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Linda Erwin Peoples
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I hope you all weathered our drastic winter weather okay. It certainly has been up and down here, with cold temperatures and snow one day, and then warm and in the sixties the next. We even had a few days with both! Crazy!
I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the life path I have chosen and why it is so important to me. When I worked at my mother’s mule ranch in Healdsburg, California, I was a young, “horse-crazy” girl who was eventually introduced to mules.
I had ridden since I was only two years old and trained horses when I got much older. I really thought that, after fifteen years of pleasure riding, professional training and showing, I certainly knew how to ride, but I was grossly mistaken. In 1986, I was introduced to Dressage and Combined Training. This is when my focus changed from just using my equines to really caringabout their physical, mental and emotional development. As I progressed in Dressage, I realized how important it was that I learn to ride a balanced seat and actually be supportive toward the animals I was riding.
Once I stopped showing, and after doing several years of judging and clinics, I decided it was important for me to be able to coach people even when I could not actually be physically present. I felt I could reach more people if my experiment was successful with my own 29 equines of varying breeds, sizes and personalities. I continued writing management and training materials and documenting everything that I was learning for posterity. Finally, in 1998, my years of studying, documenting and perfecting my techniques culminated in my Training Mules and Donkeys video series. It would become the first-ever correspondence training course for equines (with a special focus on mules and donkeys).
Because my video correspondence course proved to be so successful for the people who consulted with me, I decided, in 2009, to produce Equus Revisited, a manual/DVD combination that explains why it is so important that the basic management practices and exercises outlined in my books and videos are done exactly as explained, in the exact order given, and with absolutely no modifications. When you come to Lucky Three Ranch for a visit or an actual tour, you’ll get to see for yourself the success of my training program. (And the “welcome” mat is always out for you!)
And finally, in 2013, in order to bring my training program to even more people by using the Internet’s latest technology, I launched TMD Equine University, a unique online university where students can take a full year of certified equine courses. The course is designed so that students can do the course pretty much on their own time—tailoring their studies to fit their own family, job and recreation schedules. Because of all that I have learned and put into practice, I now have equines that are easy to manage in my (and their) older age; happy and contented in their routines and living much healthier, richer and longer lives than anyone ever expected. Through the years, my equines’ exceptional training and performance have been proven by the numerous awards, citations and honors of recognition they have received. I find that I continue to learn more with each new day and my position as researcher and documentarian of equine management and training will continue for as long as I live.
Provisions have been made for this legacy of compassion, understanding and education to continue into the future with the Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park (an official 501 (c) 3) here at Lucky Three Ranch. The park houses live animals, artwork, artifacts and exhibits particular to contemporary mules and donkeys. As my older animals pass away, I am able to give rescues from a variety of venues a safe haven and a life of hope. The mission of the Loveland Longears Museum and Sculpture Park is to provide a rich and comprehensive learning experience for both children and adults alike, which will be passed down to our youth for posterity. I want to thank all of you for your continued support in helping me to build this legacy for all who would benefit from it. I couldn’t do it without you!
Best wishes and Happy Trails,
Question: A couple weeks ago, I took on a project donkey. Someone I know had a 30-year-old Arab and this donkey. He’s 12 hands, and nine years old. I’m aware donkeys are happiest with other donkeys, but he’s been a lone donkey his whole life and at this point, I’m just trying to help THIS guy. His pasture buddy died suddenly, leaving him alone. Within two days, I was there to pick him up. At nine years old, he had never had his feet done and also had not been beyond his fence lines. You can guess how long it took to get him to just MOVE outside of the pasture, get him loaded, get him to my place and unloaded, and into the barn. I have him in with a pony and a mini. He and the pony are really bonding....they’re quite good buddies. But the donkey is NOT happy with me. After all, everything in his world changed, and I was there for all of these transitions. I am trying with treats. Eventually, I can usually walk up to him, but I have to crouch to his level, not maintain eye contact, and let him know I have something for him. Once he gets the treat, I scratch him and rub him and he stands for it as long as I don’t go near his head. I’m giving him lovins’, then just walking away. Letting him know, for now, I don’t expect anything from him except taking treats, scratches and rubs. I want him to quit walking away from me, and seeing me as a threat with a lead rope.
There has been no lead rope in sight for him. He also, within a couple days, had his feet done by my natural farrier. They had never been trimmed and were cracked, peeled, curled up, broke off, and once the adrenaline from the move wore off, he was horribly lame. So that trim happened with sedation and he was wonderful. Trying to make every experience a good one for him, but his feet were a requirement, so I took a short cut there with the sedative. I’d just like to know that I’m doing everything right, or that there may be something I should be doing differently. Thank you!
