I recently received a letter from the State of Arizona. It seems that working with equine livestock and with people in a clinic setting represents the same degree of professional risk as being a police officer of a fire fighter. In light of this, insurance through the State Insurance Fund is no longer available to me for my professional work. I am sure this is related to claims analysis and the like, but it sure puts a different spin on how I will proceed with my work!
Over the years I have been in a expert witness for cases involving equine accidents. I will give you overview of one of the cases to which I contributed.
A Court Case I Was an Expert Witness For
The case involved two women who had been very good friends for over 30 years . One lived in California the other in Arizona . The woman from California drove to Arizona to a nice horse facility with corrals, RV parking lots of trails to ride t meet up with her friend. One lady rode a mule the other rode a horse, The mule was a fine trail mule but had one problem: the mule was very difficult to put in the trailer. After a wonderful week of riding and after enjoying each other’s company riding together as they had for over 30 years, the incident occurred.
On the morning the ladies decided to head home, the lady with the mule started to load the mule into the trailer. Her friend chose to hide behind the truck and trailer peeking around the corner. Yes, the mule was once again giving the owner a hard time not wanting to load in the trailer.
A person watching the lady load the mule came over to help. She started waving her arms to get the mule to go in the trailer. So at this point, there is the person who owns the mule trying to load it, and a “helper” waving her arms to try to encourage the mule to go forward onto the trailer. It is likely that many of us have seen this very same scenario and we may have even participated in this task. But long story short, the mule started pulling the lady away from the trailer pulling her backwards and despite her efforts, the mule backed over the friend who was hiding between the truck and the trailer.
Does Your State Protect You? Mine Does
In most states, there are State laws that are there to protect the equine owner in such cases. Arizona has such a law. Being in the business, I post signs reflecting this all over my ranch. From the gate to the corrals I have these notices and I think everyone should do the same, even if you just keep your animals for your own use.
You may be interested in rest of the story. The lady that the mule backed over went through several months in the hospital and several years of physical therapy, She did not sued for damages but the insurance company did, and in the lawsuit the person helping load the mule who was waving her arms, the owner of the stable, and the lady who owned the mule all had to pay portions of the award either by their insurance or by their pocketbook.
It is pretty clear that no matter what the State laws say or what insurance you might have (home owners or otherwise), suits are likely to result in damages that any participant may have to pay. Even if you only had to pay 1% of a one million dollar claim, that still amounts to $10,000.
Why This Is My Last Clinic
Finding insurance for the equine trainer or owner is very difficult especially when you are training equines and people. I am sad to say that my insurance just tripled in price due to the “risky occupation”. Even though I have never been hurt, nor has anyone in any of my clinics or training sessions that have spanned 25 years or more, the rate is truly unreasonable. So to make a long story short, there is a very good possibility that this will be my last year for training mules, donkeys or people because of the expense of trying to cover my butt.
I love training. I love seeing people try my training techniques and I especially like witnessing the mule and donkey owners use these techniques that make dramatic changes in their animals. But as the world changes we must change. Now I’m sure that there’s always going to be people that will train without insurance. Some have nothing to lose and some just flat don’t care. When you are looking for a trainer, there is so much more to it than just climbing on the mule and riding. There is more to it than just putting the donkey to the cart. Finding a true professional trainer is very difficult. I hear from many people who have had mules trained and have had nothing but problems. I can tell you this is not always the mule and donkey at fault. When I used to take a mule with me on the circuit, I would have someone climb on the mule and ride it. Just before this I would do the demonstrating of turn on the forehand, turn on the hindquarters side passing. Then I would ask the audience who has been riding for 25 years. Hands would go up and I would choose someone to ride the mule that I just rode. In a matter of minutes, it would look like the mule was not even broke!
I was talking with Dr. Robert Miller one day and we were saying how much of a joy it was to contribute to the equine community, not just the United States but all over the world. Dr. Miller has traveled to more countries than I have, but we both enjoy seeing the equine community changed for the good. But we both noted with sorrow that the cost of being a professional trainer and teacher is a rapidly growing concern. It will change the future of the industry for sure and not necessarily in a good way.
Are You The Person I’m Looking For?
I would be interested in feedback from attorneys and insurance adjusters. Please give me a call (602-999-6853) or e-mail me, here. I want to stay in business but as it goes right now my last clinic will be in Fredericksburg, Missouri and I will head back to the ranch because that is all I can afford for insurance for the year.
