Today we have a guest blog from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous. I'm glad to get this because I've been asked for a blog about mules and my mule knowledge is limited to the following incident:
In the 80's I was at a horse auction where I was grooming and tacking up for a dealer. I was sent back to get the next one - a 16 hand mule mare. When I tried to put the split ear bridle on the mule, the mule resisted, raising and throwing her head. Now, I was a tough little shit and not about to give up - that bridle was going on that mule. I climbed partway up a panel and got the one ear through and then attempted to put the other ear through the loop side. I wouldn't let go and the mule wanted no part, so she simple raised her head, knocked me off the panel and started swinging me from side to side in the air as I wrestled with her ear. By now, people were starting to notice. I got the bridle on the mule, saddled her and attempted to drag her to the auction ring. She wanted NO part of that. She planted herself, ala "Eeyore" as I dragged from side to side, trying desperately to get her a few more inches forward with every step.
By now a crowd of old dealer types had gathered around and were showing their appreciation for the show by making cracks like "you havin' a little trouble with your ass?" and "that's a mighty big ass ya got there!" Oh yeah.
So that is the sum total of my experience with mules and it pretty much convinced me I did not ever want to do that again!
And now for our guest blog...
Recently I was up during the wee morning hours and couldn’t sleep. Flipping through the channels and not finding anything on, I decided to punish myself and see what was on RFD, or as many of us here know it- the Really Fucking Dumb channel.
They have a program called Rural Heritage. It is usually interesting and insightful as far as farming techniques, harnessing and using draft horses, mules, oxen and different types of farming machinery. Out of curiosity I pressed the “Info” button to see what the episode would be about. “Surcingling your mule.” No info as to who was featured or anything else.
I decided this could be interesting and set it to auto tune. I am always curious as to what other people do with their animals and how they go about training them for their endeavor of choice. I know what a surcingle is, and figured surcingling a mule might be no more than long lining or ground driving, just that someone had decided to call it something different in an attempt to make money off of it. Who knows, but I was about to find out.
When the program finally came on, amid all the damn commercials, it showed a little man wearing a helmet and a mule tacked up with a work type, collared harness on. They didn’t show any close enough face shots of the ‘trainer’ so I didn’t recognize him, but wondered if it was the local guy who does clinics and has his own set of videos and even some tack.
All I can say is this half hour was a train wreck from the get go, and no more than an accident waiting to happen!
What is it our Fearless Leader of the Fugs, always says? Those of us who know, please say it with me now: “When you claim to be a professional, you are automatically held to a higher standard.” You will be scrutinized for your actions more harshly than others. You cannot claim ignorance and there are no free passes. You should know inside and out, backwards, forwards and in your sleep, what you are doing since most likely - You are teaching others.
I will start with the tack. This is the first thing I noticed, well, because I just DO. It did NOT fit. At least not any of the important parts, like say the collar and the bridle. The collar was too big and looked as if it would slip right off over the mules head, should the mule decide to put its head down to grab a bite to eat, rather than work.
The bridle was an issue in and of itself. It was an open bridle, meaning there were no blinkers, blinders or however you wish to refer to them. It had a browband, which on the right side was so high up, it was actually behind the mules ear, rather than resting just below it where it should be. The left side where the bridle adjusted, seemed to be in the very last holes, taken up to the point it could not be adjusted any more without a good leather punch. The rest of the straps, instead of being put through a keeper and tucked in neatly, were loose and flopping around to smack the mule in the side of the face at any given time. That should make the mule happy. NOT!
The bit? Why it was a double, twisted wire, loose ring snaffle. Yep, I know just how we all feel about those… Did I mention this was a young mule that the trainer claimed was just starting out? He was ‘surcingling’ the mule to ready him/her for driving. Yeah, we all start our young ones out with harsh bits and poorly fitted tack. That will keep things positive and make them want to work for and with us!
This next part really bothered me. The trainer showed he had actually ‘adjusted’ the bridle to let the bit hang down in the mules’ mouth to where it damn near touched the incisors. He went as far as opening the mules’ mouth for a close up so everyone could see. The reasoning was so the mule would pick up and carry the bit where s/he was comfortable with it. To me it seemed more like he was making excuses for the bit being positioned as it was, since the bridle didn’t fit and he was too lazy to get a different one or use a hole punch and adjust it properly.
Now don’t get me wrong. After checking the mouth for ‘fixable issues’ stemming from dental work, lack of or pain, checking the mouthpiece of the bit for balance, sharp places, fit-width & thickness, I have used this method on horses who excessively play with the bit. Done properly it will effectively teach them to pick it up and carry it quietly. BUT, the bit is never left to hang that low in the mouth, and they are not working with it in that position. When it’s time to work, the bit is adjusted back up to almost where it should be. It may be left a hole or two ‘long’ so they continue to pick it up and carry it quietly, but it should not be ‘long’ enough (or too high) to where it comes into contact with their teeth. *If everything was checked before the horse began to even wear a bridle and all is adjusted properly, rarely will you have these issues to begin with.*
The reins were tied to the breeching or britchin’ strap to keep them up and out of the way. Then there was the martingale. It looked like a backwoods version of a German martingale, with the exception of any room for adjustment. It was a thin piece of rope, attached to the reins where a hole had been punched in the reins and tied in a knot. From there it ran through the bit rings (like draw reins) and attached somewhere under the collar on the harness.
The mule also had a neck rope on like a noose, which the ‘trainer’ proceeded to lead the mule around with. He stated as long as the mules’ head was carried low it was balanced and pushing off the rear end. Mkay? Not necessarily, but if you say so…
As he was leading the mule around, the trainer then shared this next brilliant piece of knowledge. “You need to do this with your mule for 3 or 4 hours.”
Excuse me? WHAT? In my experience with mules, once they ‘get it’, they’ve got it for life. No need to repeat anything for 3 or 4 hours unless your intent is to really piss them off. This will bring retaliation on the mule's part. Usually painful to the human in the form of a kick or bite, and could very well also go into the ‘got it for life’ file in their brain and essentially ruin them. Way to go Asshat!
A good mule is a good mule, but a bad mule or a mule with a bad attitude, is a nightmare with hooves and teeth.
I don’t know how I got through the rest of the program, but I did and managed to catch at the end, that the ‘trainer’ was in fact the local guy, Steve Edwards. This was from one of his mule training videos.
I know of Steve and have met him a few times. I feel bad that this was what he had/has to offer as far as mule training. From what I had just seen, I could not help but feel sorry for him. He could have done so much better.