Talking Mules with a Lifelong Rancher

Steve Edwards: Ok folks, I want to introduce you to a very good friend of mine in New Mexico, a rancher, Rodney Henshaw. He and I have been out most of the day along with my nephew. It looks like you got a couple of grumpy old men but it’s almost our bedtime. We are grumpy probably because we’ve been up all day. We harvested two elks and it does take quite a bit of time. We set up in a place where we could not use our mules. You are going to hear the conversation. Rodney is a working cowboy, a working rancher. He is riding mules and he does have some horses. He has been using my tacks and equipment. You can just hear us talking. You will see, we are tired and we look like a couple of grumpy old men, but I think you will enjoy what Rodney has to say.

Steve Edwards: My name’s Steve Edwards, and here I am in New Mexico. We’ve been elk hunting. Harvested a couple of elk this morning. We’re here on the Henshaw Ranch. This ranch has been around a lot of years. Mr. Henshaw has ranched all his life, it’s all he knows is ranching and cows. He uses both mules and horses, and he contacted me one time and wanted to get to know a little bit more about some mules and then bought a couple of saddles. So I thought it’d be a good thing, maybe ask Rodney what he thought about my saddles and what he does with them. So I’ll introduce you to Rodney Henshaw. So, Rodney, how long have you been in this part of the country?

Rodney Henshaw: All my life.

Steve Edwards: All your life. You got other ranching families before this, was there a ranch family?

Rodney Henshaw: No.

Steve Edwards: No.

Rodney Henshaw: This ranch here has been on my boys’ mothers side, or on their mothers’ side of the family. They would be the fifth generation.

Steve Edwards: Fifth generation.

Rodney Henshaw: That’s been here.

Steve Edwards: Fifth generation ranching. Wow. That’s incredible. So you use mules in this outfit, is that right?

Rodney Henshaw: Yeah I love mules. They’re easy keepers. They’re sure-footed and smart. A lot smarter than a horse.

Steve Edwards: So you started riding my saddles a couple of years ago, was it? How long’s it been now?

Rodney Henshaw: I think it’s been about three years.

Steve Edwards: Three years.

Rodney Henshaw: Three years, and I’ve tried other brands and I have to say that Steve’s saddles will fit any mule. They’re well-made, and another thing I like about them is that they’re light. Some of these mule saddles you buy are just, they weigh 50 or 60 pounds and that’ll wear your animal out in a hurry. I really like his saddles.

Steve Edwards: So get this folks. I have people call me all the time, wanting to know, is this saddle heavy enough to rope with? We just heard a man that’s been ranching all his life, and using these saddles, and this sort of thing and he says he likes the saddles because they’re light. Now I know that we’ve all been at the point where we thought we had to have a big old heavy saddle to do the job, but here’s a man that does this all his life and he prefers the light saddles because they still get the job done. Not so tough on the animals, and he likes the lightness, so that’s really unique. I tell people all the time who I meet and they say, “Can you rope off of it?” And I said, “If you could rope, you could rope off anything.”

Rodney Henshaw: Sure.

Steve Edwards: But most folks think you have to have big and stout, but I appreciate you sharing with us with that. And your wife rides mules too, I understand.

Rodney Henshaw: Yes.

Steve Edwards: Yeah.

Rodney Henshaw: She also uses your saddles and she especially likes them because they’re easy for her to throw up on the mule.

Steve Edwards: And you ride a Cowboy saddle.

Rodney Henshaw: Right.

Steve Edwards: That’s what you ride and she rides the Trail Light I think it is?

Rodney Henshaw: She rides the Trail Light and the Cowboy.

Steve Edwards: And a Cowboy, yeah. Okay. Well good deal. Well, that’s good. Well, folks, there you go, right from a rancher who does this all the days of his life. Rides mules, enjoys them, you can hear how much he says, how much they’re smarter. So we definitely got a rancher here who enjoys mules. But he also enjoys how the mules work with my saddles. Got any questions folks, as always, give me a holler. Thanks for tuning in.

What to Know About Saddle Cinches for Mules and Donkeys

Steve Edwards: Hi, my name is Steve Edwards and I want to talk to you about your gear. Remember, the keyword is mule, keyword is donkey, not horse. The majority of your tack that’s hanging in your tack stores and this sort of thing is for the horse. We have a completely different palette. We have a completely different bone structure. Everything is different. Now, I understand all the time people call me and they want to buy the saddle, the saddle only. And that’s fine. The downside is that the way I designed my saddle is that the breaching, the breast collar and the cinches make the saddle work correctly. And it’s inevitable, everybody wants to use their cinches, thinking a cinch is a cinch.

