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MULE CROSSING: Driving Activities


By Meredith Hodges

With the introduction of the automobile came decreased interest in horse-drawn vehicles. Tractors replaced equine-driven vehicles in the fields. It seemed as if equines had been put out of a job! But, as with any change, this was only temporary. Modern society still has need of equine participation, especially from donkeys and mules. The well-schooled driving donkey or mule is much safer and more reliable than any horse. The reason for this is the donkey and mules’ natural sensibility and their positive response to verbal communication. Once they have learned the parameters of their job, if treated fairly, they will calmly and diligently go about their business, flicking their ears back and forth toward the driver, always listening for verbal reinforcement of their behavior. In a pinch, they can more often be prevented from “freaking out” with a few calm and reassuring words. Their strength and durability enables them to work longer and harder hours than can a horse and their variety of sizes and colors provides them as suitable driving animals for a number of driving-related activities.

Most often we see driving animals in parades. Although it seems simple enough to drive down a parade route, there are a number of things to consider that can complicate the issue. Parade routes are lined with potential hazards and an overload of outside stimuli. Horses that become spooked have been known to bolt and actually run right through crowds of people. I have yet to hear of a donkey or mule that has done such a thing! Perhaps it is because the donkey or mule will not run into trouble if he can possibly avoid it. He will also be more likely to rely upon his driver for support and direction through the safest route. He will stop if in doubt of a situation when properly trained. Mules and donkeys are familiar with teamwork and will work as a team with their driver. The frightened horse just says, “Forget you!” and leaves!

Driving competitions are becoming more popular than ever these days as a number of different types of driving classes are being made available to contestants. For the really serious competitor, there are pleasure, obstacle, and Reinsmanship classes in which to measure one’s progress in performance.

As the competitor improves, he may move into marathon driving, testing his skills across country and through obstacles (called hazards). The driver may use singles, or teams, depending on his personal preference. The American Driving Society has been more than generous, allowing mules and donkeys to compete in most of their events right along with the horses. For more fun-loving competitors, there are a lot of different driving games, gauged for the ability of the competitors. This allows even the most inexperienced driver some source of enjoyment from which he can derive a sense of accomplishment and excitement.

For those who want to enjoy a nice day in the country with their animals, there are rallies and organized picnic drives. This type of driving is more relaxing, but no less rewarding and satisfying than competitive events. Awards are sometimes given at rallies for coming in closest to the optimum time, but the pace is usually quite leisurely! Your donkey or mule will love the alternative to showing and will enjoy the activities as much as you do.

Mules and donkeys are used in many tourist areas, pulling cabs and carriages of all varieties, taking tourists in a more leisurely fashion through the streets of history and tradition. Couples can romantically celebrate special moments in their relationships with a relaxing ride in a special cab or buggy. The sensible mule or donkey assures a safe and romantic memory that will stay with you for the rest of your life! We have used our mules to pull carriages for weddings and receptions, adding a touch of class and a little tradition to an otherwise fast-paced and chaotic world!

Because of their thoughtful and affectionate nature, donkeys and mules are ideal candidates for handicapped and disabled drive and ride programs. They are not as abruptly spooked as horses, and are therefore less likely to unseat a disabled rider, or run off with a disabled driver. Horses have fared reasonably well in riding programs for the disabled and handicapped, but are not really reliable enough for driving programs of this kind. This is where Longears can excel! Mule and donkey drive and ride programs, such as the Slade Centre at the Donkey Sanctuary in Great Britain, afford disabled and handicapped people the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of nature by offering them more mobility with the assistance of a new “friend” who is gentle and affectionate. These “friends” replace hopelessness with joy and fulfillment, helping to make life worth living!

Driving itself is a wonderful recreation for just about anyone, from the smallest child to the eldest grandmother. Driving donkeys or mules gives you that extra sense of security in an otherwise potentially dangerous situation. Driving a donkey or mule can provide a companion and friend to otherwise lonely and unfulfilled persons, keeping life more positive and enjoyable. Riding equines for enjoyment still requires a certain amount of training and practice. Learning to drive requires a lot less training and practice time for the driver, provided that the animal is well-schooled and obedient. Small farms today still use mules and donkeys for farm work. When they know their job, they do it with ease and sometimes work exclusively on verbal communication. Old farmers speak of their mules with pride and affection. It’s nice to have a “hand” that doesn’t talk back and isn’t afraid of a little hard work! In this fast-paced world, sometimes it’s nice to go a little slower and take in all the beautiful and fulfilling things that life has to offer, like a relaxing drive in the country with your very best friend!

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

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