- What’s NewThis is the news page.
- About LTRThis is the History page.
- ContactThis is the Contact Us page.
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!
The following post comes from Steve Edwards of Queen Valley Mule Ranch. Working with equines can be a rewarding and life-changing experience, but, as with all animal-related activities, accidents can happen. However, exorbitant insurance rates are currently threatening trainers’ ability to provide clinics for equine owners, forcing them to cancel or drastically limit these sessions due to cost. Steve is one such trainer, and below he discusses his experiences with insurance companies, coming to the conclusion that his only option moving forward may be to forgo future clinics.
I recently received a letter from the State of Arizona. It seems that working with equine livestock and with people in a clinic setting represents the same degree of professional risk as being a police officer of a fire fighter. In light of this, insurance through the State Insurance Fund is no longer available to me for my professional work. I am sure this is related to claims analysis and the like, but it sure puts a different spin on how I will proceed with my work!
Over the years I have been in a expert witness for cases involving equine accidents. I will give you overview of one of the cases to which I contributed.
A Court Case I Was an Expert Witness For
The case involved two women who had been very good friends for over 30 years . One lived in California the other in Arizona . The woman from California drove to Arizona to a nice horse facility with corrals, RV parking lots of trails to ride t meet up with her friend. One lady rode a mule the other rode a horse, The mule was a fine trail mule but had one problem: the mule was very difficult to put in the trailer. After a wonderful week of riding and after enjoying each other’s company riding together as they had for over 30 years, the incident occurred.
On the morning the ladies decided to head home, the lady with the mule started to load the mule into the trailer. Her friend chose to hide behind the truck and trailer peeking around the corner. Yes, the mule was once again giving the owner a hard time not wanting to load in the trailer.
A person watching the lady load the mule came over to help. She started waving her arms to get the mule to go in the trailer. So at this point, there is the person who owns the mule trying to load it, and a “helper” waving her arms to try to encourage the mule to go forward onto the trailer. It is likely that many of us have seen this very same scenario and we may have even participated in this task. But long story short, the mule started pulling the lady away from the trailer pulling her backwards and despite her efforts, the mule backed over the friend who was hiding between the truck and the trailer.
Does Your State Protect You? Mine Does
In most states, there are State laws that are there to protect the equine owner in such cases. Arizona has such a law. Being in the business, I post signs reflecting this all over my ranch. From the gate to the corrals I have these notices and I think everyone should do the same, even if you just keep your animals for your own use.
You may be interested in rest of the story. The lady that the mule backed over went through several months in the hospital and several years of physical therapy, She did not sued for damages but the insurance company did, and in the lawsuit the person helping load the mule who was waving her arms, the owner of the stable, and the lady who owned the mule all had to pay portions of the award either by their insurance or by their pocketbook.
It is pretty clear that no matter what the State laws say or what insurance you might have (home owners or otherwise), suits are likely to result in damages that any participant may have to pay. Even if you only had to pay 1% of a one million dollar claim, that still amounts to $10,000.
Why This Is My Last Clinic
Finding insurance for the equine trainer or owner is very difficult especially when you are training equines and people. I am sad to say that my insurance just tripled in price due to the “risky occupation”. Even though I have never been hurt, nor has anyone in any of my clinics or training sessions that have spanned 25 years or more, the rate is truly unreasonable. So to make a long story short, there is a very good possibility that this will be my last year for training mules, donkeys or people because of the expense of trying to cover my butt.
I love training. I love seeing people try my training techniques and I especially like witnessing the mule and donkey owners use these techniques that make dramatic changes in their animals. But as the world changes we must change. Now I’m sure that there’s always going to be people that will train without insurance. Some have nothing to lose and some just flat don’t care. When you are looking for a trainer, there is so much more to it than just climbing on the mule and riding. There is more to it than just putting the donkey to the cart. Finding a true professional trainer is very difficult. I hear from many people who have had mules trained and have had nothing but problems. I can tell you this is not always the mule and donkey at fault. When I used to take a mule with me on the circuit, I would have someone climb on the mule and ride it. Just before this I would do the demonstrating of turn on the forehand, turn on the hindquarters side passing. Then I would ask the audience who has been riding for 25 years. Hands would go up and I would choose someone to ride the mule that I just rode. In a matter of minutes, it would look like the mule was not even broke!