Your cinches don’t just hold the saddle into place, you have to understand that your cinch is at an area on the belly that must be lubricated. Two things you want: You want the sweat so that it cools, that’s number one thing. You want the sweat so that it lubricates. That’s number two. When those areas are lubricated, you’re going to have less cinch sores. Riding like I do, in a dry desert and even during our rainy periods, it’s really easy to get a cinch sore, really easy. I kept messing with different materials and this sort of thing, trying to figure out what was best. And I found that the perforated neoprene created the sweat. The perforated neoprene allowed the airflow, so it’s like a big cooler setting on their belly.

And what I did on top of that, I put elastic in here, so that it expands and contracts and gives with the animal. And the cinch is very durable. And in this country here, we’ve got stickers, we’ve got sand and this sort of thing. If you don’t keep your cinches good and clean, you’re going to get a lot of cinch sores. And this stuff naturally almost cleans itself. It’s amazing how I don’t have the stickers hanging onto it, the sand and this sort of thing. Cleans it right out.

I have 24″ all the way up to 42″. Excellent cinches. Easy to take care of. And will next to eliminate your cinch sores when it’s properly set up on your mule. Give me a call. I’d be happy to answer your tack questions. My name is Steve Edwards, Queen Valley Mule Ranch.

How To Install a Come Along Hitch on an Ear Shy Mule

Steve Edwards: One of the first things that we want to do is make sure the mule tips his nose to the left, which then has the left brain thinking. It also loosens the throat latch. Second part is the mule drops his head and loosens all five major neck muscles. Now, I want you to notice how she’s not just putting the come along hitch up on the mule’s head, she is rubbing to make it feel good as well. That is super, super important. Needs to be rubbing so that it feels good and as it goes, you can start seeing it’s the mule’s head drop and as it drops, then she can just slide it right over nice and quiet. The mule must be physically and mentally ready. The mule is not physically and mentally ready when the head is up and the nose sticking out.

A trainable mule is head down, nose tip to the left, and relaxed. The mule is naturally relaxed, has natural relaxation. What we tend to do by rushing, what we tend to do by using the wrong communication skills is we tend to make them worry and then they want to stiffen all five major neck muscles to protect themselves. You can see the mule is kind of pulling away from Elanna now. Then, she can just go back and build that relaxation again. There is the relaxation. Now, we’ll start putting on the rope and of course he’s bracing again. Remember, this mule has severe ear problems, severe, and so we must stay consistent with our training. That is every time mule’s head must be tipped to the left, every time mule’s nose must be dropped, every time.

Every single time we need consistency. When the mule pulls away, we go to the next stage after he relaxes. We want relaxation. There it is. See, rubbing and petting on their nose, mules care more about their nose than their head and so we need to keep that relaxation going. She makes every move is slow, even movement, slow, even movement. Now even there the mule kind of stuck his nose out like he was wanting to try to help her get that rope on, which is good. Now, as she starts pulling the slack up to go over the ears, we want to remember we want a lot of slack. Notice how she’s using her hands in such a way so that she can keep the slack and add slack and then she’s going to go back to rubbing on the mule’s head again.

This mule likes to be petted and scratched, which is good. You got to remember this mule has also been imprinted in the very beginning. Everything was just fine and then all of a sudden one day the mule decided to be a problem so the owner said and I know the owner, they’re usually pretty good about handling these things, so who knows what happened. Something happened where this mule went and went backwards a little bit and that does definitely happen.

The mule is trying to figure a way to get comfortable here. That’s all it’s doing. Notice it’s not dragging it around like we’ve had in the past. That’s at least he’s moving his head. With Elanna being consistent and quiet and going slow, she’s keeping the quietness in the mule.

I can’t impress upon you enough, that has to be keeping the quietness in the mule. Head down, nice and quiet, those are nice, quiet thinking ears. That’s all good stuff. There she goes up to start rubbing on his nose. Notice her left hand has a little bit a hold of the halter and rope. She’ll go to rub and see him getting nice and quiet. He’s dropping his head. He’s liking that. She just kind of sneaks the rope right on up over the top his ears, then we pull the slack across the nose. We want it two fingers above the nostril for our next six months. That’s imperative because you’ll have far better communication with it two fingers over the nose and you want to make sure that the bottom jaw is rounded as well.

You can see right now, we want it to be nice and rounded so that it gets nerves on the bottom and the nose as well. The idea here is with the come along hitch, if the mule makes the slightest mistake, we can fix it. There we are. Now, we’re using a combination of the come along hitch and the rope halter. We do not tie with a come along hitch. We only tie with a rope halter. She’s got the mule going. Nice job, Elanna. That was terrific. Now, this was pretty severe. I wish we had some videos of this before. The mule could have a relapse and we could go at that. Anyway, good job.

