How to Measure Your Mule or Donkey for Bit Size

Let’s talk about how to measure your mule or donkey for the correct bit size.

What we’re going to do is take the mule and we’re gonna rub on him a little bit. We’re going to rub on the gums a little bit and then on the other side. Notice how he opens up his mouth. When he does, I’m going to rub on that bar then put my rope in there. I have a knot on the other side… I am going to measure the side without the knot after he gets quiet and then take that measurement.

This meal is about 16 hands hight and has a nice head.

Looking at our measurement, he’s going to be right around five and a quarter inches. You could go five and a half inches. I don’t really like the bit sitting completely against the lifts. Notice how the fat lipped they can, you saw her up pretty easily. So you could even use a five and a half inch on this bit, and this mule will do fine, but that’s how you measure for a bit what you do.

Be sure to check out Bits — Everything You Need to Know.

Preparing to Mount a Mule or Donkey

Steve Edwards: Now we’ve done some of the basics, now what we’re gonna do is he’s going to flop the stirrups around on each side. The reason he’s gonna flop the stirrups around is he wants to get the animal used to the stirrups moving as his legs are in it. Notice he’s doing it on each side, he’s also gonna reach over to the left hand side and move that other one, this way here, the colt gets used to the stirrups moving around just like your feet move around.

Steve Edwards: He’s gonna take the tapadero, he’s gonna bump into his leg, watch him tapping into his leg. Remember this colt has had two months, did you hear that? Two months of foundation training, to where these things are not a bother. I want to get as much of this stuff out of the way now, so that the day we climb on, we want our rides short and quiet. Short and quiet. Okay?

Steve Edwards: Now what Kenny’s gonna do now, we want to move the mule over a little bit, and he’s going to get a hold of the reigns and he’s just got to step up into the stirrup, on the right and on the left side. You’re going to see him first, he’s going to … are you going to do the right side first? Okay, let’s move you around here where people can see it. Now remember, this mule has never been set on before, so what he’s going to do, he’s going to shake the stirrup, shake the saddle so that the mule gets a foundation. Step into stirrup a little bit. See, just kind of up and down. I’m going to bump him a little bit and tell him I want him to stand still. So shake the saddle a lot. Shake it a lot so that his feet move. So that he stands still, there you go. That way he grabs a hold of the ground. Good.

Steve Edwards: Now you’re to stand on the left hand side of the mule so that you’re able to catch him. See, the mule’s just kind of looking around. No big deal. Now Kenny needs to … there he put his body on him and got off on the other side. Good. You see this colt? He’s had a lot of things done to him, so it’s no big deal. Look at his ears. Nice and quiet. Messing around with the bit. I’m going to give him a little pet here. Give him a little scratch. Let him know that’s a good deal.

Steve Edwards: Now Kenny’ll get off on the left hand side. He’ll tip the mule’s nose to the left so he sees him coming off, that left brain sees him. Notice Kenny’s watching the animal the whole time getting on and getting off. Notice, every time Kenny gets on, he watches that mule’s head. He tips the mule’s, mule’s, nose to the left to keep an eye on him. There, now tip the nose to the left, so at that brain keeps … yeah, there you go. Now that’s a little bit too much. There we go. Okay. All right.

Steve Edwards: Now he’ll put his leg across him again. Notice the colt don’t care. This colt says, “Eh, no big deal. All the foundation work I’ve had …” and by the way, the foundation work that got done with this mule was done by one of my apprentices from England, and she had never done any training before in her life until now, and this is the end result.

The Come-A-Long Hitch – What Kind of Rope Do You Need

Steve Edwards: And you’re really bumping on the mule to get it to pay attention, and the downside is, if it’s not wax-coated, it crawls up the nose.

Dave Shrein: Patty says, “I purchased your Come-A-Long Rope. I’ll be trying it on my mule this weekend.” Which leads me to a question that I have, Steve. Of course, you sell a Come-A-Long Rope, and so we’re not here to just talk about your stuff, but you do sell a Come-A-Long Rope. If someone were to get a come-along rope, what are the attributes that they really want? Can they just use any rope, any twine, anything like that? What are the attributes that they’re going to want in that rope, whether it be yours or anybody else’s? Can you just share a little bit about that?

