Skip to main content

Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
30 60 90 Days Training
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 1
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 2
Aids & Cues What are they
Assess Diagnose beforeFix
Are all horses trainable
Be safer use a Dummy
Behavior Retraining Tips
Behavior Solving Issues
Buying first Horse Guide
Buying Training Older Hor
Buying a Horse Part 2
Buying a Horse Mismatched
Buying a Horse Selecting
CalmingTrg 1 sided horses
How to Communicate Horses
How horses Communicate
Cycles and Pyramid Trg
Establishing Leadership
Exercises Warm Up
Flexion Lateral
Flexion Proper Training
Flexion Vertical
Foundation GroundTraining
Foundation Mounted
How Horses Learn
Liability Release
Motivating HorsesandMules
Natural Survival Instinct
OTTB Re Education
Overcoming riding fear
Saddle Fitting
Selecting A Trainer
Soft Inside Light Outside
Spurs How to Use them
Teaching Strategy
TRAINING Ask Properly
TrainingGreenRarely Handl
Training Guidelines
Train Outside the Box
Training Principals
Training Pyramid Natural
Transfer GroundworkSaddle
Turning and Neck Reining
Winter Training Workouts

Training Mules versus Horses


Should there be differences between training horses, donkeys and mules?

You can tell a horse what to do, but have to ask a donkey and negotiate with a mule. Wouldn't we be more sucessful if we negotiated with all equine?  I work on the basis that if you negotiate with all three you get happier animals and safer training. Anyone who says a mule is stubborn has just been out smarted by one and the same can be said about a lot of our equine  friends. Some people hate working with mules and donkeys as they tend to have less of a flight mechanism and although mules tend to be more skeptical and require more trust in the handler before committing themselves. I love working with mules and donkeys as well as horses, they all have huge potential given the correct training. If you can train a horse, you can train a horse; if you can train a mule you can train anything. Understanding bonding and the effects of stress is also vitally important for anyone owning, handling, training or riding any equine. 

Using one method would make your work easier to follow if you did?

Methods are very good and easy to follow for humans, but I feel that sometimes the subtleties of the original trainer's skill can be lost in the translation of a method. This can lead to problems with owners that apply the wrong method to particular equine problem. I do not believe "one size fits all" when it comes to equine training and because of the uniqueness of every equine human relationship I believe it is safer and better for the horse, donkey or mule if solutions are individual. I also use a number of similar training procedures that help in a variety of training situations. I like to think of these as tools in a tool kit that I have at my disposal for use depending on the problem I am working with. If you have lots of different tools you are usually never stuck with a problem you cannot fix.

A good Natural Horsemanship training program will work for any equine. 

The major difference you will see in training all equine is you! You will need to be more consistent and more specific with your aids and cues when training a mule.  The difference when working with your mule is you have to do a better job of communicating to your mule. You have to be more specific with what asking your mule to do.  As I mentioned above, training mules means better communication. You should allow mules and horses to make mistakes, they all will at one point or another but then you must correct them but you must be confident, specific and consistent from day one. It will make all the difference. Contrary to what many think, you can fix any issues that arise whether it is a horse or mule; just be patient, specific and consistent. Horses communicate with body language and express themselves with movement whereas mules will refuse to move if they do not understand so!  If we are not communicating effectively horses or mules will also let you know if they are out thinking you.  If they out think us they are essentially training us. 

For example, let’s say you are starting the round penning exercise with your equine. You ask the it to turn near the gate and you soon realize he turns perfectly for you in that same spot every time.  So, you continue asking him there because he gets it every time. You think great, the equine has learned the cue for a turn and it was so easy.  Hold on… ends up that the equine has memorized your pattern.