That’s how you work with an ear shy mule putting the come along hitch on. Then, we’re going to be going to the bridle next.

How to Select the Right Size Mule Saddle

Steve Edwards: Folks, I want to talk to you a little bit about having to set in a saddle. It’s really important that when you’re in a saddle your legs are slightly bent just a little bit. If you got your legs over bent like this you’re gonna have knee problems, you’re gonna have back problems.

Us guys we tend to slouch in the saddle. We tend to slouch in the couch. We tend to do that, but when we do, we’re gonna develop problems, so you want your heels down, your toes up. Notice that when my heels are down and my toes are up, I want to go back.

If my toes are down, and my heels are up, what happens I want to go forward. So, do you want to be forward on a mule when you’re going down a hill? No, no, no. You want to be able to be back, getting back here like this. So always think, heels down toes up. I just saw a picture of a guy that was supposed to be a mule trainer, and he was going into a river, and his toes were down like this, and he leaning forward. I thought, “What in the world are you trying to do?” Not only are you putting the mule off balance, but you’re off of balance.

Okay, so that’s what you want to ride, slightly knees bent, you’re riding western style, this is not English. You throw your shoulders back, your chest out, and you ride 60% on your legs, 40% on your seat. If you set all in your seat, you’re going to have a seat problem, your bottom is gonna bother you.

The other thing folks, is you need to condition yourself. If you’re not in condition, you go out there on the side of a mountain and ride, you deserve to be sore. It’s part of life. You know? So when it comes down to this riding, you want to be able to condition yourself, and you want to be able to set correctly.\

Nice thing I like about my stirrups, you look on my fenders here. Notice how my fenders will move. Back and forth. So if I need to put my legs way forward going down a steep mountain, I can do it. If I’m going to be posting, I can do that. If I want to be cantering, I can do that. I can move my legs any way I want, and it’s how I designed this fender in this saddle. I ride mountains. I ride trails. When it comes down to it, I don’t want to spend a lot of time having to be adjusting my saddle and stuff all the time. Now I do have to do that, but I want to be comfortable. I can be able to swing my legs with ease. Again, that’s very, very important.

Now this is a pommel. When you take and setting in the saddle, as you’re setting in the saddle, do not put your feet in the stirrups when you’re first testing out a saddle to see if it fits you. I can’t tell you how many people set … I’ll have 15 saddles out. They’ll set in every single saddle, or I’ll pick out four or five of them that fit them. They’ll say, “I like this one the best.” You know what? There’s no difference in any of them saddles. All the exact same tree. All the exact same padding. It’s just that they finally found their seat.

Setting in a bunch of saddles is not going to do it. It’s how you set yourself in the saddle. Notice my feet are not in the stirrups. If I put my feet in the stirrups, it’s going to kick my leg back almost three inches. You can see I’ve got three fingers in here. That’s too much. When my legs are hanging natural like I should be setting, and I’m setting correctly, notice two fingers. You would like to see one to two fingers between your thigh and the pommel.

Now I can’t get away with this, ladies, no matter how I do this to you, because it’s not your rump size, it is your thigh size. Like I said, I can’t get away with it but this is what you like to see. I like to see this, on an average, two fingers between my thigh and the pommel. At the closest, one finger. Then when I set my feet in the stirrups, I kick myself back, I’m going to have up to three, maybe even four fingers back. I’m not even getting my feet in the stirrups, I just kick myself back. Look how I changed it.

But when you’re setting natural and you’re setting comfortable. I’m setting comfortable right now. Notice that when I do that, two fingers. Setting comfortable. So that’s what I like to see in a saddle. It’s not your rump size, it’s your thigh, from your thigh and the pommel. This happens to be a 16 inch saddle. I weigh about 200 pounds and I’m 5’6″. So I been riding a 16 inch saddle pretty much most of my life. Hope that helps you on fitting the saddle to you, the rider.

Mule Bits and Mule Saddles – Correcting Mistakes

Steve Edwards: Hey mule folks, donkey folks. I hear this all the time, “I don’t want to make a mistake. I want to get it right the first time.” Ain’t going to happen. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, four decades I’ve been doing this. Have I made mistakes? Yes, 32 broken bones, two hip replacements later, I’ve made mistakes. Don’t give up. It’s okay. You make a mistake, the mule ain’t going to hold it against you. That’s one of the downsides of a lot of these backyard people and a lot of thoughts of being back in the south and this sort of thing, “Hey, you better watch. That mule, you hit him, he’ll wait his lifetime to kick you.” That’s wrong.