I was talking with Dr. Robert Miller one day and we were saying how much of a joy it was to contribute to the equine community, not just the United States but all over the world. Dr. Miller has traveled to more countries than I have, but we both enjoy seeing the equine community changed for the good. But we both noted with sorrow that the cost of being a professional trainer and teacher is a rapidly growing concern. It will change the future of the industry for sure and not necessarily in a good way.
Are You The Person I’m Looking For?
I would be interested in feedback from attorneys and insurance adjusters. Please give me a call (602-999-6853) or e-mail me, here. I want to stay in business but as it goes right now my last clinic will be in Fredericksburg, Missouri and I will head back to the ranch because that is all I can afford for insurance for the year.
This has become a very litigious society for sure. I am not sure who can do anything about the fact that some people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. It is not always someone else’s fault that an animal exercises its own will or that the student does not do as he or she is directed. There is inherent risk in riding an animal. We can do a lot to try to limit our risk. We can train well. We can follow instructions. And when we feel that something might not work out for us, we can just say “no”! But ultimately, it is one’s own decision to come work with an animal. If you are working with a professional trainer or teacher, you may be somewhat safer. But when we hear a little inner voice saying “don’t do it”, we should probably listen.
Something You May Not Want to Hear
One other point I would make is that there are times when a professional trainer may suggest to a student that the animal that he or she has may not be the best choice for that person. When I say this, I may see tears from some. I may hear others say, “well that is why we are here – so you can make this work”. Still others will take the information and agree. But know that such advice is not given lightly and is only given after I have had time to observe the animal, observe you, and observe the two of you together. Some things can be fixed. Others are more difficult. A few are impossible. The comment is never meant to be mean or ill spirited. It is for everyone’s safety. Any trainer worth his salt will tell a student if there is clearly a mismatch of animal and owner. But this is just one little piece of this new and bigger puzzle.
I encourage equestrians to accept the inherent risk of their activities and to let their local and state governments know that they do acknowledge that risk. If we cannot find a way to make professional trainers able to do their jobs while being covered reasonably with insurance for the job, we will see fewer quality trainers and have less help available to riders. Your professional trainer is a huge resource to you and your equine.
Please visit Steve’s website for the original post.
For the first time, Roll was ground driven straight out of the Tack Barn with no warm up.
On the way to the hayfield, we stopped to see the old broodmares and give them a treat!
Although we lacked impulsion getting there, Roll picked up the pace in the hayfield.
Roll walked immediately into a square halt, keeping his hind quarters well underneath.
Roll stayed well-connected to my hands through all moves for the very first time in four years!
Roll’s reinbacks were flawless…light on the lines and straight.
Roll now knows that the whip is a tool used for communication and not for punishment.
Roll understands that I do not want him to eat the grass until he is signaled and free to do so.
Roll receives his reward of crimped oats for paying attention and NOT eating the grass!
Roll finally received permission to eat the grass while I straighten the lines to continue forward.
Upon the command to “Walk on,” Roll promptly raises his head and acknowledges my request.
Roll and I stopped to check out the bronze statue of Lucky Three Eclipse.
We stopped to see the Mule Fountain in all of its splendor!
Then we said “Hello” to Lucky Three Mae Bea C.T.’s bronze driving statue.
Roll thought she was beautiful and did a little flirting!
Great lesson! Fun morning for both of us! Now back to the barn…the snowstorm is rolling in!
It’s always great to hear from people who have used our training materials successfully with their equines, so we loved getting an email recently from Becky of Becky’s Homestead, showing off a video of her formerly hard-to-catch mules, Emma and Charlie. Using Meredith’s methods, the mules now come to the gate and exit quietly, and turn to Becky to await further instructions—no chasing required.
Becky writes: “I love your method because you don’t have to be a tough, roping cowboy to train your problem mule. I also really like that you say people need to train their own mule so they develop a relationship. I have seen it countless times, where someone sends their horse or mule out to a trainer and the animal is perfect for the rough, tough cowboy or cowgirl trainer—then it goes home to the middle-aged woman and acts the same old way. Bottom line, there is no short cut to developing a good relationship with your animal.”
One of the keys to Becky’s success was that she did not try to modify or rush the exercises, and did them exactly as laid out in the training program. Although it can be tempting to quickly move to more advanced lessons, like riding, your equine needs to build those skills—and muscles—on the solid foundation provided by beginning training. And as Becky experienced, these methods can produce amazing results!
