Click on the link to watch the mule training video on how to get your mule to use the thinking part of his brain.
I don’t sell snake oil. I don’t promote quick fixes to mule issues. I sell the Whoa Mule Bit/Bridle to work with riders/handlers with educated hands. That’s why I wrote the book, “Retraining the Hard-Mouth Mule” which comes with your purchase; not every mule is a candidate for the Whoa Mule Bit/Bridle. Every mule is unique and they deserve to be schooled and used in their best capacity.
~ Cindy K. Roberts
The hardware works underneath the jaw area on the mule. When rein pressure is applied, the hardware applies pressure underneath the jaw working in conjunction with the noseband that pulls the mule’s nose back down to where it should be.
This is an effective piece of equipment to use in your training program. Once your mule has overcome his bit behavior issues, you can go back to using a bit that your mule likes or keep on using the Whoa Mule Hackamore bridle. More mules prefer using the Whoa Mule Hackamore bridle over having a bit placed in their mouth. Read how mule riders/handlers have benefited from using the Whoa Mule bridle!
Due to the hypersensitivity of the mule, their mental state can easily escalate into an anxiety level that would encourage bad behavior. You see, mules can feel energy from other equines and from a person. Their intuition is far keener than ours and mules will often mirror the feelings of their rider and respond accordingly. Our world is different from the mule, as humans we view emotions differently than mules do. We may mask our feelings. But in the presence of a mule, these animals can sense the way we really are. When a person interacts with a mule, they become part of the mule’s environment, and that person ultimately becomes a herd member.
One reason some people prefer mules to horses is that the former are generally easier keepers. A mule approximately the same size as a horse, at a similar level of work, consumes less feed. A mule can eat anything a horse eats, but he uses it more efficiently. For the sake of not overfeeding your mule, consult your veterinarian for the best diet for your mule or donkey.
Always remember, you can never force a mule to obey you. If you forget this rule, your mule will remind you when the appropriate time comes. If you try to force the mule, any compliance will be short-lived. The best methods are based on explaining to the mule what you want. If you use a method of restraint, like a twitch or a Scotch hobble, it must be approached with the idea that you are explaining to the mule that you want him to stand still, not that you are forcing him to submit. This is where a good degree of handlers often fail in their mule training.
Handlers often try to “drive” a mule to compel it to do what they wish. Horses may be driven or pushed into an impulsive state of energy. When a whip is applied to the horse, he will instinctively spring into motion (although sometimes not in the desired direction). When a whip is applied to a donkey, his instinct is to remain where he is until he is sure of the situation. If an abusive handler were to continue to whip the donkey, he would become more resolute and may drop to the ground in a heap of defiance.
It is not the donkey’s nature to panic and flee, as may be observed when a donkey is spooked. He will walk or trot (or, in an extremely frightening situation, canter) a short distance, stop, and evaluate conditions before going farther. A spooked horse may bolt uncontrollably over a great distance, causing harm to himself and/or the rider in the process. What puzzles many mule handlers is that in any given situation the mule may act like either the donkey or the horse. The muleteer must recognize and appeal to both the horse and the donkey temperament resident within the mule. Most of all successful mule trainers recognize that the mule is a unique individual.
A mule’s or donkey’s attitude to his work is one of partnership with his handler. While well-trained horses obey without question, mules and donkeys are more task-oriented. They seem to be concerned with the overall job, rather than with isolated cues. Once you have taught a job to a mule, he will continue to perform the task almost unaided and in clockwork fashion. If you interfere with his task by continually giving cues, he will be offended and may resist.
Mules are renowned worldwide for their outstanding muscular endurance, but what gives them this ability to outshine their horse and donkey parents? Hybrid vigor has long been recognized and widely exploited in animal and plant breeding programs to enhance the productive traits of hybrid progeny from two breeds or species. However, its underlying genetic mechanisms remain enigmatic.
Researchers from Northwest A&F University in Yangling, China, set out to understand more about the molecular mechanisms at work in mules that provide this superior muscular endurance.
They said their work, in which muscle, brain, and skin samples from mules, hinnies, and their parents were tested, revealed significant differences between mules and hinnies, as well as differences between mules and both of their parents.
Apart from skeletal muscle tissue, which is the main difference that separates mules from hinnies and their parents, there are also clear differences between these animals in both the brain and skin. The findings, they say, provide new insights into the genetic mechanism underlying hybrid vigor in mules. The work could provide the basis for future studies of the genetic and molecular mechanism of hybrid vigor in donkeys and horses.
Interestingly, the mule has a different odor altogether. He doesn’t smell like a horse and he doesn’t smell like a donkey. This could very well be a factor in sensitive horses decide not to accept a mule as a herd member, simply because of his physiological traits provided by Mother Nature.