Steve Edwards: Okay, you’re going to want three strands. It’s light strands, and the three strands together make a rope that’s thin and floppy, and it’s easy to use, but it’s also wax-coated. It’s going to be around 24 feet, and the idea… I mean, you can use any rope, and matter of fact, when I do my babies, when I first imprint babies, I use twine on them, because I just want them to move slightly. But the downside is, if you’ve got a mule that doesn’t want to respond, the problem is you’re really using your arm, and you’re really bumping on the mule to get it to pay attention, and the downside is, if it’s not wax-coated, it crawls up the nose, because it gets loose and tight and loose and tight.

Steve Edwards: So, I used to tell people before, take a lariat rope and take one strand out of it, and then that would be good enough. It’s okay. It works okay, and it’s two-strand, but if it’s waxed, it does better. And believe me, folks, by the time you go through the work of making the rope and waxing it, you’ll wish you’d spent $20 for the Come-A-Long Rope. It’s time-consuming.

Dave Shrein: Awesome.

Steve Edwards: Now, all you have to do on my Come-A-Long Ropes is just keep it waxed, especially right there in that first six foot of putting the Come-A-Long Rope on. People tell me, Dave, I get emails and texts and phone calls just hourly, almost on that Come-A-Long kit saying, “Wow. It really works.” And folks, that’s the whole thing is with your bits or with your halters, any of this stuff they’ve got to have respect for it. Here’s what I want you to get in your mind is that, for instance, you want to load your donkey in the trailer. You don’t need to sugar-coat everything to go in the trailer. He’s not going because he doesn’t have respect for the halter. He’s not crossing over a piece of plywood. He’s not following you and this sort of thing because he has no respect for the halter. So, don’t try to do it with candies and all this stuff, or put a carrot on the end of the stick. It’s not going to work. They’ve got to be halter foundational training and that’s where the Come-A-Long Rope along with the Problem Mule video really helps you out.

Mule Saddle Terminology and Getting the Right Size

Steve Edwards: But I’m going down the trail. I’m going down a steep canyon. I’m gonna hold onto the back of this, and hold myself into place as I’m going down a really steep mountain. That helps me tremendously.

Steve Edwards: Hey mule riders and donkey riders. This is Steve Edwards, Queen Valley Mule Ranch. Got some things to share with you, just the basic terminology of cowboy world. There’s a lot of things that folks don’t understand about saddles, and what the purpose of it is. These are western type saddles with a pommel and a cantle. This is a 13.5 inch pommel, and when you climb in a saddle, notice I don’t have my feet in the stirrups. That’s the first mistake that people usually make. They put their feet in the stirrups to see how the saddle fits.

The way I like to see it done is you sit in the saddle natural, like you’re sitting in a chair, and let your legs hang natural. And when you’re doing this, right here between the pommel and your thigh, you wanna see approximately two fingers right in through here. By having the two fingers, that’s roughly gonna be about two inches. And then when you put your feet in the stirrups, like this, that’s gonna kick you back almost three fingers. You can see how my feet are, and how they are in the stirrups, how they would be in the stirrups, and the stirrups really kick you back.

So basic adjustment on your western saddle is sitting naturally, two fingers between your thigh and the pommel. This is the pommel, and this is the cantle. Now, back here in the cantle, I have what’s called a Cheyenne roll, right in through here. And this Cheyenne roll is not only for looks, but I’m going down the trail. I’m going down a steep canyon. I’m gonna hold onto the back of this, and hold myself into place as I’m going down a really steep mountain. That helps me tremendously. And the big thing you wanna think about when you are going down a mountain, heels down, toes up, hold onto the pommel, work your mule so that you go down the hill safely. But this Cheyenne roll back here will help you tremendously with keeping your balance as well.

Anytime you’re riding, you always wanna think about heels down, toes up. By having heels down, toes up, that’s gonna keep you back in the saddle, rather than forward in the saddle. If you ride on the balls of your toes, that’s gonna kick you forward, and you got the perfect way to be able to go forward.