For most people, racing nearly 30 miles and climbing 13,000 feet up a mountain—and back down again—alongside a pack burro might be the most challenging experience of their life. But for world champion pack burro racer Hal Walter, raising an autistic son has brought many new unexpected trials that were much more serious than a 900-pound donkey barreling down a mountain path. Hal recognizes and explores the parallels between these two important elements of his life, pack burro racing and fatherhood, in his new book, Full Tilt Boogie.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects people’s ability to communicate and understand certain social interactions—some people with autism may have trouble interpreting sarcasm, or understanding the facial differences between a smile and a grimace. Hal’s wife, Mary, is a nurse, and started recognizing potential signs of autism, such as sensory issues, early on in their son, Harrison. They ultimately received an official diagnosis from Denver Children’s Hospital when Harrison was almost four, which Hal describes as a “certain comfort,” despite initially resisting the necessity of the label.
In raising Harrison, Hal was able to draw on his experience as a pack burro racer, noticing the similarities between the two situations. “The real key to success with either burros or autistic children is extreme patience and allowing them to find their own way,” Hal writes in Full Tilt Boogie. “Each is a unique individual and one cannot exert command over either one with good results.” The “patience” approach has proven useful in both Harrison, who is now 10, and Hal’s career as a pack burro racer, which has spanned 30 years and multiple world championships.
Hal introduced Harrison to donkeys at a young age—his first overnight packing trip took place the summer after he turned three—and drew on the established benefits of hippotherapy (or in this case, asinotherapy). Although, like most kids, Harrison might now say he’d prefer to be playing Angry Birds on the iPad than riding burros, his parents have seen a change in him after riding. “We noticed right away that on the days when Harrison rode, and even on days following a ride, there was a marked improvement in his disposition and behavior, and fewer tantrums,” he says. Hal isn’t sure exactly what it is about the donkey riding that helps Harrison—whether it’s the soothing motion, the fresh mountain air, or a combination of several things—but the positive effect is undeniable.
According to Dr. May Dodd of the Donkey Shelter of Australia, donkeys work well as therapy animals because “their gentle and affectionate nature brings a calming effect over all those they come into contact with.” She says donkeys are particularly useful for distressed people, as their relaxed nature can balance and calm anxious, agitated emotions. Hal has noticed his donkeys’ caring nature, especially as his son was just starting out as a rider. “I think the better ones have a sense of taking care of the less capable riders,” he notes.
In pack burro racing, Hal attributes his multiple wins and places as being skilled—but perhaps not the best—at both the running and animal training elements. He notes that in order to get a win, “everything has to come together on that day for me,” down to the smallest variables and pieces of luck—and those can’t always be predicted, or even planned for. “The unpredictability of raising an autistic kid is a lot like burro racing,” he adds. “Only when they believe something was their own idea do they truly excel.”
Click here to find out more about Hal, Mary and Harrison on Hal’s website, and get your own copy of the ebook or paperback on Amazon. Full Tilt Boogie recently topped Competitor’s list of 13 Running Books You Should Be Reading Now.
On December 31, 2014, the world lost a very special man at 82 years of age and I lost a very special friend. I heard about Von Twitchell long before I ever met him. Bishop Mule Days is an annual rendezvous for mule and donkey lovers from all over the world and I remember how excited I would get when I heard the name Von Twitchell echoing from the announcer’s booth. I would run as fast as I could to watch him and Miss Kitty in the gymkhana and cattle roping events. I knew I would be in for an amazing demonstration of teamwork and skill between a man and his beloved mule!
Von was a cowboy in the truest sense of the word. When not in Bishop, he cared for and managed cattle ranching properties in the Western states. He was unpretentious and humble…a quiet, honest, trustworthy and simple man with a down-to-earth sense of humor. His life was about love of family and the animals in his care. When I interviewed Von in 2009 for our Those Magnificent Mules: The Bishop All Stars documentary, I asked him, “Von, you had a mule, Miss Kitty, that was inducted into the Bishop Mule Days Hall of Fame and we’d like to hear about that mule.” To which Von responded, “I bought her from a hippie.” I was taken aback and laughed out loud, “You bought her from a HIPPIE?!!!”
Von calmly explained, “I bought her from a hippie. They was gonna farm with her and she was four years old and I bought her for $400, and three or four years later I brought her down here (Bishop)…and she was a world champion. And, she was four times a world champion down here and three times reserve world champion. At 19 years she won the world champion gymkhana mule here and when she was 20, I think she was 23, I retired her and started riding this mule (Silky) here (at Bishop) and I’ve been riding her ever since.”
