Welcome Home – Make the Most of Your Mule’s Homecoming

Bringing a new mule home is a very exciting time. You have found “the one” and bringing him or her home to your barn should be perfect! But I hear time and time again from folks who struggle with the transition from the mule’s “old familiar home” to the new place – even when the new place seems to be filled with love and hopes for a great life together. So let me just give you a hand on that homecoming experience that just might make life all that you had hoped for.

Make Your Mule Comfortable and Show Him Who’s the Leader

Mules like what is dependable. They get comfortable with routine and they like it. Even if the circumstances are not necessarily the best, they are familiar and the mule knows what to expect. So when you take him for a ride to try him out or visit him in his old home, you are seeing him in an environment that he knows. When you take him out of that environment, he will not know what will happen next. If he cannot quickly identify a confident herd leader, he will take control for himself.

If you arrive home and unload him from the trailer then turn him out into a big pasture with some buddies, he will do just fine. The herd will adjust, leadership will be clear and life will go on. The problem is, you will not be part of that herd. If Mr. Mule has plenty of room to roam, buddies, and food – what does he need you for? Why should he come to you when you call. Why should he look forward to a ride?

Instead, this homecoming is a real opportunity for your relationship to begin. Let’s talk about setting you up for success and a great relationship.

The Beginning of a Great Relationship With Your Mule

Begin by setting up a relatively small area for your new mule. A 20X20 pen is fine. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy, but it needs to be handy. It should be secure and easily accessed so you can interact with your mule. Put some hay and clean water in there and escort your mule into his temporary home. Let him look it over and settle in a bit.

Here in this pen, over the next little while, you will bond with your mule. He will get groomed, fed, and taught what ground manners are expected. He will learn that you are the source of all comfort and contact. Here you can teach him that you are now the herd leader and that you will treat him well. There is plenty of time for Mr. Mule to meet the other equines. This is your time.

If your mule paws for food or has less than great manners, you can fix it here. You can take him out and go for walks. This gives you the activity to perfect his ground manners. If he is pushy or bold, use your come-a-long hitch and remind him how he should act. But then return him to his pen. You can also bring him out and tie him at the hitching post. You can groom and tack and give him a chance to see where and how these things will happen. You can lift his feet and make sure he will be good for the farrier. The possibilities are endless. But always return him to his pen during this introductory period.

How Long Do You Have to Confine Your Mule?

Well that is variable depending on how much time you can devote to your mule and also on the mule himself. I usually recommend at least 5 days but some will take more time. When your mule starts greeting you and shows you the manners you want to see, you can consider the next step. But he must understand that you are the source of all things good.

I talked to a woman who bought a mule a couple of years back. She had the mule for just a couple of weeks before taking her molly to a camp where the mule was housed in a small paddock and for a week’s stay. It was at this camp that she fell madly in love with her mule who had been ok at home, but really seemed to blossom under her care at the camp. She tells me that she “accidentally” did exactly what I recommend. She was the source of everything for that mule and spent a lot of time with her during their vacation week, tending to the details of leading, feeding, tacking and more. I had to laugh at that but she went on to say that while she had not found me and my work at that time, that she could sure see that I was right on the mark when it comes to bonding with your mule! Her reports were backed up with tons of great photos that documented the transition of their relationship during that week.

For those who have trouble catching their mules or who say that their mules don’t act the same when they bring them home, I ask that you give this a try. It is not too late if your mule is already out with the others or is hard to catch. These relationships are ever changing. The same woman that I mentioned above trailers to trail ride. Over the past year, her mule has learned that when the truck is hitched to the trailer, she will get to go with her person to trail ride. The mule, seeing the trailer parked in the loading zone, runs to the gate and waits there until she is permitted to load herself into the trailer! Now that is a trail riding buddy!

Take the Time to Build a Relationship With Your Mule

I believe that mules feel your intent. If you invest in the partnership right up front, I think you will get a response that you will enjoy. You are not being hard on your mule by not turning him out right away – you are saying “I am your person and you can count on me”. Giving him the structure and security is a valuable step in forming your relationship. When he sees you after this introductory period, he will come to you.

Finally, we have our animals for a reason. So take the time to handle him and spend time with him each and every day, even if the time is only brief. I do not recommend that any equine be permitted to run to his or her food, blowing by the humans. Personally, I like everyone standing quietly and patiently as I feed. I expect to be able to retrieve any of my animals from the pasture and I expect manners and easy interactions. If it is time for the vet or farrier, I don’t like a fight. Standing quietly and picking up feet when asked is taught and expected. Everybody, including Mr. Mule, benefits from this!

When you are preparing for the homecoming of a new mule or if you need to work with your less than mannerly mule, feel free to give me a holler or visit my website at www.muleranch.com. I am happy to help. There is no devotion like what a mule can give you! So set yourself up to enjoy it fully.

Foundation Training and Trailer Loading

You’ve got a mule or donkey, and every once in a blue moon you need to load ‘Ole Fluffy up into a trailer. You don’t own a trailer yourself, so how are you going to get your buddy ready to load up when the time comes?

This is quite a problem for a lot of folks out there. The natural question to ask is, “Well, do I need to have a friend bring a trailer over every couple months to keep my mule trained on trailer loading?”

That question is certainly understandable and I wouldn’t be surprised if folks out there were actually doing that exact thing. Trailer desensitization is not the problem. The problem is foundation training. You need to lead that animal forward into the trailer. Well, you also need to lead her forward over a bridge, forward under an overpass and forward over other obstacles. What you need to learn to do is properly communicate with your donkey from the ground and then from the saddle.

Ask. Tell. Demand.

Foundation Training is how you communicate with your mule through your hands, through the lead rope and to the halter. We do not start with the halter when we do foundational training. It is imperative that we start with the come-along hitch and the come-along rope. The come-along hitch is a 28’ waxed rope that is modeled around the nose and pole (behind the ears) of the mule. We want the mule to go backward, forward and move each individual foot separately when asked to move that particular foot.

There are three simple commands: Ask, Tell, Demand. First, I’m going to bump, which means I’m asking. Next, I’m going to bump bump, which is telling. Then, if the mule hasn’t yet done what I asked, I am going to rapid fire my lead rope which puts a lot of discomfort to the donkey’s nose and pull, that’s demanding. The palm of my hand is always pointing down. By pointing down I can roll my wrist, which is what I mean when I say bump.

