halter training with a mule

How to Install the Come-A-Long Rope On A Mule or Donkey

The Come-A-Long Rope is one of the most effective tools you have for ground foundation training. What makes it so effective is that it communicates in three places: the pole, the top of the nose, and the bottom of the nose. Why does it work so well? It makes your mule uncomfortable in the right place at the right time.

If you do not yet own a Come-A-Long Rope, they are available for sale here from the QVMR store.

Mules and donkeys care more about their nose than anything else and the Come-A-Long rope communicates directly to the nose. When pressure from the Come-A-Long Rope comes down on the mule’s nose, the mule is compelled to move. When the mule doesn’t move, I implement a communication process of ask, tell, and then demand. If I ask the mule to back up and she braces me, I will then tell with more pressure. If she still braces me, I will move into demanding.

The Come-A-Long Rope is such an effective tool, however, one of the biggest struggles mule and donkey owners run into when using the Come-A-Long Rope is actually installing it correctly.

Over the years I’ve had numerous videos capture me installing the Come-A-Long Rope from various angles. To better help my clients get the installation correct, I have compiled the best videos below for reference.

Can A Horse Trainer Train A Mule?

Many people that I talk to about behavior issues with their mules or donkeys, start out by telling me that they have either taken their mule or donkey to a trainer or had one come in. It only takes a couple of minutes to get to the fact that they used a horse trainer for their animal. This pretty much explains the failure to correct the issues the person is having. Let me elaborate for you.

Horse Trainers and Mule Trainers

I have a great friend named Dr. Robert Miller. Bob is a veterinarian who had an interest in mules and donkeys. We use a lot of long ears in the Arizona area because of the heat and the terrain. Since we are friends, I have done some training for him and we have become very like-minded when it comes to mules and donkeys. We have talked at length about mulemanship, horsemanship and the differences between the two.

We traveled together to Brazil in 2006 when I was invited to International Equus where scores of world renowned trainers gathered to share and show their equine ideas. There, we met Fernando Rolin who was our host for the event and was extremely interested in expanding knowledge about training donkeys and mules.

Fernando was a natural when it came to communicating with mules and donkeys. He had a quiet, confident way and a natural ability to work with the animals. I was amazed at how quickly he digested the information we were telling him about mules and donkeys and put it to use. He was so taken with mules and donkeys that he visited the States; I had the opportunity to work with and train him on three different occasions. We even went on an elk hunt in Montana during one of our trips.

A Rushed Approach vs Building a Solid Foundation

While we were in Brazil with so much talent all around us, Bob mentioned that he felt that horses were more forgiving than mules and donkeys. During this discussion, he pointed out that lots of horse trainers take a bit of a rushed approach to accomplishing tasks, rather than building a solid foundation. We agreed that foundation is the single, most important thing you can give a mule or donkey. And we agreed that a good foundation can take around six months to build and solidify.

Most horse trainers work on the “thirties” – they will have a horse train for 30, 60 or 90 days. Rarely does an owner want to pay for or wait for six months while their horse is being trained. With horses, you can often get away with such a schedule because the horse thrives on repetition. But a mule or donkey will not be bullied or bluffed into doing what he feels is not in his best interest. They are smart. That foundation building time is worth its weight in gold when it comes to long ears.

Speaking the Mule or Donkeys Language

But getting back to our Equus experience, I had done a demonstration with the mule. The standing ovation deeply humbled me and I was delighted that so many people were interested in mules and donkeys. I followed Dennis Reese, who did an awesome job of colt starting. His colt was a 14 hand horse that gave him a real run for his money – fighting at every turn. But Dennis is great and he got the job done.

Fernando was next into the round pen and he was working with a young mule. He was attempting to move the hindquarters of the mule. He tried using conventional horse principles and was not having any luck. Mules, you see, need to have this process started from the nose. No amount of looking at the rear end or using s crop or whip will be successful. In fact, a mule is most likely to give a kick or two if you don’t “speak his language” and start your communication with his nose. That is exactly what happened with Fernando. To his credit, he noted that he was surrounded by world class trainers and asked for help. The early responders wanted to tie a hind foot up to get the mule to give authority to the trainer. Bob was on his way to the round pen as was I, and at the gate, he said to me, “that mule doesn’t need to have his foot tied up.”