When you are asking your equine for a turn or to complete any task, make sure it is responding to your aid and cue, not a pattern you have created. Make sure you ask for a response to your aids and cues at different times and places, while being specific and consistent.  Once your equine answers correctly to what you are asking be sure to make a big deal out of it and praise him for doing it correctly.  Mules especially Arabians are always thinking; more so when you are with him or her. This is their self-preservation. In order to build a better relationship with your mule, you as the trainer, need to be sure you make it easy for your mule to understand what you are asking. If you always ask the mule questions or give it cues it can answer, you will build a trust between you and your mule. If not, you will have a mule that will not respond well to your training methods. The best way to help a mule find the right answer to your question or cue is to be specific and break your training session down into smaller steps. If you ask your mule a question and he gives you the wrong answer, do not get upset at him. Getting angry only creates problems and the mule will become more defensive and eventually harder to train. Take a step back and think about how you can make the exercise simpler and more obvious for him. Then, ask the mule again until he answers the question correctly. Once he answers correctly, be sure to make a big deal out of it and praise him for doing it right. Being positive is one of the best ways to help your mule progress quicker. Negative trainers are always telling their mule what not to do; don’t walk forward, don’t back up. Positive trainers concentrate on what their mule is doing right. No matter what you are asking your mule to do, focus on helping him get the right answer as often as possible. If your mule makes a mistake, which he will, instead of getting angry at him, ask him again. Think about training as professional athletes do. A professional basketball player is considered great if he makes 50 percent of his baskets. How can we expect our mules to execute each command 100 percent of the time? The only way to achieve that is through practice, training and learning. In order for the basketball player to get to the 50 percent completion rate he must spend many hours each day shooting baskets. The shot must become an automatic response. The automatic response from your mule or any equine for that matter can take hours, months and years of practice just as it does for a professional athlete.

Whether you are Training mules or horses there is not a quick fix 

It takes a proper ground/mounted training plans, hours and hours of practice, patience, understanding equine. This does not mean we must drill each exercise into the mule. We must make learning fun for our mule. Do this by breaking each lesson up into shorter sessions or take your mule for a short trail ride to get out of the arena. However, there are a few important things to remember when choosing a training program for you and your mule. Most importantly, be sure the training program you choose works for you and your mule. Next, when evaluating any training program three rules apply:

  • Rule #1 – You cannot get hurt - If you are teaching a lesson you should ask yourself before you start, “Can I get hurt doing this lesson?” If the answer is “yes”, or even “maybe”, then do not do the lesson. 
  • Rule #2 – The equine cannot get hurt -  Remember, you are responsible for the equine’s safety. If you think the animal can get hurt, or will be caused pain by the teaching method, then do not use the training method. Accidents will happen, but you need to do everything possible to keep your equine safe and
  • Rule #3 – The equine must be calmer at the end of the lesson than before the lesson.  The equine must be calmer at the end of the lesson than before the lesson began.” If the mule or any equine is calm and relaxed after the training lesson, he understands what the trainer is asking. Any time we apply pain to a lesson, whether from a severe bit, excessive force, etc., the mule or other equine will resist the training and will not learn. Instead it will go into preservation mode and vices/issues will eventually arise. When your equine acts up, ask him to do something you know he will respond to. Disengage his hip; move his front shoulder to the left, ride a small circle around a bush to the right, etc. Keep your equine busy and keep his mind off whatever is bothering him and focus on what you are asking him to do. Some people are afraid to train their equine because they think they will ‘mess him up’. Equines, even mules, are like a black board, you can erase and start all over again. History history does matter if it is severe prolonged abuse because you cannot totally erase it you never know when or what will trigger the negative behavior.  Remember; it is what you do from the first day forward that will shape your equine’s future. Some equine; particularly Arabians and mules that has been abused can take a lot of time to trust a human again. However, some of the best equines were abused after years of training have become great partners. 

Understanding Equine 

The only way to train and work with the equine is to understand how they think: 


