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Therapeutic riding has a long history of helping veterans with traumatic injuries, so when Meredith Hodges decided to focus an episode of her television documentary series on hippotherapy, she knew she had to include a Wounded Warrior. If you’ve seen the “Walk On” episode of Those Magnificent Mules, you may remember Army technician Natasha McKinnon, then 24 years old, who had lost her left leg below the knee following an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Under the supervision of riding instructor Mary Jo Beckman, herself a retired Navy Commander, Natasha was working to improve her physical movement with therapeutic riding. In the program, they used Army caisson horses and Natasha bonded with one equine in particular, named Mini. She describes Mini as “a big, white, comfy couch” who watched over her like a big sister.
Now 33 years old, Natasha has finally reached a place she can describe as her “new normal.” When we spoke, she had just picked up her diploma from North Carolina State University, where she’d recently graduated with a degree in animal sciences. Although school took a little longer due to some challenges, her determination and love of animals kept her pushing forward to achieve her goal. Armed with her new degree, Natasha is looking forward to working as a veterinary technologist, seeking more hands-on experience after concentrating on her studies in school. She says she would also like to work with veterans’ groups that use animals for emotional therapy and healing.
Today, Natasha can reflect back on her injury, acknowledging that it “lit more of a fire under me.” Like many returning soldiers, she says there have been mental and emotional ups and downs. At the same time, however, she says: “It puts things more in perspective; for me to really not take things for granted. I have to be more mindful of my physical well-being than ever before. I’ve been dealt this hand but I can still manage it.” New advancements in prosthetic equipment have also improved her outlook and her confidence, as she can acquire different legs for different purposes, such as walking and running. The technology is evolving, she says, and so is she.
We got the team together again today with Roll to assess what we were going to do going forward. The hoof wall did what we hoped it would for eight days and stayed intact with daily cleaning and new wraps, but it was now beginning to get stress marks at the heel. We knew that without adequate circulation to the area, it would no doubt begin to deteriorate. This bought us some time, however to brainstorm for a solution to the support problem going forward.
Our support team arrived including veterinarian Greg Farrand, farrier Dean Geesen, assistant farrier intern Lance, Ranch Manager Chad Leppert, assistant ranch manager Steve Leppert, my assistant Kristen Florence and me. We discussed whether or not to resect the hoof wall.
How we did this was an important consideration. The nippers could cause torque that might result in cracking. We discussed whether or not to use nippers only or a dremel, or both.
We discussed what kind of support would be needed from the shoe and we were concerned about the limitation for nailing the shoe onto the hoof since he does not have much foot left to nail to.
We finally decided to use both the nippers and the dremel. Dean first nipped away at the hoof wall in very small increments with both the straight nippers and then in the smaller areas with a rounded narrower nipper.
When he got all that he thought he could safely done with the nippers, we then went after the edge with the dremel to create a smoother line that would inhibit cracking.
Then Chad cut down the custom made the shoe to fit what was left of his foot. We opted not to go completely around the toe, leaving it and the left side open and covered the hoof across the heel instead.
Dean put a bead of borium on the shoe at the toe of his opposite foot for traction and it was useful the minute we took him out of the Tack Barn and onto the snow leading to his pen. As he stepped onto the slick snowy surface outside, the good foot did slip, but he was able to catch himself with the Borium bead.
We talked about doing a test to see what kind of circulation he had in the foot and decided it wasn’t really feasible to do it. Roll has side bones and ring bone in the foot and that alone would produce irregular circulation patterns in the foot. Therefore, the test really wouldn’t reveal anything that would be helpful at this point. We opted not to do it.
We also talked about doing an ultrasound on the connective tissue to make sure we had cleaned out all the fungus, but again, it really wouldn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already suspect to be true. The main concern was if there was any more fungus left in the foot, but after resecting the hoof wall and cleaning the affected area, we could see with our own eyes with the help of the x-rays that there was nothing left to ultrasound.
