Q&A My Mule Is In My Space

I love hearing from all the mule and donkey owners around the world – and there are a lot of you. Pretty often I get questions from you that I’m happy to answer – love helping mules and owners. Here’s a question that I recently received, along with my answer.

A Question About A Mule Leading The Way

Is it ok to allow my mule to walk off ahead of me? Is allowing my mule to get to the barn ahead of me lowering my position in the herd and making him think he is leader?

Steve’s response

Your mule is to always walk with his nose at your right shoulder, about two feet to your right. If he gets ahead of you, then you’re going to get yourself kicked. Oh yeah, he will absolutely think he’s the leader if he gets to the barn ahead of you. Cutting you off makes him the herd leader.

You’re better off getting my Ground Foundation video and watching that. It will explain everything you need to know about starting over with your mule and training him in foundation work. You’ll be so happy you did.

I’m Here to Help

If you are training a mule, I hope this advice will help you, as well. Just remember, it all starts by building a foundation with your mule.

As always, you can give me a call or send me an email, including photos and videos, about any questions you have about mules and donkeys.

Watching for signs of a runaway mule

Runaway Mule – Ground Foundation Training

How do you train a mule to prevent him from running away out of control? What should you do if he starts running away? How do you move forward with a runaway mule? Runaway mules are a common topic from clients who message me asking, “How do I get him to stop?”

If you’ve never experienced an out of control mule, that’s great, but if you spend any significant time with mules, you will experience a time when you can’t gain control. Knowing how to prepare – both in your training and then for that moment when he wants to do his own thing – is very important in order to avoid some of the more serious consequences.

Most folks think the best way to avoid a runaway mule situation is to buy a mule that has been there, done that and doesn’t do it anymore, but you know what? That mule doesn’t exist.

What Is A Runaway Mule?

So what do we mean when we say ‘runaway mule’? We’re not talking about a mule that decides to run away from home. What we mean is a mule who won’t stop, won’t turn, and is just flat out, out of control. Your mule’s ‘steering and brakes’ don’t work and he basically goes about doing whatever he wants.

After you’ve experienced a runaway episode, the best thing to do is to stop all recreation and start building a better foundation. Stop riding, stop driving, and return to the pen for ground foundation training.

Signs to Look For In A Runaway Mule

Training ahead of time is the best thing you can do to avoid a runaway situation. Again, you can’t remove the possibility altogether – these animals have fright and flight built into them.

That said, when you are nearing a runaway situation, the mule will give you several signs that most mule and donkey folks aren’t looking for.

  1. The mule will stick out his nose. Now he has a hold of the bit.
  2. The mule will tighten all five neck muscles. Now he is bracing against you with all his strength.
  3. The mule will tighten his throat latch – right where the neck and throat come together.

All three of these signs point to the mule telling you he is in charge and when all three of these happen, he has you. You start trying to stop using a right rein one-way stop – most people will use this to make an emergency stop. This does not work on the mule and the next thing you know, you are bouncing on the ground and your next ride is to the hospital – either in an ambulance or a friend is taking you. Needless to say, you want to wear a helmet for safety.

Steve Edwards training a mule using the come-a-long rope.

Proper ground foundation training is your best guard to lessen the likelihood of a runaway mule. Use a 12’ lead rope and do all training in increments of 3, 6, 9, 12.

How to Train In Order to Avoid Having A Runaway Mule

Folks, first and foremost you need to know that equines are dangerous and there is absolutely nothing you can do to take their fright and flight nature out of them. The good Lord gave them that nature and it is there to stay. So no matter how much training you put into your mule, he will still have a runaway nature in him. The best we can do is train him to see you as herd leader and give you the tools to help take back control when he gets a mind of his own.

You want to begin your training from the ground with halter work. After working through ground halter work, you want to move to the Mule Rider’s Martingale, i.e. snaffle bit, and then move into the finished bit. Before riding again, you want to complete six months of training at approximately four to six hours per week and it is critical to train every week. Don’t overdo your training and don’t train every day. It’s easy to want to keep going and accelerate the training schedule, but that’s not how mules work. When you are doing foundation work you want to do everything in stages of 3 – 6 – 9 – 12.

Ground Foundation Training Example Schedule

Every animal is different, but using the Ground Foundation Starter Kit, here is an example of what this might look like.

Today, we start by teaching the mule to go in a clockwise circle to the right three times. After he completes three of these reps, then take him three times counterclockwise. Teaching them to walk in this circle keeps you in the middle of the circle and they are walking around you at the end of a 12 foot lead rope. They are walking slowly and listening to you.

So what constitutes a successful try? You want to see the mule trying to understand and comply with what you are asking him to do. Look for the smallest ‘try’ he gives. If you see him making a stab at what you’re asking him to do, that’s the first circle. The second circle should be better than the first. The third circle should be even better than the first two.

After we get our first three successful tries, we can stop and pick things back up the next day or we could wait until the next week. Ideally, you’d wait 2-3 days before going back to work. Too much training will freeze up the mule. Their brain power for learning something new is like the size of a walnut – so not a lot of power.

Steve Edwards training a mule using the come-a-long rope.

Don’t train every day. You will wear out the mule’s ability to learn. You should train no more than 4-6 hours a week and all training should be done over the course of 6 months or so.