This has become a very litigious society for sure. I am not sure who can do anything about the fact that some people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. It is not always someone else’s fault that an animal exercises its own will or that the student does not do as he or she is directed. There is inherent risk in riding an animal. We can do a lot to try to limit our risk. We can train well. We can follow instructions. And when we feel that something might not work out for us, we can just say “no”! But ultimately, it is one’s own decision to come work with an animal. If you are working with a professional trainer or teacher, you may be somewhat safer. But when we hear a little inner voice saying “don’t do it”, we should probably listen.
Something You May Not Want to Hear
One other point I would make is that there are times when a professional trainer may suggest to a student that the animal that he or she has may not be the best choice for that person. When I say this, I may see tears from some. I may hear others say, “well that is why we are here – so you can make this work”. Still others will take the information and agree. But know that such advice is not given lightly and is only given after I have had time to observe the animal, observe you, and observe the two of you together. Some things can be fixed. Others are more difficult. A few are impossible. The comment is never meant to be mean or ill spirited. It is for everyone’s safety. Any trainer worth his salt will tell a student if there is clearly a mismatch of animal and owner. But this is just one little piece of this new and bigger puzzle.
I encourage equestrians to accept the inherent risk of their activities and to let their local and state governments know that they do acknowledge that risk. If we cannot find a way to make professional trainers able to do their jobs while being covered reasonably with insurance for the job, we will see fewer quality trainers and have less help available to riders. Your professional trainer is a huge resource to you and your equine.
I am working my mule in harness now and she does well until the wheels hit gravel. I have had some near runaway/wrecks so I put on your martigale with the double twisted wire bit and tied in some longer lines. Not only does that put the whoa on her, she also seems much calmer at all times. Could that be associated with not having blinders on? I get the idea that its the sound of the wheel on the gravel and her not being able to see what’s behind her that scares her. Have you heard of driving mules without blinders? What are your thoughts? This is about a 15 year old mule that I’m training to drive.
I start all my mules in the wagon without blinders, I have far less problems all the way to the saddle .Mules always want to know what is going on a 360 degrees around them.
You are wise to start in my “Mule Riders Martingale” this tool will help the mule to respect the bit you must use it for the next 6 months of foundation training(note the training DVD I send with my Martingale) at 3 months you will start weaning from the martingale to the liver pool bit.
I do not use a smooth snaffle they do fine for a while but they will little by little start bracing the bit.
I rarely use blinders the main purposes of blinder are to get the mule to focus “straight” any time a client brings me a runaway I pull the blinders hen start them from the ground up !
I have clients write me all the time and this letter is one I really wanted to share with you!
For those of you who are like me and think that because you ride very aggressively for seven months out of the year your animals are all well trained and in good shape you don’t worry about exercise the five they are not used.
Here is a lesson for us all.
Brent and I did our research, drove the 5 hours to Kentucky from Cleveland, TN, and bought a tried and true great mule in the early fall of 2010. We immediately started him on a regular riding schedule which also included training him as a pack mule. He did great all Fall and Winter long, never missed a beat. He even survived a 100ft roll down a steep mountain side in the Spring while on a pack trip and got up to pack another five days.
This past Labor Day weekend we decided to ride at Grayson Highlands State Park, Mt. Rogers, Virginia. I thought it would be a good idea for me to ride our newest mule as he is much shorter, 14hh, than our only horse, who I normally ride. Due to arm and neck problems that seem to be aggravated by working over my head, at 16.5hh Rudy makes it hard for me to ride a weekend without some neck pain .