I’ll tell you what, I have seen a young mare literally kick a mule so hard that it knocks him off his feet. She spun and kicked him really hard. That mule followed her everywhere. That mule wanted to spend time with her. Why? That mule saw leadership. Look folks, this isn’t, “Okay fluffy. I’ll be all better now.” Don’t do that. They don’t understand fluffy. This is not your year-and-a-half year old child. This is not your poodle folks. This animal can take you out in a matter of seconds. It can break bones quicker than you can ever imagine with a 1,000 pounds rolling on you.

Yes, you’re going to make mistakes. My videos, they’re right on the money. You’ll see me, I don’t take and pre-do anything, preset anything. You see actually time. You’ll see mistakes in there and I’ll talk about it. I’m going to tell you. Did you make a mistake putting a wrong saddle on? Yes. Did you make a mistake putting in the wrong bit? Yes. How can we fix it? We take that bit, and we take it out of its mouth, and we go to the dentist, we get his mouth all fixed right, we get him balanced and corrected. For the saddle, we go to a chiropractor. Don’t you go to the doctor and a dentist? Yes, you do. You know?

We make mistakes, but don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it. Call me. Let me help you. I’ve got the videos. I’ve got the YouTube’s. I’m here for you. Let me know what Steve Edwards from Queen Valley Mule Ranch can do to help you.

Mule & Donkey Saddle vs Horse Saddle

Steve Edwards: Hi, my name is Steve Edwards, and welcome to Queen Valley Mule Ranch. Here at the ranch we’ve been training mules for the past 20 years, educating the mule and the mule rider, also the donkeys, they’ve become super-popular. One of the big things that’s very, very important to Mr. Mule and Mr. Donkey is this, the equipment that’s going on their back and going in their mouth and in their head. Extremely important that this equipment fits correctly. I have a lot of people that keep asking me the same questions, and I keep answering the same way. They say, “How can your saddle fit every mule that you’re talking about?” I simply say, “We got to remember it this way, the mule has the donkey bone structure.” Because of the donkey bone structure, I go by donkey skeletal structure, not muscle mass.

The problem with muscle mass, you watch, within a weekend ride we can conceivably lose 100 pounds, so what are you going to do? Keep adding pads? Then you got to make cinches tighter, and then you’re going to have your saddles roll. The closer your tree sets to the mule’s back, to your donkey’s back, the better. That’s what’s really important. If it’s setting on that donkey’s back, if it’s setting on that mule’s back correctly it’s going to make a big difference.

Now, the skeletal structure, on a donkey they’re V-shaped in their shoulders. Horses are A-shaped in their shoulders. That’s why a saddle goes back on a horse, forward on a mule or donkey. Since they’re V-shaped in their shoulders that saddle wants to slide forward. The other thing is their scapula goes up and down, up and down like pistons, where horses go horizontal. Right in behind the scapula is kind off of a cup, and then there’s a fat pocket, so there’s two places we don’t want to restrict. We don’t want to restrict the scapula because it’s going up and down. We don’t want to restrict this area in here because it moves around a lot. Watch your mule, watch your donkey, watch this motion that you’re going to be seeing, and imagine your saddle putting pressure into it. Now, they also carry weight down low where horses carry their weight up high.

That’s just the basics. What I do is I take the spine, and I measure 7/8 of an inch from the center of my spine to each one of the edges of my bars. By doing that I’m going to be setting up on top of muscle mass. I’m not going to be setting on the skeletal structure at all, and I’m not going to be setting on a fat pocket. That’s the other thing we have to think about. When we go wider there are semi-quarter horse, which is what this tree is, and then there’s full quarter horse bars, which is a wider tree. When you go wider you get up on the fat pocket, which is on the 6th and 7th rib, which is right where you do your cinching. So, when you pull that down that high spot is going to be pressed on, and you can do something as easy as knock out a rib, very simple. Using skeletal structure of the donkey that’s on that mule, and then I can use the same saddle on the donkey, is how I go by my fit.

Here’s the thing what you want to consider, a lot of your saddle makers, they come out, and they measure your mule in January. All right, we’ve got a mule measured in January where he’s fat and sitting around. Then we take and we measure him again in July, maybe August where he’d been ridden, he’s toughened up, doesn’t have quite the fat, you’re going to have a different measurement. The folks that are telling you to take measurements, they’re great saddle makers, they do a good job, but they don’t understand working mules and donkeys on those trails. They don’t understand spending several days in the trail. If they would there’s a lot of things they would change if they understood the bone structure and the muscle mass and this sort of thing of those mules and donkeys.

They tell you to get four wires, put one wire on the wither, one wire behind the scapula, one wire to center the back and one wire in the back. Well, that’s all well and good, but, there again, if we do that in January we’re going to have one fit. We do it in July, August we’re going to have a different fit.