When you return to training after a few days, do three circles in each direction and then quit. Each training session should be about 5-10 minutes and you will want to accept the mule’s smallest try if it’s in the right direction. Two to four days later do six circles each way. Then two to four days later do nine circles and then a few days later go after your 12.The circles are just an example. You’ll want to go about other ground foundation training to establish a good foundation and to let Fluffy know that you are the herd leader.

This is a great series of videos that covers ground foundation training and helps owners learn how to establish leadership over their mules and donkeys.

It doesn’t matter what type of mule you buy or what you want to do with ‘Ole Fluffy – your ability to communicate is what will help you when it comes to the runaway mule. Putting in six months of proper training to build a foundation is the best way to guard against the runaway mule.

How Long Should A Colt Stay with Its Mother

How long should a colt stay with its mother? What a great question. When you’re fixin’ to invest a lot of time, effort, and money into raising this colt, you want to do things right from the very get go and knowing how to manage the momma/baby dynamic is very important to the process. Don’t underestimate the importance or you’ll wind up with issues years down the road that are either very difficult or impossible to correct.

I was actually very pleased to receive a question recently on this very topic from one of my clients. The message read:

Our mule just had a baby! How long should the colt stay with his momma before he is weaned?

Pregnant Mother and Newborn Colt

Mules and donkeys are usually pregnant for 11 to 13 months, generally around 12 months. When the foal is born, it will be on its feet within the first hour. Equines are fairly developed when they’re born – the baby can walk and run on its first day. An equine foal is usually able to eat adult food, like grain or grass, when they are around a month old, although they don’t get much value from it.

The mare’s milk is at peak nutritional value for the first six weeks after foaling. By the time the foal is three months old, he isn’t getting a great deal of nutrition from his mother’s milk, although he will nurse as long as they are together, mostly for comfort.

When to Wean A Colt From Its Mother

So when should a colt be separated from its momma? My experience teaches that it all depends on the individual animal.

When a jack’s testicles have dropped they should be castrated and have their wolf teeth taken out – and then be separated from their mother. These jacks have a much better mind when it’s done early.

A jenny, it’s going to be very similar.

My max time for allowing them to stay with its momma is six months. My minimum time with their mother is three months.

Making the Weaning Process Less Stressful for the Colt

For weaning to be the least stressful, your colt should meet certain benchmarks.

  • He should be at least three months of age, preferably between four to six months old, and in good overall health.
  • He should be strong and healthy and have a good appetite.
  • Don’t wean the colt from its momma when other stressful things are happening, such as a visit from the vet or blacksmith.
  • Don’t deworm or vaccinate when you wean and don’t introduce new mules or donkeys to the momma and baby.
  • Make sure they have their own pen. It’s okay for the baby to be close to momma, but they need their own pen and eating their own solid food.

There might be an exception here or there for one that is ill, but the sooner you get them away from the mother, the better-quality animal you will have and the better your training will go; you do want to start training right away. Don’t wait. Get started with training and make sure when you get them away from momma that you are training regularly.

Q&A: My Mule is Rearing Up

There are a lot of mule and donkey owners around the world. I love hearing from you all! Pretty often I get questions from you that I’m happy to answer – love helping mules and owners. Here’s a question that I recently received, along with my answer.

A Question on Rearing

My mule rears during training sessions when a can is kicked her way. The come-a-long hitch works fine throughout our training, but the rearing continues.

What To Do When Your Mule Rears

The rearing is because of the can, but I would have to see a video of how you’re doing it to give any ‘for-certain’ instructions.

That said, make sure the can starts from a far off distance and slowly work the can towards her.

The other thing that is important to remember is the timing. It’s not the mule’s fault. It’s not the can’s fault. It is all in the timing of the correction. You need to work on coordinating the can and then the ‘bump, bump, bump’ with the come-a-long rope.

Just from what you shared, I would get away from the can for the time being and go back to Ground Foundation Training using the Rope Halter, Come-A-Long Rope, and the instructions found on the Problem Mule: Building A New Foundation instructional video.

I’m Here to Help

If your mule rears just like this mule, I hope this advice will help you as well. Just remember, it all starts by building a foundation with your mule.

As always, you can give me a call or send me an email, including photos and videos, about any questions you have about mules and donkeys.

Should I Be Using A Mechanical Hackamore?

A lot of clients email me with questions about hackamores and I do my best to respond quickly, to get them the information they need so they can get back in the saddle. A recent question came in about using a hackamore. Here is what the client had to say:

What kind of bridle or hackamore do you use on your donkeys? I got a new donkey a little over a year ago and she is very spirited and a quick learner, but she likes to fight her mechanical hackamore when she wants to go. I have tried a couple other bits and hackamores but she doesn’t listen to them at all. I would really appreciate the help.

What Is A Mechanical Hackamore

First, it’s important to understand what a hackamore is and why it’s used. A hackamore is a bridle without a bit. A mechanical hackamore is a bitless bridle with shanks.

The shanks on the mechanical hackamore provide leverage. Rather than pressure being applied in the mouth, the hackamore has a special type of noseband that communicates to pressure points on the nose and chin. When the reins are pulled, the crown of the bridle is pulled down behind the mule’s ears, the nose piece is pulled against the mule’s nose and the chin strap applies pressure against the chin in a similar fashion to the action of a curb bit.

