Insurance for the Livestock and Equine Owner

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.

What should I feed my mule

Mules Can’t Stand Prosperity — Feed and Nutrition

One of the most common questions I receive has to do with mule and donkey feed and nutrition. Folks want to do right by their animals and make sure they are getting exactly what they need. This article is all about the misconceptions people have about feed and what is good for the animal.

To illustrate, I’ll tell a story.

It was fall and I received a phone call from one of my clients, Ann Mulcay. She has a little mule named Norman that I started years back. Norman is a great little mule out of a foxtrotter mare.

Ann rides a lot of trails and covers a lot of miles with Norman. The spring prior, she entered him in several events at Bishop’s Mule Days. She had a lot of fun preparing Norman for Mule Days. Ann spent most days in the saddle. As with any colt, she was feeding him good alfalfa hay and some grain to keep his energy level up. She also added some grass hay. This was a good combination of feed for the type of exercise Norman was doing.

Behind Every Bush Was A Mule Eater

After Mule Days, it was summer in Arizona. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories. It’s so hot we fry eggs on the sidewalk! That’s almost true. What is true is that only the true diehard trail riders ride in the valley during the summer. Ann may have rode a dozen times over the next few months. When October came and it cooled off, Ann decided to go out on a nice trail ride. A short time into the ride she renamed the trail: “Monster Trail.” Behind every bush and every rock was a mule eater.

Once Norman found the first mule eater (a black rock behind the bush), he decided to take control of the situation. Snorting and going sideways down the trail, just sure he was going to be missing a leg before the ride was over.

Needless to say, Ann was on pins and needles during the whole trail ride. She would just get relaxed and Normal would find another mule eater. Jumping sideways, running backwards, and sometimes spinning around. Nice, sweet Norman could have been sold that day for twenty-five dollars — or better yet, Ann would have paid you five hundred to take him off her hands.

Ann took Norman home and, thinking he just needed to get out more, she tried a couple shorter rides the next week. Ann emailed me and I could hear the frustration in her message saying, “What do I do now? Monsters attached my mule!” I called her on the phone and she told me about the recent trail rides and how Norman wasn’t getting any better.

What Are You Feeding Your Mule?

First, I chewed her out real good for not calling me after that first ride. Folks, I’m here to help ya and I want to make sure that you enjoy your animal and that the animal enjoys his companionship with you!

The monsters were 10 feet tall and wall-to-wall. Once Ann calmed down, I asked her what she was feeding Norman.

Alfalfa hay.

She was awful quiet over the phone for a minute after her answer.

“Now, I know what you are going to say. I am feeding too much good feed. You’ve told me and I’ve been to your clinics and I guess I can’t get it through my head not to do that — and I guess you are going to tell me to change feed.

She was right.

I told her to start changing feed slowly because even mules can get a touch of Monday morning sickness — another name for azoturia. The farmers used to refer to it that way because their draft animals would sometimes have a bit of colic on a Monday morning after standing around without working on Sunday.

I suggested Ann try Lakin Lite pellets. Years ago I would have never considered feeding pellets. I did not think mules could possibly be full and content from eating such a small amount of food in such a short time.

What I did not realize is that the pellets expand after the animal drinks and that produces a full feeling.

Steve’s thoughts on a feed and nutrition program for foals.

What You Need to Know About Pellet Feed

Pellets are high in fiber and useable nutrients. Some pellets include grains, corn, wheat bran, cottonseed meal, etc. These types of pellets are necessary for hard working animals.

If the animal is not fed enough grain, he will first burn body fat for energy and then burn muscular tissue and this will result in a thin and less effective riding mule.

Mules are very easy keepers. I have told people for years that you can feed two mules for the same amount of money it takes to feed one horse. I have proven my theory with my own tests done over the years. I have found that mules will thrive on a good quality grass hay along with a salt block.

In 1998 I started experimenting with Lakin Lite pellets.

Lakin Milling is located here in Arizona and distributes to parts of New Mexico and Colorado. When I’m in California I use products from Star Milling. Star Milling sponsored my mule training program in Pierce College at Woodland Hills, California and the Equine Affaire Expo.

Here is a list of ingredients from the Lakin Lite package:

  • Crude Protein min. 11%
  • Crude Fat min 2%
  • Crude Fiber max 30%
  • Calcium min 0.7%
  • Calcium max 1.2%
  • Phosphorous min 0.2%
  • Copper min 15ppm
  • Selenium min 0.2ppm
  • Zinc min 50ppm
  • Vitamin A min 300IU/LB
  • Ash max 12%
  • Added Minerals max 1%

Alfalfa hay, Bermuda hay, Cane Molasses, Phosphoric Acid (feed grade) Zinc Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Cobalt Carbonate, Sodium Selenite, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Vitamin e supplement, vitamin B 12 supplement, Riboflavin supplement, Thiamin Mononitrate, Niacin supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid and D-biotin.

