
“No Spuds, but you could cut off your nose to spite your face!”
“Hey, Mom…come back! I want the oats now!”
“You’re lucky she came back, Spuds!”
“We are two REALLY LUCKY guys, Augie! She’s the best!”
The “Elbow Pull” is a self-correcting restraint that encourages the equine to use his entire body to go forward in a relaxed and correct postural frame. It promotes the stretching and strengthening of the topline and results in the hind legs coming well under to support the body and to keep the hind quarters (motor) providing active impulsion. In the “before” pictures, the equines are simply moving their front and back legs underneath the torso, but the torso is not really moving due to inactivity in the rib cage muscle groups. In the “after” pictures, you see that the equine posture has dramatically changed and now produces an active and “rippling” effect throughout the rib cage muscle groups (which can be seen in the moving videos). This is the basic difference between a really good dressage prospect and one that might be passed over.