The noseband can be just a rubber hose over a bicycle chain on the mule’s nose or it can be a bicycle chain with braided leather on the nose or it can be a flat nose piece that goes across the nose, and some people even use use straight chain, which is not very comfortable for the mule. Those are four different types of mechanical hackamores. The noseband, the nose piece itself has different designs to get different results.

The braided leather nose piece is the one you start out with because it gives you more communication value and is a little rougher so the mule will start responding, getting his nose on the vertical. As you progress, you’ll move to a rubber nose piece which is not as aggressive as the braided one. When the mule gets really easy and light and you barely have to pick up the reins, then you move to the flat nose piece. These are some of the different stages, in general, for what it would look like to have these different nosebands.

What You Need to Know About Using A Hackamore On Your Mule or Donkey

A hackamore should only be used if you can ride 80% using only your legs. Mules and donkeys care more about their nose than they do their mouth; their noses are VERY sensitive. In this regard, you could be using a hackamore that is not properly designed for the mule and donkey, so it isn’t communicating with the nose. It is also possible that you have it in the wrong place.

There are two things I’d like you to do for your donkey.

  1. Make sure the teeth are floated properly and done every year.
  2. Make sure the wolf teeth are pulled.

After you do those two things, try the hackamore again. If it still isn’t working, it could be in the wrong place. Here’s how you place the hackamore correctly. The hackamore should be placed two inches above the donkey’s nostrils, which is the beginning foundational position. As the mule progresses, you’re going to move the hackamore farther up the nose. Here’s a photo of correct hackamore placement on a donkey.

If you’ve fixed your mule’s or donkey’s teeth and the hackamore is placed properly, it might be that you need a mule and donkey hackamore. I use a mechanical hackamore on all my mules as a way to refresh a mule. This hackamore is top quality and features a rubber nose band and adjustable chin strap. Here’s a link to my mechanical hackamore. You shouldn’t have any more problems.

You can always call or email me if you have more questions about hackamores. I’m always happy to help mule and donkey owners get the most rewarding behavior from their animals.

Happy Trails!

A Great Example of Donkey Driving

I received this donkey driving video from Jana Schmidt, one of my clients. Jana is receiving coaching as she drives her donkey pulling a cart. She wanted to know what I thought of the donkey’s cart-pulling ability and if there was anything she could do to improve.

What You See From the Donkey

In the video, you’ve got a donkey that’s doing an excellent job of listening to the driver. The donkey is framed up and it’s head is down. The donkey is walking with a four-beat gait, which is good. The head is not elevated, it’s balanced and framed up, looking very nice; the nose is on the vertical and it all looks very good.

It looks like the tack and the harness are in a good place, right where they belong. I’m not a fan of the breast collar harness; Jana’s using a breast collar here. I prefer a collar harness instead. The collar harness goes around the neck. It’s a lot easier on donkeys and mules because these animals are very lateral when they are walking and their shoulders will hit the breast collar harness. A donkey can easily get what’s called a Sweeney shoulder, which is damage to the suprascapular nerve, tendons and things like this. So my preference is a collar harness, just be very watchful of the donkey tripping or maybe dropping his head; things like this are indications that the breast collar is putting pressure on the shoulder. My thing is I really prefer a collar harness over a breast collar harness, it does so much better.

What You See From the Driver

She’s doing a very good job of driving the cart. I appreciate that she’s wearing a helmet. That’s great! I can’t see her hands all that well, but it looks like she has great communication between the lines with the donkey. The donkey is extremely relaxed. If the donkey is relaxed, that means she’s communicating very well.

What You See Regarding the Cart

The cart is the right size for the donkey and it’s a nice cart. It’s got a fifth wheel undercut on it which is very, very nice for turning. I noticed that when she stopped, the cart went forward, past the front of the shoulders which tells me she needs to shorten the quarter straps that go to the britchen (the britchen is the brakes), so when she stops, the cart should only move about 2”. If I was going to do anything at all, I would adjust the quarter straps for the breeching so that she has better brakes.

Driving a donkey cart well isn’t easy, It takes time to improve. She’s doing correct training, in that she’s using obstacles to go in and out, that’s always very good. It gives the donkey something to think about. I don’t see her arms moving a lot which is great. That means her communication from her hands to the bridle is very subtle and the donkey is following through with it.

You gotta love donkeys for their disposition. A donkey will show you if they’re unhappy if you’re pulling on them. I think she’s doing a very good job all the way around.


How to Treat Mule Leg Sores

Leg sores are a topic that raises questions all the time. It can be frightening to see leg sores develop on your mule or donkey, especially if you haven’t noticed them early on and when you finally see them, they’re at their worst. One of my clients wrote in with a great question about leg sores and I wanted to share it with you so that you can apply the same solution if leg sores become a problem with your mule or donkey.

“I have a couple of mules that get bad sores on their front legs. The sores are caused by the mules biting at their legs. I have tried several creams and bug sprays, but nothing helps. I put wraps on their legs, but the mules just chew them up. The sores only show up in the warmer months. I asked my vet and he thought maybe it was an allergy, but he wasn’t sure. Only some of my mules have them and none of my horses. Have you ever experienced this? By the way I love the videos you have been putting on Facebook and YouTube.”