I went into the round pen and asked to have the mule. The horse trainers were not particularly happy with the challenge of their principals, but within a few minutes of using the come-a-long and a properly adjusted rope halter, I was moving the shoulders and the hindquarters with ease – no fight or fuss. My success was met with a standing ovation and many requests for autographs and pictures.

Foundation is Everything

Now make no mistake – I was not looking for a pat on the back. I was thinking only of the mule and what would make sense to him. There is a big difference between the repeated repetitions and blind faith requests that horses can appreciate and the psyche of the mule. The mule has a great sense of self-preservation and he is smart and cunning about it. He is a thinker. He judges the wisdom of the request, then he plots his response. For him, foundation is everything.

Proving that you are a worthy and knowledgeable leader who builds from groundwork to saddle work without rushing and without setting deadlines is key and at the heart of your success in training a mule or donkey. Teaching your mule that you want him to stand quietly for tacking and mounting, be a good barn and pasture citizen and a great partner in work or under a pleasure saddle starts with groundwork. For me, that means the come-a-long, a rope halter, the mule rider’s martingale, and a pile of patience. Repetition is not as important as making good progress, then allowing the mule to “think it over.” Training all day, every day will not get you as far as training well for a few hours, then let the mule “digest” what he has learned before asking him again.

Horses and Mules Thrive on Different Leadership Styles

I am not criticizing or bashing horse trainers! Not at all! But they are working with a different animal. They are working with an animal who thrives on repetition and being led without a ton of questions. They are training an animal that counts on you to think for him in many instances and he agrees to follow your lead. They are dealing with an animal that wants to be released as his reward and will perform consistently to get that release.

Mules get much of their intelligence and baseline talents from the donkey. Donkeys are awesome to work with – showing you that you must prove yourself as a leader. Whether you want them to pack, drive or ride, you need to create an environment that works with his sensibilities. You need to take your time and build the foundation, one step at a time from the ground up. The same is true of mules. The mule is not seeking the same “release” that is so highly successful with the horse. While a release may work for some skills, the biggest thing Mr. Mule is seeking is the belief that you and he are on the same page. No treats or whips or dozens of repetitions are going to get you far with a donkey or mule. But a clear mind, an honest intent and a reasonable way to work together will get you not only the behaviors you want but the devotion of your mule.

If you think of the typical horse clinic, you will hear about lateral flexion, helping the horse seek and find “release” and such. I’m here to tell you that you can put a mule’s nose on his side and he can still run full tilt. But give him a reason that he understands to be light in the bridle, and your mule will comply. Watch for part two of this article next month. In the meantime, when looking for a mule trainer – make sure you are not hiring a horse trainer who thinks mules can’t be too much different. Find out how many mules the trainer has trained, get references, and if you can visit some mules that he or she has trained. The proof is in the pudding.

Thanks for reading, and remember I am always available for questions. Just give me a holler.

Featured Products

Getting Your Mule to Trust You And Catching Them In Pasture

Getting your mule to trust you and catch him on your terms is something that every mule owner needs to master. Are you the herd leader? Are you the one they’re looking to for leadership? Are they looking to you to provide for them?

The answer to all the above should be yes.

In the video below I go over how to catch your mule on your terms – while in a stall.

But what about catching your mule on your terms when he is out at pasture?

Here is my very simple answer: You just about can’t catch a mule out in pasture.

When your animal is out in pasture, he has everything he needs. He doesn’t need you for food, he has all that “free feed” available. He doesn’t need you for water. He doesn’t need you for companionship. He has everything he needs – so why would he come to you?

Moving Your Mule Out of Pasture

Your mule needs to be pulled out of pasture and moved into a 20×20 stall. Why? Because that mule needs to be dependent upon you for everything. He needs to know that you are his provider and you are his herd leader.

Get that mule out of pasture and put him in that stall – and then leave him there.

Often we think of mules as dogs and want them to be “happy” – so we talk in high affirming voices, we give them treats and we love on them and show affection. Your mule is not a dog. That mule is not looking for affection and affirmation the way humans are accustomed to, and not even the way dogs are accustomed to. That mule wants leadership more than anything else.