If I can help you with any questions folks on anything else on a saddle, I’d be happy to answer you. Call me, email me. My phone number’s 602-999-6853. Email, steve@muleranch, M-U-L-E-R-A-N-C-H dot com. Give me a holler mule and donkey people. I wanna help.

Mule Riding – Split Reins vs Single Reins

Steve Edwards: I have got clients that they let their mules get their head down and get a drink, the mule got his foot hung up in the reins, they flipped over.

Dave Shrein: I just want to know, Steve, why split reins? You always talk about riding with split reins. Why split reins?

Steve Edwards: Okay. Split reins, the right goes over the left and they cross, and you hold it in the middle, all right? Why split reins? It’s the safest way to ride. You see all the time, people with one rein. That one rein is going to get hurt. I have got clients that they let their mules get their head down to get a drink, the mule’s got his foot hung up in the rein, they flipped over. That’s not a pretty sight. Split reins, if you lose one rein you’ve still got another. If they cross they actually end up being like one rein, but it’s the safest way to hold on to reins. It’s the safest rein to have.

Contracted Heels On Your Mule

Steve Edwards: And that’s the problem, you see we think we can ride the mule and keep the mule without shoeing him.

Steve Edwards: Well heels that are turning in Patty are contracted heels. And that’s the problem. You see we think we can ride the mule and keep the mule without shoeing him. You see when those heels, here’s the heels, when they start coming in, that’s called contraction and when you get contraction of the heel that means your frog’s going to be small. Folks it’s imperative, you know, you don’t have to keep the shod all the time, but if you don’t shoe them properly, those heels are going to come in. Don’t listen to folks that say you don’t have to shoe your mule, you better.

So You Want Steve to Help You Buy a Mule

Steve Edwards: You hear how good they are, and how safe they are, and how easy they are to take care of, and that’s not all the truth.

Dave: We have a lot of folks who are out there looking to buy their first or their next mule or donkey. We got a lot of folks asking, Steve, can you help me buy that? Can you be the one that kind of connects me with the right mule or the right donkey to buy? My question is, can people contact you and have you help them buy a mule or donkey? What steps would you give them? Where would you point them along that process?

Steve Edwards: Here’s the problem with this, Dave, is people want to get a mule because they hear how good they are, and how safe they are, and how easy they are to take care of, and that’s not all the truth. The problem is, I don’t see, I don’t know them, I don’t know how they ride. They may tell me they ride 30 years, I don’t know the mule. The mule has probably been all over the mountains, and done hundreds of miles, yaddi-yaddi.

Steve Edwards: It’s important that number one, you get educated. You’re the rider, you’re the buyer of the mule, the donkey, you get educated before you buy and make the purchase. That way, that education will help you to be able to make the right purchase. I have from time to time had people say, “Hey Steve, I, I’m getting ready to buy this mule. Would you take a look at the pictures and stuff?” And I’ll look at the pictures. I’ll tell them what I feel can be some future problems.

Mule Breast Collars Explained with Demonstration

Folks, your mule breast collar is very, very important. You have to remember that as you’re going down your trail, your mule starts shrinking, your donkey starts shrinking, so your cinches start coming loose. The breast collar and the breaching, the combination of the two, help keep your saddle into place. The proper breast collar really means a lot. It’s very important. I’ve designed a breast collar that’s V-shaped that follows the slope of the shoulders, and it’s not real wide like this that inhibits the shoulders. So, it actually fits the slope of the shoulders.

Why I Don’t Put Rings On My Saddles for Mule Breast Collars

One thing I want you to notice on my saddles, there are no rings on the saddle to attach a breast collar. One of the reasons I do that is as your mule is walking back and forth, the shoulder comes forward and hits the breast collar. The shoulder comes forward and hits the breast collar. Now, you don’t want that saddle to be brought forward when you’re on flat ground. Then, it gets on top of the scapula. So, you want the breast collar to kick into place when you’re going up a hill or dragging something. Otherwise, the breast collar can be an inch and a half away, and that’s the thing about your saddle. You want your saddle to be an inch and a half. It can move no more than that. Right and left. Forward and back. More than that, you end up having a saddle roll, or you end up having the saddle going into the scapula. So, your breast collar keeps the saddle from going back. Again, every time the shoulder hits it, it says to the saddle, “Stay here. Stay here. Stay here.”