Answer:I fear that your natural farrier may have cut too much off his hooves all at once. When they founder, their feet get like that and need to be SLOWLY trimmed back over a long period of time or they will become awfully lame, as you describe, and you will not be able to get the hoof to grow back properly. I can only hope that he did not take off too much all at once, but if the donkey went lame, he probably did and I would look for another more qualified farrier who may be able to fix any damage that might have been done. The information below should help you with further management. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. That is what I am here for.
No matter how old or how well trained the equine, he still needs time doing the simplest of things to get to know you before he will learn to trust and have confidence in you. The exercises that you do should build his body slowly, sequentially and in good equine posture. Just as our children need routine, ongoing learning and the right kind of exercise while they are growing up, so do equines. They need clearly outlined boundaries in order to minimize anxious and inappropriate behaviors. Also, the exercises you do together need to build your equine’s strength and coordination in good equine posture. The time spent together during leading training and going forward builds a good, solid relationship with your equine and fosters his confidence and trust in you because you actually help him to feel physically better. A carefully planned routine and an appropriate feeding program are both critical to healthy development.
At Lucky Three Ranch, we do leading training for a full year not only to get our equines to learn to lead and to develop a good relationship with them, but also to make sure they develop good posture and core muscle strength in preparation for carrying a rider. Even an older equine with previous training still needs this training for optimum performance and longevity. During the time that you do the leading training strengthening exercises, you should NOT ride your animal, as this will inhibit the success of the preliminary exercises. If you ride while you do these exercises, it will not result in the same proper muscle conditioning, habitual behavior and new way of moving. The lessons need to be routine and done in good posture to acquire the correct results. You are building new habits in your equine’s way of moving and the only way that change can take place is through routine, consistency in the routine, and correctness in the execution of the exercises. Since this also requires that you be in good posture as well, your body will also reap the benefits of this regimen.
Today’s general horse training techniques do not usually work well with mules and donkeys. Most horse training techniques used today speed up the training process so people can ride sooner, which can make a trainer’s techniques seem more attractive, but most of these techniques do not adequately prepare the equine physically in good posture for the added stress of a rider on his back. Mules and donkeys have a very strong sense of self-preservation and need work that builds their bodies properly so they will feel good in their new and correct posture, or you won’t get the kind of results you might expect. Forming a good relationship with your equine begins with a consistent maintenance routine and appropriate groundwork. Most equines don’t usually get the well-structured and extended groundwork training on the lead rope that paves the way to good balance, core muscle conditioning and a willing attitude, but it is essential if he is truly expected to be physically and mentally prepared for future equine activities. (With donkeys and mules, this is of especially critical importance.)
Response: Thank you for all of the great information! Having had donkeys before, everything I read here is right on. They aren’t the kind of animal that you can send off to a trainer....they need to bond with their person! And asking things of them is often much more difficult than asking a horse.
I, too, was a bit concerned when I saw how much he was taking off. I thought it would take several visits to slowly get those feet where they needed to be. Webster walked off like nothing, but was a bit sore the next morning. Now, he’s running and bucking around after his buddy, Merlin. They enjoy playing together. He’s definitely growing on me, and fast.
I will read, and reread, your info here several times. I also used to be a member of ADMS, and have several of their older membership magazines here still. Thank you SO much for taking the time to respond. I believe I saw you on RFD-TV, a Training Mules and Donkeys show, and I was intrigued by it. So I knew you were the person to go to!
Thank you....from me and Webster, also.
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Visit our brand new, redesigned website! We’ve been working hard to create a new site that is easier to use, with access to ALL Meredith’s training. Check out the entire library of Mule Crossing articles, a searchable Ask Meredith section, information about equine welfare and clubs, Training Tips with downloadable written Training Tutorials plus Video on Demand. Stop by and tell us what you think!
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LTR Training Tips:How to Square Up
There are many advantages to having an equine that can square up at the halt. Find out the benefits of this process, as well as how to accomplish it, in this new LTR Training Tip.
From Our Readers
Hi Meredith, thank you for teaching so many people about mules. It’s so nice to learn from the “real deal,” as we call it. I have had a male donkey for years and taught him to drive. Doodles is the best and we love him so much. Then I bought Charlie, a 14.1, four-year-old male mule. He was super lovable and we kept him with the herd—a Gelding Haflinger pony, Doodles the donkey and Emma a three-year-old molly. Now Charlie is so dominant we keep him in the next pasture alone. From reading your site I know that is normal for him to be dominant from about four to 12. Here is my big problem. We were the first to have the vet out and give him shots and draw his coggins. The first year, my son helped the vet and Charlie hated him for two weeks. The next year, my son said he would not help the vet so I helped and he was pretty good.