Options for Leg Sore Treatment

Don’t you just hate to see your mule in pain? This is a great owner who is doing everything he can for his mule – including talking to the vet. Folks, I can’t tell you how important it is to do your research and find a good vet who you can call on when your mule or donkey needs them.

In this case, since the sores are only showing up in the summer, there are several things that could be causing the leg sores and several ways you can help the mule.

Bot Flies Causing Leg Sores

One thing that causes leg sores on mules and donkeys are bot flies. A bot fly is a bee-like creature that flies around your mule and drives him crazy. These flies lay a lot of yellow eggs which attach to Mr. Mule’s hair. Keep the eggs off your mule’s legs and body using a bot knife; it’s safer that using a pocket knife. You can knock bot flies down with your hand and then step on them. Use a dewormer that takes care of bots before the bot season.

Chorioptic Mange Mites Causing Leg Sores

Leg sores can also be caused by Chorioptic Mange Mites. These mites are very small but can cause irritation, skin lesions, and licking or scratching of the fetlock. They can also cause pastern dermatitis. Mange mites are more common in the summer in equines that are pastured. They can be spread by direct contact or through grooming equipment.

Here’s what to look for on your mule to spot signs of the mites:

  • Reddening of Skin
  • Crust Formation
  • Hair Loss
  • Thickening Skin
  • Swelling
  • Stomping Their Feet
  • Rubbing Against Feeders, Posts, Fences

Here’s what you can do to get rid of these mites. Clip or shave the long hair on the pasterns to make cleaning easier and more effective. This also helps lengthen the contact time so the chemicals work better. Use keratolytic or selenium sulfide shampoo to help remove skin debris and mites.

Insecticides and endectocides have been used to try to get rid of these mites. Chorioptic mange is partly responsive to macrocyclic lactone drugs, such as ivermectin and moxidectin which are used to de-worm equines. Parasiticides used for cows or dogs have been used with some success when applied topically. Doramectin, fipronil and eprinomectin also show some success. The effectiveness of these options is helped when combined with clipping the long hair around affected areas and shampooing or scrubbing to remove all crusts, scales, and skin debris before the use of chemicals.

Leg Sores Caused by Jack Sores or Summer Sores

If it’s not bot files and it isn’t mites, it could be habronemiasis causing these leg sores. Habronemiasis is more commonly known as Jack Sores or Summer Sores because the sores occur most often in the spring and summer, when the fly season starts.

The wounds usually shrink during winter months and will appear to be healing – only to flare up again in the spring. These sores are caused by the larvae of stomach worms. Flies carry and deposit Habronema stomach worm larvae that can cause inflammation when they infect small wounds or other moist areas of the equine’s body.

In the normal stomach worm life cycle, flies pick up the stomach worm larvae in mule manure, old bedding, and rotten feed, then deposit them near the mule’s mouth. The mule eats the larvae that travel to the stomach and, in a couple of months, mature into adult worms that usually cause little damage to the equine. The adults lay eggs that are passed in the mule’s manure. Flies pick up the hatched larvae and cycle begins all over again.

The problem starts when the stomach worm larvae are deposited by house, stable, or face flies that feed on fresh wounds or moist areas. The larvae can’t mature into adult worms, so they move around in the wound and cause swelling and severe itching. The mule or donkey chews on the wound and swollen flesh that surrounds a healing wound, becoming a wound that doesn’t heal and can last for years, getting worse over time.

Here are signs to look for which indicate Jack Sores or Summer Sores:

  • Annoying and unsightly sores
  • Non-healing skin wounds
  • Intense itching
  • Formation of tissue that is red, moist, soft, and bumpy
  • “Greasy” look
  • Blood-tinged fluid draining from the sores
  • Yellow or white hard “rice grain-like” material from the sores

Young and thin-skinned animals are especially susceptible to the pests.

Treatment of summer sores can be difficult, requiring a number of approaches. In small wounds, deworming the animal with either an ivermectin or moxidectin paste dewormer will kill the worm larvae and allow the sore to heal. Wrapping the wound if it’s on the legs will protect it and prevent the mule from chewing on it. In serious cases of infected sores, surgery may be needed to remove the dead or diseased skin.

Best Treatment for Mule and Donkey Leg Sores

Unfortunately, the best treatment is prevention. You should setup a regular deworming program, about every six to eight weeks in warm weather, less often in winter.

Do everything you can to keep flies at a minimum, including the use of fly traps. Make sure to always dispose of manure and bedding properly from stalls and rotating pastures.

Always inspect for fly breeding sites; quickly and regularly remove all fly eggs from tack and the equine’s coat.

Be diligent in keeping flies from infecting the mule’s food and water. Keep infected animals away from the rest of the herd, as well.

Faithful application of a good repellant will also help keep infected flies away from our four-legged friends.

Before trying any of these treatments, you should check with your veterinarian to make sure you are using the right medicine and the correct dosage.

Importance of Fitting a Saddle to a Mule

Saddle fit is extremely important to the mule! People who don’t know mules or donkeys might say that they’re dumb or stubborn. Wrong. They are incredibly intelligent – they just don’t like to be in pain and when they’re in pain, it’s hard for them to do much of anything.