Let’s look at this, this tree that I have here, this saddle stand, is a horse saddle stand. This saddle that I have here is semi-quarter horse. I want you to notice how it fits all the way across, it’s tight here in the back, this is your kidney area, all right? This is your scapula area, right here is your scapula that goes horizontal on a horse, up and down on a mule. Then right in behind here, there’s kind of a pocket area, and that area moves around a lot. Watch your mule, watch your donkey. As you see them walking you’ll see that area moving. If you tighten that front cinch, you put pressure up on that area you are restricting that movement. That’s where you get your white hairs. That’s where you’ll bet your dry spots because you overtightened that front cinch.

White hairs is not a problem. White hairs is just a, “Hey, you better listen to me.” White hairs is a scald. It comes from several things, one, the restriction of that bar. Two, the type of saddle pad that you’re using, and, three, you’re not taking and tightening that back cinch. Now, notice again how this thing fits pretty darn nice all the way across on this horse tree, or this horse saddle stand. That’s what that looks like.

When we take my tree, this is a polypropylene tree that I use, and it’s been very consistent for a lot of years. I want you to notice that right off the bat if I just lay it here it sticks real high in the back, and it goes in the scapula. The way I designed it is as soon as you sit down or tighten the back cinch the pressure comes up off of the scapula. Now I can run my hand underneath here. I am not impeding, I am not restricting that area, and I’m not on a scapula where it’s going to be hitting, all right?

You see that? A lot of people will take and do this and say, “Oh, that don’t fit.” You’re not sitting on the horn, you’re sitting here. When you sit here it takes the pressure up off the scapula and off that area. Now, notice the other thing is I’m not sitting down against the kidneys.

Heres the downside, folks, that’s muscle mass, and your kidneys are hanging. When this constant pressure is beating against those kidneys, you’re going to have something called azoturia set in, and it’s not a pretty sight to see one die of azoturia. What it amounts to is is the muscle gets pounded and pounded and pounded. Then they eat, and they eat a lot of high-carbohydrate feed, and then them kidneys can’t handle it. The kidneys start poisoning the system, and your mule shows what looks like cholic, but it’s called azoturia.

With my tree, you can see here, this is a horse saddle stand. I’ve sat my saddle back two and a half inches behind the scapula. Here’s my scapula. I set it back two and a half inches. I don’t sit on top of the scapula so that I’m getting this. I move it back behind the scapula, and then I tighten the back cinch. It comes up off of that working area, which you can’t do that with this saddle, and then I don’t have the pressure back here up on the kidneys. I’ve got about more than three-quarters of my saddle sitting on the animal’s back on muscle mass. You do not have to have every piece touch on that animal’s back. If it does, as I just told you, kidney problems, restricting muscle.

Let’s just take a look at this. Look at most of your saddles. People want to use one cinch, “Oh, we don’t want to tighten the back cinch. That’s a bucking cinch.” No, no, there’s a reason for that D-ring back there, and I’ll talk to you more about other saddles and stuff, but that D-ring is to keep you from doing this. When you take and tighten up that front cinch, now the back of this saddle comes up. You’ve got the front of this cinch tightened up, and as you’re sitting you’re doing this. Look what the pressure you’re putting here. Why do you have white hairs here, why is it dry? Because we’ve restricted this area, and we don’t have that back cinch.

That back D-ring is important. On a mule the back cinch needs to be tightest, the front cinch needs to be loosest. On a horse, front cinch tightest, back cinch the loosest. That way you keep it from doing the cantilevering. People are sitting in the saddle, this is why it’s going down the road, it’s doing this. No wonder your horse is having problems, if you’ve got standards low enough to ride a horse. No wonder your mule is having problems, and no wonder your donkey’s having problems. We all deserve to get bucked off, and I’ve got 32 broken bones and two replaced hips because I didn’t listen.

Now, want to listen? Here it is, you can see the picture. Any of my clinics, any of my expos I bring trees, I show you. I want you to see when you tighten up that front cinch look what you’ve got. That’s what you’ve got, horses, mules, donkeys, especially when you’re using a horsey tree. Semi-quarter horse bars are the most-used bars on every single saddle. I don’t care what saddle company you go to, they all use the direction of semi-quarter horse. The quarter horse is the center, actually, of the equine world. A lot of people don’t want to believe it, but it is. It has set the standards.