We put Roll’s foot onto the hoof stand, checked it once more and then Dean set the ¾ custom-made bar shoe with minimal nails that he and Chad had made.
He then taped cardboard over the affected area with gorilla tape to keep the glue away from it. Once that was in place, he then applied an extra-hardening glue to the bottom of the foot to hold the pad in place. This would lend more support to the hoof and allow it to do its job more closely to normal giving the sole and frog a more even surface of pressure.
Once the glue was in place, he put on a tough blue pad to provide some support to the sole and to help hold the shoe in place. Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand suggested that we brush out any dirt and debris that adhered to the foot every other day as the pad and cardboard were compromised. Then we would just cut new cardboard and wrap the tape back around the affected area to keep most of the debris out of the affected area.
We had to use both minimal nails and glue together to keep the shoe in place and we will try to go 7 weeks before re-shoeing if possible. Our local farrier supply house, “Oleo Acres” recommended using the supplement Hoof Power made by Delta Mustad Hoofcare Center in Forest Lake, Minnesota to help accelerate hoof growth. We opted to use Providone-Iodine to clean the affected area every other day as Greg said the concentrated “White Lightning” was better to use at the onset and for a shorter period of time. As we go forward, we will be sure to continue to share our experience with all of you. Please continue to keep Roll in your prayers.
Only five short weeks ago, Roll’s hooves were in good shape. When we brought him up to the tack barn today, he was not at all lame.
However, when our farrier Dean Geesen arrived this morning to do his hooves again we found that Roll had some fairly advanced symptoms of White Line Disease in his left hind foot. I am just happy that we were able to catch this fast-growing fungus as soon as we did.
Our other equines are not getting done as frequently as Roll was. We opted to do him every five weeks instead of every 6-8 weeks because of the severe founder he had before. We wanted to be sure to keep his feet balanced so that any hoof growth would not begin to offset that balance. There is no telling how far this fungus would have progressed in another 1-3 weeks!
I am so happy that I kept a copy of the article that appeared in the American Donkey & Mule Society’s Brayer magazine in the July/August 2007 edition about White Line Disease. I have kept all issues because here is a wealth of useful information in the Brayer Magazine that now serves as my Longears-Equine Encyclopedia! We called our veterinarian Greg Farrand and he was able to come to the ranch quickly to help assess the situation.
Roll’s left hind foot had a gap in it after Dean cleaned out the fungus of about 4” along the outside of the foot from back to front by ½” wide and almost 1 ½ inches deep. Dean said he had not seen a case of White Line in Colorado in 13 years. Typically it manifests itself in more humid climates, however Colorado has recently been unusually humid as we experienced with fungus in the hayfields earlier this year. It was a very acute and severe onset!
It was so wide and deep that my Ranch Manager Chad could get his finger into the cavernous space. It was a real concern that it had gotten this bad in such a short time.
We had shoes on Roll’s hind feet to keep him from dragging them and wearing down his toes. Keeping a shoe on the left hind foot was not going to be an option since there was nothing to nail the shoe to on one side of his hoof. We talked about whether or not to cut away the affected hoof wall. Since Roll is a draft mule and has such large feet, we decided that keeping the “cavern” clean would not be too difficult, so we opted NOT to cut away the hoof wall right away. He would need all the support left on that foot for as long as he could get it. A smaller foot would have to be pared away immediately to treat it effectively.
We wanted to salvage the hoof wall to keep his overall balance and the balance of his feet intact as much as we could. We decided that it would be better if we just didn’t put any shoes on the back again rather than causing an imbalance by shoeing the right foot only.
For the first five days, we planned to clean the “cavern” daily, rinsing it with iodine astringent, packing it with gauze dipped in the iodine and then well wrung-out to prevent too much moisture from collecting in the affected area. When dealing with astringents and the like, it is advisable to wear gloves! We took measurements of the hoof so we could accurately monitor his progress. Since this is to be a daily process, we are grateful for Roll’s impeccable manners and cooperation!