  • Is it willing worker?  Will it things its way or not at all? 
  • When handling all equine particularly mules, cooperation is the better part of valor. 
  • Takes a long time to forget, if they ever do; so it is poor business to make a mistake in training a mule.
  • In the latter stages of training a horse, you can play roughly and energetically on him a little if he deliberately pulls something nasty; he will straighten out. But don’t ever try the same tactics on a mule. The mules may not only become difficult to handle, but he will hate you for life. I make it a rule in training mules that the only punishment for bad behavior will be assignment of “extra duty.” A mule understands that sort of correction and will accept it. 
  • As a general rule, mules are considerably smarter than horses. “I have known a few smart horses and a few mules that were not overly bright.” a mule has a stronger sense of self-preservation than a horse but so do Arabians!
  • “Even when frightened; “a mule will rarely do anything to injure himself. He will not founder himself by overeating or overdrinking, as a horse will. If hung up in a packsaddle wreck or caught in wire, he will almost never fight and injure himself, as a horse will. A smoothing word will calm a mule until you can get him untangled.” 
  • We should dismiss the popular notion that mules are naturally stubborn or some horses for that matter.  Most trainers are convinced mishandling is what makes a renegade equine. 
  •  Methods that are effective with a horse do not always work on mules. A horse forgives and forgets. A mule doesn’t. “When a mule resents something and resists, “from then on you can expect a fight. 
  • You cannot make as many mistakes with a mule as you can in training a horse. You must be especially persistent. You must quietly ease a mule through all of the initial steps of training until he accepts it. Then you’ll have no trouble.  
  • Abused horses can usually be reclaimed. Kind treatment and time will restore the average horse’s trust and confidence in his handler. He may never forget former mistreatment, but he is willing to forgive. A mule, however, will seldom forget a bad experience and he will never forgive the person who gave it to him. Not only that, but he draws no distinction between the individual who roughed him up and any other person. He does not separate good guys from bad guys. The mule sees all humans as either friends or enemies. 
  • People familiar with mules will tell you that mules dislike dogs. Why should this be so? It’s not that the two are natural enemies. But it’s a good example of the mule’s strictly black and white view of the world. Sometimes the dog heels the mule, nipping at him. The dog may be in earnest or he may be just playing, but that makes no difference to the mule. From then on he looks on all dogs as enemies.” From then on all dogs had better stay clear of that mule. Most horses will resist a dog that harasses them, kicking backwards. A mule takes the offensive. Chased by a dog a mule will adroitly maneuver to reverse positions. He becomes the chaser with the dog as his quarry. “The dog then best be mighty fleet and good at dodging or the mule, striking accurately from behind, will break the dog’s spine.” 
  • To a horseman’s eye, the average mule hardly looks like a speedster. Appearance is deceiving. Mules cannot only run, they have a niftier, shiftier change of pace than an all- pro running back.  I used to think that a mule couldn’t run as fast as a horse. They may appear to be slow, but on a mountain trail a string of leggy 1200-pound pack mules will out walk most saddle horses. Pound for pound, a mule is stronger and more durable than a horse. 
  • He is an easy keeper, able to thrive on less feed than a horse. 
  • A mule is much more surefooted than a horse. He has smaller hooves with a deeper cup, and a mule usually can go barefoot much longer than a horse.  A mule handles a bog better than a horse. A mule never plunges. He places his feet more deliberately. A mule seems to roll his weight from leg to leg without sinking deeply. He can extract his hooves from a sticky mud hole more easily than a horse can. 
  •  Normally, mules do not buddy up as horses do. They frequently kick and bite one another for no apparent reason. They seem to recognize no sexual difference among themselves. A male will not hesitate to attack a female. A mule’s attitude towards horses is different. “A mule has strong affection for a horse.  A mare in particular is the mother image. A mule, whether 2 years old or 20, will pick out a certain mare and attach himself to her. Take that mare out of the herd for a spell and the mule will run around braying and crying its head off for days.  If no mare is present, a mule will adopt a gelding as its mother. This mother fixation in mules is so strong that the mare can be meaner than sin to the mule and the mule will accept such punishment without resistance. That is why mules can be turned lose in camp at night. If the horses are picketed, the mules are tied to the mother’s apron string. They will still be there in the morning.

Comparison between Horses and Mules

This comparison was written by a mule owner and my comments are in red: 



some can be dominated by humans - no human should try to dominate rather we should lead by example 

can be dominated by none 

some succumb to aggression - there is no need to be aggressive although we may have to be assertive at times

succumbs to affection 

Some are indifferent to humans - most are inquisitive

is inquisitive to humans 

Most move then think - we want them to respond rather then react 

thinks then moves

Looks at you - we want them to focus on us

looks into you 

Some are trained by short punishment and short rewards - there is no place for punishment; we need to be patient, praise and use great logic

trained by long patience and great logic 

To ride a horse well, one must be proud - we should be humble and previleged

To ride a mule well, one must be humble