We have to remember that mules and donkeys care more about their nose than they do their mouth. As we bump the rope, it communicates to the nose first, underneath the chin second and behind the pole third. It gives the mule the opportunity to go with the easier touch – nose. A heavier touch underneath the chin, a lot of nerves. And then behind the pole and there are a lot of nerves there. As a matter of fact, this is why a lot of mules or donkeys will rear because of the level of discomfort when we pull at the pole.

Working with your mule on the side of a mountain and going into a canyon is where real school happens. You start thinking there has to be a better way. That’s why I developed Ask, Tell, Demand; it becomes easy to get the animal to respond with respect with very little work on my part.

Don’t Pull Me!

The donkey has been saying all the time “don’t pull me,” but you don’t realize that you keep pulling on the rope rather than bumping on the rope. In essence, you’re teaching the donkey to brace against you. You’re teaching him to get stronger in all five major neck muscles.

So not only have we taught Mr. Mule not to go forward because of pulling or because of improper adjustment… we’ve also taught them to say “no.” They’re always willing to say no if they perceive there is a problem.

Going back to them pulling back – this is a very small flight because of fright. They’re thinking, “I don’t want to go forward. It looks scary. I am going to flight (pull back) to keep myself from getting in harm’s way.” That right there is the difference between the mule and the horse. The donkey side of the mule perceives the problem and doesn’t want to chance it by moving forward.

Now that we have the mechanical squared away, i.e. the halter, we can set up a program for how to teach them to go forward and to do it under stress.

The “Go Forward” Program or Loading ‘Ole Fluffy Up Into A Trailer

The first thing we’re going to do is be on the left side of the mule, the near side. Looking from the back of the donkey, on the left side is the near side, the right side is the off side. So we are standing with approximately 3’ of rope from the bottom of the halter to my right hand. My left hand will carry the extra rope. The palm of my hands are always pointing down. By pointing down I can roll my wrist, which is what I mean when I say bump. If I pull on the rope going between my thumb and my forefinger that’s what teaches him to brace. If I bump that means the rope goes underneath my little finger and underneath my hands. The position of your hands is very important.

First pick a straight place – from here to a telephone pole. I say we’re going straight. Not to the right not to the left. If he looks to the left I bump his nose. If he hesitates and pulls back a little, I as the herd leader, keep going forward, do not look back and I bump with my hand and say, “We are going forward, IF you want to stay here it will be painful for you.” So Mr. Mule then says, “Okay, this is an uncomfortable spot,” and he will go forward.

We will do everything in 3s, 6s, 9s and 12s, that is imperative for foundation. So today I’m going 3 times to the telephone post. Go to it then away from it. Go to it then away from it. Go to it then away from it. Then I quit. We tend to overdo it as trainers and communicators. When he does good we want to do a bunch more – but you’ve got to stop right there. Today, I do 3, every day for a week. A week later if the foundation is correct, do 6; do 6 every day for a week.

So the next time I do 9 every day for a week. The next week, I do 12. Now that I’ve done 12, I have setup a foundation. Now I can go to making figure 8s.

Making Figure 8s A Part Of Training

I will pick a place and say to the donkey, “Every time I go past this place, this bush, that will be one.” So I make a figure 8 in 25’ and then come back to the bush, that’s 1. After I’ve done 3 coming back to the bush, I now have the first 3 of my foundation and I am done. Increase the number of figure 8s you do each week, the same as you did for going straight.

After figure 8s and going straight, I now take a piece of plywood and lay it flat on the ground. I first walk counter clockwise, that’s teaching the left brain. Then I go clockwise, that’s teaching the right brain. We have to consider this when we start building a foundation of something scary on the ground – one half of the mule at a time. Since they do not have the cranial lobe that tells the right side what the left side is doing and back, it is imperative that we teach one half at a time. So when I go around my piece of plywood counter clockwise (left eye), clockwise (right eye) three times, I am done. The next time I train, I take those three and add three more and now I have six. The next time I train, I will do those six + three more and now I have nine. Next time, I will go to 12.

Now I take my flat piece of plywood and put 4 old car tires underneath it and teach my donkey to step up on it. Remember, you just changed where that piece of plywood was. They will always ask questions, “Why did that plywood move? Why is it different here, over in another spot?” So when you have elevated it, do it again in 3, 6, 9, 12.

As you progress always turn into the plywood, never away from it. NEVER turn away from a perceived problem – always turn toward it. When you turn away even for a split second, they got what they wanted and they will build on it.

As we progress, we have to remember desensitizing does not work. What do you mean it doesn’t work? I go up and down the street! How many deer have you got so you can desensitize them for when a deer pops up? What about a turkey? Or an elk? You cannot desensitize. What you need to learn to do is properly communicate from the ground, and then the saddle. You cannot change what God has put in that animal – flight and fright. There is not a bit or halter in the world that will keep him from running.

Realizing these animals we have trained on, they have to listen to us at the end of the lead rope or from the saddle, and just because they hear, see or smell something – they have to learn by cue what we have built as a foundation – do this or don’t do this. We do it by cues.

Yes, the information I have given you is time consuming – remember this is over six months. Foundations are built over six months. Make the decision – is a visit to the emergency room better, or is taking your time with your mule having a good foundation better? You have to consider that.

I will leave it at that for today.

Mule & Donkey Saddle vs Horse Saddle

Steve Edwards: Hi, my name is Steve Edwards, and welcome to Queen Valley Mule Ranch. Here at the ranch we’ve been training mules for the past 20 years, educating the mule and the mule rider, also the donkeys, they’ve become super-popular. One of the big things that’s very, very important to Mr. Mule and Mr. Donkey is this, the equipment that’s going on their back and going in their mouth and in their head. Extremely important that this equipment fits correctly. I have a lot of people that keep asking me the same questions, and I keep answering the same way. They say, “How can your saddle fit every mule that you’re talking about?” I simply say, “We got to remember it this way, the mule has the donkey bone structure.” Because of the donkey bone structure, I go by donkey skeletal structure, not muscle mass.

The problem with muscle mass, you watch, within a weekend ride we can conceivably lose 100 pounds, so what are you going to do? Keep adding pads? Then you got to make cinches tighter, and then you’re going to have your saddles roll. The closer your tree sets to the mule’s back, to your donkey’s back, the better. That’s what’s really important. If it’s setting on that donkey’s back, if it’s setting on that mule’s back correctly it’s going to make a big difference.