We talked about whether or not to use an “easy-boot” to hold the gauze in, but decided that duct tape could do the job nicely. It would be easy to replace daily and would not trap moisture like the “easy-boot” could because the duct tape would erode as he walked on it. This would allow the air get to it and keep it drier to promote healing.
We also decided that it might be prudent to be proactive and put shoes on his front feet since he will no doubt be throwing his weight forward if the White Line Disease begins to cause any pain. Right now, he is sound and not lame at all. That is definitely encouraging.
This process will need to be repeated every day for as long as it takes for the foot to be rid of this fungus, but instead of using the astringent iodine, soon after the initial four days, we will x-ray him to get a baseline and make sure we know what we are dealing with. Then going forward, we will use a more diluted form of iodine like Providone-Iodine, Betadine or a product called “White Lightning” that has been developed specifically for this purpose. According to our veterinarian Greg Farrand, these are all antiseptic rinses and any of them should work fine.
The prognosis is encouraging. We know we need to make sure the “cavern” is cleaned out thoroughly each day and the gauze and tape are kept clean upon application. This is a long-term therapy and will take 14-18 months to grow back out…if it can. Although White Line Disease is very similar to thrush, it is not a stable management issue like thrush. The onset is quick and there does not appear to be a consistent explanation as to exactly where it comes from. To be pro-active, we added a few more inches of pea gravel to his run so that when the snow melts and the mud mixes with the old pea gravel, we won’t have mud to pare out of the “cavern.” The pea gravel is less likely to mesh with the fungus and should be easier to clean. This is just the beginning of yet another challenge in Roll’s journey and we will do follow-up posts to keep you informed on Roll’s progress as we usually do. Roll would truly appreciate your thoughts and prayers!
A recent article at the Chronicle of the Horse had us excited to share the story of Buckeye, an 8 year-old Appaloosa mule who has been showing off the versatility of mules with his skills in the arena.
When Buckeye first came to owner Christina Gregory, he was a little green under the saddle after being mostly used as a driving mule for an Amish family. After some initial work with Christina, he began training with 22 year-old Samantha (Sammi) Majors.
Sammi began him with dressage and earlier in the year he was impressing judges and scoring consistently in the high 60 and low 70 percents in recognized shows. This fall she decided to add jumping in preparation for a show. “He loves jumping. For a long time we would work on dressage stuff and school him over cavalletti, and he always loved it. We’d be doing a 20-meter circle, and if we went anywhere near the cavalletti he would try to pull me to it,” said Majors. “As soon as we started jumping he took an immediate liking to it. That’s all he seems to want to do now is jump, jump, jump!”
He recently returned home from the North Carolina State Fair Mule and Donkey show with plenty of ribbons, winning Most Colorful Mule class, Hunter Hack class, Coon Jumping, Pleasure Driving-Single Mule, reserve champion Pleasure Driving, the Turnout Class and Reinsmanship.
Today we honor the sacrifices that our brave enlisted men and women have made to protect and serve our country. Throughout history, mules have also played an important part, serving alongside soldiers. One occasion where their value cannot be underestimated was the Burma Offensive of World War II. The 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) or more commonly known as Merrill’s Marauders was a US Army long-range penetration special operations jungle warfare unit. In addition to its specially trained soldiers, it also included mules.
The mules came from Missouri, Texas and Tennessee and were shipped to Calcutta. They were then transported into Burma by aircraft, and later in the operations were dropped from planes with special parachutes that consisted of an inflatable dinghy (in which the sedated mule would be placed) and attached to a triple cluster of three 28-foot silk parachutes. Mules were capable of being loaded and packed within 20 minutes of landing.
The terrain of Burma (modern-day Myanmar) was almost impossible for vehicles to transport and deliver supplies. Mules are well-know for their sure-footedness, self-preservation and hardiness and were the perfect four-legged soldiers. They packed weapons, ammunition, food and water, medical supplies, equipment and radios through a 700-mile trek of what was considered some of the harshest jungles on the planet.