There is a lot to know about getting the right saddle for your mule or donkey. In this article we will look specifically at saddle fitting – however, be sure to educate yourself with everything you need to know about mule saddles before you make your next purchase. Education is the most important thing you can have when owning a mule or donkey.

If you love Ole Fluffy, go to the lengths necessary to make sure the saddle fits and is comfortable. When you do, your buddy will do so much better out on the trail. Why? Because each step will be comfortable instead of filled with excruciating pain.

Another reason to have the right saddle fit is your safety. When the mule is comfortable he moves better and can respond better to your communication. If Mr. Mule is in real pain from an ill-fitting saddle, that’s when you get bucking… that’s when you might see bolting. Getting a saddle that is made to fit your animal is the best thing you can do for the quality of life of the animal, your safety, and overall enjoyment!

When you invest in a saddle that is constructed to fit your mule, not only is Fluffy more comfortable, not only are you safer, not only are you more comfortable and not only is Fluffy safer, but you also save money. You see, a saddle that is built correctly to fit a mule or donkey will fit the next mule or donkey. You may think you need a custom saddle in order to get the perfect fit. Folks, you’ll have the perfect fit as long as that animal stays that same size (but he won’t).

You want to fit your saddle to the animal’s bone structure and the only way you get that is with a saddle that is made with mule bars – Steve Edwards mule bars.

Problems with a Saddle that Doesn’t Fit

As you’re learning more about mules and trying to figure out how to be the best owner possible, you’re discovering that maybe the tack you’ve been using, maybe the saddle you’ve been using might be causing some of the problems you’ve been experiencing.

If your mule is showing any of the following signs, folks, chances are that your saddle is ruining your mule – slowly but surely.

  • Your mule moves away from you when you’re trying to saddle him.
  • Your mule moves away from you when you are trying to get in the saddle.
  • You notice your mule elevates his head when you try to get in the saddle.
  • You are seeing your mule shake his head when you’re riding down hill.
  • Watching your mule, you notice he becomes short-strided.
  • After removing the saddle, you see white hairs, hair loss or sores under the saddle.
  • Your mule shows uneven sweat patterns or ruffled hairs after riding.

These are just a few of the more common behaviors a mule will use to let you know he’s uncomfortable. Maybe you’re not seeing any of these signs, but something just seems off. You’re not convinced that the ‘mule saddle’ you are using is actually a mule saddle. Or, you’re still using a horse saddle.

You need to ride with confidence and confidence comes with proper ground foundation training and using the right tools to communicate with your animal – including a mule saddle with mule bars.

How to Get the Perfect Saddle Fit for Your Mule or Donkey

I first got started with mules back in 1982 and my first mule was Casper. I went to check out this mule, looking to buy, and when I took him out on the trail he bucked me off. I thought, “Well, I’m going to by this son-of-a-gun and get even with him.” That was the beginning of me working with, learning about, and listening to the mule.

I never got into mules to make saddles or instruct others how to care for them, but as I listened to the mule and learned, I discovered that a lot of my problems were rooted in a saddle that didn’t fit. I took to designing a saddle that was made for the mule. That truly is how how my Steve Edwards Signature Saddles came about.

My saddles are the only saddles in the world built with true mule bars. The bars of the saddle are the two pieces of the saddle tree that go down the mule’s back on each side of the spine. True mule bars – my mule bars – will be level with the back all the way from the front to the rear of the mule. There is a little bit of elevation in the back to allow the kidneys to remain safe and protected from pressure coming down on top of them.

Used to be that folks didn’t sell ‘mule saddles’ – rather, they just told mule owners, “Oh, this horse saddle will fit just fine.” I thank the good Lord that our mule and donkey people know better these days. Our animals are better for it. However, with owners being more educated, there are some who would make small adjustments in a saddle to have them appear to be for the mule or donkey – but at their core level, the bar level, those saddles are every bit as rotten as a horse saddle on a mule.

The only way to know if a saddle is made with true mule bars, Steve Edwards mule bars, is to strip everything off of it and look at the tree. Not really an option, is it? This is why it is imperative that you buy a mule saddle, confident that it is truly for your animal.

Every portion of the saddle should be designed correctly. Let’s just take a quick look at one area, the pommel. The space underneath the pommel is called a saddle gullet and it is located over the mule’s withers. It is important that the gullet have the right amount of clearance over the withers. If the height is too short, the saddle will rub on the mule’s withers. If the gullet is too wide, the saddle will sit too low on the shoulders and also rub on the mule’s withers and the fat pocket right underneath the D-rings of the saddle. When you go too wide, you end up being on the fat pockets which can lead to the possibility of kicking out the ribs.

Getting the Perfect Saddle Fit with the Right Tack

Often folks will think that getting the saddle is all they need to do in order to correct a lot of the issues they find in their mule. It’s a great start, but it isn’t going to make much of a difference if you’re using tack that isn’t designed to fit with the saddle.

My saddle is designed to be used with a britchen, a breast collar that allows for full and fluid motion, and two cinches (loose in the front and snug in the back). By fitting your mule with the proper saddle and tack setup, you will see many benefits.

  • The saddle does not rest on Mr. Mule’s spine or poke him.
  • The tree sits in the sweet spot of the ribs, well back from the scapulae.
  • The breast collar and britchen stabilize the saddle and keep it from moving front to back or side to side.
  • The rear cinch is tighter, but neither need to be “cranked down”.
  • The rider feels secure in the saddle.
  • The saddle fits the mule year round and fits most mules.

