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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’

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Training Mules versus Horses

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A good Natural Horsemanship training program will work for any equine. The major difference you will see in training a mule versus a horse 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 can allow your mules to make mistakes, they all will at one point or another. 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.  Just be patient, specific and consistent. Your mule will tell you if you are communicating effectively. Your mule will also let you know if he is out thinking you.  If he out thinks you, he is essentially training you. 


For example, let’s say you are starting the round penning exercise with your mule. You ask the mule 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 mule has learned the cue for a turn and it was so easy.  Hold on…..it ends up that the mule has memorized your pattern.


When you are asking your mule for a turn or to complete any task, make sure the mule 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 mule 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 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 also takes 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.

·         Rule #2 – The mule cannot get hurt, and

·         Rule #3 – The mule must be calmer at the end of the lesson than before the lesson.


You are more important than any mule. 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 mule cannot get hurt”. Remember, you are responsible for the mule’s safety. If you think the mule 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 mule safe. Rule #3 “The mule must be calmer at the end of the lesson than before the lesson began.” If the mule 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 will resist the training and will not learn. He, instead, will go into preservation mode and vices/issues will eventually arise. When your mule 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 mule 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 mule because they think they will ‘mess him up’. Equines, even mules, are like a black board, you can erase and start all over again, no matter their history. The history does not matter; it is what you do from this day forward that will shape your mule’s future. A mule that has been abused can take a lot of time to trust a human again. However, some of the best mules were abused after years of training have become great partners.


Comparison between Horses and Mules:


Here is a pretty good comparison of a horse and mule:

Horses

Mules

can be dominated by man 

can be dominated by none 

succumbs to aggression 

succumbs to affection 

is indifferent to man 

is inquisitive to man 

moves then thinks 

thinks then moves

looks at you 

looks into you 

trained by short punishment and short rewards

trained by long patience and great logic 

To ride a horse well, one must be proud

To ride a mule well, one must be humble 

The more one understands people 
The more one loves animals 

The more one understands animals 
The more one loves mules



Understanding Mules 

The only way to train and work with a mule is to understand how he thinks: 

 

·         Is a willing worker, but he will do things his way or not at all! In handling mules, cooperation is the better part of valor. 

·         Takes a long time to forget, if he ever does; 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.” He adds that a mule has a stronger sense of self-preservation than a horse. 

·         “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.  Most trainers are convinced mishandling is what makes a renegade mule. 

·         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.