Now, the skeletal structure, on a donkey they’re V-shaped in their shoulders. Horses are A-shaped in their shoulders. That’s why a saddle goes back on a horse, forward on a mule or donkey. Since they’re V-shaped in their shoulders that saddle wants to slide forward. The other thing is their scapula goes up and down, up and down like pistons, where horses go horizontal. Right in behind the scapula is kind off of a cup, and then there’s a fat pocket, so there’s two places we don’t want to restrict. We don’t want to restrict the scapula because it’s going up and down. We don’t want to restrict this area in here because it moves around a lot. Watch your mule, watch your donkey, watch this motion that you’re going to be seeing, and imagine your saddle putting pressure into it. Now, they also carry weight down low where horses carry their weight up high.

That’s just the basics. What I do is I take the spine, and I measure 7/8 of an inch from the center of my spine to each one of the edges of my bars. By doing that I’m going to be setting up on top of muscle mass. I’m not going to be setting on the skeletal structure at all, and I’m not going to be setting on a fat pocket. That’s the other thing we have to think about. When we go wider there are semi-quarter horse, which is what this tree is, and then there’s full quarter horse bars, which is a wider tree. When you go wider you get up on the fat pocket, which is on the 6th and 7th rib, which is right where you do your cinching. So, when you pull that down that high spot is going to be pressed on, and you can do something as easy as knock out a rib, very simple. Using skeletal structure of the donkey that’s on that mule, and then I can use the same saddle on the donkey, is how I go by my fit.

Here’s the thing what you want to consider, a lot of your saddle makers, they come out, and they measure your mule in January. All right, we’ve got a mule measured in January where he’s fat and sitting around. Then we take and we measure him again in July, maybe August where he’d been ridden, he’s toughened up, doesn’t have quite the fat, you’re going to have a different measurement. The folks that are telling you to take measurements, they’re great saddle makers, they do a good job, but they don’t understand working mules and donkeys on those trails. They don’t understand spending several days in the trail. If they would there’s a lot of things they would change if they understood the bone structure and the muscle mass and this sort of thing of those mules and donkeys.

They tell you to get four wires, put one wire on the wither, one wire behind the scapula, one wire to center the back and one wire in the back. Well, that’s all well and good, but, there again, if we do that in January we’re going to have one fit. We do it in July, August we’re going to have a different fit.

Let’s look at this, this tree that I have here, this saddle stand, is a horse saddle stand. This saddle that I have here is semi-quarter horse. I want you to notice how it fits all the way across, it’s tight here in the back, this is your kidney area, all right? This is your scapula area, right here is your scapula that goes horizontal on a horse, up and down on a mule. Then right in behind here, there’s kind of a pocket area, and that area moves around a lot. Watch your mule, watch your donkey. As you see them walking you’ll see that area moving. If you tighten that front cinch, you put pressure up on that area you are restricting that movement. That’s where you get your white hairs. That’s where you’ll bet your dry spots because you overtightened that front cinch.

White hairs is not a problem. White hairs is just a, “Hey, you better listen to me.” White hairs is a scald. It comes from several things, one, the restriction of that bar. Two, the type of saddle pad that you’re using, and, three, you’re not taking and tightening that back cinch. Now, notice again how this thing fits pretty darn nice all the way across on this horse tree, or this horse saddle stand. That’s what that looks like.

When we take my tree, this is a polypropylene tree that I use, and it’s been very consistent for a lot of years. I want you to notice that right off the bat if I just lay it here it sticks real high in the back, and it goes in the scapula. The way I designed it is as soon as you sit down or tighten the back cinch the pressure comes up off of the scapula. Now I can run my hand underneath here. I am not impeding, I am not restricting that area, and I’m not on a scapula where it’s going to be hitting, all right?

You see that? A lot of people will take and do this and say, “Oh, that don’t fit.” You’re not sitting on the horn, you’re sitting here. When you sit here it takes the pressure up off the scapula and off that area. Now, notice the other thing is I’m not sitting down against the kidneys.

Heres the downside, folks, that’s muscle mass, and your kidneys are hanging. When this constant pressure is beating against those kidneys, you’re going to have something called azoturia set in, and it’s not a pretty sight to see one die of azoturia. What it amounts to is is the muscle gets pounded and pounded and pounded. Then they eat, and they eat a lot of high-carbohydrate feed, and then them kidneys can’t handle it. The kidneys start poisoning the system, and your mule shows what looks like cholic, but it’s called azoturia.

With my tree, you can see here, this is a horse saddle stand. I’ve sat my saddle back two and a half inches behind the scapula. Here’s my scapula. I set it back two and a half inches. I don’t sit on top of the scapula so that I’m getting this. I move it back behind the scapula, and then I tighten the back cinch. It comes up off of that working area, which you can’t do that with this saddle, and then I don’t have the pressure back here up on the kidneys. I’ve got about more than three-quarters of my saddle sitting on the animal’s back on muscle mass. You do not have to have every piece touch on that animal’s back. If it does, as I just told you, kidney problems, restricting muscle.

Let’s just take a look at this. Look at most of your saddles. People want to use one cinch, “Oh, we don’t want to tighten the back cinch. That’s a bucking cinch.” No, no, there’s a reason for that D-ring back there, and I’ll talk to you more about other saddles and stuff, but that D-ring is to keep you from doing this. When you take and tighten up that front cinch, now the back of this saddle comes up. You’ve got the front of this cinch tightened up, and as you’re sitting you’re doing this. Look what the pressure you’re putting here. Why do you have white hairs here, why is it dry? Because we’ve restricted this area, and we don’t have that back cinch.

That back D-ring is important. On a mule the back cinch needs to be tightest, the front cinch needs to be loosest. On a horse, front cinch tightest, back cinch the loosest. That way you keep it from doing the cantilevering. People are sitting in the saddle, this is why it’s going down the road, it’s doing this. No wonder your horse is having problems, if you’ve got standards low enough to ride a horse. No wonder your mule is having problems, and no wonder your donkey’s having problems. We all deserve to get bucked off, and I’ve got 32 broken bones and two replaced hips because I didn’t listen.

Now, want to listen? Here it is, you can see the picture. Any of my clinics, any of my expos I bring trees, I show you. I want you to see when you tighten up that front cinch look what you’ve got. That’s what you’ve got, horses, mules, donkeys, especially when you’re using a horsey tree. Semi-quarter horse bars are the most-used bars on every single saddle. I don’t care what saddle company you go to, they all use the direction of semi-quarter horse. The quarter horse is the center, actually, of the equine world. A lot of people don’t want to believe it, but it is. It has set the standards.

