What's New: Meredith Hodges

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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.

© 1992, 2016 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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MULE CROSSING: Neonatal Isoerythrolysis


By Meredith Hodges

“Neonatal isoerythrolysis (NI) is a condition in which the mare creates antibodies against the foal’s red blood cells, and then passes these antibodies to the foal via the colostrum. Once the foal absorbs these antibodies, they result in lysis* of the foal’s red blood cells within 24 to 36 hours after birth. This red blood cell destruction is widespread throughout the foal’s body and can lead to life-threatening anemia and/or jaundice. (This is similar to the human Rhesus, or Rh, factor, where a woman who is Rh-negative gives birth to her second or subsequent child that is Rh-positive, resulting in destruction of the newborn’s red blood cells.)1″

All legitimate mule breeders should be aware of this condition, especially because it can occur more often when breeding donkey jacks to mares than it does when breeding stallions to mares within the same species. If the hybrid foal’s blood type is the same as its mother’s, then there is no problem. However, when the jack and the mare have different blood types, and the foal possesses the jack’s blood type, there is potential for NI to occur.

On the surface of the mare’s red cells are antigens that will stimulate the production of antibodies against incompatible red blood cells (RBCs). There are basically two ways that these RBCs can get into her system:

1) If the foal’s RBCs enter the mare’s circulation via the placenta during pregnancy or during delivery.

2) If the mare obtains these incompatible cells during a blood transfusion.

If neither of these conditions occurs, the mare can carry, birth and nurse her foal with no problem. However, if the incompatible red cells do somehow get into her system, she will begin making antibodies against those cells that, in turn, will be passed into the foal’s system via the mare’s first milk, or colostrum.

“Signs of neonatal isoerythrolysis depend upon the rate and severity of red blood cell destruction. Affected foals are born healthy, and then typically develop signs within 24 to 36 hours. In severe cases, the signs of NI may be evident within 12 to 14 hours, whereas in mild cases, signs may not be present until three or four days of age. NI foals will develop progressive anemia, thus leading to depression, anorexia, collapse and death. These foals may also develop pale mucous membranes that later become yellow or jaundiced.”2

The mare’s blood can be tested ahead of time to determine if she has a different blood type than the jack (or stallion), but a positive test result does not necessarily mean that NI will automatically occur, only that there is the possibility for occurrence. Blood samples from the mare and jack should be taken two to four weeks before the mare is due to foal to determine if she is producing antibodies against the foal’s red blood cells. If the blood test is positive, then precautions must be taken to save the foal at birth by making sure it is prevented from nursing its dam for the first 24 to 36 hours. The foal should be muzzled and bottle-fed colostrum from a mare that has not produced these same antibodies, and therefore is compatible with the foal. To be absolutely safe, the colostrum should be obtained and tested from a mare that has never had a mule foal.

For the best results in building the foal’s immune system, this “replacement” colostrum should be collected within the first six hours after birth. The mare being used does not need to be the same blood type as the foal, but her blood must not contain antibodies to the foal’s RBCs. The quality of the colostrum will determine the amount fed to the foal. Immediately after birth, the foal should be given two to three feedings of colostrum within the first two hours, and then be given milk (for energy) for the first 24 to 36 hours after that. Goat’s milk is best for this purpose. After 24 to 36 hours, the foal should be able to be safely returned to its dam’s milk. If NI is present but is caught early enough, the foal can be transfused with blood and there is a chance that it may live, but this transfusion procedure has inherent risks and there are no guarantees of success.

Research on NI has been done over the years on Thoroughbred horses, and statistics indicate that 20 percent have incompatibilities between dam and sire, yet only one percent of foals develop NI. The incidence in mule breeding suggests that the rate is higher. The Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, the University of California at Davis and the Louisiana State University all have laboratories set up to do this initial NI testing on mares. Consult with your veterinarian about contacting any of these facilities for information on how to collect and ship samples for NI testing.

Out of concern for future mule offspring, the Lucky Three Ranch—with the assistance of our veterinarian, Kent M. Knebel, D.V.M.; Colorado State University researcher, Josie Traub-Dargatz, D.V.M., M.S.; and Louisiana State University researcher, Jill McClure, D.V.M., M.S.—began thorough testing of Lucky Three Ranch stock in the early nineties, with particular attention paid to our breeding jack, Little Jack Horner. It was discovered by Dr. McClure that Little Jack Horner’s RBCs were resulting in unidentifiable antibodies in many of the horse mares that carried his foals. The mares that were sampled had antibodies present, but Dr. McClure was unable to “type” the antibodies found in the mares.

The next step was to immunize some research horses at L.S.U. using Little Jack Horner’s RBCs. If they made antibodies, Dr. McClure would have a more readily available source of antibodies for further research. She also took samples from some burros from another L.S.U. project and discovered that they, too, had the same RBC factor that occurred in Little Jack Horner, but the antibodies produced in the mares were still unidentified. There was already quite a bit of medical and scientific data on N.I. that could help in the prevention of this potentially fatal condition. However, this discovery of new antibodies stimulated by the jack and produced by the mare proved that there was still a lot more that needed to be learned. All of Little Jack Horner’s tests showed him to be of a compatible blood type to the mares if he was a stallion of the same species, and yet these unknown antibodies were being produced. Perhaps future research will hold the answer to this puzzle.

A debt of gratitude is owed to veterinarians like Dr. Kent Knebel, who take time out of their busy schedules to collect samples for this research, and to dedicated researchers like Dr. Josie Traub-Dargatz and Dr. Jill McClure, who continue with this important research that benefits our mule industry and its future generations. Their ongoing research will continue to have a significant impact on mule breeding programs, not just here in the United States, but all over the world.

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.

© 1990, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

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What’s New with Roll? Winter Work in the Hourglass Pattern


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.

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What’s New with Roll? Cyst Removal



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!


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What’s New with Roll? Happiness is getting back to good health!


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.



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What’s New with Roll? Happiness is a Fanny Pack Full of Oats!


Roll is standing quietly as he usually does while I was speaking to a tour group with the gate wide open, but this was not always the case with him. He used to hide behind Rock and snort at me when he first arrived with Rock in December of 2010.

Behavior Modification is a reward system of training that requires that the trainer has the ability to distinguish between good and bad behaviors, to reward them promptly and appropriately…and, to do it politely with respect for the animal. The oats are a reward that is both safe and enjoyable for equines, and is something that they will continue to work for.

When dealing with an equine that is easily ten times your own weight, it is hard to imagine that the way we talk, touch and interact with our equine would really need to be ultra considerate, light and reassuring. However, if you want their complete cooperation, that is exactly what needs to happen. For instance, when applying fly spray talk gently and calmly, and be careful not to get the spray in their eyes…or it will burn and they will be less likely to comply the next time!

The same consideration hold true when bathing. Be careful not to get water in the ears, eyes and nostrils…and accustom the equine to cold water by spraying the feet and front legs first and work your way up to the face.

When you are kind and considerate, and give the equine time to adjust, even mechanical equipment like a massage thumper for muscle relaxation, or an equine vacuum cleaner used not only to clean but also to promote better circulation, can become a real source of pleasure and enjoyment for your equine.

When the equine is relaxed and accepting of the equine chiropractor, veterinarian and farrier, they are better able to do their jobs with maximum efficiency and successful outcomes.

And jobs you have to do like clipping, bridling and taking off the bridle all get much easier, preserving the trust between you. Now at 26 years old, Roll is a NEW draft mule!


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