The men switched between being muleskinners and soldiers and many bonded deeply with their mules by the end of the offensive. One soldier remembered, “We couldn’t have gone half the distances we did and gone half the places we did without the mules.”
Click here learn more about Merrill’s Marauders.
Foaled June 2, 1980, Lucky Three Sundowner was the last mule born at my mother’s Windy Valley Ranch and at two weeks old, the first mule to become part of my own Lucky Three Ranch. He showed successfully at Halter, English and Western Pleasure, and became the 1984 World Champion Reining Mule at Bishop Mule Days. However, his greatest accomplishment was to make it to Fourth Level Dressage after introducing Dressage to our Bishop Mule Days show, and after winning the World Championship at Third Level Dressage in Bishop in 1992 and 1993. (They did not offer Fourth Level.) He never really liked the Full Bridle and did all this in a Snaffle Bridle. Mules were not allowed to compete in the A.H.S.A.-sanctioned shows with horses during that time, so we were limited to schooling shows with horses to measure our progress. However, with his help, and with the help of other Dressage enthusiasts like Carole Sweet and Audrey Goldsmith, we laid a foundation with goals that were finally realized eighteen years later when mules were finally officially accepted into the Dressage Division of the United States Equestrian Federation. To date, “Sunny” is the only mule in history (that I am aware of) to be schooled at Fourth Level Dressage. He was working on Piaffe, Passage and Flying Lead Changes every two strides when he was retired at twenty-three years old…truly a remarkable friend and ambassador for his breed! This week, he finally crossed over the “Rainbow Bridge” due to a tumor that eventually prevented his ability to chew. He will be profoundly missed!
At 21 years of age, Roll has worked hard since December of 2010 when I saved him from slaughter. He is now able to carry my weight and go for jaunts around the hayfield monthly with a buddy in addition to his milder weekly exercises.
Roll thinks Brandy, another rescue, is pretty cute! She’s a “Mini-Me!”
Today, both Roll and Brandy are both being tested without their “Elbow Pulls” to assess how much of their own good equine posture they can maintain. Roll was actually more consistently engaged and rounded over the to line than Brandy.
We stopped to look at the horses that were running in a nearby field.
Although Roll was still twisting his right hind somewhat from bearing most of the weight from the other three compromised feet, he still maintained a decent posture and continued to step well underneath and stay rounded over the top.
His reinback was slow, but accurate and submissive.
Roll enjoyed riding past the Jasper Bunkhouse! Lots to look at!
Roll and Brandy matched their pace as we rode past the bronze statue that commemorates the famed Lucky Three Mae Bea C.T.’s accomplishments in Combined Driving and Combined Training.
Roll begins to “pace” when he gets tired, but he still matched Brandy’s pace through the “Mule Crossing.”
All in all, both mules did fairly well without the “Elbow Pull,” but it was clear they would still need it’s support for future rides for a while longer. Roll is staying sound and seems much happier to be able to get out in the wide open spaces for a change!
“Hey Augie, what’s she want us to do today?!”
“I think she wants me to JUMP!”
“It’s a good thing the surface is rough enough to stop, Spuds!”
“I was afraid it wasn’t, so I got out of your way, Augie!”
“It IS a mounting block, but… I’m not sure you can hold me!”
“I think not, so I’ll just jump down… and be careful not to clip your head!”
“I’m not sure I can do this as well as you did, Augie!!!”
“Can you at least TRY, Spuds?!”
“Okay Augie, I’ll try!”
“Are you okay, Spuds?”
“That was some kinda sliding stop, Spuds!!!”
“Thanks a lot, Augie! I’m getting down now!”
“Hey Spuds, watch out!!!”
“Is it time for oats now?!!!!”
“She would NEVER forget the oats if we do what she asks, Spuds!
“Is that why you usually get more than me, Augie?!”
“Is this better, Spuds?” “I suppose so, Augie…as long as he keeps his distance!”
“Hey, Spuds, how’s it feel?”
“It’s so hot, this feels GREAT, Augie!!!”
“Oh yeah, Spuds, this is great…nice cool water!”