Semi-quarter horse the narrower, full quarter horse the wider. When you go wider up on your mule you are going to have problems up on that 6th and 7th rib, on that fat pocket. So, that is the semi-quarter horse tree that you’re putting on your mules to fit your horses. Here’s my tree. As soon as you sit in it, as soon as you tighten up the back cinch you can see it comes up off the animal. There’s no pressure on the kidneys, so I’m not developing any problems there. There’s no pressure up here in the scapula area. There’s no pressure there. Right where I’m sitting, that’s where my saddle needs to fit, not firm all the way across putting pressure points everywhere. You have to have pressure somewhere, and I’ve got it there. Now, that helps you with the trees. That’ll give you a pretty good idea. Hope to see you in some other videos. I’ll show you how I come about making the Steve Edward’s Queen Valley Mule Ranch mule saddle.

Why Does My Saddle Go Forward?

Over the past 40 years I have been riding, driving, and packing mules. I have packed freight back into the mountains. The freight can be fence posts, concrete, or equipment for various needs. To make a long story short, I have worked mules for a living and I have had fun with them as well. My main thought in writing this article is to address conformation of mules, but I also want you to get a sense of how and why I have spent over the past 40 years giving thought to “Why Does My Mule Do That?”

How Do You Know If Your Mule Is Comfortable?

Mr. Mule will show me in a variety of ways if he is a happy camper. Shaking his head going down a hill, running down hills, ringing his tail, bucking when I try to saddle him plus many more signs will tell me that he may be having some comfort issues. There are others, but these are some of the more common.

Going back to the pack saddle: I learned a lot about mules being comfortable by going back to the structure and principles of the pack saddle. I would look at sweat patterns. I would try different blankets and/or pads. I would carve on the old wood saw buc. Do you get the idea? Over the past 40 years, I have tried a lot of different things to make my mule comfortable and functional in his job.

In 1981, I met a Canadian by the name of Abe Hewart. Abe came down and spent the winter with me. His goal was to design a pack saddle with adjustable arches and floating bars. We used cottonwood to start with on the bars. We would get a start and then go and try it out. We did this over a course of 3 years. Over these years I began riding more mules. I would say to my saddle maker, “Put the rigging plates here” or “Cut the skirt rounded” and so on. I probably made scores of changes to the riding saddle over this time. Every time I would ride a quarter horse type mule, gaited mule, or draft mule, I would learn something different about the stride.

“What Tree Are We Puting in my Saddles?”

One day I asked my saddle maker “What tree are we putting in my saddles”? His reply was, “Semi-Quarter horse bars”. After looking at that bar sitting on the backs of several mules backs, I would say that it was a fair fit. The only problem or concern seemed to be the twist that the horse bars needed to go around the horse wither. That twist put pressure on the fat pocket of the mule which would put pressure on the 6th and 7th rib. I also noted that while the shoulder action of the horse was in a front to back arch, the shoulder action of the mule is much more vertical. It is more like a piston going up and down. This means that if the bars were too close to the shoulder, horse bars could actually “stab” in behind the scapula of the mule.

As described above, the scapula action on a horse runs horizontal but vertical on the mule. This means that when the mule shakes his head during downhill runs or the like, he may be telling you that the bar of a horse saddle is going in behind the scapula and causing discomfort.

As we thought the situation over, we remembered that we had a well-designed bar for the pack saddle. With the pack saddle being adjustable, I found the angle of the bars that was consistent with every mule I packed and I took that bar to a tree maker and said, “Make my riding saddle trees with this bar and this angle”. That was back in 1983.

Fitting a Saddle for Your Mule

Now I can spend a lot of time talking about the details of what I have learned from the mules by working and playing with them on my ranch. I can also tell you that lot of saddle companies have the customer take a wire and place it in four locations on the mule or donkey and make tracings or take measurements. They then try to fit a saddle for the mule. But this does not work very well for several reasons.

First, let’s consider this. If I measure your mule in January while he is sitting around getting fat and not being used and then I measure him again in July after you have been using him daily, we are surely going to have different measurements. What we want is a saddle that will fit all the time.

Secondly, horse saddle makers need to understand the “shoulder action” of the mule as opposed to a horse. No matter how well that saddle seems to sit on the mule, if the bars do not give clearance to the vertical movement of the mule’s shoulder, there can be discomfort.

A short story I’m going to tell you is about lady had a custom saddle made for $3,500.00. That mule died about 5 months later. Since she had the saddle made only for that mule, she tried it on several other mules, but there were many problems she encountered and she could not use that saddle again. Even if she had shoulder clearance, the tree was not one that could be used by other animals.

The Right Saddle Fit is Only the Beginning

I want you mule and donkey people to understand that saddle fit is not the only problem that will create mental and physical problems with your mule or donkey. Something as simple as floating the teeth every year and a checkup with a chiropractor will confirm other mental and physical needs of your mule. But saddle fit is often a big contributor to problems.

I hesitate to call my saddle a “Mule saddle” because, since about 2004, almost every saddle maker out there says they have a mule saddle. My questions to each of them are, “How many pack mules (working mules) has this mule bar been on?” and “How many saddle mules have this mule bar been on”? I ask these questions to see if it really will be consistent for all uses for the mule and donkey. Also pivotal for a good multi-use mule saddle is that the skirting must be designed to fit all conformations – draft, quarter, gaited, donkey, etc.

Disposition and Conformation Problems

Conformation is a major problem in saddle stability and general endurance. The downhill hip creates the biggest problem when it comes to saddles not staying in place and having the potential to slide forward. The downhill hip conformation is most common in the quarter horse and draft more than any other breed. You will see that the hip is higher than the wither. If I made a tree for this animal or any other mule with this problem, the front of the bar would be 4” thick in the front. My tree bars fit the back just fine for all the mules and donkeys because I use the bone structure, not muscle mass as the supporting guide.

Remember, a mule can drop 100 lbs. in one weekend on a long trail ride. So over the years, I have tried many things to help the few mules that have this conformation problem. We now have a pad that makes up the difference in the wither area. Long story short, when buying a mule, disposition is the first consideration, and a close second is conformation.

A Horse Saddle Is Not Meant for a Mule

Please do not think a pad can make your horse saddle fit a mule. I have shared in many articles and clinics how the problems with bars and skirting of saddles made for horses can cause problems for mules. Padding up a horse saddle for a mule is not a good choice.

There are a lot of great saddle makers that are certainly craftsmen and some people don’t mind spending a lot of money for a piece of artwork. To my way of thinking, it’s important to know how a mule moves and thinks to make Mr. mule comfortable! And a comfortable mule is a better behaved mule.

I want you to know that my saddle makers can do artwork as well. My saddles are designed for hard work. They can accommodate work like dragging calves to the fire, flipping an elk over, dragging firewood to the fire. The saddles are also very comfortable for long hours of work or pleasure. I have designed saddles that weigh 18 pounds and up to 48 pounds. I try to keep my prices for my American made saddles so that everyone can have the right saddle for their mule or donkey. I encourage you to call and write with your questions.