By removing your mule from pasture and placing him in a 20×20 stall he will come to see you as the herd leader, and that leadership will bring him more joy than any feed ever would.

As a matter of fact, you are, in many ways, damaging and hurting your mule by leaving him out to pasture with all that feed. In my article, Mules Can’t Stand Prosperity, I talk more about this.

And let’s talk just a bit more about using treats. Do I use treats? Yes. There are two times when I will use treats from a distance to get them to reach to me. As soon as they figure out how to reach for it, then I will give it to them near their chest so they have to back up to get it. That’s it!

Treats often lead to the mule getting into your space – you don’t want them in your space. Remember, you are the herd leader and the herd leader says, “stay out of my space.”

Once Your Mule Is In The Pen

Once your mule is in the pen, you can’t just leave him there. You have to teach them and give them training. You see, the mule is not like a horse. The horse will get out there and just run – not the mule. The mule doesn’t see any sense in running. I will move them from the 20×20 pen into a round pen to teach that mule how to “catch me.” Notice that I use the phrase, “catch me.” You don’t want to be chasing down the animal.

What does that look like? In the first of my instructional videos, How to Communicate with Your Mule, you see a woman with a mule that is hard to catch. By the end of the video, she is doing everything right and you see what catching should look like.

Can You Move Your Mule Back to Pasture?

In short, no. Don’t move your mule back to pasture because he can unlearn everything you worked on and go back to being dependent upon everything else but you.

Sure, it’s cheap feed and that’s a great way to save money, but folks, like I said above, you’re not saving money because you don’t know what’s in that feed. You don’t know how much they’re getting. You’ll see that all those carbohydrates can lead to grass founder and fat pockets. You end up killing that mule by leading them to the smorgasbord.

So what does your feeding program need to look like? You ought to check out this video I did all about feed. It is free, and very instructive on what a proper feeding program needs to look like. I talk about the feed I use, Lakin Lite, and why the pellet is the best feed out there.

A Bit More About Stalls

While this video is a bit off topic, it’s about two mules who are picking and biting at one another as sort of play, I talk a bit more about stalls and feed, and it would be good to check out.

Featured Products

 

Featured Products on Mules & More Magazine

Hey folks, I recently had an advertisement featured in Mules and More Magazine and used that space to highlight my most popular mule and donkey saddles and tack. If you read Mules and More Magazine, have seen my ads, and are visiting my website for the first time, welcome! You can find direct links to the products featured in that ad below.

Again, these are some of the most popular items I’ve sold in the last several years – if you have any questions about whether or not a certain saddle or product is right for you, be sure to send me a message and I’ll get right back with you! That’s right… send a message directly to Steve Edwards… no operators, no agents… just a cowboy who wants to help ya out.

Click here to contact me

The Trailrider Saddle

The Trailrider Saddle is built on a durable molded polyethylene tree with an iron horn encapsulated into the tree to make it sturdy enough to use for packing or working cattle; even trail riding on the roughest terrain. Most importantly, I personally guarantee that this saddle will fit your mule.

I architected, developed and have used this design since 1986 – because it works. The seat, cantle and pommel are shaped to provide a secure seat and comfort for the rider who spends long hours in the saddle. And check out that buckaroo seat! Very comfortable (but don’t take anyone’s word for it – try it for yourself).

 

The Cowboy Saddle

The Cowboy Saddle was made with showing, working and trail riding comfort in mind. Built on durable, molded polyethylene tree with an iron horn encapsulated into the tree makes this saddle sturdy enough to use for packing, working cattle as well as trail riding through terrain – and guaranteed to fit your mule no matter what the task.

 

Neoprene Trail Cinch

I found that a perforated, neoprene cinch helps lubricate very critical areas that should not be dry. It also breathes to allow fresh air in. The other benefit of this cinch is that cleaning is a breeze. Simply hose off and in minutes you can place the cinch back on the saddle. The cinch is anti-bacterial, breathable and allows moisture to pass thru while helping to keep the saddle in place.