While I didn’t get into the mule world to sell saddles and tack, I did take it upon myself to do what no one else out there was doing – listen to the mule and find out how to best communicate with him. After decades of working with mule owners, folks just like you, and seeing what a difference having the right saddle fit makes in the life of the mule and the owner, I’m proud to put my brand on my saddles and tack.

I want every mule owner to buy my saddle because I want the best for the owner and the mule and I care about the safety and comfort of you and Mr. Mule!

It is natural to have questions about your mule, your situation, and what you need in order to help get Mr. Mule back on the path to joy so give me a holler, I want to help ya! I encourage you to call me at 602.999.6853 or email me, support@muleranch.com, with your questions.

Mule Tack for Your Mule Saddle – Essential Gear

You have learned everything you need to know about mule saddles, you’ve read about the difference having a true mule saddle makes from other mule owners – a Steve Edwards mule saddle 😉 – and now you’re ready to purchase. The last question is, what mule tack do I need to go along with the new mule saddle?

Before we get into a list of recommended items, it is very important for mule owners to understand WHY certain tack is essential to pair with your mule saddle and why it is essential that the tack be installed in a very particular way.

You Must Ride with A Proper Breeching, Not A Crupper

The most important difference between the horse saddle and mule saddle is that the tree has true mule bars – Steve Edwards mule bars. Without true mule bars, your saddle is going to slide forward.

However, you’ve already made the decision to buy a Steve Edwards saddle. Won’t that solve the sliding forward problem? No. It’s a first step, but it’s imperative to understand that the saddle will still slide forward because the mule is built by the good Lord in such a way that it will always slide forward. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re riding on flat ground or mountains. To keep the saddle from sliding forward, you must ride with a breeching, not a crupper.

Folks will ride with a crupper on their mules, but what they don’t understand is that the mule and donkey tail is all bone – if enough weight is placed on that crupper, it can break the tail and from there, destroy an otherwise awesome mule.

Picture of a mule with britchen placed for steep mountain riding.

In this picture, the britchen is properly adjusted for riding down a steep mountain. This is not suitable for flat ground.

Your britchen is not meant to hold the saddle back – it is to prevent the saddle from moving forward. Each time the hip comes back, it keeps the saddle in place. The rear cinch is ultimately what keeps the saddle in place.

The britchen is essential because as you ride, when the saddle moves forward, the breeching bumps the rump to prevent the saddle from moving forward. That’s exactly what you want.

A Mule Saddle Pad Does Not Fix the Problem

Folks will try to take shortcuts to compensate for using a horse saddle on a mule or not investing in the right tack by buying a saddle pad to ‘fix’ problems. Folks, the gimmicks of shims on saddle pads does nothing but create future problems. I see it all the time, “Oh, Steve, I made this one little change and now he’s not giving me problems no more…” yeah, you may have ‘fixed’ one problem with a shortcut, but you’ve just created three future problems that are going to be much worse.

A mule saddle pad is meant to be used with the mule saddle. If you’re trying to prevent the mule from bucking, running off, or biting then listen to him – he is saying, “I have a back problem,” so you need to change what you’re doing. Fortunately for you, you’ve already decided to ease your mule’s pain with a true mule saddle and because of that, you will get the full benefit a mule saddle pad has to offer.

Two Cinches – Loose In the Front and Tight In the Back

Owning a mule is not like owning a horse. Sure, they’re equine, sure they’re related, but golly, the days of, “an equine is an equine is an equine,” are just gone. We know better.

And now that we know better, we know that the saddle needs to be secured with two cinches – one in the front, nice and loose and one in the back, snug and secure. When you ride with one cinch, the saddle is not secure on the mule’s bone structure and an insecure saddle means restriction on the mule’s overall movement. People think, “Oh, he really did great” after a couple short rides. Now, you’re ready to go on a 5-day ride, and one day in, you have a mule that starts acting up. The mule was communicating the entire time, “Hey, this saddle is moving around and it sure is hurting,” but without listening to the mule, you didn’t know and now you and your mule are in for a rough ride.

On a mule or donkey, using one cinch is just asking to have the saddle roll. Folks, two cinches – loose in the front and snug and secure in the back.

Pulling Collars Are the Worst Possible Breast Collar You Can Use

The name says it all… which way does the pulling collar pull? FORWARD! Folks will use a fixed breast collar and every time that mule takes a step forward, his shoulder bumps the strap, and that, in turn, moves the saddle forward.

The breast collar is meant to keep the saddle from going backwards – not pull the saddle forward. If you have a properly adjusted breeching and a properly adjusted breast collar, you will find they help keep the saddle in place when you’re riding down the trail.

You want a breast collar that allows for full fluid movement from the mule up front. You want a free-moving breast collar that utilizes a pommel strap system – in this way, the breast collar does exactly what it is meant to do – prevent the saddle from going backwards, not the opposite!

Conformation, Conformation, Conformation

You can do everything in the world right – use the mule saddle, mule saddle pad, ride with a properly adjusted breeching, ride with a properly adjusted breast collar, and ride with two-cinches… it will never make up for any conformation defects in your animal.

