Many of my mule friends and clients are what I fondly call “weekend riders”. They work all week long and then load their mules into a trailer and go off to join friends for a trail ride. It is relaxing, fun, and scenic. It is why many of us own mules and horses. So let me spend a few minutes talking about being ready for the ride.
Mr. Mule Goes Trail Riding
Mules and horses have bones and muscles the same as we do. If not exercised, they become “flabby” just like a person does. If not used, they can lose strength and stamina. And if not gradually conditioned for exercise tolerance, your mule can become sore and unhappy – just like you! So what can we do to ready our mule and horses for our trail riding season? Let’s look at some basics.
The Diet Owners Need to Consider for their Mules
We need to start out by making sure our animals get the proper diet for the activity that we will be asking them to do. Sometimes, I see fat mules – ones that have been fed as if they are exercising even when they are not. The other extreme is that mules will be thin, perhaps because they have not had nutritious feed, even for a sedentary life. So we need to take a look at our mule and get an idea of what kind of shape he is in.
Mules are generally easy keepers. If their teeth are cared for yearly and they get good turnout, they likely need quality forage as the largest part of their diets. They do not need the “complete feeds” that horses often get in pellet form. Instead, I usually recommend that they get oats in a feedbag before exercise to give them energy, but they do not need other sweet feeds or the like. If you are concerned about your hay and it’s nutritional value, hay testing is available and you can supplement accordingly.
Your Mule is Craving an Exercise Program
Once we determine feed, we need to start an exercise program that is gradual and progressive. It is not wise to pull your mule out of a winter pasture and head out on a mountainous 20 mile ride if he has not been ridden all winter.
Instead, you can even begin by exercising your mule in a round pen. Take the opportunity to refresh his response to the bit and familiarity with tack. Then start riding easier tracks for 30-60 minutes a few times a week and then increase the time and the difficulty. Your mule will become more ready for longer more strenuous rides using this technique. And by not stressing him, you will avoid bouts of colic, tying up, and generalized soreness. You may have to be prepared to decline a big ride early on in the year if you don’t get the opportunity to get your mule or yourself ready. There is no ride that is worth risking your equine’s well being or your own.
If you are lucky enough to live in a climate where you can ride all year around, you may not have the issue of conditioning the mule for the ride. Perhaps you have been riding regularly all year. In such cases, you should just make sure that you don’t change what you are asking of your mule dramatically in a sudden fashion.
Most back yard mules are not ready to take on the Grand Canyon. But if you ride your mules in mountains and hot weather routinely, you may not have as much preparation required as someone who only rides seasonally or occasionally.
Healthcare for Your Mule and What You Need to Consider
Another part of getting your mule ready to ride is to update his general healthcare. Make sure he has his shots. Rabies and tetanus are pretty routine in all areas of the country and they combat common, preventable conditions. Your vet will also recommend other vaccines that are commonly needed in your area.
Make sure you tend to your mule’s teeth. I suggest that they be floated annually unless otherwise recommended by your veterinarian. Your mule’s teeth must be in good shape not only for eating, but also to facilitate good responsiveness and tolerance of the bit you use.
It’s Gotta Be the Shoes
Shoes are also something to consider. Depending on the terrain and the condition of your mule’s feet along with preferences that you may have, you will need to be certain that trims are adequate, shoes or boots are used if you want or need them, and that your mule is not lame. Mules can still abscess, have thrush, or founder. They tend to be very stoic so a good evaluation and assessment of their soundness is always a valuable practice.
Other Considerations for the Mule Owner
Other considerations may include using electrolytes for long or strenuous rides; having water from home along with you if you travel, taking some hay from home for long trips, and having a first aid kit and rescue boot should you need it.
One of my students likes to keep a “ride log”. She jots down dates of rides, approximate distance and terrain and makes sure that she “builds” a good foundation for those big rides. Since she only gets to ride in the spring, summer, and fall, she starts building up again each year in the spring and works towards some very aggressive and long rides in the late fall. Heck, there are even trail riding apps for your phone that allow you to generate a map of where you have ridden complete with distance, elevation changes, and a map of the route.
So have some fun getting your mule ready for the terrain and enjoy every moment you have with your friend!
As always, feel free to give me a holler if I can offer any other suggestions to you. I’d absolutely love to share pictures of you and your buddy on the trail so feel free to send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll share them on my Facebook Page and here on MuleRanch.com.