That first day we get to Virginia on a Friday, get settled in and saddle up to take a fourteen mile ride. My mule Mingo is his same good Ol’e self, rides like a great gaited mule should and seems to have an overabundance of energy. They called him “The little mule that could” all afternoon. I never gave a thought to the fact that he hadn’t been ridden in five months, he was after all, full of energy. We did as we normally did. Finished the ride back at the barn, gave them plenty of water and hay, saving the nights grain ration for just before bed. The next morning after they mornings grain ration and more hay and water; we eat breakfast and saddle up the mules. After I saddled Mingo I lead him across the parking lot to where Brent was saddling his mule. Mingo was walking funny, legs all under himself. I ask Brent “Do you think he is lame”?! to which he said ” Maybe he needs to stretch out, they have been standing in those narrow stalls with concrete floors all night”…”Walk him around”. So I did. Now we were with friends and soon after they all started get in the saddle to hit the trail. I think Mingo has walked enough and I mount him just for him to turn around and bite my leather covered stirrup. I thought…That’s odd, he has never done that before. I ask him to move out and he rears up! What! I slide off, look at Brent and hear people saying “I can’t believe he just did that”. Brent and I check his tack, loosing up a couple of things. This time Brent’s off his mule and holding Mingo when he says “Get back on him while I hold him “. I mount for the second time. Mingo’s ears tell me he is not to hot on this idea. Brent says “Goose him a little to go forward”. When I did he reared up, bucked and then fell over on his left side, just shy of on top of me. I had been trying to dismount without good success and he caught my left leg and whipped me down to the asphalt. You could hear the sound of my head hitting the asphalt through the whole valley area. Lucky for me, I wear a helmet. I got up and by the looks on people’s faces they forgot I wore a helmet and were amazed I was up. I say “I’m done…go on and ride, we are staying here”! I left Mingo tacked up at the hitching rail, braying madly for his friends as they all rode off without him. I was mad. I came to the trailer and after about an hour decided that if he was sore I could tell if I gave him some Bute and could ride him afterward. So, I walk to the rail give him a good dose of Bute and leave him again to paw and bray after me. I was mad. I made another decision to also give him Banamine as well. I wanted to have no doubts as to his comfort level when I tried to get back on him again, if he did this again…..he would die of lead poisoning when we got home. I don’t play with my life or anyone else when it come to a dangerous animal.
Three hours later, still tacked up and tied to the hitching rail, he and I (me walking and running beside him) go down a trail for a warm up. He seems fine. We run into Brent coming back early to check on me. When we get back to the campground/barn, Brent puts on a helmet and mounts Mingo…..nothing, he rides him off in the grass. Just like normal. I get back on him, that took a lot for me, and he….asks normal. Yes! I forfeit riding for the rest of the weekend and after we got home he was taken to the vet for an exam. He past with flying colors, We have ridden or packed him near every weekend since. No problems. This was a mighty lesson for me, Listen to your mule!!! Exercise them on a regular basis after periods of inactivity… BEFORE you take off to the big ride and always wear your helmet! If I hadn’t had my helmet I wouldn’t be writing this today, of that I am sure. As it was he crushed my stirrup, skint up my Steve Edwards saddle, cost me a vet bill and put a lot of money in three doctors pockets over a few weeks’ time working on my neck pain.
I want to clarify something here. His soreness was not caused by my saddle. We have ridden him without one single issue, over hundreds of miles, in the same saddle. I was purely that he was out of shape for that type of mountainous, rocky tarain. It was our fault, plain and simple. Use better sence than we did and take a lesson while reading this story.
Sonya Cash Crago
April of 2011 my sister invited me on a wagon train ride in Goldthwaite, Texas. It had been 25 plus years since I had partnered with an equine and I thought I had given up on it. But, I’d had a wonderful weekend and was amazed at how calm and steady the mules were. I thought to myself that maybe a mule was for me.
After returning home, I started my search online and I found “big boy looking for a good home” in Tennessee on Equine Now site. I called his owners and really liked what I heard. He was 8 years old, Belgian/mammoth jack cross, bay with black socks, loved to trail ride, very gentle, and needed a home.
So I set up all the travel and payment needs and waited for my delivery. When his trailer arrived in Amarillo and his huge body at 16.3 hands stepped off the trailer. I wondered, “what have I gotten myself into?” He was so handsome, alert, and eager to roll so we released him in the round pen to satisfy his urge. I spent almost everyday bonding with him and getting to know my big boy. I wanted so much to be the perfect owner and so I asked and researched how to feed and care for a mule his size. (I even registered for a mule clinic with Steve Edwards.)
His previous owners said that they fed rolled oats, 2 flakes of hay, and a salt lick. So I went shopping. Not long after that he got his right hind hoof hung in his halter and had gone down. After cutting him loose he was sore and lame. His scars healed but he continued to be lame, but on his left hind leg which was the opposite leg that had been hung. I brought him to the vet and arthritis was the diagnosis. So we drained the joints and started joint supplements. I had his hooves trimmed and when his hind leg was lifted he acted like he was in much pain and it took some time before he could lower it to the ground again.