Von has numerous friends at Bishop Mule Days and no doubt, everywhere he went. He made the annual trek every year to Captain the Drill Team for Nita Vick and to carry the American Flag in the Grand Entry that opened the performances on Saturday and Sunday. I remember one year I was so honored when he asked me to ride with him and carry the California flag beside him! To me, he was a celebrity and I was the proverbial awestruck fan. I accepted his offer in utter disbelief! I carried that flag proudly (even though I was from Colorado) because to ride beside Von Twitchell was a privilege indeed!
Every year I looked forward to seeing this very special man with the kind face, warm heart and the twinkle in his eye! He always greeted me with a big smile, a humorous story and a great big bear hug! He has a wonderful family and a lot of friends, and we will all miss him terribly, but I like to believe that he and Miss Kitty are still riding the range and smiling down on all of us…another very special cowboy angel in Heaven!
A lot has changed at Lucky Three Ranch since 1980—and sometimes the only way to see all that progress is from the sky! Luckily, aerial photographer Ryan Hofmeister, of Heaven’s View Photography in Sterling, Colorado, has had his camera focused on the ranch since the very beginning, and has captured some truly amazing images from the air throughout that time.
Ryan first met Meredith shortly after she moved in to Lucky Three Ranch. He had captured an image of the young ranch on one of his routine fly-bys, and stopped by to inquire if she wanted the photo. She did, and that image became the cover of Lucky Three Ranch’s first Christmas card. Unfortunately, Ryan didn’t print Meredith’s name on the cards that first year, and she had to sign all 300 cards individually by hand. “I never made that mistake again!” he joked.
For his most recent shoot, Ryan also included a rare bonus: nighttime shots of the ranch. All photographers know how challenging it can be to capture images in low light, as even the slightest shake of the elbow can cause a blurry image—trying to do the same from the air requires a special technique. “It can be done with a tripod,” Ryan says, “but that doesn’t do much good when you’re moving 100 miles per hour through the air.” Ryan flies with another pilot, and they position the aircraft in a way that the plane is almost suspended in motion as Ryan holds his breath and takes the photo, trying to keep as still as possible. Ryan takes each and every photo himself on a handheld camera, including manually focusing it for each shot.
This photo session took around three hours to complete, progressing from day to night, and resulted in more than 600 photos on Ryan’s trusty Nikon. By the end of the session, they were flying in complete darkness, but the day certainly resulted in some incredible photos.
For more information about Ryan Hofmeister and Heaven’s View Photography, please visit heavensviewphotography.com.
“Whoa!” What’s this, Augie?” “Spuds, quit runnin’ into me! I can’t see it!”
“REALLY, Spuds?!” Quit being so dramatic…it’s just the tarp!”
“Okay! I get it. You want me to lead this time!”
“Hey, Spuds! We’re playing follow the leader and I get to be the leader!”
“It’s no sweat, Spuds!”
“Hmmmm…there’s grass in here!”
“Uh, do we really have to stop right here?!”
“We’re working on core strength, Augie!”
“…and then again here?” “Hey Augie, pretty slick move! (I hope I don’t have to do that!)”
“Uh, oh, Augie! It’s my turn!”
“This is a cinch, Augie!”
“Darn! We’re back to the tarp again…HELP, Augie!”
“Don’t worry, Spuds! I’ll show you how to do it.”
“This isn’t so bad, I guess!”
“You’re right, Augie! That was pretty easy and lots of fun after all!”
“It’s even more fun when we do it TOGETHER!”
Meredith Hodges was recently interviewed by Anna Roth for Modern Farmer, a website and magazine for people interested in global agricultural issues, as part of a series of donkey-themed articles! Meredith discussed her training methods and philosophies, and specifically how they relate to—and must sometimes be altered for—donkeys.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call equine specialist Meredith Hodges a “donkey-whisperer,” considering that she’s spent most of her life coaxing donkeys and mules into unprecedented acts. She fought to get them incorporated into competitive equine events around the world, and is a firm believer in the animals’ intelligence, thoughtfulness and the fact that a donkey or mule can do everything just as well as a horse can.