Semi-quarter horse the narrower, full quarter horse the wider. When you go wider up on your mule you are going to have problems up on that 6th and 7th rib, on that fat pocket. So, that is the semi-quarter horse tree that you’re putting on your mules to fit your horses. Here’s my tree. As soon as you sit in it, as soon as you tighten up the back cinch you can see it comes up off the animal. There’s no pressure on the kidneys, so I’m not developing any problems there. There’s no pressure up here in the scapula area. There’s no pressure there. Right where I’m sitting, that’s where my saddle needs to fit, not firm all the way across putting pressure points everywhere. You have to have pressure somewhere, and I’ve got it there. Now, that helps you with the trees. That’ll give you a pretty good idea. Hope to see you in some other videos. I’ll show you how I come about making the Steve Edward’s Queen Valley Mule Ranch mule saddle.

How to Put A Halter On A Mule or Donkey – Properly Installing Your Halter

Steve Edwards: Just go nice and relaxed. Look at the ears, nice and quiet.

Sue: Good girl.

Steve Edwards: Good. The tail’s a little switchy, but not a big deal. This is where you need to spend time on the right-hand side.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: Catching him on the right-hand side. Okay. Once you catch him, it’s okay to put the lead rope around him. Go ahead, put the lead rope itself around the neck now. Just the lead rope itself. Okay, and put it on the other side, and then kind of pull her towards you a little bit. You don’t want to go in there, and get yourself boxed in, and maybe get hurt. Go ahead and pull her to you just a little bit, nice and easy. Nice. Very good, keep on coming, keep on coming. Bring it on out.

Sue: Oh, I don’t want to.

Steve Edwards: You bet. Now, come around to the other side. Now, you see you’re in a safe area. That was nice and quiet. Just touching them nice and quiet. The animal stayed quiet the whole time. Now, notice the frame of this mule. As it walks, head is down, framed up, and balanced. That’s a nice trail animal, but notice the animal went past her, okay, and came around in the front even. Okay.

Only thing that happened was Sue did not teach her a cue, I want you to be here. She knew, but she just wants to go anywhere, okay. Once that halter’s on there, now our communication’s going to be crisper and cleaner.

Now, this is really important. Notice how the halter is tied above the loop here. What happens is, as this mule moves around, moves around, moves around, moves around; see it coming out.

Sue: Um-huh.

Steve Edwards: Pretty soon this is going to come completely out.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: What we’re going to do is we’re going to make sure it’s up in the notch of the poll. You feel this right here? That’s the skull ending right there, in this kind of tender place. We want to be right in that notch. It’s okay, baby. That’s right. Okay, and then we’re going to pull it up, and -bump your nose over here- we’re going to pull it down here. Okay. Go ahead and do that.

Again, we see a lot of people trained and teaching mule stuff, and they’re saying it’s mule classes; but if they don’t have a halter adjusted, their communication is not going to be as crisp and clean.

Man: It is more critical with a mule than a horse?

Steve Edwards: Yes, very much more critical of a mule. Okay, do you see how it’s above? It needs to be below.

Sue: It needs to be below what?

Steve Edwards: It needs to be below this loop. Like this, come underneath.

Sue: Oh, okay.

Steve Edwards: Like that.

Sue: Let me try one more time.

Steve Edwards: Yes, you’ll see horse trainers that are trying to train mules and say they’re mule trainers; but as soon as you see their halters -as I just demonstrated to you earlier, and I’ll demonstrate it to you one more time – is that your communication, you can still get things done, but you’ve got to be more aggressive at it. I want to get away from the aggression. I want my communication to be crisp and clean. Okay. Very good, Sue. There you go, like that.

Now, as the mule moves around, this will get snugger; but it’ll be easy to do. This is the original snap. You just turn it like this, slide it right out.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: Okay. Now, again, if we had the knots adjusted out here, we’d push on it, we’d get a foot. This time we got more. If we lower it down, we get all kinds of feet. The proper way, as far as I’m concerned, for a halter to be adjusted is down here on the nostril. Your communication is crisper and cleaner. Where up here, I’m pushing on bone. It’s uncomfortable. Down here, I get feet movement.

Steve Edwards: Soft, easy, with no pressure. That’s like I say. You’ll see a lot of guys, a lot of women, guys and girls both, say, “Okay, I’m a mule trainer.” Okay, you probably are, but how crisp and clean is your communication? You know. If you’re really a mule trainer, you’ll understand the nose. The nose is the most important part to your mule, okay.

Put a Steve Edwards Rope Halter On Your Mule or Donkey

Catching Your Mule on Your Terms

Steve Edwards: Still nice and relaxed, look at the ears, nice and quiet.

Steve Edwards: Good. The tail’s a little switchy but not a big deal. This is where you need to spend time on the right hand side.

Sue: Okay.