“Uh, excuse me, is anyone listening? BIG FOOT here is getting a little too close again!”
“Oh good! Thanks, Mom!”
“Just you wait, Spuds!”
“Hey, Augie! Did he just threaten me?”
“Naw, he’s just kidding, Spuds.”
“Are ya sure, Augie?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. We’re all too COOL to behave badly!”
It’s been almost five years since I rescued Rock and Roll. Roll was a real nut when I first got him. He would hide behind Rock and looked like he would spook and run away at any minute. I was convinced that Rock lived that whole year from 2010-2011 to make sure that Roll would have a good home without him. Roll is a whole lot calmer now and much more trusting. His physical condition is incredibly improved with our slow, sequential and logical approach to training. I knew he would never be able to pull anymore heavy wagons or even carry a heavy rider and with the side bones and ring bone, I never really expected him to stay sound and be able to carry me under saddle, but he has attained what I thought in the beginning were very high goals. This is no special training approach…it’s what we do! Rock and Roll were the ultimate validation of my entire training program! He now stands quietly while mounted in the open driveway for the very first time …
…flexes laterally at the poll on his own with the slightest of rein cues…
…walks obediently forward with a slight squeeze from my legs upon request…
…is not fearful nor tense and resistant while going past scary things anymore…
…keeps pace with his riding partner with rhythm, cadence and regularity of gait…
…walks freely forward with impulsion, keeping slack in the elbow pull at all times…
…is relaxed and comfortable in his work…
…bends correctly through his rib cage…
…trots easily upon request…
…stays “on the bit” and has good muscle tone throughout his body…
…and knows exactly where to park at the work station when the ride is completed! At twenty-one years old, he just keeps getting better! Look for “Rock and Roll: The Story of a Rescue” in the “Mule Crossing” section of my website for the complete story.
The equine vacuum cleaner is not only a way to dry clean your equine, but it can also be used as a muscle therapy tool and to promote good circulation. Of course, the first thing to do is to gently introduce the equine to the vacuum cleaner.
As you vacuum, do it slowly and purposefully. The vacuum will remove dirt and grime and leave a healthy bed for hair shafts to grow.
The suction from the vacuum cleaner grabs large patches of hide and pulls subcutaneous muscle tissue and blood vessels towards the surface. This allows more room for muscle tissue and blood vessels to expand and develop in a healthy way. Here I am vacuuming our rescue draft mule, Rock’s shattered hip where there is a lot of internal damage to the joint and severe atrophy of the muscles involved.
On the left is 39 year old mini mule, Franklin before vacuuming, and then after vacuuming on the left side only in the picture on the right. As you can see, you get measured results almost immediately. The vacuum gently shapes and molds the muscle tissue into a more uniform area.
When Rock first arrived, although being a 17 year old Belgian Draft mule, he had severe muscle atrophy throughout his entire body.
After only six months of vacuum therapy, chiropractic, massage, proper diet and only fifteen minutes a week of leading exercises, his body was completely transformed!
This morning Roll had lots of fun reading Training Mules & Donkeys: A Logical Approach to Longears. He’s always up for posing and this day was no exception. We just strolled down through our longears sculpture park where we found a bench that would allow both of us to read comfortably. Roll is in good health and has almost finished shedding his winter coat. It was really too hot (in the 90’s), so any strenuous exercise was definitely out of the question.“This looks like a wonderful idea on a hot day! Lolling around in the lush green grass with a canopy of glorious fire maple trees overhead in the sculpture park is much cooler and a peaceful place to be.”
“This looks like a nice place to relax… a nice bench for you and plenty of room for me.”
“Hmmmm…I hope she doesn’t think I can do that! I’m much too old for jumping!”
“Ah, yes! That’s more my speed! Practicing good posture while ground driving the hourglass pattern is fun and feels really good!”
“Trail obstacles? That could be fun, I guess, provided they are well built and can hold my weight!”
“We’re all done with our studies already? Do we really have to leave now?”