Now, this year, I helped again and Charlie won’t forgive me. When I approach him with the halter he looks worried and runs. When we do catch him he snorts and is very suspicious of me. I keep reassuring him and give him treats and try so hard to love him but I have lost all his trust. I say he is so smart that he anticipates and thinks he is getting another shot. I just don’t know what will happen next year?? It seems he will be ruined for life. What steps should we take to help him? We love him and he has been nothing but good until this. We were riding him, although I now have gone back to ground work and your lead line work and lunging at the walk and trot. I will slowly move through all the ground work now that I know how important it is. How do you give all your mules shots?
Thanks so much for any help you can offer me and Charlie.
Your training has worked so well for me with Charlie and Emma. Thanks so much! I talk about it in my new video:
Meredith Hodges Catching
Lucky Three mules, April and Vicki.
Our Guest Writer: Jan Pollema
The Road to Acceptance as an Equine Therapist at Hearts & Horses Each of the “equine therapists” in the Hearts & Horses herd is a member of our incredible therapeutic team, and each equine holds a place of immeasurable worth. The job of an equine therapist in our program is highly demanding—both physically and emotionally. After a thorough evaluation and trial period, only about 10 percent of the equines that are evaluated go on to become a regular part of our programs. In this edition of the Lucky Three Ranch newsletter, I would like to outline this process and portray the exceptional qualities our equines at Hearts & Horses possess. Our herd is completed by equines that are not only kind and strong but are also patient, tolerant, personable and full of character.
An equine begins the process of becoming an equine therapist through a process similar to a job interview—the equine’s owner completes a Horse Profile Questionnaire (much like a job application). Next, a telephone interview takes place, followed by an in-person assessment. Each step of this process is designed to assess the appropriateness of the equine for the work at Hearts & Horses. Questions range from basic information (height, weight, age, breed), to specific information about the equine in a herd setting, their quirks, personality, likes, dislikes and work history. Certain qualifications must be met in order for a horse to be assessed—mainly they must be sound at the walk, trot and canter.
Once an equine has “passed muster” through the initial assessment, they are brought on site to Hearts & Horses for a trial period. The trial period lasts a minimum of 90 days and focuses on the overall appropriateness of the horse for the program. Initially, equines are allowed to settle into life on the ranch, and then training starts. Equines begin working with the Equine Manager and start to be introduced to all of the intricacies of the program. As they progress in their training, the equines are introduced to more and more challenges. Hearts & Horses equines must be tolerant to many things that a typical equine may never encounter. Equines are slowly introduced to strange toys and noisemakers, adaptive riding and therapeutic equipment, uncoordinated rider movements and loud noises, wheelchairs and mounting ramps, and horse leaders and side-walkers, lending physical support to a rider. Equines are slowly worked through the stages of training under the Equine Manager. Once they are doing well in the training stage, the equines are slowly worked into mock lesson situations. At the conclusion of the trial period, if an equine has been successful, he or she is expected to be able to participate in two to three classes per week as training continues. At this point, suitability for the program is examined and the equine may be accepted as a donation or be leased to the program.
The equines that make it through the assessment and trial period are truly exceptional. These equines demonstrate patience and understanding at every step of the way—even when faced with challenging and new situations. Once in the program, these equines continue their education through ongoing desensitization classes and conditioning. Each equine in the Hearts & Horses herd has a niche and is assigned to classes based on his or her personal strengths and the needs of each program. In this way, a 16-hand Percheron/Quarter Horse cross may excel in the Hearts & Horses for Heroes program but may not be a suitable candidate for a rider in Hippotherapy who needs physical support from a side-walker. Each equine has a suitable niche and will have a huge impact on our participants. When we find that suitable match—where both equine and rider benefit—we find true harmony within our program. Warm Regards, Jan Pollema, Executive Director - Hearts and Horses, Inc.
Hearts & Horses Therapeutic Riding Center
It has been a bit trying since Jan. 8th this year for the intrepid mule artist, as that is when I had my left knee replaced. All went well and I am on the mend, but knees are a very complicated deal. I had in-home physical therapy for the first five weeks, but now I am in the evil hands of outpatient masters of pain and it’s no picnic.