From her Lucky Three Ranch in Colorado, she’s created a small empire of books (including the influential Training Mules and Donkeys: A Logical Approach To Longears), TV shows, charitable programs, and animal welfare and advocacy groups. Her training approach — culled from other equine experts, including Richard Shrake, as well as behavior modification techniques she learned during her time as a psychiatric technician in the ‘70s — includes patience, mutual respect and plenty of oats. It works, and now Hodges is a much sought-after sage for donkey owner woes.
Modern Farmer: How did you get started with donkey training?
Meredith Hodges: I started with my mother’s ranch out in Healdsburg. That was my introduction to mules. I found out real quick that the horsemanship training techniques that I had learned before were just too expedited and not detailed enough [for donkeys].
I thought everything that everyone else does, that [donkeys] were stubborn and don’t want to do things. It took me about three months to realize that they are just simply looking out for themselves. They have a very high sense of self-preservation. They’re extremely intelligent, sure-footed, resistant to disease and when they get into a situation, get tangled into a fence or something, they won’t thrash around but wait quietly to get themselves out of it.
Mules do exactly what you teach them. If you chase them they think they’re in a game and supposed to run away. They think it’s pretty funny. They have a tremendous sense of humor and love to humiliate human beings. We’re pretty foolish, we don’t realize we’re getting sucked into a game here.
MF: How do you get them to do the things you want them to do?
MH: I realized that every equine we were working with would respond and repeat good behaviors when they were rewarded with the oats. I used to feed the animals who go for [pasture] turnout oats in the morning, and when I turned them out for an hour they wouldn’t want to come in from the pasture. I decided to shift the oats to the evening feeding, and as long as the oats were there waiting for them they always come in to the dirt pen. I never had to chase them, it was just, here they come. I thought, there’s something to this.
Check out the full interview here.
During Roll’s recent workouts, since his x-rays and last trim, he has felt very stilted and his movement was causing twisting in both hind feet. He was visibly tense through the croup and hip sections in his body. When I rode him, he had no impulsion and did not seem to be capable of initiating any impulsion. When we did the x-rays, there was a slight rotation in the left hind foot and not rotation in the right hind. We determined that the twisting in the right hind was due to undue stress on that leg from shifting the balance from the other three feet that all had slight rotations in the coffin bone. Our vet thought that it might make him more comfortable if we left more heel to flatten the rotation and get the coffin bone in the left hind more parallel to the ground. The result was both hind feet created a situation with ligaments and tendons that left Roll walking behind like he was on blocks with no suspension or impulsion to his gait and a twisting in BOTH hind feet. He was quite literally unable to walk correctly rocking heel-to-toe anymore and the right hind was sliding diagonally underneath his body when he walked.
When tracking straight forward in prior lessons, the visible wrinkles in his flanks were prominent as he stepped straight forward. After he was trimmed leaving more heel, the wrinkles were no longer present as the leg flattened them as it went diagonally forward. Impulsion was literally impossible for him and he had perpetual tenseness in the hind quarters. After his trim/shoeing today, he recovered immediately! We saw relaxation in the hind quarters as soon as both feet were trimmed and as he walked off, the twisting was almost gone and he bounced into an energetic impulsive trot for a few steps before I slowed him down! He had not done that for over a month! So, Roll is now happy again and ready for more lessons!NOTE: Irregular hindquarter stance and tension in the croup due to elevated heels.
NOTE: No wrinkles at the flank and he is stepping diagonally underneath.
NOTE: Wrinkles at the flank and he is stepping straight forward.
To test this on yourself in your blue jeans, first stand in good posture with your feet together and pointed forward. Lift your right leg straight up and pointed forward. Note the wrinkles that appear in front of your hip joint (comparable to his flanks). See how your pants will wrinkle as you move your leg up and will straighten out only as you walk forward with a heel-to-toe motion in your feet and as your leg goes down and back. Now try moving your leg by just picking it straight up and diagonally forward (like walking on blocks which assimilates what Roll was experiencing by leaving his heels longer)…no wrinkles in the pants except for maybe a split second! Although the vet was correct is his assessment for an animal that is a pasture ornament, it was not correct for an animal that would be doing forced exercise. Sometimes there is a lot more than you think to consider when diagnosing lameness or irregular gait problems.
NOTE: After trim, less heel, more angle in the hind feet allowing a more correct stance and more relaxation throughout the hindquarters.
As I said above, Roll responded well and immediately to our correction for his problems. He is once again A VERY HAPPY camper!
“Here we go again, Spuds, but something feels really different and strange.”
“I think she said “Whoa,” Spuds!