“Oh well, if we’re just going to the other side of the fence for turnout, I guess that’s okay!”
Before and after his recent trim…
After four years of conscientious therapy and specific attention to nutrition, hoof care, appropriate core muscle exercise, chiropractic and massage, Roll has been transformed and has not spent one lame day since he arrived despite the presence of side bones and ringbone.
When Roll first arrived on December 5, 2010, he was foundered in all four feet with severe muscle asymmetry and atrophy. The founder is now grown out and his hooves balanced. The goals I set for him would be simply to be able to be ridden around the hayfield and possibly even pull a light-weight two-wheeled cart.
Roll began his therapy with a shift to our feeding regimen, regular multiple leading and ground driving exercises first without and then with the “elbow pull” and finally with work in the round pen.
Finally, after four and a half years of work and a brief introduction to the under saddle work in the arena, Roll got his chance to be ridden in the hay field and loved every minute of it!
“Ooh La La! Isn’t SHE lovely? Augie, check HER out! Nice socks, Honey!”
“She doesn’t look all that impressed with you, Spuds!”
“Maybe she’ll like ME better! She really IS kinda cute!”
“Hmmm! Stealin’ my action eh, Augie?! Well, she doesn’t look all that impressed with you either!
“Let’s just play hard to get and maybe she will change her tune, Spuds!”
“I guess two can play that game, Augie…now she’s pretending she’s asleep!”
“But she IS so cute, Spuds!”
“WOMEN! You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them, so what’s a guy to do?!”
“Where’d they go?!!!”
Side passing is an advanced lateral move that should be prefaced with extensive leading training, first on the flat ground. Your equine will be ready to move to obstacles when you can throw the lead rope over his neck and he will obediently follow at your shoulder.
You know he is ready to move on to lunging when he will freely follow at your shoulder obediently through all the obstacles both straight forward such as tires, and through lateral obstacles such as the tractor tire.
The next stage is to first teach him the basics of lunging to build bulk muscle…
…and then begin straight forward and lateral exercises on the drive lines both in the round pen and then in the open arena to enhance core muscle strength, balance and coordination. He has learned body awareness (proprioception), knows where his feet are and is able to be completely responsible for his own balance without leaning on you. The end result of all this attention to detail is the ability for your equine to execute all movements in good equine posture that makes it much easier for him to comply with your wishes.
Now that your equine has built up his core muscle strength and is more balanced and coordinated, he is ready to learn to Side Pass the “T” on hand signals alone. Your equine originally learned to side pass a single rail and the “T” on the lead rope and then on the drive lines. Now begin to Side Pass the “T” with just the halter.
When your equine is easily Side Passing the “T,” you can remove the halter, use a dressage whip as an extension of your hand and ask him to do the same movements with only slight indications from your whip along his side.
Inspiration doesn’t always come when you’re expecting it, and Rachel Anne Ridge certainly wasn’t anticipating a life-changing experience when a homeless, injured donkey showed up in her driveway.
In her new book, Flash, Rachel describes the amusing and touching journey that she and her family experience with a donkey named Flash At a time of financial and personal uncertainty, the last thing Rachel needed was to take on an equine.
Flash quickly became a part of their family. “It did not take long to fall in love with him,” she said. “There was definitely an immediate bond we felt.” There were immediate lessons as well. Rachel had never owned a donkey before, though growing up she made excuses to visit her friends who had horses. “I was your typical, horse-crazy town girl,” she recalls, “but I didn’t have any day-to-day experience with keeping either donkeys or horses.” The unique personality traits of the donkey set in motion a series of discoveries that took Rachel deep within herself and her beliefs.
Rachel’s book is filled with insights inspired by Flash’s simple and honest approach to life that often left her rethinking her own perspectives. “There’s something about their demeanor that invites a quietness and a calmness,” she says, adding, “they’re gentle souls.” And it’s not just her—she’s noticed that Flash inspires smiles and chuckles from just about everyone he meets. “With donkeys, there’s this connection of joy that happens with people.”