Our saddles are designed for the mule and donkey by the mule and donkey. We are not a saddle making a company; we are a working Cow and Mule Ranch. We know by hard work that our saddles will fit every mule and every donkey. We have hundreds of saddles over the United States and throughout the world.

The Skinny on Mule and Donkey Hoof Care – Contracted Heels

Donkeys and mules are often known for their extremely tough and hard hooves. In fact, it is this very wonderful characteristic that can get them into a world of trouble! Because of their strong hooves, the notion that hoof care in the mule and donkey world is not as critical as it is in the horse world is a myth that is commonly repeated.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mules and donkeys do have strong hoof structures. But it is important to understand that while their general leg and hoof structure sets them up for a more upright appearance of their hooves, there still needs to be a good balance of hoof appearance and animal health.

What Is A Contracted Heel?

When we pick up a hoof and look at the bottom, we should see an almost round shape. The frog should be wide at the back of the hoof, and when the mule or donkey steps down heel first they should touch the ground with the frog. This contact is critical to stimulating good blood flow. The frog should take up about 2/3 of the length of the hoof and about ½ of the width at the back. If it is smaller than that, the contact with the ground will not be sufficient.

In the case of contracted heels, the heel bulbs and frog appear pinched and the back of the hoof is narrow. This can lift the frog so that it does not touch the ground and that changes everything about circulation. If allowed to persist, the hoof and its shock absorbing qualities will malfunction. Circulation, nerves and alignment will suffer. This can lead to extensive damage and many problems.

Remember that when the mule or donkey steps, the heel should hit the ground first. The heel and frog should have good contact to promote circulation and the toe must be of an appropriate length and shape as to “roll over” as the stride continues.

A lot is at stake here. Tendon and ligaments, bone structures, circulation and nerves all depend on the balance of the trim.

How Does This Happen?

Most of the time, contracted heels occur because of poorly balanced trims or improper shoeing. Some people feel mules and donkeys don’t need hoof care like horses. Others find the trims more difficult because of the tough structures, uncooperative animals (those that have not been properly trained to stand for farrier service) or improper shoeing techniques.

The simple fact is that if the hoof is not properly shaped a couple of things can happen.

  • If the toe is allowed to get too long, there will be excessive pressure on the back of the hoof at the heel and this pressure may cause the heel to roll in and contract.
  • The other scenario is short toes and high heels which lifts the frog off the ground and the heels begin to contract or narrow.

If the mule or donkey has an improperly fitted shoe, the hoof can be severely restricted in its movement. Some shoes actually pull the heels inward and promote contraction. I have personally seen this in a few mules. The balanced trim must be fitted with a shoe that permits expansion of the hoof wall. Just because the hoof wall is very hard in a mule or donkey does not mean that it does not expand with weight bearing.

Another contributor to contracted heels is a lack of exercise or use. Mules and donkeys are not built to stand in stalls. They need to walk and be active. If the trim or shoeing is marginal, the thing that will put this into the “red zone” will be the lack of exercise.

The Consequences

Contracted heels cause compromised circulation. Without the shock absorbing features of the frog, tendon and ligament damage can happen as structures are abnormally shifted forward. Nerves will be impinged upon in some cases as the animal starts to rock forward on his toes to protect against the pain from this misalignment. This only serves to make the entire problem worse.

In addition to all of this, cracks can form, inviting infections like thrush. It is very difficult to try to fix a hoof that is filled with infection, so first treating any additional conditions like thrush is imperative.

Bottom line is you will have a lame horse, one that could require months of work to reshape the hooves and get the frog and heel performing as they should. It may even be necessary to perform some corrective shoeing, though barefoot therapy is often the route of choice. This may mean that the animal will not be used for some time if terrain requires shoes.

During the phase of correction, your farrier needs to have a plan and keep trimmings routine and frequent with careful attention to getting the balance back. This is done gradually to avoid additional trauma and requires patience and persistence.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

If you are a donkey or mule owner, your farrier should be skilled at mule and donkey hooves. Make sure that all of the old myths about infrequent care or the lack of importance of trims have been tossed out the window! Your mule or donkey needs balanced trims with good shape, proper heel height and toe length and the frog must make good, healthy contact with the ground.

Feed your animal well, exercise him regularly, trim him routinely, shoe appropriately and keep a close eye on those heels. You will not be sorry. If you have questions, give me a holler. I’ll try to point you in the right direction!

The Skinny on Mule and Donkey Hoof Care – Cracks

Ever heard that mules and donkeys have tough hoofs and need no shoes or trimming? I have and many people I talk to have also heard this.

When I purchased my first mule, I was actually told they needed very little care, that they eat very little food, drank very little water and did not need any shoes or trimming.

These things are not true. In fact, I have been so disturbed by all the nonsense that you may have heard that I am working on a book called “Four Decades of Breaking Mule and Donkey Myths.”

In this article and the next one, I want to help you understand this thought – no hoof, no mule or donkey. I believe the donkey has the most imperfect hoof and conformation in the equine world. Cracks and contracted heels are the two major causes of lameness and other problems. In this article I will talk about cracks. My next article will address contracted heels. If you don’t do another thing to learn more about your mule or donkey, read these articles! They can make a difference in the soundness of your animal.

Talking Mule and Donkey Hoof Cracks

Hoof cracks happen for a variety of reasons. Some cracks are superficial and are actually more cosmetic than anything else. Others are serious and can seriously mess up the hoof. Some cracks are temporary and will grow out or heal. Others will be permanent and won’t ever completely go away. But cracks or no cracks, lameness or no lameness, inspecting and picking your long-ear’s hooves daily is the best way to detect problems early. I always recommend keeping your mule or donkey on a regular trimming/shoeing schedule, not only for balance and soundness, but to keep cracks from happening in the first place. I like to plan for farrier care no less than every 6 to 8 weeks.

So what is it that makes the difference between a hoof that cracks and one that doesn’t? Well, there are several possibilities. The environment in which your mule or donkey lives is the first thing that comes to mind. My donkeys live in the hot and dry areas of Arizona. I have students who have been bitterly complaining about wet spring conditions and mud this year. Mules in each of these extremes will face their own challenges. The mule in hot, dry conditions will need to hydrate the hoof without the help of his paddock, while the mule who stands in mud and wet conditions all day will have the potential for bacteria, thrush and other assorted fungal infections. So it is important to know your own particular environmental pluses and minuses and respond accordingly.