“Whew! I’m glad she switched the lines back BEHIND the terrets instead of in front of them!
It was putting a kink in my neck, Spuds!”
“Me, too, Augie! Besides, I like it much better when I can really FEEL her hands.”
“I’m sure glad she took the time to review ground driving before hitching us up again!”
“Okay Spuds, now let’s get lined up straight for her!”
“No problem, Augie!”
“Hey Augie, I recognize this! It’s the hourglass pattern we’ve been ground driving for
the past few months!”
“Are Sean and Steve in sync with us, Spuds?” “They sure are, Augie!”
“Get ready, Spuds, we’re gonna WHOA!”
“And we’re off again, Augie!” One…two…three…four…”
“Yup Spuds, I’m really glad she decided to go ahead and cross the lines BEHIND the terrets even though she said it was ‘against the rules’!”
“Hmmm, this grass looks pretty tasty, Augie!”
“Whew! What a long workout for twenty minutes!…I’m tired, Augie!” “Me, too, Spuds!”
“Hey Spuds, how about next time you pull and I push like Sean and Steve are doing?!”
“Not a chance, Augie!”
NOTE from Meredith: Equines are always honest in their reactions to training. When things go wrong, it is always the handler’s fault. Everything I have learned about driving said that when driving a team, put simply, you should thread the inside lines through the terrets of the opposite equine making the lines cross in an “X” just in front of the terrets. With my larger equines, this never really posed a problem…until I tried it with Augie and Spuds.
I had always ground driven Augie and Spuds single and then together as a team with their lines going directly from their mouths through their terrets on their harness saddles and to my respective hands. I could then clearly feel the connection from my hands to their lips holding all four lines. This never posed a problem until I decided that maybe I should thread the lines in the more conventional way with the lines crossed in front of and running through the opposing equine’s terrets. It worked fine until they got uneven. When I said “Whoa” and pulled back on the lines, the inside lines acted like “drawreins” with too much leverage for their short little necks. The only direct and light contact I had was on the nearside (left) and offside (right) lines of the team. When they could no longer feel the even contact on both sides of their mouths, they both bolted as shown in the picture above. I immediately changed the lines back to their original position with the lines crossing into my hands BEHIND the terrets instead of in front of the terrets. I could then feel the connection on both sides again and so could they. The result was immediate compliance! We were again “connected!”
When using split lines, the draft lines go from the nearside bit ring of the near side equine and the offside bit ring of the offside equine direct to the driver. A series of holes in the coupling lines allow for adjustment. The nearside coupling line passes through the inside terret of the nearside equine and across to the bit ring of the offside equine and vice versa. To avoid any confusion for the equines, I think it is important to train with two sets of lines in the beginning, until they are clearly aware of their job and actually can feel the connection to your hands. I would not advise split lines for beginning training. The connection from your hands to their mouths is too loose and it is hard for them to understand your intent, especially in the case of miniatures since the distance from their mouth to the terrets is so short and the action on the lines can be so severe. Once proficient with four lines, they can then “graduate” to split lines for your convenience.
Earlier this week, Meredith Hodges made a special guest appearance on Jim Swanner’s All About Horses radio show on WKAC, to discuss mules, donkeys, and horses. Click here to listen to the archived show, which airs every Monday at 9:30am on WKAC or streaming online.
Roll was a little hesitant and stiff during his workout in the dressage arena through the hourglass pattern with me riding today. I couldn’t tell at first if he is just being overly careful because I was on board or if he was truly having issues with his feet. The more he did, the better he got as far as traveling, but there was significant problems keeping him between the reins. I attribute that to previous drivers with very bad hands. He does seem to know how to track straight between the reins with adequate forward impulsion. He clunked the ground rails as I led him through the pattern the first time, but after adjusting the distance between the ground rails, he did much better both on the lead line and under saddle. He did very well staying erect and bending through the rib cage around the corner cones. He also gave me intermittent surges of impulsion and did not seem at all lame when he did it. At trot, he got wiggly on his straight lines, but I am encouraged that will pass as he gains more strength and impulsion. All in all, it was a very nice first-time serious hourglass workout under saddle!
Roll was anxious to go to work!
The first order of business was to survey the course…
…and be led through in sync with each other.
Then Roll did a nice square halt!
Before mounting, I checked all his gear to make sure everything was in good shape and that Roll was comfortable.
Roll backed easily on request after mounting.
