Bringing a new mule home is a very exciting time. You have found “the one” and bringing him or her home to your barn should be perfect! But I hear time and time again from folks who struggle with the transition from the mule’s “old familiar home” to the new place – even when the new place seems to be filled with love and hopes for a great life together. So let me just give you a hand on that homecoming experience that just might make life all that you had hoped for.
Make Your Mule Comfortable and Show Him Who’s the Leader
Mules like what is dependable. They get comfortable with routine and they like it. Even if the circumstances are not necessarily the best, they are familiar and the mule knows what to expect. So when you take him for a ride to try him out or visit him in his old home, you are seeing him in an environment that he knows. When you take him out of that environment, he will not know what will happen next. If he cannot quickly identify a confident herd leader, he will take control for himself.
If you arrive home and unload him from the trailer then turn him out into a big pasture with some buddies, he will do just fine. The herd will adjust, leadership will be clear and life will go on. The problem is, you will not be part of that herd. If Mr. Mule has plenty of room to roam, buddies, and food – what does he need you for? Why should he come to you when you call. Why should he look forward to a ride?
Instead, this homecoming is a real opportunity for your relationship to begin. Let’s talk about setting you up for success and a great relationship.
The Beginning of a Great Relationship With Your Mule
Begin by setting up a relatively small area for your new mule. A 20X20 pen is fine. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy, but it needs to be handy. It should be secure and easily accessed so you can interact with your mule. Put some hay and clean water in there and escort your mule into his temporary home. Let him look it over and settle in a bit.
Here in this pen, over the next little while, you will bond with your mule. He will get groomed, fed, and taught what ground manners are expected. He will learn that you are the source of all comfort and contact. Here you can teach him that you are now the herd leader and that you will treat him well. There is plenty of time for Mr. Mule to meet the other equines. This is your time.
If your mule paws for food or has less than great manners, you can fix it here. You can take him out and go for walks. This gives you the activity to perfect his ground manners. If he is pushy or bold, use your come-a-long hitch and remind him how he should act. But then return him to his pen. You can also bring him out and tie him at the hitching post. You can groom and tack and give him a chance to see where and how these things will happen. You can lift his feet and make sure he will be good for the farrier. The possibilities are endless. But always return him to his pen during this introductory period.
How Long Do You Have to Confine Your Mule?
Well that is variable depending on how much time you can devote to your mule and also on the mule himself. I usually recommend at least 5 days but some will take more time. When your mule starts greeting you and shows you the manners you want to see, you can consider the next step. But he must understand that you are the source of all things good.
I talked to a woman who bought a mule a couple of years back. She had the mule for just a couple of weeks before taking her molly to a camp where the mule was housed in a small paddock and for a week’s stay. It was at this camp that she fell madly in love with her mule who had been ok at home, but really seemed to blossom under her care at the camp. She tells me that she “accidentally” did exactly what I recommend. She was the source of everything for that mule and spent a lot of time with her during their vacation week, tending to the details of leading, feeding, tacking and more. I had to laugh at that but she went on to say that while she had not found me and my work at that time, that she could sure see that I was right on the mark when it comes to bonding with your mule! Her reports were backed up with tons of great photos that documented the transition of their relationship during that week.
For those who have trouble catching their mules or who say that their mules don’t act the same when they bring them home, I ask that you give this a try. It is not too late if your mule is already out with the others or is hard to catch. These relationships are ever changing. The same woman that I mentioned above trailers to trail ride. Over the past year, her mule has learned that when the truck is hitched to the trailer, she will get to go with her person to trail ride. The mule, seeing the trailer parked in the loading zone, runs to the gate and waits there until she is permitted to load herself into the trailer! Now that is a trail riding buddy!
Take the Time to Build a Relationship With Your Mule
I believe that mules feel your intent. If you invest in the partnership right up front, I think you will get a response that you will enjoy. You are not being hard on your mule by not turning him out right away – you are saying “I am your person and you can count on me”. Giving him the structure and security is a valuable step in forming your relationship. When he sees you after this introductory period, he will come to you.
Finally, we have our animals for a reason. So take the time to handle him and spend time with him each and every day, even if the time is only brief. I do not recommend that any equine be permitted to run to his or her food, blowing by the humans. Personally, I like everyone standing quietly and patiently as I feed. I expect to be able to retrieve any of my animals from the pasture and I expect manners and easy interactions. If it is time for the vet or farrier, I don’t like a fight. Standing quietly and picking up feet when asked is taught and expected. Everybody, including Mr. Mule, benefits from this!
When you are preparing for the homecoming of a new mule or if you need to work with your less than mannerly mule, feel free to give me a holler or visit my website at www.muleranch.com. I am happy to help. There is no devotion like what a mule can give you! So set yourself up to enjoy it fully.