I am walking without assistance and driving again and working at the drawing board daily, so I am trying to get back to being me. My plans for spring this year are big, too. I am going to be at Columbia, Tennessee, for their Mule Day celebration in April. It’s a long trip for someone slightly compromised in the physical department, so I am being helped/accompanied by my friend, Cheryl Mundee of Genesse, Idaho, and we will be assisted by her ancient cat, Leah, but my old Lizzy dog won’t make it this time. We had to put her down two weeks ago. Age (17 years) finally did her in. She was the model and inspiration for the dog, Moxie, in the Jasper series. That little dog was a big part of my life and my constant companion, so there is a hole in the heart right now, but I know she is ok now and enjoying her reward for a good life.
So, the next month is dedicated to getting strong, getting ready for Columbia and getting back to being me. I appreciate everyone’s prayers and good wishes, and yesterday I got to go into the pasture with Iris and love on her. Our “puppy” Cleopatra, the big Airedale, continues to be a joy and a source of mayhem and giggles. She is right at one year old now and must weigh 90 lbs, so a Cleo kiss is impressive. And get this….she and Iris seem to be “buds.” She started out being a pain in Iris’s ass, but that mule was so tolerant and intrigued, she wound up sharing her oats with the dog, even. It evokes in me thoughts of us riding through the woods together this summer. That’s a light in a dark room to me.
And, of course, Debi and I will be at Bishop Mule Days in May, so BS is on the job, just not moving so fast for a while. Rumor is that spring is not too far away so it is all good. Love on a critter for me and look for the sun. Bonnie
Keep Your Traces Tight and Happy Holidays Bonnie
Greetings from the ADMS:
Weather, weather, everywhere...
Suddenly, winter decided it had not gotten full credit and time on stage and decided that a huge full-cast number was in order. You know the kind, the great swelling of music, inset with all the chorus behind it—think West Side Story's “Tonight,” or Les Miz, or any of those numbers that requires everyone doing everything. The weather, that is.... snow, sleet, ice, repeat.
Too much of a good thing can cause problems. Snow drifts are causing people up north to be literally encased in the white fluffy stuff. Rain, then sleet, and snow on top of that caused Texas to be an icy wonderland...or perhaps a portion of Siberia. It’s not a joke when people tease about not being able to drive on the roads. Black ice is real. Dangerous temps are real. Low supplies are a real thing, when the shelves are stripped bare in small towns.
We always want owners to be prepared for the worst. If you are prepared, it’s easier to check that one thing off your list and continue forward without having a nagging on the mind. It’s difficult when the situation stretches and stretches on and on and on. Laying in a hay supply, making sure you have no-freeze faucets, making sure the barn is at least a barrier for wind, having blankets for the very old or very young stock—all these are common sense scenarios.
If your animals are out of the wind and wet, chances are they will be just fine with some feed and a bit of room to move about. Very old or newborn animals may need extra supportive care. Not everyone has a barn as snug and tight as their home, but for the most part, just out of the wind and wet is all most animals need. Blanketing may not be necessary as routine; one has to evaluate each situation and each animal as the situation arises.
No-freeze faucets are a blessing! Just remember to turn them off and take your hose in so it won’t freeze. Worst-case is you have to haul buckets of water to the stock, so think about that small investment for those faucets. It may not freeze often in Texas, but it has a number of times already this year, and that upright blue pump-handle has been well worth the few extra dollars and extra bit of time to lay in. No more hauling jugs and buckets out to tubs for the stock!
Keep an eye on hooves and ear tips in cold weather. Ice balls in the hooves can cause animals to slip and over-wet hooves need time to dry out, even if just for a few hours on a high patch of ground. Ear tips can suffer from frostbite, but luckily in this day and age, it is rare to see. Don’t forget that your own feet need to stay dry when doing chores, so put on clean, warm clothes and socks when you get back into the house. Having the primary care person down due to a cold or weather-related illness doesn’t help the stock!
Stay in if possible, wait until things clear before you venture out, and turn cabin-fever time into catch-up-on projects time. Whether it’s cleaning and oiling tack, organizing your paperwork, sewing, knitting, or reorganizing closets, keeping busy will help ease the time spent cabin-bound.
Good luck during the cleanup time after this winter, and stay warm!
Leah Patton, office manager, ADMS
The Am. Donkey & Mule Soc. PO Box 1210, Lewisville TX 75067 (972) 219-0781. Newsletter: the BRAYER magazine, 100+ pgs 6X/yr, $27 US, $37 Canada, $50 overseas. We now accept Paypal, Visa/MC (+$1 courtesy fee appreciated). Reg info, forms, fees on our website at www.lovelongears.com.
The statements, views, and opinions by contributors are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of Lucky Three Ranch and Meredith Hodges.