Roll walked the pattern nicely and stayed on the bit. Note the loose elbow pull!
Roll did lovely bends through his rib cage around the corner cones…
…and tracked easily over the ground rails.
When asked, he lengthened his walk as best he could!
I hadn’t planned on trotting, but Roll was having so much fun that he offered it and I accepted! His movement was so BIG, it shot my legs forward!
His hind quarters came well underneath his body through the halt…
…and after so much work and energy spent, Roll decided instantly it was nap time!!! What a good boy he is!
After two years, we finally finished our latest longears sculpture, a fountain called “Dreaming of Friends” by Robin Laws of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I couldn’t wait to share this with all of you! This piece was done to accommodate the twenty LTR longears (plus one miniature horse) that were not champions and did not have their own commissioned piece. We try not to play favorites here!
Tours are currently closed for the winter season, but make sure to book your visit to see the statue in person in the new year through our website.
Small figurines of the Spuds and Augie topper may be available for public purchase—please contact us for pricing, availability, and more details.
After a couple of weeks working on flatwork leading training through the hourglass followed by a couple of lessons in the round pen, I decided to do some coordination work over the obstacles. In Stage One of obstacle training, the only task is to get through the obstacles, changing fear into curiosity. In Stage Two, we break things down into smaller steps and square up at every interval to facilitate good equine balance and add coordination to his movements.
With constant repetition, going through gates is a cinch for Roll.
The first stop is at the foot of the bridge…stop, square up and reward.
Next, we ask Roll to put two feet on the bridge, square up and reward…
Roll did this quite easily, but in this next position, you will notice how uncoordinated your mule really is. Most equines will either push through you and keep going forward, or if you hold them back, will fall off the side of the bridge and turn around to face you. This exercise helps them to become stronger and really learn to hold their balance for prolonged periods of time.
Once he has held this position for a couple of minutes, you can then walk off the bridge and square up one last time. As you can see, Roll is doing very well and has sustained his core muscle strength that enables him to be strong and coordinated in any position.
The tractor tire is a perquisite for lateral work. After learning the turns on the forehand and haunches, the tractor tire helps to finesse this movement.
In the beginning, a light tap with the end of the lead will cue him to move the hind quarters over, but once he know what is expected, a simple glance or hand signal will do as Roll is doing here.
A slight indication with the lead gets him to take those last two steps in the 360 degree movement. As a side note: the elbow pull has multiple uses and being a lead is one of them including the option of using it to tie them up, but there is a trick to how to tie it to the post or hitch rail.
Tires are a good exercise for proprioception or body awareness. It is not as important if they place their feet in the holes as it is that they place their feet strategically underneath their body in a balanced and organized fashion.
It is the same with the ground rails whether they are six inches in diameter or only one inch in diameter as shown. You know they are doing well when they don’t even move a one-inch PVC pipe (as they are easily kicked out of the way). Roll is VERY careful in his foot placement!
The Back-Through “L” helps them to not only pay attention to foot placement…
…but also how to bend their body through the rib cage and how to strategically move their feet while keeping their body erect and in good equine posture.
Walking forward through the Back-Through “L” is easy, but backing through can get a little tricky in the middle at the right angle so make sure there is plenty of space between the rails!.
Elevated rails make it easier for them to “feel” and execute the turn correctly…
…and back easily to the end of the final section. Roll never ceases to amaze me in his willingness to perform. This was only his second time through the obstacles!
Then just for fun, we went and watched the guys dig a hole in the driveway looking for a broken waterline! It was fun for us, but not for the guys, I’m sure!
Can you believe it? A mule has made it to the US Dressage Finals! Laura Hermanson and her champion mule Heart B Dyna are heading to Kentucky to represent longears in the national competition—for the first time ever. But they are asking for your help to make it there. Here is their story in Laura’s own words:
A MULE makes it to the US Dressage Finals in Kentucky! I am Laura Hermanson and I have been training and working with mules for over 10 years. I have enormous passion for these incredible equines and believe anything is possible with them. This has been proven true! My own dear mule Heart B Dyna competed throughout the year at 3 star sanctioned shows earning scores up to 75% and qualifying for both the CDS state and USDF regional championships. We had an incredible time at the Championships educating people about mules and being able to ride along side Olympians! I was thrilled to be living my dreams, and then my dream became even greater. The US Dressage Finals invites the top two equines at each level from every region throughout the country as well as a wildcard based on scores. It all comes together for an incredible showcase of the best Dressage horses in the US. And then the unbelievable happened, Dyna and I received an invitation!!! This is the first time in history a mule has been invited to the USDF Finals! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to expose people to mules on a huge national platform. I have put this together to ask for help making this possibility become a reality. Anyone that knows me is aware of how hard I work and how extremely dedicated I am to mules and the sport of Dressage. It is VERY hard for me to ask for help, but the expenses to travel across the country and attend this show are beyond my reach. I would GREATLY appreciate any financial help to make this pioneering journey possible!