Any feed must contain enough fiber “roughage” to keep the animal’s digestive track moving properly. Foals and weanlings need around 16% protein while mature mules can get by on 8% protein. It is very difficult to know just what vitamins you are getting from a bale of hay. With pellets you just read the label. For instance selenium in the soil varies greatly from place to place. Consequently you are seeing this mineral being added in the pellets and concentrated feeds.

What you need to know about alfalfa.

Creating A Mule Nutrition Program that Is Right for You

Most mules and horses stand around five days a week. They eat, drink, and sleep — and get ready for the next meal (just like most Americans these days).

The good feed we are on, if not combined with exercise, results in overeating and over weight. At that point, we pursue a weight-loss diet. Mr. Mule is made to last 20 to 30 years and his big ‘ole horse-type body must stand on those little hooves he got from his daddy, Mr. Donkey.

As I travel around doing mule training clinics, I see lots of mules as fat as an old steer, ready for the butcher. It is not good to be stuffing that ‘ole mule full of high protein feed when he is just standing in the corral.

When you are using Mr. Mule two to four hours a day, five days a week, you might consider putting a nosebag on him and adding a little grain before you get in the saddle. If you feed a lot of grain to Mr. Mule when he just sits around on a daily basis and you are going to have a rocket ship on your hands — on top of that, it’s expensive to over feed him.

The colts I ride get fed real good to build bone and muscle. They get ridden in the mountains and I need them to have a lot of energy. A 1000+ pound mule is offered three pounds of grain. Usually he won’t finish it all and then I get right to work with him, either riding, driving, or packing.

Any time I have mules with a sorry attitude (i.e. snorty, bad ground manners, unwilling nature, hard to catch, in general not wanting to do anything but stand in the corral and be left alone) those mules get nothing but the Lakin Lite pellets. I have seen the absolute sorriest mule change his attitude.

These rich alfalfa hays and feeds we are feeding are like drugs for mules. It amazes me to see the awesome change in attitude in a mule by changing his feed. One mule in particular showed an amazing turn around once I changed feed.

Moses, who belongs to Rich Fillman here in AZ, is a great example. When Rich first brought Moses the mule to me, you could hardly get near him. He was hard to catch, snorty on the ground, and did not want you on either side of him. He just wanted to be left alone. So I started my foundation work on a daily basis. I fed this 1000 pound mule Lakin Lite pellets twice a day, measured out in a three pound coffee can (he was extremely fat and the top of his back was as flat as my kitchen table).

I also required him to do some aerobic exercise in the form of hiking trails, pulling wagons, and packing freight all on a daily basis. The first five days I saw a tremendous difference in Moses. He showed a willingness to be trained. He had learned a lot of bad habits over his eight years and had discovered how to bluff all his owners during that time. Not only did I have to work through his attitude, I had to give him patient and consistent training to build a good foundation and help him on his way to being a good mule.

I found that if I added alfalfa hay or other hot feed to his feeding program, he had an immediate negative attitude change.

Over the next two months of training Moses, I had him on the Lakin Lite pellets and he had a really good energy. I moved him to the wagon to start other colts and he became a great lead mule for a pack team. I also spent time in the saddle with him. He eats up a mountain trail like it was flat ground.

You need to get with your veterinarian or good nutritionist to see what will work will for your mule and what program is best for you. Don’t just change your mule’s diet as a result of what you’ve read here… make calculated changes with your vet.

Final Thoughts On Mule Feed

One thing you need to be cautioned on is not to feed grass clippings in any form. I’ll say it again…


Grass clippings should not be fed for a multitude of reasons but mostly because they have weed killers and fungicides that can be toxic to mules or horses. Grass clippings are prone to cause choking because the animals do not have to chew in order to swallow.

Some folks back East have a lot of great grass hay, which is a great feed for Mr. Mule. While spending time back East I saw the prettiest hay I’ve ever seen. Lots of folks though my mules were skinny, but when they climbed on their mules the saddle slipped sideways because their mules were so fat that the mules body could hardly hold the saddle, haha!

The reason I began experimenting with different feeds was from what I read in a book called, “How To Be Your Own Veterinarian – Sometimes” By Ruth B. James, DVM. I got this book from her about five years ago and it sure has been handy.

Oh, you are probably wondering what happened to Norman. I have been getting emails from Ann Mulcay every other day telling me that Mr. Norman is absolutely doing fantastic. He is listening to her, he is finding fewer monsters on the trail and Ann is real happy because she can relax in the saddle again. She is planning to go to the Mule Rendezvous here in Arizona and to Bishop California for the World Championships.