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Handling our mules
What kind of mule...?
Young Trail Mule
SOLD 1/1/2007 Brn Mule
Sorrel Molly SOLD
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How we handle and ride our mules...
It might help you to figure out if you will get along with a mule from Equines by Design if we visit a little bit about how we handle and ride these mules here.

We don't consider any mules or horses bombproof! Mules and horses are animals...they are going to have animal instincts and reactions (unless they are not breathing and don't have brain function). Being a little more nervous than usual when it is really windy is normal. Breaking gait when a plastic Walmart bag blows through their legs is expected. Jumping to the side when a deer that has been bedded down leaps up out of their trail is reasonable. We like our animals to be as steady as possible and not offer any suprises...but to have the expectation or guarantee that a mule is "bombproof" is unreasonable. We treat our mules fairly and build their confidence in us and situations that we may run into...so that things that do worry them are not a very big deal and the mule will calm down quickly...within ten seconds or so. Mules that have been hurt by humans or do not have a good training foundation will react to problems in ways that usually include that dreaded 180 degree turn in half a millisecond, leaving at a dead run....and getting more bothered or nervous for the next ten minutes, maybe even the whole ride...possibly the rest of their life.

If one of our animals does get bothered, we have taught them a simple maneuver "disengagement". Before we even get on a mule, we teach them to give to pressure, to give their face to the side in response to halter or snaffle bit direct pressure, to disengage their hip (and "motor") ... then when we ride them, we have a way to stop their forward motion, keep them from bucking if a green animal thinks that might be something to try, pull them up before they really spook etc. We bend their face, disengage their hip and they can't do much but go in a small circle...and most people can ride an animal in a small circle without being a great rider.

We train, school and trailride ride our mules in a smooth snaffle bit. Snaffles are used with a "direct" rein. Its not plowreining, its direct reining, such as the highly trained dressage horses are ridden. Between a little direct reining, some leg cues and our weight, they understand where to go...and they don't look like a plow mule being ridden by Pa Kettle. Some of our mules that are way farther along, that we offer as show quality or reiners, do neck rein and well. Our standards on neckreining (direct rein) are high--what most others call "neckreining" on their animals is laughable to us. I think its a mistaken notion that you have more control with a curb bit...you certainly don't have access to "disengagement" which requires that you be able to bend your mule's nose toward your knee and the mule's hip to kick out of gear by stepping the inside hind leg across the outside hind leg. We ride in a snaffle and our mules are trained in a snaffle...however our mules can learn to go in any type of bit with some schooling.

The proverbial "hard to catch mule"...we hear about it a lot, we've never had one. And don't want one! Who wants to be traipsing around in the pasture for 20 minutes with a feed bucket trying to entice a mule to come to them...or concocting some panels into some kind of funnel in the corner of the pasture so you can "run them in" and slam the gate behind them. And then have to walk slowly, slowly up with outstretched palm and the halter/leadrope hidden behind your back. That's not for us...and I can't imagine why anyone would want to have to start their ride each time that way!

Now we kind of have the opposite situation of the "hard to catch mule", the mules here all crowd the gate saying "pick me", so we are careful when we go out to make sure all the mules respect our space, don't learn to "run" out thru the gate, etc.

But I can figure out how a mule gets "hard to catch", if the only time the human catches him he gets worked reall hard-- or gets a vaccination or pastewormer--or especially if he gets mistreated or hurt by his trainer or rider, then his response becomes ingrained..."I can protect myself by not going near that person". I don't want that kind of attitude in anything, mule, person, anything ... that they dread seeing me coming.

Mules are smart, they are opportunists (especially the johns). They look out for their best interests and if they decide there is something they want to do, then their brain starts coming up with ideas, the body follows.

A person who really appreciates mules won't be mad about the fact that mules are opportunists. We brag about the fact that mules are so smart, well anything, human or animal, that takes care of itself and its needs and wants is an opportunist. You just have to have a little bit of smarts yourself and don't let their little behaviors turn into something that is not enjoyable to be around.

An example of this would be a mule that takes over when you are leading him. We don't lead our horses or mules by teaching them to keep their shoulder even with us...we keep our pecking order by staying in front of the animal...once his head is in front of us...he's already in control...he thinks he is the one that is leading (the only exception would be our show mules that we plan on entering in Halter or Showmanship At Halter competitions). Once they are ahead of you and naturally assume they are calling the shots, the next thing you can expect is that the mule might either stop to eat grass or pull away so that he can eat or wander unfettered. Don't even let this get started. If you have to wave the leadrope back at them, snap the lead or leadsnap under their chain to back them away or wave a flag at them to back them off, do it...now...

A person can unknowingly get their mule not liking them, by having a saddle that doesn't fit the mule. We use good saddles here, most of them are bench made saddles on a wade tree, semi-quarterhorse bars with a 7/8th rigging...but we have some others that fit good...all on a rawhide covered wooden tree. No treeless, fiberglass or otherwise "new-fangled gimmicky" saddles. And all of our saddles are regular horse saddles, we don't have any special "mule saddles".

You can TEACH a mule to BUCK easy...put an ill-fitting saddle on him and make his back sore...he'll figure out a way to get rid of the pain, usually by finally bucking. When you are bucked off or get off to see what the problem is, you have just rewarded him for bucking and the mule is a quick learner. Congratulations, you have taught him to buck!

We use neoprene girths so we don't sore the mule behind their elbow...we've tried a lot of different ones, fleece, mohair, etc. but the neoprene work the best. When we go to cinch a mule up, we run the latigo thru and hook it loosely, just enough to keep the saddle from falling off. When we get ready to take the mule out to ride, we take it up another hole or two...then before we get on, we check the girth and maybe take it up another hole or two. We don't just jerk it up tight as soon as we throw the saddle on--that would be comfortable for us so we figure the mule wouldn't like it easier. Our mules are NEVER cinchy or get to dancing around, trying to avoid being saddled because it is an unpleasant experience.
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Backtrailing (photos)...Sold.