Congratulations and best of luck to Laura and Dyna! If you would like to help them make it to Kentucky and make us proud, check out their GoFundMe page here.
It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our courageous and talented 34-year-old Sire-Supreme, Little Jack Horner (1980 – 2014).
He is survived by hundreds of mule and donkey offspring, leaving an amazing legacy of performance in Gymkhana events, English and Western Pleasure, Trail, Reining, Driving, Dressage Driving, Second Level Dressage and Stadium Jumping to four feet in exhibition. He was an affectionate jack with impeccable manners right to the end. On the eve of his passing, I left him standing like a statue with ears pricked and a fixed stare toward the Rocky Mountains. I glanced over my shoulder and as the sun went down, it cast a halo around his entire body as if God was beckoning him home…I knew in my heart he would not make it through the night…he will be sorely missed!
“It’s okay Augie! Just take it one small step at a time. She’ll wait for us!”
“Augie, don’t you know that we’re the BEST?!”
Like most equine welfare advocates, “Wild Mustang” Robin Warren has a lifelong love of horses and is deeply concerned with their wellbeing in the face of human interaction. Unlike most other equine advocates though, Robin also has to contend with the perils of middle school—that’s because, despite years of experience of helping equines under her belt, Robin is still just 13 years old.
Animals have always been a big part of Robin’s life, and she points to literature like Black Beauty and Marguerite Henry’s Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West as works that inspired her to take action. Though she didn’t have a horse of her own as a child, she recognized the indomitable spirit of the mustangs and, at eight years old, started a petition to help the wild horses. Along with her mom, she collected signatures by going door-to-door and standing outside the local library, but this proved to be a slow process. For later activism, they switched to a more modern approach, using online petitions on change.org. “You get more word out over computers and the internet now than just passing out flyers and press releases,” notes Robin.
Currently, Robin’s focus is ensuring that equines captured by BLM are housed in adequate holding facilities, with accessible shade and water—all basic elements that should be provided to equines in any situation. She’s also working to collect signatures for a Nevada ballot measure that would expand protections for wild equines by recognizing feral horses without signs of domestication as wild horses.
“Wild horses have been here for a long, long, long time,” Robin says of her pursuits. “All they really want to do is just live together and be able to raise their children, and teach them how to survive the wild.” She’s particularly inspired to help these equines maintain their way of life in a setting they’ve carved out over centuries. “It feels like we’re taking away their home, when it’s really their right to live there freely.”
Robin notes that the wild burros are important to consider, partly because “there’s so many of them out there.” Burros “deserve to be treated with respect,” she adds, whether they’re living free in the wild or engaged in work for humans.
In addition to her mom, Robin also works with kids in the Youths’ Equine Alliance, an organization she founded. Robin describes the purpose of YEA as a place for young people “to be able to get together and stand out and show everyone that we can make a difference as well.” YEA sends out email newsletters to update interested parties, and members attend events when they can, to help spread the word.
Robin maintains that there are lots of ways to aid the cause, even if you don’t live anywhere near a colony of wild mustangs and burros, like she does. “Everything helps,” she says. “Getting the word out, donating to organizations and adopting are all great ways.” She believes in her causes fully, and maintains her faith that certain practices—like helicopter round-ups—will soon be a thing of the past. “The more supporters there are, the closer we get to the goal of saving the mustangs.”
To other kids who might be considering fighting for a cause of their own, Robin has advice from her own experiences: “Never get scared and never get overwhelmed. Just let your voice be heard, and don’t let them push you down.”
The Youth’s Equine Alliance (YEA!) was introduced in 2012 by Robin Warren at the International Equine Conference. Our youth advocates raise awareness about horses and burros, both wild and domestic in order to inspire other people to also speak up for equines. Through education, activities and joining together as teams, the youth hope to encourage children’s admiration of horses and burros and motivate people of all ages to be a voice for equines.