Steve Edwards: Catching them on the right hand side. Once you catch them, it’s okay to put the lead rope around them. Go ahead and put the lead rope itself around the neck, now. Just the lead rope itself. Put it on the other side and pull her towards you a little bit. You don’t want to go in there and get yourself boxed in and maybe get hurt. Go ahead and pull her to you just a little bit nice and easy. Nice, very good. Keep on coming. Keep on coming. Bring it on out.

Sue: Oh, I don’t want to-

Steve Edwards: You bet. Now, come around to the other side. Now, you see you’re in a safe area. That was nice and quiet. Just touching them nice and quiet. The animal stayed quiet the whole time. Now, again the mule is already easy to catch. She’s gentle but we want to build her leadership that says you move your feet when I say move them, and you keep your feet quiet when I say quiet. It’s going to be a little tight, Sue.

Sue: I was going to say it’s very tight.

Steve Edwards: It’s going to be tight. That’s okay-

Sue: She’s not going to like that.

Steve Edwards: No, she’s not but she’ll get over it. Always remember they may like something, but that don’t mean nothing. They may be unhappy with it, that don’t mean nothing. Two fingers above the nostril’s good. They’ll get over it. It’s not a big problem. That’s okay. Keep on tying it the way you’re doing it. You’re doing fine. I’m going to show you a little bit more correct way. That’s very good. What we’re doing here, now, is we’re building her leadership. Animal’s already easy to catch, but he’s easy to catch on his rules not your rules. When we slap our leg, we make him uncomfortable. When we get quiet, we make them comfortable. They’re starting to say, “Oh.” Where’s this going to be handy?

You’re going to be out in the field someplace or someplace that’s hard to catch. They’re going to remember the lesson we just did. Now, we’re going to do this today into threes like we just did. The next time we’re going to do it, those three. Then we’re going to do three more. We’re going to six. Next time we’re going to do it, we’re going to do those six. We’re going to do three more. Make nine and build a foundation. Pretty soon the mule will just be just boom, boom, boom until you get to 12. Now, this is what happens, come on over here, Sue.

The Halter and the Lead Rope Working Together

Steve Edwards: When I go to move, I want my mule to understand that when I stop, I want him to stop back here, so as I come up, and I pick up on the lead rope, and I ask him to come along, really bracing. You see that bracingness there? Now I want him to stop. I’ll wiggle the rope. His feet stops first. My feet stop second, so as I come home here, I’ll wiggle the rope. His feet stop first. My feet stop second. Now as I come along here, and I ask for a stop, let’s see what happens. You see that? I didn’t have to wiggle the rope. He says, “Wait a minute. Your body stopped.” This way here, he doesn’t have to have a wiggle of the rope. His nose doesn’t have to be sore. As I’m walking along, do you see my lead rope? I don’t want to have to pull on this. I want the pressure of the lead rope. Now right there, I got a little pressure, so I’ll give him a sharp bump, and then I’ll come along. Sharp bump. I want him to follow just the pressure of the lead rope only. Just the pressure of the lead rope only. If I feel any pressure at all, I’m going to give him a sharp bump. I want the lead rope and the halter to work together. Sharp bump. Sharp bump. Good.

When I pick up on that lead rope, I expect him to move. If they’re going to stop or put pressure on me, I’m going to make them uncomfortable with sharp little bumps. You can see how the mule is using its neck muscles and using his throat latch to stiffen up to get a hold of him. That’s from us pulling on him all the time. That’s also from an incorrectly adjusted halter. Now it’s natural. There’s not hardly a person out there that has a mule that I don’t see people constantly pulling on them, and they wonder one day, they’re out there leading ol’ Fluffy, and Fluffy’s happy. All of a sudden, Fluffy says, “Nope. I want to go that way.” And they’re mule skiing. I can’t tell you how many mule skiers come to my clinics. Again, when you’re coming to a clinic, you don’t want to go there and have to muscle. Why? No reason for it. If your halter’s adjusted correctly, and if you’re using the correct tool of using your hands rolling rather than pulling, you’re going to be able to have good communication.

Now when I pick up on the lead rope, I expect response like that. Put it down, I expect response like that. I pick up on it. There’s pressure, so now I’m going to change my hand, and I’m going to bump. I’m going to put it down. Now did you like … Oh, oh, oh. You see the difference?

Man: Look what you stepped in.

Steve Edwards: Yeah, well, now I’m going to grow.

Man: That’s the first time.

Steve Edwards: Yeah. Here’s the thing. It’s ask. Then I change my hands. I tell. If I have to, I’m going to demand. I don’t want to have to pull on him. I’m back up in these mountains, and all of a sudden they get scared, I want them to respect that halter enough that I barely touch it, and I get some response. Is it always going to happen? Not always going to happen, but at least they’re going to respect that halter. Again, when I pick up on it, I expect for them to come just from the weight of the lead rope only and not from me pulling on them, so I’ll pick it up, and I’ll ask them to come. As I come up, I’m going to ask. Now I’m going to tell. I’m going to demand. Now I’m going to ask. I’m going to tell. Good. We’re going to ask. Good. All right? Ask, tell, demand.