Click here for product information on Steve’s Beta Breast Collar

Now, let’s just say we take this saddle, and we rig it in in skirt rigging. I want you to watch that as I pull on the saddle, as I pull on it back and forth, and every time the shoulder hits the saddle, what’s it doing? It’s bringing the saddle forward. You see it, how it’s coming forward? Coming forward. Coming forward. Every time it hits it. So, the saddle’s coming forward every time the breast collar hits it.

With a mule walking very lateral, with your donkey walking very lateral, you need a breast collar that doesn’t make the saddle go forward. You don’t want to use what’s called a pulling collar, with the two straps here and here and comes down. Again, it’s solid. It’s solid rigged. Anytime you get solid rigged, and it hits the saddle, it’s going to bring the saddle forward. Do you see that?

How My Mule Breast Collar Works with A Pommel Strap

So, my breast collar, I take and take a 28″ strap, and I put it through the pommel. This particular breast collar is made out of Beta. We have them out of Beta and we have them out of leather. I prefer the Beta because it’s strong, there’s no maintenance to it. The leather’s nice if you’ve got time to maintain it and keep it oiled and this sort of thing.

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There’s my strap, and then I take the long strap from my breast collar, pull it through, and I go through this strap. Then I buckle it into place. Notice as my mule walks, I’m not bringing the saddle forward. The saddle stays in place, and the breast collar works like it should. The breast collar is only to keep the saddle from going backwards. So, going up a hill, where does the saddle want to go? Back. So the breast collar, then, needs to hook into place. Once this breast collar is now pulling, it’ll hold the saddle into place, but as your mule’s just walking down a trail, you don’t want it to be pulling the saddle all the time. So, I developed my breast collar, leather and Beta, so that it does not pull the saddle forward except for when it has to going up a hill or dragging something. Very, very important on your breast collars.

When to Use the Rope Halter or the Come-A-Long Rope

Steve Edwards: The day that I can just pick it up. And I’m only using the weight of the rope. The day that I can get him to back up. And the day that I can ask him to go forward and stop on two fingers, then I can start going more and more with my rope halter.

Dave Shrein: So, you’ve got the come along hitch, come-a-long rope and then you’ve got rope halter. At what point do you move from using the come-a-long rope to using the rope halter.

Steve Edwards: Okay, excellent question. Again, the softness. My hand is always holding the rope like this. And then my fingers play the tune. The day that I can just barely, with two fingers, ask that mule to stop. The day I can take and move to the right and to the left with two fingers, the day that I can just pick it up … And I’m only using the weight of the rope. The day that I can get him to back up and the day that I can ask him to go forward and stop on two fingers, then I can start going more and more with my rope halter. But understand, I use a combination of the come along hitch and rope halter in the very beginning. So when the mule makes a mistake, I can bump the come along hitch. But if he keeps responding to the rope halter, I don’t touch the come-a-long rope. You know. So it’s really, really important, folks that you remember too, you build a foundation over a six month time frame. Especially when you have a problem mule, a spoiled mule and this sort of thing.

They’ve already been doing it for several years. You ain’t gonna fix it in a few hours. Your trainer is only gonna … He’ll make it look good, by golly, make it look good. But you got six months of keeping that foundational training going, you know. So, does that help you out Dave?

Dave: Yeah, that makes sense. I was thinking about it, ’cause, you know we were talking about putting one of those kits together. Make it a little bit easier for folks to get the tools that they need in the beginning. And I was thinking, well, if we’re gonna put a rope halter in there and we’re gonna put a come-a-long rope in there, when would they switch from one to the other?

Trailer Loading – How to Successfully Load Your Mule or Donkey

These days we’re taking our animals all over the United States, and we do it by trailer. And I find that the safest trailer that we have today is your slack load trailer. It’s open. Each one of the doors get out of the way. The mule sees lots of room to be able to go in and out. The downside is one day some little problem happens and the mule now is afraid to go in there. That’s when you find out if your mule is truly halter trained, because all of a sudden you start to walk, and all of a sudden the mule says, “I don’t want to go.” So that means your halter must be properly adjusted.