Examples of the adjustments I am talking about might include:

  • In a hot, bone dry environment, let the water trough run over when you fill it. Your mule can stand in the water for a bit. You can also let him stand in a stream for a little longer when you are on a trail ride.
  • In a wet, muddy paddock, give the mule a dry place to stand at least part of the time. Hose his feet and legs off when he comes in, and consider treating him for thrush routinely.

The front hoof is round and the rear hoof is oval in shape. The wider the heel, the healthier the hoof! The shape of the hoof and the conformation of the mule or donkey is largely genetic. While you can’t do much to change that, trims can be done accordingly, and consideration for the mule’s conformation will help you when considering shoes and trims.

Make sure that if you have a mule or donkey, your farrier is well versed in the normal anatomy of the hoof of a mule or donkey. Trimming like a horse simply will not serve your animal well. BALANCE IS CRITICAL!

Nutrition is pretty important when it comes to hoof cracks. Lots of people like to feed mules and donkeys less than optimal hay. I have even heard that you can feed donkeys straw. But without minerals and vitamins, amino acids and proper tissue building nutrients, you will not have a healthy animal. To be blunt, “garbage in – garbage out.” I have found that most mules and donkeys don’t need a hoof supplement if they are fed good forage.

Related to the idea of good nutrition is not to let your mule or donkey become too fat. Extra weight is a big strain on the hoof and can contribute to leg and hoof problems. Most mules and donkeys won’t eat themselves sick, but if they are left with nothing else to do and lots of grub, they can become fat pretty fast. Pasture is a smorgasbord and we all know we over-eat at those places! My rule of thumb is all night in a pasture, all day in a corral. I prefer a proper diet for each mule or donkey and they have no smorgasbord! I have an article on my web site, Mules Can’t Stand Prosperity. Have a look at my feed program and the results.

So now let’s talk about what you can do if your mule or donkey gets cracks.

Quarter Cracks

Quarter cracks often cause lameness. They usually start at the coronary band and extend toward the ground. They are full thickness and offer a lot of opportunity for problems. They can be caused by things ranging from improper hoof care or balance, an animal with toe in or toe out conformation or hoof overgrowth when trims are not done routinely. They can be related to injuries near the coronary band. Coffin bone defects can also lead to confirmation issues that result in cracks.

Some of these quarter cracks might bleed or become infected, causing considerable pain. You will clearly need the help of your farrier and your veterinarian to sort out the cause of the crack in this case and make a plan to resolve the lameness. X-rays may also be needed. They can show if there is a foreign object that is contributing to the crack or if there is some underlying bone defect. But no matter what, you need to sort out the likely culprit in this situation and do your best to fix it. Without a solution, your animal can be chronically lame.

Cracks Related to an Abscess

A hoof abscess can cause cracks. If your mule or donkey has an abscess and the infection drains from the coronary band, a small horizontal crack called a cleft might appear at the hairline. Usually, these clefts will grow down the hoof wall with no problems as long as they are kept clean and reasonably dry. Your farrier may recommend some antiseptic solutions to help keep them clean.

Cracks Related to Delayed Trims

Some cracks will occur at the ground level if the mule or donkey is left without proper farrier care and the hooves overgrow, flare or are “self trimming” with the aid of the environment. Rocky conditions might result in chips or cracks of the hoof that is not as hard as it might be. Most of these cracks are relatively harmless unless part of the hoof wall is lost. They should be tended to with a proper treatment schedule.

Treatment of Cracks

What can your farrier and veterinarian do to help treat the problem? First of all, determining the cause of the crack is the most important piece of the puzzle because it can help prevent recurrence. Sometimes it is a combination. Other times, it is clearly due to a particular concern.

An experienced vet will do a lameness exam. He or she will watch your long-ears move – in all gaits. Confirmation will be the focus, then the vet will turn to the issues we have previously discussed. What are you asking the animal to do, and in what conditions does the creature live. Is your farrier experienced at trimming mules and donkeys? Is the schedule adequate? Have you been feeding your mule or donkey appropriately? Perhaps supplements will be suggested.

The next step will be to fix or at least stabilize the crack. Your farrier and veterinarian might have particular methods they recommend for different types of cracks. Balancing Mr. Donkey’s hooves so his weight is evenly distributed over his hoof is important to let the hoof work the way God intended. In some cases trimming the foot is all that’s needed to remove the crack or to get the mule or donkey on the road to recovery. Other times corrective shoes or other treatments are needed to make the crack stable. There are implants and materials that can be used to bridge cracks. Heck, they can even bridge the crack with some wire lacing that involves drilling holes and making a shoe lace type effect across the crack using small screws as anchors.

Your farrier can use a patch material to glue or fill hoof cracks, as well. Some of these polymers or acrylics are very strong. But these fills are not a great plan if the crack is bleeding or infected. The problem must be addressed first as you don’t want to seal the problem inside the hoof – it can actually make it worse though we might feel better about the way it looks. What your farrier chooses to use must fit the circumstances or it will solve nothing.

Graveling

Hoof cracks can also come from small gravel stuck in the white line area of the hoof. This gravel slowly works its way up inside the hoof. The gravel can actually travel all the way up to the coronary band and break out there. Figuring this one out is generally not too tough.

There is also an infection that can get in the sensitive parts of the hoof and undermine the sole. This kind of infection is due to a piece of sand or dirt introducing bacteria into the white line area and it affects the inside hoof wall. This one is a little tougher to figure out than flat out graveling. But lots of times, if the farrier places a close nail and allows the introduction of the contaminant, it will travel up and the hoof will abscess at the coronary band.

I can tell you that graveling can also take place near the bars instead of the white line. In this case, the mule stays off of his heels and walks like a ballerina – on his toes! The mule or donkey will be markedly lame and may even look like he broke something. This is a really scary scenario because the leg is swollen, the mule has a fever and the animal is extremely lame.

So if your vet asks you if your mule or donkey has recently been shod, he suspects that a nail introduced bacteria into the inner hoof structures. Treatment will depend on the extent of the problem. These cases generally don’t resolve without the help of your vet.

If you see a crack, be prepared to answer these questions from your vet or farrier.

  • Does it start at the ground or the coronary band?
  • Is the mule or donkey lame?
  • Was he or she recently shod?
  • Have trims been kept current?
  • What condition is the mule or donkey living in?
  • Any other symptoms like hoof odor, bleeding, pus, etc?

You won’t need to call the vet or farrier with every crack – but if in doubt, call.

Properly Installing a Halter

Steve Edwards: Just go nice and relaxed. Look at the ears, nice and quiet.