It is imperative that you understand the mule’s conformation is also one of the problems with the saddle moving. Too fat of a mule and it’s going to be really difficult to keep a saddle on. Nothing you do is going to fully compensate for a too fat mule. Nothing is going to 100% compensate for a mule with a downhill hip, either (here is the best I’ve been able to do with downhill hip).

Conformation is extremely important when talking about how to keep the saddle on and prevent it from moving. Don’t buy a mule because you pet him and he was sweet as peach cobbler – look at the conformation. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, get with someone who does.

“Yeah, I’ve Never Had Any Problems Doing It This Way”

When I share this information at my live clinics I will hear from folks, “Steve, I have been riding without a breaching for years and never had a problem,” or they’ll say, “I just don’t see the need to ride with a second cinch.” I say, “then don’t ride the mule.”

If you care about your mule, you must have everything correct. Riding a mule without the right setup is like riding in a car with bald tires, going down the road thinking that everything is going to be alright.

I have four decades of experience and have learned that there are no shortcuts. If you care about your mule, do it right the first time – and if you’ve been doing it wrong… then repeat after me, “The past is the past, I’m free at last.” You can use my four decades of experience and do it right or you can listen to someone who has been working with mules for two or three years and has limited experience.

Folks with limited experienced don’t see the major differences between punching cows or riding down the trail for a nice afternoon out. It is imperative that you become the herd leader, this animal is looking to you for help and leadership. If you don’t want to take the time to understand the mule, don’t own one. If you’re willing to take the time to do it right, then the list below is for you.

Essential Mule Tack to Go Along with Your New Mule Saddle

Here is a list of what I tell every client who asks, “Steve, I’m going to get a saddle – what do I need for the whole setup.”

  • Saddle
  • Saddle Pad
  • Cinches (2)
  • Breast Collar
  • Breeching
  • Split Reins
  • Stirrups or Tapaderos
    • Proper stirrup width is really important
  • Beta Bridle & Reins OR
  • Headstall
    • You want the proper bridle for the bit you’re going to use

Now, with that list, you’ll find on my store alongside the traditional leather I sell (which is an old-timey leather), I also sell beta products. I have fallen in love with beta because it is maintenance free, easy to clean, light, looks great, and is STRONG. Beta is measured at 650 psi compared to leather which measures 250 psi. If you’re more of a traditionalist, well, maybe go with the leather – I choose to ride beta.

Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t assume you’re mule is okay. Don’t believe that your mule, donkey, ride, or tack is the exception.

Do listen to your mule. Do listen to experience. Do go about things right by your mule.

If you have any questions, I sure would like to help you. You can call me at 602-999-6853 or send me an email at support@muleranch.com. Bottom line – your new saddle will work as designed when you use the appropriate tack and accessories. You will see a huge difference in your mule or donkey and they will be much happier riding down the trail.

Grass Founder Article Featured Image

Grass Founder In Mules and Donkeys

Is grass founder in mules and donkeys something you need to be concerned about? It’s been said that mules and donkeys are stronger and healthier than horses and immune to many equine diseases.

I wish that were true. Unfortunately, that is a myth.

Where did this myth come from? It is actually an exaggeration of the truth. While mules and donkeys are not immune to many of the diseases and illnesses that horses contract, they are more resistant to them.

Mules and donkeys are injured less often, they are less prone to colic, and they are less likely to develop common equine illnesses – with some exceptions, of course. They need the same basic care that is provided to horses because they can, and many will, suffer from the issues that plague horses.

So what about grass founder in mules and donkeys? Should that be a concern? Before we get to the answer, let’s make sure that we have a clear understanding of grass founder.

What Is Grass Founder?

Grass Founder, also known as laminitis, is a painful and potentially harmful hoof condition that can affect any and all equine, including mules and donkeys. There are many different circumstances that can lead to laminitis, the most prevalent issue is allowing an equine unlimited grazing in a pasture that’s growing new grass.

In a recent survey, access to a lush pasture was thought to be responsible for almost 50% of all cases of laminitis. That is a statistic that cannot be ignored. In most parts of the country, the risk for grass founder is highest during the spring and early summer when plants experience their greatest amount of growth.

When an equine has grass founder, they experience inflammation of the laminae in the foot. Laminae are accordion-like tissues, like a shock absorber, that attach the inner surface of the hoof wall to the coffin bone in the hoof, to keep the coffin bone in place. As the outside hoof wall widens, it pushes on the coffin bone, rotating it backwards causing excruciating pain. Very important stuff. You don’t have a hoof, you don’t have a mule.

An animal suffering from laminitis will experience less blood flow to the laminae, which begin to die and separate. The result is hoof wall separation, rotation of the coffin bone, and extreme pain. In severe cases, the coffin bone will actually rotate through the sole of the hoof where it becomes infected. If this comes to pass, the mule may need to be put down.

How does a donkey or mule get grass founder?

The reason mules, donkeys, overweight horses, and ponies get grass founder when eating rich, green grass is because it’s high in simple sugars and starches that are easily broken down by the bacteria in the equine large intestine.

What happens when these simple sugars breakdown, is it causes a production of a substance that can damage the basement membrane, a structure in the hoof. The basement membrane forms the “glue” that attaches the hoof wall to the coffin bone at the base of the hoof. Breakdown of the bond between the hoof wall and the bone is the process associated with laminitis.