Flash has helped inspire Rachel in a lot of ways—even in her art business. As a mural painter, she always wants to give people exactly what they want, but over the years she knows that they can sometimes have trouble articulating their true desires. Working with Flash though, she’s learned how to ask the right questions, and to get much better on picking up on cues, especially non-verbal signals like changes in body language. “Flash definitely made me a better listener,” Rachel says.
Flash has motivated Rachel to be more self-confident and assertive as a person—two qualities donkeys tend to have in spades. “Flash just is who he is. He has no pretenses. … I’ve spent a lot of time feeling insecure about who I am and doing what other people want me to do,” says Rachel, but working with Flash—and seeing his unapologetic approach to making the best of his life—has been energizing. She’s working to “let go of that need for other people’s approval, and just be okay with who I am and where I am.” There is a level of vulnerability that comes along with letting go, and as her book suggests, “we need to wear our donkey heart on our sleeve.”
Most of all, Flash’s appearance in her life awakened a fuller discovery of her faith. As a daughter of missionaries, she has always had a close relationship with God, but there was something about the deepness in Flash’s eyes, the softness of his muzzle, and the pertness of those long ears, that in challenging moments opened her heart in new ways. She notes that God can show up in people’s lives in many different ways, and to stay open to signs—don’t just wait for a perfect, clear message. “Flash came into my life at a really pivotal time,” she says. “It was exactly what I needed.”
Today, Rachel continues to write and create murals and has recently adopted a new miniature donkey companion for Flash.
Flash is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Costco and local bookstores, or visit Rachel’s website for more information.
It’s hard to believe that I have already spent 35 years in the business with mules, donkeys and a vast array of equine-related activities. I have always loved horses and began riding when I was only two years old. I was about as horsey as a girl could be—when I wasn’t riding, I was reading horse books, drawing horses and engaging in anything that remotely resembled a life with equines. At one point, I even designed a 100-stall barn and vowed to rescue every horse in our country that was being abused. Little did I know then, my 100-stall barn would have been terribly inadequate.
I actually founded the Lucky Three Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, in 1980, although I had many years working with horses and six years working with mules before then. I had moved to Colorado with the intent of going to Colorado State University to get my veterinarian credentials, so I sought out places to live in Fort Collins. It was a fluke that a contract fell through and this tiny little 10-acre sheep ranch became available. I remember standing in the driveway, my vision crystal clear in my head, and told my mother, “This place HAS LOTS of possibilities.” She gave me a bemused nod and said, “It definitely has lots of possibilities.” I don’t think she had any idea of what was to come, but, I had a vision!
Over the past 35 years, Lucky Three Ranch has slowly developed into the vision I had in my mind that day. My involvement in the equine community has grown into something much more meaningful than a 100-stall barn, as I’m now able to engage with people around the world through my equine training series, online school, and even on my Facebook page. I would love to teach all equine owners how to appreciate and enjoy their equines as much as I enjoy mine in a multitude of different ways. It is so incredibly rewarding when I see happy animals with happy owners doing the things that they love together. This is the gift that I have been given in life by my Maker to share with others and their joy is my reward! Thank you to all of my friends and fans for your loyalty and support. I couldn’t have made it 35 years without you and the magnificent equines that color my life!
I swear, his giggling began in his toes. In the way only an unselfconscious 8 year old can laugh, it filled his whole body and the whole arena, bursting out in millions of chubby bubbles. I could feel them around me, infecting me with joy. Pretty soon, I was giggling so hard that I was having a hard time keeping pace with the trotting horse. He lifted his chin into the air and declared, “LOOK AT ME! I’M HAVING SO MUCH FUN!”
Anyone who works with disabled kids will tell you that, on many days, we learn more from them than they learn from us. When I got to Hearts and Horses today, I was teary-eyed and tired. I had briefly thought about cancelling and staying home to regroup, but made myself drive the 20 miles. Well, needless to say, I left this afternoon feeling energized and light-hearted, my burdens put into perspective by some very special kids.
