History: It Takes Time to Erase Things From the Past

I love to help mule people with problems. It’s why I do what I do. So when Barbara contacted me about saddle fit issues and tack questions, I was happy to help!

Buying The Right Saddle And Tack Set Up

The background is that her mule had been subjected to long rides using horse gear and the result was pretty clear. Not only was the mule unhappy, but white spots (scalds) had developed near the withers. Honestly, they were pretty darn big. Barbara had done some research and decided it might be best to buy my mule saddle as others had indicated to her that it solved a lot of problems. She was lucky enough to find a good deal on a used one!

Unfortunately, Barbara did not research quite enough so she only bought my saddle. The seller did not offer all the “attachments” so she did not initially purchase “the entire package” that I recommend. As is commonly done, she elected to tighten the front cinch on the saddle to keep it from moving and placed the saddle high on the whither. So without intending to, she actually made the problem worse.

Long story short, Barbara contacted me to talk about these white spots and the saddle, and we discussed the need to use the proper saddle pad, britchen, breast collar and double cinch system to stabilize the saddle. I can’t overemphasize the need to use this entire tack set up for the best possible results. My saddles are not meant to be “stand alone.” Without the saddle pad, britchen and breast collar and the double cinches (connected to prevent slipping) with the back the tighter of the two – the entire point is missed. If everything is properly applied, there is no need to crank down on the cinches or to overtighten any part of the tack. If everything is in place, the saddle is comfortably secure for the mule and the rider; over 40 years of the school of hard knocks has gotten me to this point.

What You Can Do About White Hairs

Now Barbara is a smart person and she loves her mule. So she did exactly as we discussed. She started using all of the parts of the tack package, and she asked questions galore so that she could get everything properly adjusted. Though delighted with the results, she did contact me one more time to say that there was “good sweat” everywhere but where the white spots were. Those areas were dry.

So here is the story. When a scald is severe, not only is there a lot of rubbing and friction, but there is long lasting (sometimes permanent) damage to the sweat glands in the skin. In Barbara’s case, some of the damage was inherited while part of it was her responsibility as she over tightened the front cinch in an attempt to keep the saddle still. Those white hairs and the damaged sweat glands will not go away overnight. And depending on how long the poor practices were in place, the mule may actually never be completely rid of the damage or scars from it. The mule’s tolerance of this kind of discomfort is a true testament to his character, by the way!

So what is Barbara to do? Well, she needs to stick to basics. Her mule should have a good diet, lots of turnout and properly adjusted and applied tack. While she can massage the skin areas, there is no magic “treatment” to grow sweat glands back. Lots of folks do see white hairs dissipate over time, but others may not. It all depends on the duration of the causative factors and the mule itself.

I can tell you that my personal observations have been that paint or spotted mules tend to scald more than the solid blacks or browns. I’m sure I don’t have enough data to conclusively say that, but I mention it just as a caution to paint mule owners.

Do Your Research When Selecting Mule Tack

The bottom line is this: Mules get their skeletal structure from the donkey daddy. We know this. We know that their walk results in a more vertical rather than lateral movement of the scapula. We know that they are “v” shaped in the shoulders rather than “A” shaped like a horse. So it should follow that horse tack is not going to be a good option for what is, in essence, a different creature. Finding a mule saddle, unfortunately, is not as easy as it might initially sound. I have run into a lot of saddle makers who advertise a “mule tree” and when you actually look at the tree, it is still a basic horse tree.

When selecting mule tack, please take the time to check it out completely. Ask questions. Ask for references. Find out if mule owners are actually happy with the saddle. It is so easy to research these days with the internet options available. But also, find out how to use the saddle to get the most bang for your buck. I could have saved Barbara a lot of trouble and additional frustration if we had talked about the entire “tack package” which is also stressed in the saddle videos.

Nobody wants to be told that they have to spend more money! And nobody wants to be scammed. But if you do your research and then follow the directions for use of my tack package, I think you will be happy with the result. I know your mule will be happy.

The Right Tack Makes All The Difference

I had a little mule at Equine Affaire one year. He was a little paint mule who was giving his rider some particular behaviors. The seminar presentation was on problem behaviors. He seemed like such a good “demo” mule as he was pushy, dancing and pulling from his person. She had him looking good – all cleaned up and in his show saddle when we started. As is usual, we start such presentations by asking the owner about their animal and then what they would like to fix. Not wanting to do any damage to her fancy saddle, I asked if she would mind if we took it off and put my trail lite and tack package on him for the demo. She agreed.

While I was talking to the audience about mule behaviors as I changed his tack, we started to witness a remarkable transformation. Once his saddle was off, he stood still. She had indicated that he was a little pain in the butt during tacking. I was up for the challenge. But from the time we took his saddle off, he was a perfect gentleman. I tossed my saddle pad and trail lite saddle on him – NOT ONE FLINCH. In fact, he even let out a sigh and a big yawn (much to the delight of the audience). I put on the two cinches, the britchen and the breast collar. He was like a statue. She asked me “what spell I cast on him?” Truth be told, he was standing still because the tack did not hurt him. He was standing still because as a mule, he knew what he needed and wanted, and this was it!

Now I will say that the little dickens ruined my presentation. I then had no problem behaviors to address. He was no longer dancing around the ring and he was not head butting or cinchy. He stood quietly and then just mosied around the ring on a loose line as if he owned it. His behavior problems were the result of annoying and painful tack. It is not always this simple, for certain, but in this case, a dramatic behavior makeover was done in the blink of an eye!

I am always happy to talk to you to help with any problem you are having. But let’s never forget basic things before we move on to the more difficult fixes. Each spring, check teeth, give necessary shots and worming, feed well, provide lots of fresh, clean water, gradually increase exercise and take care of feet. Use tack that fits the mule and you. I’m always here if you want to give me a holler!