Carbohydrate levels in the pasture are highest in the spring and summer months. On sunny days, the level of simple sugars rises in the morning until about noon and are lowest just before dawn. The worst time for an animal that tends to get grass founder to be in the pasture is between late morning and late afternoon in the spring or early summer. That’s not the only time grass founder can happen. It’s less common, but it can happen during a mild, wet autumn or after a drought, any time rainfall, sunlight, and daytime temperatures stimulate grass growth.

What are the signs of grass founder in a mule or donkey?

Foundered animals will assume a characteristic “sawhorse” stance with their hind feet up under their body and their front feet placed farther forward than normal. This is because the equine is trying to shift its weight off its painful front feet to its hind legs. Long standing cases of front foot laminitis may result in loss of muscle over the shoulder area as the donkey attempts to take most of its body weight on the hind limbs.

Thick, “cresty” neck and abnormal fat deposits can be a sign of grass founder. Check your equine often for heavy fat pockets or pads that show up on different parts of the body, such as across the neck, top of the ribs and the dock of the tail.

A mule’s or donkey’s pulse may throb and can be felt on either side of the fetlock. The donkey may appear ‘dull’ and we already know that a dull donkey is a veterinary emergency.

Grass-foundered equines move gingerly, like they’re walking on eggshells and are often unwilling to turn or move at all. In severe cases, they may refuse to stand. If your mule or donkey demonstrates these signs after being turned out on grass, immediately pull him out of the pasture and call the vet.

After equines are turned out to pasture, check them often for signs of laminitis such as heat in the feet and a pounding pulse at the back of the pastern. Check the white line of the hoof trimmings for signs of bruising and/or seedy toe. It can give you a lot of information about the health of the hoof.

Equines that suffer this condition are more susceptible to future incidents. Evidence of bouts of laminitis is revealed by ‘laminitic rings’ on the hoof wall. These can be distinguished from other event rings because they are not parallel with each other, but diverge towards the heels.

Summary of grass founder signs:

  • Sawhorse Stance
  • Throbbing Pulse
  • Appearing Dull
  • Laminitic Rings on the Hoof Wall
  • Reluctant Movement
  • Refusing to Stand

What are the best ways to treat grass founder?

If you suspect your donkey has laminitis, ensure it has access to a deep bed of shavings, easy access to food and water, then call your vet immediately. As with many diseases, prompt treatment can make all the difference. Your vet will probably prescribe painkillers such as phenylbutazone, commonly known as bute, a very common pain killer. Whole sole supports, rather than frog supports used in horses, may be advised. A sole is a flat piece of plastic, ¼” thick in the front and as much as 1” in the back that goes between the shoe and the laminitic hoof. There are different size pads, depending on the rotation of the coffin bone. X-rays may be taken to see the extent of rotation of the coffin bone. These pictures will be essential for the farrier to study for subsequent trimming.

Treatment will depend on the diagnosis, the animal’s health history, the veterinarian’s and farrier’s experience with founder, and their ability to assist each other in alleviating the symptoms, preventing further hoof structure damage and, over time, to restoring a more satisfactory shape to the hoof, and doing whatever is possible to improve the animal’s comfort and ability to move.

Some common treatments include antibiotics to combat infection, anti-endotoxins to reduce bacterial toxicity, anticoagulants, and vasodilators. A veterinarian may also prescribe medication to treat the animal’s pain, as mentioned above. Never give medications to an animal without an examination of the animal by your veterinarian and follow any dosage instructions.

A trained and experienced farrier may be able to offer therapeutic treatments according to your veterinarian’s advice through the use of specialized shoes and shoeing systems to reduce the stress that a long hoof toe places on the hoof structure, and to lift the animal’s heel to reduce stress to the tendons. Shoeing may utilize a combination of heart bars, supporting putty, or other corrective shoeing methods.

Suggestions for Avoiding Grass Founder in Your Mule or Donkey

  • Limit their access to lush pasture. In those equines that have had grass founder before, it may be best to keep them off lush pasture entirely until the grass is more mature. See Getting Your Mule to Trust You and Catching Them In Pasture On Your Terms
  • Restrict pasture time to only a few hours a day, avoiding those high-risk hours between late morning and late afternoon.
  • Use a grazing muzzle which is a strap-on webbing or leather muzzle that allows the equine to eat some grass, but not a lot. They can drink with the muzzle on without difficulty, while allowing them to exercise.
  • Fence off part of the pasture to make a small 20’x20’ paddock without grass.
  • It’s imperative that the hooves are trimmed every eight weeks so that you and your farrier look at the hooves regularly.
  • Float the teeth every Spring so that the mule or donkey is able to grind grass so it passes through their system without causing any problems. If the points of the teeth are flattened, they can grind without pain. The sharp points on their teeth cause them to not grind their feed properly.

Grass Founder is a disease which can result in pain, destruction of inner hoof tissues, and even the eventual rotation of the coffin bone within the hoof. It may involve one, two, or all four feet, and be mild to severe. No matter to what degree an animal is affected, some change is almost inevitable to the internal structure of the animal’s hooves and their future ability to walk or run normally. This disease is painful, crippling, complicated, expensive, and difficult to treat.