Available in sizes 24″ to 42″

 

Heavy Duty Mule and Donkey Saddle Pads

Mule Trainer, Steve Edwards' mule saddle pads

These high tech mule saddle pads are designed and field tested by Steve Edwards and his packers, specifically to fit mules and donkeys. Features soft, colorfast Herculon tops, genuine buffalo leather, and non-slip, antibacterial bottom. Provides comfort for the mule and rider!

Most Popular YouTube Videos of 2017

Another year is in the books. 2017 has been great and I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store. One thing that I’ve done more this year and plan on doing more in 2018 is videos. These short videos are great resources for your mule or donkey training. YouTube is a great tool and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you on that platform.

Make sure you subscribed to my YouTube channel to get the latest videos.

This week I’ve been sharing my most popular articles and products on my site and I want to now share my most popular YouTube videos listed below.

Most Popular Products of 2017

As 2017 is coming to an end, this is a great time to reflect on the year. Yesterday, I shared my most popular articles on my website (you can read that here). These are all great resources that you all used to help with your mule and donkey training. In addition to these articles, I also offer mule and donkey products on my website. Many of you have made purchases over the years and have been a big part of supporting Queen Valley Mule Ranch and for that, I want to say thank you.

My team recently took a look at our analytics to see what was our most popular products of 2017 and there was a little bit of everything. Everybody is in different stages in their mule or donkey training and you all have different needs. Folks, I’m just glad to be able to offer these amazing products to you all. So without further ado, here are 2017 most popular products.

Steve Edwards Most Popular Articles of 2017

Can you believe it folks, 2017 is coming to an end? And what a year it has been! This year has had its shares of ups and downs but has been full of blessings. After more than 35 years of being in the mule training business, I can’t help but be thankful for what I get to do day in and day out and that’s sharing with you all my knowledge to help with your mule or donkey.

This website is a great resource for you all and ya’ll are definitely taking advantage. From articles on The Difference Between a Mule Saddle and Horse Saddle to Establishing Leadership with Your Mule, you are bound to find the answers to your mule or donkey training questions. To reflect on 2017, my team went through and put together a list of the 10 most popular articles from our website during 2017. These are the articles that you found the most helpful in your journey. I’m just glad I got to be part of it.

Here are my most popular articles of 2017.

 

History: It Takes Time to Erase Things From the Past

I love to help mule people with problems. It’s why I do what I do. So when Barbara contacted me about saddle fit issues and tack questions, I was happy to help!

Buying The Right Saddle And Tack Set Up

The background is that her mule had been subjected to long rides using horse gear and the result was pretty clear. Not only was the mule unhappy, but white spots (scalds) had developed near the withers. Honestly, they were pretty darn big. Barbara had done some research and decided it might be best to buy my mule saddle as others had indicated to her that it solved a lot of problems. She was lucky enough to find a good deal on a used one!

Unfortunately, Barbara did not research quite enough so she only bought my saddle. The seller did not offer all the “attachments” so she did not initially purchase “the entire package” that I recommend. As is commonly done, she elected to tighten the front cinch on the saddle to keep it from moving and placed the saddle high on the whither. So without intending to, she actually made the problem worse.

Long story short, Barbara contacted me to talk about these white spots and the saddle, and we discussed the need to use the proper saddle pad, britchen, breast collar and double cinch system to stabilize the saddle. I can’t overemphasize the need to use this entire tack set up for the best possible results. My saddles are not meant to be “stand alone.” Without the saddle pad, britchen and breast collar and the double cinches (connected to prevent slipping) with the back the tighter of the two – the entire point is missed. If everything is properly applied, there is no need to crank down on the cinches or to overtighten any part of the tack. If everything is in place, the saddle is comfortably secure for the mule and the rider; over 40 years of the school of hard knocks has gotten me to this point.

What You Can Do About White Hairs

Now Barbara is a smart person and she loves her mule. So she did exactly as we discussed. She started using all of the parts of the tack package, and she asked questions galore so that she could get everything properly adjusted. Though delighted with the results, she did contact me one more time to say that there was “good sweat” everywhere but where the white spots were. Those areas were dry.

