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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 Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
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Roll has been off for quite some time during this crazy winter weather that we have been having and due to the extra office work that I have taken on. Today we had an opportunity with warm temperatures, but avoided the mud from the snow by working indoors. First, I groomed Roll with a curry and then the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner is a great tool to promote circulation to the muscles over the body.
Johnson’s Baby Oil in the mane and tail help to protect the hair from the harsh winter weather, drying mud and prevents other equines from chewing on them.
Today we used my Kieffer dressage saddle that seems to fit most of my mules and Roll included with a girth extender. Then I put on the “Elbow Pull” and adjust it so that it helps him to keep his good posture throughout his lesson.
The “Elbow Pull” only prevents him from raising his head so high that he inverts his neck and hollows his back. Otherwise, it affords him full range of motion upward (to that point), downward to the ground and as far as he can stretch his head and neck to both sides.
We went to the indoor arena and he stood like a soldier while I closed the gate and prepped for our lesson in the hourglass pattern. It is extraordinary how core strength stays with these guys even when they are off work for long periods of time.
This is not true with bulk muscle or an animal that has not had the benefit of core strength postural development. The core strength that we develop in good posture is sustained by the equines themselves in their daily routines even when they do not receive forced exercise as long as they continue to move in good posture and rest four-square. Equines that rest with uneven foot placement, or cock a hind foot and drop a hip are not balanced in good posture with a strong core.
When saddling, we do it from the left side (near side) as done normally, but to keep things balanced, we unsaddle from the right side (off side) and pull the saddle back onto the rear end to loosen the crupper and make it easy to remove. When the equine is routinely handled like this, they learn to relax and stand quietly because they know what to expect.
It is amazing to see how much Roll’s attitude has changed in the eight years he has been with us. When he first arrived, he would snort at everything and hide behind Rock. He is now a happy, confident and affectionate 26 year old, 18 hand draft mule. He enjoys his lessons and never forgets a thing!
Trying new things is now done with much less effort and thus, much less drama! Yes, Roll is a bit obese with atrophied bulk muscle right now, but with routine lessons, he will be back to peak condition in no time. An equine that possesses a good foundation built with core strength in mind will be in a position to excel in all kinds of equine activities…because they are never over-whelmed.
Today, Chad brought Roll up to the work station. On October 23, 2017, I had found a nodule on Roll’s lower right jaw line. Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand came out right away to check it to determine what kind of growth it was.
We have had sarcoids in the past, but this did not seem to be a sarcoid, but rather, a small cyst that was not attached to the bone. Since it was not attached, I made the decision to get it removed before it had an opportunity to become attached to the bone.
Lucky Three Sundowner had a similar growth on his jaw that WAS attached to the bone and it finally grew to such a size that it ultimately obstructed his ability to eat and he had to be put down at the age of 35 years.
We were preparing to vaccinate the herd, so we opted to wait on Roll’s surgery until after the vaccinations and hoped for a freeze that would kill all the insects. The exposed wound would have a better chance at healing in the colder weather without insect interference. We had to wait for quite a while since our winter weather proved to be unusually warm until today, December 22, when we finally opted to do the surgery.
Greg gave Roll a sedative to help him to relax. I shaved the area heavily covered with winter hair with my #10 blades and then Greg stepped in and shaved it closer with his veterinary-gauged blades.
He then injected the site with a numbing agent and prepped it for the surgery.
The cyst was neatly contained and unattached below the surface of the skin. He carefully cut it away from the skin and was left with a perfectly round cyst that fell out easily.
When cut in half, the cyst revealed granular tissue in the center that is indicative of some foreign agent in the body that was surrounded by tissue that just never abscessed. We will send off the cyst to be tested to make sure there are no further issues to treat.
Greg carefully and neatly sutured the skin along his jaw line back together.
Greg gave me instructions about the care of the wound. Basically, we did not have to do anything, but let it heal. I will remove the sutures in 10-14 days.
Roll was still a bit drowsy when I took him back to his pen. He will not get food for at least two hours after the surgery to keep him from choking. He should heal nicely.
I took a sleepy Roll back to his pen. By tomorrow, he probably won’t even know what happened and he was such a trooper through it all! I am so glad my mules are trained the way they are…not a bit of trouble!
10/26/17: It is MULE APPRECIATION DAY today and the perfect time for an update on Roll! Roll has recovered nicely from his bout with White Line Disease in 2016. He had no workouts during that year, but surprisingly, he retained his core strength and balance throughout 2016 and came into 2017 still in good posture and balance. This leads me to believe that core strength does not necessarily deteriorate as rapidly as does bulk muscle.
Roll had his most recent “leading for core strength postural workout” on May 23rd this year. However since then, I have been unable to pursue any more lessons during the entire summer due to business obligations.
He was scheduled for his regular farrier visits on May 18th, July 14th and on September 21st. During that time, he also had two chiropractic visits and was doing very well with only minor adjustments needed.
On October 17th, Roll had a short ride with Brandy in the Lucky Three Ranch North Pasture after being off all summer. He was rather disgusted with Brandy after she unseated her rider, Bailey, at the beginning of the ride by spooking at a shadow on the ground. Roll did great although I could tell he was a bit stiff from the onset, but loosened up and gained impulsion by the end of the ride.
Roll had his last massage on July 13 and continues to thrive at the age of 26 years old. On October 25, we discovered a sarcoid-like tumor on his right jaw, x-rayed it and will do a removal following next week’s vaccinations.
After being off all summer, I thought he did very well and this only reinforced my belief that core muscle really does sustain itself once the animal has spent at least two years doing very specific core muscle, postural exercises.
We feel pretty blessed here at Lucky Three Ranch and want to share our good wishes for safe and happy holidays with you and your family. Merry Christmas!