As prey animals, horses prefer to stay in herds, and communication is accomplished by body language rather than vocalization and sound. They rely on body position and subtle body and head cues, even the twitch of an ear or the widening of an eye, to communicate within the herd.
Overall, mules tend to be healthier, sounder, and live longer than horses. This might result from hybrid vigor, and the genetic superiority of crossbred animals. Mules are less prone to injuries because again, it is due to their heightened sense of self-preservation.
So why are mules known for being kickers? If you think about it, the horse is the nervous nellie in the mule equation. It is the horse that is prone to kicking and horses are nervous creatures. The horse mare handed down the kicking trait to her offspring the mule. The mule being naturally suspicious and cautious should be worked with or trained not to kick. This is simple enough by tying the mule in a rope halter to a tree or hitching post; using a lunge whip or broomstick merely to touch his legs up and down while assuring him this is ok. If the mule has been owned by a heavy handler, he may be fearful of the whip/broomstick; simply caressing his sides and topline while rewarding him will help him through this process. After several days of introducing the touching of the legs with a lunge whip or long stick (along with moving your hands in closer to the mule’s leg), the handler will be able to ask the mule for his foot. By doing this, a soft cotton rope placed around the ankle and then pulling up while asking for the foot is foolproof. Holding the foot for a second or two is best in the beginning.
When working with young mules (6 and under) keep in mind their mental state is different than compared to a horse. For one, the horse will go along with you and submit to you, whereas the mule will carefully think things through first. Handlers tend to rush a mule’s schooling, not realizing the damage that can be done by doing so. Anytime a mule is lacking an introduction to a new task or lacks foundation training will undoubtedly show up in a mule’s confidence level; and at some time, somewhere it will surface. That is why the working partnership you have with your mule is critical to your training program.
A recent interview with Brock Milam of Milam Mules (Missouri) gave sound advice about working with mules. He said, “To be successful and to really get along with that mule, you have got to take the time and learn that mule. And let that mule learn you. If you let him get by with things, then it is a matter of time before an unskilled rider will decide to trade off for a different mule.”
I think we tend to have so much going on at work and at home that we spend time with our horses and mules as recreation/therapy time for us. We release our nervous energy at the barn, check our cell phones for updates and we tend to lose the connection. Remember when you are with your equine partner, he has a heart and soul…an emotional side to him that is looking for leadership and comfort. Stay safe, ride your ponies, and don’t forget the oats.
Note: this article has been grouch-tested. (wink)
Working with mules over the years has kept me amused, captivated, fascinated, and focused, as well as being challenged. I like a challenge; it develops your creative side to problem-solving. And what better way to develop your skill set in problem-solving than by working with mules?
And now…I am creative, and I have problem-solving skills. Mules have also helped me to develop my independent side. I remember some years ago, hauling back from Colorado from a mule event, I had a palomino horse mule in the trailer; my trailer tire blew on the highway and I could not get cell service. So, I pulled the roadmap out, placed my pistol in my vest, saddled up my mule, and rode into the nearest town. A couple of hours later, I was back on my way.
Another time, the axle broke on that very same trailer while hauling through Kansas. I saddled up my mule and rode back through town to a horse motel that was a few miles down the road. The trailer was still under warranty, I was laid up for a couple of days at the horse motel. When I got home, I sold that trailer.
I suppose if I had not established myself as a leader in my mule’s life, we would have never made it out of the trailer during these emergency road incidents. You see, mules are sensitive creatures and will easily feed off your emotions. That is why your durability as a trainer is significant in working with mules. Leadership, herd boss, whatever you want to call it, the mule knows if you have grit or not. Being prepared and having confidence will help to develop your leadership skills; just remember a mule does not want to hang out with sissies. A sissy will just drag down the herd; mules know that to be safe from predators, the herd must be strong, healthy, and have it together.
A keen sense of awareness is what Mother Nature gave to the mule. In other words, mules have a high sense of self-preservation, so it is in your best interest to have it together when you approach your mule. That very mule already sized you up the very moment you walked into the corral. That mule already knows what your demeanor is for that moment; that is why you need to be established as a confident leader. I guess in a lot of ways…you are working with a smart ass.
Look, nobody likes a smart ass. They can make you look stupid. They will do things to get your attention when they are bored…because that is what mules and smartasses do. Mules will chase anything in the pasture and run from lawn equipment that they have been exposed to for years…all to work off excess energy.
You probably already know this, but mules can open doors, crawl through, or jump fences to visit in the next pasture, then return home just in time for you to feed him. And to think, this all started from boredom.