Now everybody’s going to say, “Oh look, he’s trained!” No, no, no. Three, six, nine, 12. You got to get that in him, and once we hit 12, then we can mix and match.

Bits and Bridles

Steve Edwards: These days you can walk into a tack store and you see all kinds of bits, pretty bits, ugly bits, and pretty ugly bits, all kinds of ways, because people think, “Oh, by golly, I want the one that’s pretty. Oh, look, it’s got some engraving right here. That’s the bit that I want, because it’s pretty. It’s got the engraving on it, really makes it neat.”

No, no, no. What works best for the mule? “But, Steven, looks like your bit has got a little port in it right here. It’s got some shanks on it, and it moves.” No, this is not a bit for a mule. Get rid of it.

“Oh, look, Steve. I got a bit like yours, that moves on each side, moves in the middle, too. I’ve never seen a mule yet with a square in the roof of his mouth.” That’s not the bit for the mule.

“Oh, look, Steve. I’ve got a snaffle bit where it breaks in the middle and it bends on each side, and I got some shanks. Now I got control.” You have control but you don’t have refined communication. When you start getting shanks, that means you’re going to be doing less. If you were really riding, you’d ride with a piece of hay twine right here and that’s all. That’s not the bit.

What I have learned over the years, watching these animals, number one thing that you do is you first balance their teeth. You go to a good dentist, get their teeth balanced, get their wolf teeth pulled. Now you’ve got the mechanical out of the way on the mule. Now let’s start building a foundation.

You first go with my Mule Riders Martingale, then you go into the finished bit. My Mule Riders Martingale is meant for two things, for building a foundation, and for fixing problems, because the communication comes from the corner of the mouth. As you progress, in three months, training four to six hours per week, that’s all. Four to six hours per week, over a three month time frame, you then can start progressing from the Mule Riders Martingale over to the finished bit.

By the time you have six months, training four to six hours a week. I’m not saying put that all in a weekend. Spread it out. You don’t have to train every day. Worst thing you can do is train every day. Spread it out. If you train at the first of the month on the fifth, and you don’t train again til the 25th, that’s okay. If you build a foundation that’s correct, the mule will respond accordingly.

You do not have to train every day. What do I use? I found out a long time ago, correctional mouthpiece. Notice how it bends in the center here, back and forth. It just whisks the roof of the mouth. It’s not a cruel bit. It’s a very nice, quiet, easy bit. Notice it bends on the sides, and notice it rust. It rust. Why does it rust? Because this bit has got sweet iron in it.

Sweet iron makes it feel good to the mule, and my shank. This happens to be my wife’s bit, it’s a custom bit. Yeah, we’ve added some gingerbread to it to make it kind of fancy, and this sort of thing. A little silver and some silver dots in it as well, but notice the military shank.

This right here gives me leverage, where I barely pick it up. Notice my reins are nice and light. They’re out. They’re an eight braid, and they’re done out of parachute cords, and they’re done in a round braid.

Notice no snaps. Snaps. Go home, take your spoon, tap on your teeth and tell me how good that feels. That’s what happens when snaps are bouncing on that bit and tapping on those teeth. No wonder your mule is gapping his mouth and throwing his head.

Go direct in there, nice and smooth and easy, have eight foot split reins. Do not tie them. If you tie those reins and it gets caught on a branch or if it gets caught on its legs. I’ve seen plenty of times, plenty of wrecks, to where they reach down to get a drink, they get their foot over top of the reins, you’ve got reins tied together. The animal flips over or knocks you down in the water, it makes a heck of a mess.

I like split reins. You could put a bat on the end if you want. Just something for some weight, but you don’t want a lot of weight on the bit. You want to just be able to just pick up on the bit, and you get results. I use a double wire chain, or a single. I start out with a double and then I go to single, and then I go to leather.

Notice I do not use leather or buckles. I use nylon and I tie a fancy knot in here, just so I don’t have to have leather to have to maintain, and I don’t have to have buckles that’s going to break. That’s my bridle. That’s my finished bridle. Split ear piece. You do not want a single ear piece that makes them always be worried about their ears, so you want a split ear piece, and you want a bit and a bridle to match.

A snaffle bit is going to have one type of bridle, and how the bit is going to hang, and a finished bit like this is, it’s going to have another type of bridle, so that the bit, again, hangs correctly into the mouth. There’s a little bit about bridles and bits.