Sue: Good girl.

Steve Edwards: Good. The tail’s a little switchy, but not a big deal. This is where you need to spend time on the right-hand side.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: Catching him on the right-hand side. Okay. Once you catch him, it’s okay to put the lead rope around him. Go ahead, put the lead rope itself around the neck now. Just the lead rope itself. Okay, and put it on the other side, and then kind of pull her towards you a little bit. You don’t want to go in there, and get yourself boxed in, and maybe get hurt. Go ahead and pull her to you just a little bit, nice and easy. Nice. Very good, keep on coming, keep on coming. Bring it on out.

Sue: Oh, I don’t want to.

Steve Edwards: You bet. Now, come around to the other side. Now, you see you’re in a safe area. That was nice and quiet. Just touching them nice and quiet. The animal stayed quiet the whole time. Now, notice the frame of this mule. As it walks, head is down, framed up, and balanced. That’s a nice trail animal, but notice the animal went past her, okay, and came around in the front even. Okay.

Only thing that happened was Sue did not teach her a cue, I want you to be here. She knew, but she just wants to go anywhere, okay. Once that halter’s on there, now our communication’s going to be crisper and cleaner.

Now, this is really important. Notice how the halter is tied above the loop here. What happens is, as this mule moves around, moves around, moves around, moves around; see it coming out.

Sue: Um-huh.

Steve Edwards: Pretty soon this is going to come completely out.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: What we’re going to do is we’re going to make sure it’s up in the notch of the poll. You feel this right here? That’s the skull ending right there, in this kind of tender place. We want to be right in that notch. It’s okay, baby. That’s right. Okay, and then we’re going to pull it up, and -bump your nose over here- we’re going to pull it down here. Okay. Go ahead and do that.

Again, we see a lot of people trained and teaching mule stuff, and they’re saying it’s mule classes; but if they don’t have a halter adjusted, their communication is not going to be as crisp and clean.

Man: It is more critical with a mule than a horse?

Steve Edwards: Yes, very much more critical of a mule. Okay, do you see how it’s above? It needs to be below.

Sue: It needs to be below what?

Steve Edwards: It needs to be below this loop. Like this, come underneath.

Sue: Oh, okay.

Steve Edwards: Like that.

Sue: Let me try one more time.

Steve Edwards: Yes, you’ll see horse trainers that are trying to train mules and say they’re mule trainers; but as soon as you see their halters -as I just demonstrated to you earlier, and I’ll demonstrate it to you one more time – is that your communication, you can still get things done, but you’ve got to be more aggressive at it. I want to get away from the aggression. I want my communication to be crisp and clean. Okay. Very good, Sue. There you go, like that.

Now, as the mule moves around, this will get snugger; but it’ll be easy to do. This is the original snap. You just turn it like this, slide it right out.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: Okay. Now, again, if we had the knots adjusted out here, we’d push on it, we’d get a foot. This time we got more. If we lower it down, we get all kinds of feet. The proper way, as far as I’m concerned, for a halter to be adjusted is down here on the nostril. Your communication is crisper and cleaner. Where up here, I’m pushing on bone. It’s uncomfortable. Down here, I get feet movement.

Steve Edwards: Soft, easy, with no pressure. That’s like I say. You’ll see a lot of guys, a lot of women, guys and girls both, say, “Okay, I’m a mule trainer.” Okay, you probably are, but how crisp and clean is your communication? You know. If you’re really a mule trainer, you’ll understand the nose. The nose is the most important part to your mule, okay.

Catching Your Mule on Your Terms

Steve Edwards: Still nice and relaxed, look at the ears, nice and quiet.

Steve Edwards: Good. The tail’s a little switchy but not a big deal. This is where you need to spend time on the right hand side.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: Catching them on the right hand side. Once you catch them, it’s okay to put the lead rope around them. Go ahead and put the lead rope itself around the neck, now. Just the lead rope itself. Put it on the other side and pull her towards you a little bit. You don’t want to go in there and get yourself boxed in and maybe get hurt. Go ahead and pull her to you just a little bit nice and easy. Nice, very good. Keep on coming. Keep on coming. Bring it on out.

Sue: Oh, I don’t want to-

Steve Edwards: You bet. Now, come around to the other side. Now, you see you’re in a safe area. That was nice and quiet. Just touching them nice and quiet. The animal stayed quiet the whole time. Now, again the mule is already easy to catch. She’s gentle but we want to build her leadership that says you move your feet when I say move them, and you keep your feet quiet when I say quiet. It’s going to be a little tight, Sue.

Sue: I was going to say it’s very tight.

Steve Edwards: It’s going to be tight. That’s okay-

Sue: She’s not going to like that.

Steve Edwards: No, she’s not but she’ll get over it. Always remember they may like something, but that don’t mean nothing. They may be unhappy with it, that don’t mean nothing. Two fingers above the nostril’s good. They’ll get over it. It’s not a big problem. That’s okay. Keep on tying it the way you’re doing it. You’re doing fine. I’m going to show you a little bit more correct way. That’s very good. What we’re doing here, now, is we’re building her leadership. Animal’s already easy to catch, but he’s easy to catch on his rules not your rules. When we slap our leg, we make him uncomfortable. When we get quiet, we make them comfortable. They’re starting to say, “Oh.” Where’s this going to be handy?

You’re going to be out in the field someplace or someplace that’s hard to catch. They’re going to remember the lesson we just did. Now, we’re going to do this today into threes like we just did. The next time we’re going to do it, those three. Then we’re going to do three more. We’re going to six. Next time we’re going to do it, we’re going to do those six. We’re going to do three more. Make nine and build a foundation. Pretty soon the mule will just be just boom, boom, boom until you get to 12. Now, this is what happens, come on over here, Sue.

The Halter and the Lead Rope Working Together

Steve Edwards: When I go to move, I want my mule to understand that when I stop, I want him to stop back here, so as I come up, and I pick up on the lead rope, and I ask him to come along, really bracing. You see that bracingness there? Now I want him to stop. I’ll wiggle the rope. His feet stops first. My feet stop second, so as I come home here, I’ll wiggle the rope. His feet stop first. My feet stop second. Now as I come along here, and I ask for a stop, let’s see what happens. You see that? I didn’t have to wiggle the rope. He says, “Wait a minute. Your body stopped.” This way here, he doesn’t have to have a wiggle of the rope. His nose doesn’t have to be sore. As I’m walking along, do you see my lead rope? I don’t want to have to pull on this. I want the pressure of the lead rope. Now right there, I got a little pressure, so I’ll give him a sharp bump, and then I’ll come along. Sharp bump. I want him to follow just the pressure of the lead rope only. Just the pressure of the lead rope only. If I feel any pressure at all, I’m going to give him a sharp bump. I want the lead rope and the halter to work together. Sharp bump. Sharp bump. Good.