Now that you are aware that your mule is bored, you now decide to vamp up his training program. You take the time to set up an obstacle course around the barn to train your mule…except for one thing. Your mule responds by testing you…after all that is what they do. (wink) Mules will question you about the need to walk through a tire obstacle when they can easily walk around it or jump over the stuff in the first place. I mean, what’s the point?!
Again, they will question you…why get into the trailer when the other horses and mules are just tied up or hanging around? When crossing a bridge or river…is it really necessary to cross here? After all who is in charge here? This is the mindset of the mule…remember, it is his job to question you.
This is where the leadership thing comes in. It is your job to be the leader; you are the one in charge, your decision to ask the mule to do something should be based on that the mule is mentally and physically prepared to accomplish the task. It is essential that no harm will come to your mule, and you as the leader give him time to think about it to check things out. Successful mule trainers set up a situation where their mule will succeed. You want your mule to believe in you and to quietly show you that he is trying. By giving the slightest try, you the leader will give praise and encouragement to the mule. Your approach when presenting new things to your mule is important. The mule needs to be comfortable to be willing and to be able to respond to your request because they are emotional creatures. And remember, mules are supposed to think things through and check things out first because they are smarter than both their parents! The mule is simply behaving as the awesome creature that Mother Nature allowed him to develop into. After all, he is not supposed to be a horse or a donkey. He/she is just being a mule, the very smart ass that you are working with!
It is the mule’s job to think of clever ways to get out of what you want them to do. It is your job to be creative in your training program to get the mule’s curiosity stirred up while ensuring no harm will come to him. If the mule suffers injury then the deal is off. If things get boring, then your mule has no further interest in the lesson.
Now that you know you are working with a smart ass; you have your work cut out for you. You are not a whiner; you are determined to succeed. You possess the qualities of being a successful mule trainer. You are committed, conscientious, sensitive to your animals, creative, playful, logical, independent, and patient. You look for answers and you know what it takes. You realize what the mule needs physically or mentally and can follow through in giving it. OK! NOW WE’RE GETTING SOMEWHERE!
All right, you’ve got this…carry on. If you need help, you know where to find me.
The mule being a different animal, should be recognized as individuals and trained accordingly; those 63 chromosomes produce a unique and hardy animal that has an emotional side to him as well as a calculating mind that enables him to think things through when approached with a new task from his handler. If you take into consideration the physiological components in a mule, and understand their meaning and what they provide, then working with your mule will now be rewarding and far more productive. The physiological components of the mule are listed below.
Vision – The mule’s eyes are among the largest of any land mammal and are positioned on the sides of the head. The range of vision is 350°, with approximately 65° of this being binocular vision and the remaining 285°is monocular vision. This enables him to spot predators or potential predators. The mule’s wide range of monocular vision has two “blind spots,” or areas where the animal cannot see: in front of the face, making a cone that comes to a point at about 3–4 ft in front of the mule, and right behind its head, which extends over the back and behind the tail when standing with the head facing straight forward.
The placement of the mule’s eyes decreases the possible range of binocular vision to around 65° on a horizontal plane, occurring in a triangular shape primarily in front of the mule’s face. Therefore, the mule has a smaller field of depth perception than a human. The mule uses its binocular vision by looking straight at an object, raising its head when it looks at a distant predator or focuses on an obstacle to leap over. To use binocular vision on a closer object near the ground, such as a snake or threat to its feet, the mule drops its nose and looks downward with its neck somewhat arched.
Hearing – Mules hear sounds over a wider range of frequencies than we do, although the decibel levels they respond to are about the same. Humans with good hearing perceive sound in the frequency range of 20 Hertz to as high as 20,000 Hertz, while the range of frequencies for mules is reported as 55 to 33,500 Hertz with their best sensitivity between 1,000 and 16,000 Hertz. The mule’s ears are shaped to locate, funnel, and amplify sounds. Mules have the ability to rotate each ear independently as much as 180 degrees to pay attention to a sound without turning the head. The ears are also used to express and communicate.
Smell – The mule has an acute sense of smell that they regularly employ to provide them with information on what is going on around them. Mules use their sense of smell in many different and important ways. Mother Nature equipped the mule with a strong olfactory sense that can tell the animal whether a predator is near. All it takes is a strong upwind breeze to bring a dangerous scent to the attention of a wild herd of donkeys, mules, and horses. After getting a whiff of the predator, the herd literally high-tails it (their tails stick way up in the air as they flee) out of there in a flash. Although domestic equines are kept in an environment where they are protected from predators, the instinctive behavior of being highly aware of their surroundings is self-inflicted. The mule has developed a high sense of self-preservation and will not approach danger.