Here’s what I learned:
Ask for and accept help when I need it.
How often do I turn down help, insisting I can do everything on my own? How often do I cheat people out of the opportunity to minister to me because I have some delusion that I don’t need help? These kids are teaching me that there is no shame in asking for and accepting assistance. And, it blesses both the giver and the receiver!
Eyes forward – keep the big picture in mind.
Kids have no problem looking with wonder at what’s around them. One of the key aspects of being a successful rider is looking where you want to go, rather than down at the horse’s head. I rarely have to remind a kid of this. This is a big lesson for me! I often have my nose in the gritty details of life, buried in the things that can’t be changed. Looking up, looking around, and focusing on where I want to go is a game-changer.
Find my balance.
I am amazed over and over again how easily children take to riding, even kids with disabilities. Kids don’t over-think “how” they’re supposed to sit or hold the reins. They just do what feels comfortable, and they’re usually right! As the horse moves or turns or changes gaits, they naturally make minor adjustments to their balance. I am the absolute worst and getting stuck off-balance in my life. I’m trotting along, leaning left, eyes all over the place, hands flailing, thinking that’s normal. I could take a cue from them and make some minor, necessary adjustments to find and keep my equilibrium.
Laugh at the funny stuff.
How many things pass me by every day that I’m too pre-occupied or too grumpy to laugh at? This NEVER happens to children. If something is funny, they laugh. Outrageously. The horse went fast when they weren’t expecting it. Laughter! The horse peed. Big laughter! The horse leader tripped and almost fell (ahem, that was me). Gigglefest! Funny stuff happens in life, often disguised as something uncomfortable. When did I forget to laugh?
Celebrate little accomplishments like they’re a big deal.
One of the most poignant and humbling things I have learned is that some kids have such major challenges that when they tap their heads and say, “Helmet!” it is cause for an eruption of celebration from all of us. I have never been more excited than I was today when a mostly non-verbal little girl managed to say “Whoa!” to her horse. I could have cried with joy. There are a million little moments of grace in my daily life. I need to recognize them and celebrate!
Learn when to say “Whoa” and when to say “Walk On”
It is a really big deal when these kiddos finally learn how to command their horse to stop and go. It gives them a feeling of accomplishment and autonomy. When they finally figure it out, they use those skills happily and with great abandon. They make that horse stop just because they can. And sometimes, they make the horse stop because disaster would strike if they kept going! Learning when to say walk on (yes) and whoa (no) is a skill I could work on for the rest of my life, and still never have down pat. I definitely need to practice.
So I ask, who was helping who today? Well, I can certainly tell you that I walked away changed and blessed beyond measure. Some of the best lessons in life are the simplest, and come from unexpected places.
postscript: You, too, can volunteer at an equine therapy center! Two years ago, I had ZERO horse experience. They trained and molded me into a horsewoman. Contact your local therapeutic riding center and ask! In Northern Colorado, we are blessed to have the best of the best, Hearts and Horses, in our back yard. People come from all over the country to be trained here. Come join me and experience the magic! If you can’t help physically, you can help support equine care and rider scholarships by going to http://www.heartsandhorses.org/giving A little bit goes a long way.
Well, here we are again… me and Roll back out of shape and trying to get going again. I think age is a factor for both of us! I had visions of him being able to do five rotations at walk each direction and ten rotations at trot in each direction, but it didn’t exactly work out quite that way.Roll did a pretty good reverse although he had to hesitate and think about it first.
Tracking right, he engaged with a very slow walk with practically no impulsion and the trot was okay, but not energetic. The weather was cool which DID help.
In the other direction the walk became somewhat more animated and the trot was satisfactory.
However, he was only able to do five rotations at the trot in each direction before we were BOTH out of wind! He was so willing to give me what he had that I saw no reason to push it.
We will continue to build our wind, stamina and muscle going forward during the better weather ahead. Still, Roll is holding his core muscle strength in good posture and just naturally falls into the four-square position every time he stops…all on his own! He continues to be a happy and affectionate draft mule!