So here is the story. When a scald is severe, not only is there a lot of rubbing and friction, but there is long lasting (sometimes permanent) damage to the sweat glands in the skin. In Barbara’s case, some of the damage was inherited while part of it was her responsibility as she over tightened the front cinch in an attempt to keep the saddle still. Those white hairs and the damaged sweat glands will not go away overnight. And depending on how long the poor practices were in place, the mule may actually never be completely rid of the damage or scars from it. The mule’s tolerance of this kind of discomfort is a true testament to his character, by the way!

So what is Barbara to do? Well, she needs to stick to basics. Her mule should have a good diet, lots of turnout and properly adjusted and applied tack. While she can massage the skin areas, there is no magic “treatment” to grow sweat glands back. Lots of folks do see white hairs dissipate over time, but others may not. It all depends on the duration of the causative factors and the mule itself.

I can tell you that my personal observations have been that paint or spotted mules tend to scald more than the solid blacks or browns. I’m sure I don’t have enough data to conclusively say that, but I mention it just as a caution to paint mule owners.

Do Your Research When Selecting Mule Tack

The bottom line is this: Mules get their skeletal structure from the donkey daddy. We know this. We know that their walk results in a more vertical rather than lateral movement of the scapula. We know that they are “v” shaped in the shoulders rather than “A” shaped like a horse. So it should follow that horse tack is not going to be a good option for what is, in essence, a different creature. Finding a mule saddle, unfortunately, is not as easy as it might initially sound. I have run into a lot of saddle makers who advertise a “mule tree” and when you actually look at the tree, it is still a basic horse tree.

When selecting mule tack, please take the time to check it out completely. Ask questions. Ask for references. Find out if mule owners are actually happy with the saddle. It is so easy to research these days with the internet options available. But also, find out how to use the saddle to get the most bang for your buck. I could have saved Barbara a lot of trouble and additional frustration if we had talked about the entire “tack package” which is also stressed in the saddle videos.

Nobody wants to be told that they have to spend more money! And nobody wants to be scammed. But if you do your research and then follow the directions for use of my tack package, I think you will be happy with the result. I know your mule will be happy.

The Right Tack Makes All The Difference

I had a little mule at Equine Affaire one year. He was a little paint mule who was giving his rider some particular behaviors. The seminar presentation was on problem behaviors. He seemed like such a good “demo” mule as he was pushy, dancing and pulling from his person. She had him looking good – all cleaned up and in his show saddle when we started. As is usual, we start such presentations by asking the owner about their animal and then what they would like to fix. Not wanting to do any damage to her fancy saddle, I asked if she would mind if we took it off and put my trail lite and tack package on him for the demo. She agreed.

While I was talking to the audience about mule behaviors as I changed his tack, we started to witness a remarkable transformation. Once his saddle was off, he stood still. She had indicated that he was a little pain in the butt during tacking. I was up for the challenge. But from the time we took his saddle off, he was a perfect gentleman. I tossed my saddle pad and trail lite saddle on him – NOT ONE FLINCH. In fact, he even let out a sigh and a big yawn (much to the delight of the audience). I put on the two cinches, the britchen and the breast collar. He was like a statue. She asked me “what spell I cast on him?” Truth be told, he was standing still because the tack did not hurt him. He was standing still because as a mule, he knew what he needed and wanted, and this was it!

Now I will say that the little dickens ruined my presentation. I then had no problem behaviors to address. He was no longer dancing around the ring and he was not head butting or cinchy. He stood quietly and then just mosied around the ring on a loose line as if he owned it. His behavior problems were the result of annoying and painful tack. It is not always this simple, for certain, but in this case, a dramatic behavior makeover was done in the blink of an eye!

I am always happy to talk to you to help with any problem you are having. But let’s never forget basic things before we move on to the more difficult fixes. Each spring, check teeth, give necessary shots and worming, feed well, provide lots of fresh, clean water, gradually increase exercise and take care of feet. Use tack that fits the mule and you. I’m always here if you want to give me a holler!

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?”

If trailer loading is a real problem for you, please check out my instructional video that is all about this very important topic

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 rope 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.

Be sure to check out my full length instructional video, Trailer Loading, for more direction on this very important topic