Skin – The skin of a mule is less sensitive than that of a horse and more resistant to sun and rain. This makes mules a dependable option for owners who work outside in harsh weather and strong sunlight. Mules are slightly less sensitive to the elements because Mother Nature intended them to be hardy. But remember a mule uses their skin, lips, hair, nose, and their muzzle to their physiological advantage. Their sense of touch is their most acute sense. The mule can sense a fly anywhere it lands on them, and twitch that specific muscle to get the fly off.
The skin also provides a protective barrier, regulating temperature, and provides a sense of touch. Mules from draft horse mares and mammoth jackstock breeding will have a different thickness of skin; their skin will be thicker. Mules from Thoroughbred mares tend to have skin sensitivity issues due to their skin being thinner.
How sensitive a mule is, depends on the age, the training, and the breeding. A mule that is overly sensitive to touch will usually stay that way during his lifetime; it is simply physiological and nothing more. Older mules tend to be less sensitive to touch and appear to be more settled. In addition to being responsive to pressure and pain, mules can also sense vibration, heat, and cold. Mules are capable of bracing the muscles in their body to protect themselves from intense pain (from abuse or a heavy handler) such as a whip or spur.
Researchers from Northwest A&F University in Yangling, China, are doing research on the molecular mechanisms at work in mules that provide this superior muscular endurance. Their genetic testing of samples from crosses between donkeys and horses mapped a total of 68 genes in the “muscle contraction” pathway, eight of which were found to be significantly enriched in mules. In the hybrid individuals and their parents, one of these enriched genes, TNNC2, was mainly expressed in the fast-skeletal (facial) muscle. Its expression level was found to be two times higher in the mule than in the horse. So, if you think that mule is making faces at you, he probably is.
Taste – mules prefer sweet and salty tastes, so they will usually meet their requirement of salt if it is provided in a block form. You can “doctor” a mule’s grain with molasses or honey to eat crushed medicine, however, 90% of the time, the mule is onto you. They use their keen sense of smell to aid them in identifying what is in their bucket. Mules being individuals will be up front with you whether they like or dislike what is on the menu. Some mules refuse treats altogether; others may develop a strong desire for apples, corn or carrots.
The mule I am working with now, insisted we have a trusting relationship before she would accept anything from me in the form of treats or grain. I could halter her, and start working with her, but her heart just wasn’t in it. She needed to know that she could trust me; in other words, her give-a-damn was busted. That’s just who she is. Due to her history, I can understand that; and I don’t blame her for this quirk. Today, we make great riding partners, and…she loves margaritas. [Note: no, do not allow your equine friend to drink alcohol.]
I am proud to release this book, it was fun to write and there are heartfelt stories about my experiences with mules, horses and donkeys over the years. Every mule fart has been documented, including mule cocktail recipes along with my tips on mule care products. 167 pages of shenanigans that will tickle your funny bone! It is available now on Amazon Prime at this link: https://www.amazon.com/Mules-Coffee-Oatmeal-Cookies-Inspiration/dp/B0857BR1TW/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=mules%2C+coffee+and+oatmeal+cookies%2C+cindy+k+roberts&qid=1584285113&sr=8-3
Mother Nature made them this way. Decisive on their likes and dislikes, they are judgmental animals. You might say they view things in black and white. Either they like it or they absolutely don’t. It’s not that the mule has ESP or can read your mind, but he is very good at reading the situation. And a mule isn’t going to work at something that he doesn’t like. Now that you know this, try not to be a knucklehead when working with your mule, whether it is a new task you are introducing or just spending time on the trail.
Mules are sensitive; they have a keen sense of smell and acute hearing and they are athletic like his horse mother. The thinking side of the mule comes from his father, the donkey jack. This is what makes this hybrid a unique animal to work with. Their high sense of self-preservation is what makes the mule an excellent trail partner. They certainly won’t allow them to be in a situation that could cause them harm.
Comfort is everything to the mule. They will not tolerate ill-treatment or endure incorrectly fitted tack, saddles, or a saddle pad that does not allow for good wear or comfort. Behavior issues will quickly develop if the mule is in discomfort or suffering from pain. A mule that is experiencing discomfort may toss his head, try to rush downhill, buck, kick out, move sideways, gape at the mouth, or even rear. See? This is more valuable information you now know…so try not to be a knucklehead when saddling or trying out new gear on your mule. Keeping your tack and gear clean is ideal and of course, you should adjust it several times during your ride, be aware when your mule gains/loses weight, and take notice of hair density…it’s not rocket science, but you are dealing with an animal that is smarter than you (and me) so, try to keep up.
If the mule’s negative behavior escalates, a vet or massage therapist may be the answer.
If you are needing to find an answer to your situation I am glad to talk with you. Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.everycowgirlsdream.com/store.html