Weeks later he started to appear thinner and continued to favor his left hind leg. More arthritis fixes and an old fracture on his fetlock was suspicious and we were sent home. Within the next weeks he began to stumble, was reluctant to go up and down inclines, and his rump muscle was appearing sunken. Many people believed that he was just a mule and that mules just had that appearance, but I was still worried. I made another appointment with the doctor, so we loaded him in the trailer, but upon loading in the trailer he showed so much pain lifting that leg into the trailer and held it up grunting after loading. At the vets he re-injured it leaving the trailer by just stepping out, what was wrong with my mule!! We had a blood test taken and some blood sent off for a Vitamin E test. Meanwhile the doctor did agree his weight and muscle mass was not looking good, so we started him on senior feed and equidyne pellets. Within a week he was found pawing his water trough, we discovered that now he was unable to lower his head to drink, eat or graze. My poor mule, what was wrong?! We gave him a round of muscle relaxers and I started massaging him as best I could. The test came back and his vitamin E level was low so we started a supplement. His diagnosis was EMND (Equine Neuron Motor Disease). I took him in to have a followup blood test, I parked the trailer in a culvert so Hoss could step into the trailer without injuring that leg and all went well until we got to the vets and I realized that he could not walk backwards to exit trailer due to the leg weakness and his muscle stiffness would not allow him to bend enough to turn around in the trailer. My big draft mule was now stuck in my trailer. After returning home, and about an hour of struggles as I used a rope around each hind leg walking him backwards, his big stiff body exited the trailer at the culvert. No more trailer for a while!
His weight began to improve and little by little so did his muscle tone. My sister noticed during this time his sheath swelled to twice it’s size and a large fluid pocket ran the length and width of his stomach, so another call to the doctor but was told not to worry about it. So I tried not to. >
Then one morning Hoss was found on his side in the pasture, unable to rise He had been down for a while and his left side was very banged up from his struggle to rise. The whole neighborhood came together to help my Hoss. Pushing, pulling and a tractor and still he lay there weak and shaking. The decision was made to roll him to his right side that was stronger and within a few tries he made it up. Very weak and banged up, but he was standing.
“Please help my big boy, Lord,” I prayed.
I called around looking for a vet that had more time to dedicate towards Hoss’ cause. After meeting Hoss Dr. B asked me how old he was and I said he was sold to me in April as an 8 year old. After a long pause he replied “are you sure they didn’t say 18?” so now I’m told he is even older than I thought, doesn’t matter I am now so attached to my gentle giant and so is my whole family. I was hoping that Hoss would heal quickly because my sister and I eagerly awaited the Steve Edwards mule clinic in October. The time came for the clinic and Hoss was doing well so we trailered up and headed to get all our answers to, “Why Does Our Mule Do That?”
The first night at the clinic I was so excited to meet Steve and get a better connection with Hoss, but as I was talking with Steve my husband came in and said “Hoss is laying down in his pen”! I tried to act calm. Now the owner of a normal mule wouldn’t blink an eye to this news, but I owned Hoss and he was far from the normal mule! So I went to see… Hoss was laying i the small pen with his head under the side panel. His breathing was shallow and gave us a scare of death. After trying to raise his head we (my family and all the clinic goers) decided we needed to disassemble the pen. My sister ran to get Steve Edwards and then the struggle to get him up began… (Thought I would let you fill this in). To this day his Vitamin E is back to normal, he has gained weight, but still is unable to lay down and then rise. We are still searching all possibilities and reasons for his troubles. We are currently deciding on having him tested for PSSM, because of other symptoms he has.
I must say that my mule is far from ordinary! “Steve why does my mule do that?” As you know by now, I lost my mule on 8000 acres of Texas ranch land.
People searched on foot, four wheeler, and horseback and no luck for most of the day. After locating my mule and joining the clinic I really enjoyed myself. I learned the importance of “ask, tell, and demand” using the come along, which helped getting what I wanted relayed to my mule and enforcing it. I had trouble keeping and getting back my mules attention until I learned the “left, right, left, right”. I love the training martingale. I is so much more effective than the bit I was using. It’s not all about in the saddle; you need to have a solid ground work foundation first! Most of all I loved being with all the other mule lovers and learning. Steve is wonderful, patient, humorous and is supported by his wife who is equally knowledgeable working with the mules and their tack. My sister and I hope to join another clinic of Steve’s if he will have Hoss (runaway) and I (Pete).
Steve, Elizabeth and I have been so busy and didn’t have a camera when we tacked up but we will get a picture of the mules in their tack to you real soon. Please let me know what else I can do to help with the story. Again we had a WONDERFUL time and look forward to another clinic.
Thank you again,
Contact the Ranch
Queen Valley Mule Ranch
1855 W Running Deer
Queen Valley, AZ 85118
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