We want to make sure we don’t go past three, so we’re gonna ask, tell, demand. So I’m gonna ask my mule to go forward. That’s my number one step. He starts to go forward but hesitates. Then I’m gonna tell him to go forward, and if he doesn’t want to do it, then I’m doing something incorrectly. Also, it could be that the halter is not adjusted correctly. So I’m going toward the halter. I’m going toward the door, I go off here to the left a little bit, then I go off to the right, then I bump him forward again. Don’t keep on doing it. Don’t come up to the gate, turn around, go back, come up to the gate, turn around. Don’t do that, because you’re giving him what he wants, and that is to leave this spot. He figures this place here is a really uncomfortable place. He’s been hurt in there, something’s gone wrong, who knows whatever it is.

So if you go up to the door, turn around and go back out, you’re giving him what he wants as soon as he turns around. Even if you just tie him to that spot and just leave him there, that’s okay. Guess what? He has to listen to that halter. When he pulls back on the halter, the halter bumps him on the poll. When he goes over to the left, it bumps him on his nose. Bumps over to the right, it bumps him on the nose. If the halter is adjusted correctly, two fingers above the nostril and each knot in the nostril as you’ll see in one of my other videos, he’ll respect the halter.

And remember, no pulling. Always bump, bump, bump. In my video, you’ve seen where I’ve worked with a mule that didn’t want to go in the trailer, and that mule dragged me all over the place. But the end result, the mule went in. You never did see me keep on training and doing the same thing over and over again because if you do it a third time, it now becomes a habit. Now becomes a foundation. So you only do it twice. The demanding only comes in when you’ve done it and the mule knows. Then he says, “I ain’t gonna go,” then you’re gonna go into the demanding stage. But when you’re training, never do it over two times. If you do it over two times, they’re gonna know that that’s a fact for them, and you don’t wanna do that.

So I load him three times, I go put him away. I load him three more times, that’s six. Load him three more times, nine. Three more times, 12. Now I’ve got a foundation. Now if you go up to the gate and he says no, I’m gonna ask him, bump; I’m gonna tell him, bump, bump; and I’m gonna demand upon him, bump, bump, bump, and really make him sore.

So the big thing with trailers is today, trailer is far superior. We have a better axle assembly, we have better roads, we have better pulling things like this. Can some of them get in there and be all sweaty and nervous? Yeah, just like you and I. We’ll get in there and … but I’ve loaded this mule 50 times. No, no, no. You gotta remember that they have hair. They have skin. They have brains. And when something bothers them, that’s the way they’re gonna tell you we got a problem here. So sometimes it just takes to tie them in there and leave them in there.

Okay, Steve, he’s pawing. Take 18 inches of heavy chain, put it on a strap, put it above the knee. When he goes to paw, the chain’s gonna hit him on the cannon bone, gonna make him uncomfortable. When he quits pawing, pull the chain off. Hang it up where he can look at it. And he’s gonna think, “Okay.” When he paws, the chain comes off of here and goes down onto his leg. He’s gonna think, “Aw man, if I paw in this spot …” Are you gonna get him to quit pawing? No. Pawing is part of their life. It’s part of the makeup. If they paw, it’s they want something. This particular case, “I want out of here.” But if you make him uncomfortable, saying, “Okay, you paw, I’m gonna put the chains on.” He’s gonna say, “Oh, okay. In this spot, I don’t paw.” It’s very very important.

Always tie with a quick release. Don’t use those snaps, the quick release snaps. Those things there will make a disaster area. Always use a rope halter. Don’t use nylon halters. Nylon halters brace, make an animal brace. They get where they disrespect the halter. If a properly adjusted rope halter is on that animal like you’re gonna see on my videos here on YouTube, you’re gonna find that when that mule pulls back, that rope halter’s gonna mean more to him than that big web. You’re thinking, “I’ll put the web halter and be nice to him.” No, you’re gonna teach him bad habits is what you’re gonna do. Take that web halter, hang it up on a nail, and just think the past is the past, I’m relieved at last. Be done with it.

Thank you very much. We’ll see you in the future.