When I pick up on that lead rope, I expect him to move. If they’re going to stop or put pressure on me, I’m going to make them uncomfortable with sharp little bumps. You can see how the mule is using its neck muscles and using his throat latch to stiffen up to get a hold of him. That’s from us pulling on him all the time. That’s also from an incorrectly adjusted halter. Now it’s natural. There’s not hardly a person out there that has a mule that I don’t see people constantly pulling on them, and they wonder one day, they’re out there leading ol’ Fluffy, and Fluffy’s happy. All of a sudden, Fluffy says, “Nope. I want to go that way.” And they’re mule skiing. I can’t tell you how many mule skiers come to my clinics. Again, when you’re coming to a clinic, you don’t want to go there and have to muscle. Why? No reason for it. If your halter’s adjusted correctly, and if you’re using the correct tool of using your hands rolling rather than pulling, you’re going to be able to have good communication.

Now when I pick up on the lead rope, I expect response like that. Put it down, I expect response like that. I pick up on it. There’s pressure, so now I’m going to change my hand, and I’m going to bump. I’m going to put it down. Now did you like … Oh, oh, oh. You see the difference?

Man: Look what you stepped in.

Steve Edwards: Yeah, well, now I’m going to grow.

Man: That’s the first time.

Steve Edwards: Yeah. Here’s the thing. It’s ask. Then I change my hands. I tell. If I have to, I’m going to demand. I don’t want to have to pull on him. I’m back up in these mountains, and all of a sudden they get scared, I want them to respect that halter enough that I barely touch it, and I get some response. Is it always going to happen? Not always going to happen, but at least they’re going to respect that halter. Again, when I pick up on it, I expect for them to come just from the weight of the lead rope only and not from me pulling on them, so I’ll pick it up, and I’ll ask them to come. As I come up, I’m going to ask. Now I’m going to tell. I’m going to demand. Now I’m going to ask. I’m going to tell. Good. We’re going to ask. Good. All right? Ask, tell, demand.

Now everybody’s going to say, “Oh look, he’s trained!” No, no, no. Three, six, nine, 12. You got to get that in him, and once we hit 12, then we can mix and match.

Bits and Bridles

Steve Edwards: These days you can walk into a tack store and you see all kinds of bits, pretty bits, ugly bits, and pretty ugly bits, all kinds of ways, because people think, “Oh, by golly, I want the one that’s pretty. Oh, look, it’s got some engraving right here. That’s the bit that I want, because it’s pretty. It’s got the engraving on it, really makes it neat.”

No, no, no. What works best for the mule? “But, Steven, looks like your bit has got a little port in it right here. It’s got some shanks on it, and it moves.” No, this is not a bit for a mule. Get rid of it.

“Oh, look, Steve. I got a bit like yours, that moves on each side, moves in the middle, too. I’ve never seen a mule yet with a square in the roof of his mouth.” That’s not the bit for the mule.

“Oh, look, Steve. I’ve got a snaffle bit where it breaks in the middle and it bends on each side, and I got some shanks. Now I got control.” You have control but you don’t have refined communication. When you start getting shanks, that means you’re going to be doing less. If you were really riding, you’d ride with a piece of hay twine right here and that’s all. That’s not the bit.

What I have learned over the years, watching these animals, number one thing that you do is you first balance their teeth. You go to a good dentist, get their teeth balanced, get their wolf teeth pulled. Now you’ve got the mechanical out of the way on the mule. Now let’s start building a foundation.

You first go with my Mule Riders Martingale, then you go into the finished bit. My Mule Riders Martingale is meant for two things, for building a foundation, and for fixing problems, because the communication comes from the corner of the mouth. As you progress, in three months, training four to six hours per week, that’s all. Four to six hours per week, over a three month time frame, you then can start progressing from the Mule Riders Martingale over to the finished bit.

By the time you have six months, training four to six hours a week. I’m not saying put that all in a weekend. Spread it out. You don’t have to train every day. Worst thing you can do is train every day. Spread it out. If you train at the first of the month on the fifth, and you don’t train again til the 25th, that’s okay. If you build a foundation that’s correct, the mule will respond accordingly.

You do not have to train every day. What do I use? I found out a long time ago, correctional mouthpiece. Notice how it bends in the center here, back and forth. It just whisks the roof of the mouth. It’s not a cruel bit. It’s a very nice, quiet, easy bit. Notice it bends on the sides, and notice it rust. It rust. Why does it rust? Because this bit has got sweet iron in it.

Sweet iron makes it feel good to the mule, and my shank. This happens to be my wife’s bit, it’s a custom bit. Yeah, we’ve added some gingerbread to it to make it kind of fancy, and this sort of thing. A little silver and some silver dots in it as well, but notice the military shank.

This right here gives me leverage, where I barely pick it up. Notice my reins are nice and light. They’re out. They’re an eight braid, and they’re done out of parachute cords, and they’re done in a round braid.

Notice no snaps. Snaps. Go home, take your spoon, tap on your teeth and tell me how good that feels. That’s what happens when snaps are bouncing on that bit and tapping on those teeth. No wonder your mule is gapping his mouth and throwing his head.

Go direct in there, nice and smooth and easy, have eight foot split reins. Do not tie them. If you tie those reins and it gets caught on a branch or if it gets caught on its legs. I’ve seen plenty of times, plenty of wrecks, to where they reach down to get a drink, they get their foot over top of the reins, you’ve got reins tied together. The animal flips over or knocks you down in the water, it makes a heck of a mess.

I like split reins. You could put a bat on the end if you want. Just something for some weight, but you don’t want a lot of weight on the bit. You want to just be able to just pick up on the bit, and you get results. I use a double wire chain, or a single. I start out with a double and then I go to single, and then I go to leather.

Notice I do not use leather or buckles. I use nylon and I tie a fancy knot in here, just so I don’t have to have leather to have to maintain, and I don’t have to have buckles that’s going to break. That’s my bridle. That’s my finished bridle. Split ear piece. You do not want a single ear piece that makes them always be worried about their ears, so you want a split ear piece, and you want a bit and a bridle to match.

A snaffle bit is going to have one type of bridle, and how the bit is going to hang, and a finished bit like this is, it’s going to have another type of bridle, so that the bit, again, hangs correctly into the mouth. There’s a little bit about bridles and bits.