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- July 16, 2016 at 6:11 am #89212
here is something I wrote recently related to the teamster training and mule training we have been doing this summer.
Driving the Green Mule July, 2016
Success in driving the green or young animal requires quick responses to changes in their presentation. We recently had a small runaway with a mowing machine. Fortunately, through the hard work and determination of a young teamster this team was controlled and stopped and brought back to where we were parking machinery. At the time the cutter bar was up and braced, but a mowing machine is still not a fun machine to ride when animals decide to bolt.
This was a dangerous situation and I am responsible for the welfare of the beginning teamster and animals involved. In this case the use or lack of blinders may have been a contributing factor, as well as line placement on the bit. The young mule involved had recently had blinders taken off, and she was not bitted down at the time. More on how those things may have contributed later on.
A few days later I was riding on a forecart with the same mule and horse team and the same teamster. We where pulling a ten foot cultipacker back from the field after rolling a couple acres that we had planted. I saw something that I thought might have been another contributing factor to the runaway. Let me explain. This mule is one of those that is always behind the teammate. Either two inches or ten; the teamster is constantly asking her to move up with their hands, the lines, or with a stick. I hope it is a youth thing as the mule seems to be improving as she works more and gains more experience.
Suddenly, as we bring the cultipacker from the grass we had been crossing to a packed gravel drive she reacts with her head going up and her ears going up. The noise of the cultipacker has changed dramatically, which we should be able to anticipate. She also takes this opportunity to move from behind her partner to ten inches in front of her partner. This is the critical moment when driving a green animal that we must be alert to what is going on, and communicating with the animal. Any hesitation or time lost can be dangerous. At this point we stopped and discussed what was happening for the mule and how we might have responded differently and more quickly.
This animal has just gone from being relaxed to being slightly nervous. What is the right teamster response? First, timing is everything; this is why green horses and green teamsters sometimes get into trouble. For every fraction of a second that we delay in our response, a stronger response will be needed to control the animal, and the stronger the response the more likely the animal will respond negatively to that. If we don’t respond to what the animal is telling us with their head and action, the next thing this animal will do is start to accelerate.
Next is correctly understanding what the message the horse or mule is sending is. The head going up, and the ears going up, and moving forward is not really fear, but concern, alertness, or sudden anxiety. Left with out a response from the teamster this can quickly escalate into fear, and faster movement, etc. One way to miss interpret what is happening, if only for a second is to think, “glad you are finally with us, I have been trying to get you to wake up all day”.
So what is the right response? Many of us will try to say something calming to the animal, but I believe the best, most effective communication will come through our hands to the bit. This is what the animal needs at that moment. Remember that this animal has just spent the last couple hours, and much of her working life; with very light contact or none at all. This is a fault and a danger that we all constantly work to repair, but it is also part of working with young or green animal. The fact is that when she is behind the other animal she is not receiving the constant messages we are trying to send with the lines.
If we let her get a step in front of the other horse with the same lack of contact she enjoyed when she was behind we have missed our first opportunity to reassure and control her. This can easily happen to a green teamster as it takes time to identify the change in the mule’s outlook and process choices about how to respond. Ideally she will find the bit, contact, and our awareness of the situation just as soon as she lifts her head and starts to move forward in relation to the other animal. Now by steering her left and right a little and letting her feel our hands on the lines we can guide her back to her natural relaxed state. By our quick response we are also telling the animals, that we are alert, we care, and we are in control.
What we are attempting to do is reassure the young animal that the change in noise is OK and not something she should be concerned about. The sooner we tell her that with our hands on her bit, the less pressure and effort it will take.
This spring I added blinders to the mules bridle to see if it would help prevent just such things. When the mower mishap occurred I had just a few days before taken them back off because of a rubbing bridle and to see if taking them off would help move her forward in her work with a teammate. It is possible that the mower bouncing over something or the cutter bar hitting tree branches in the up position contributed to her reaction. We have also been moving her line attachments from neutral to bitted down depending on who was driving and what we were doing. She was not bitted down when the mower mishap occurred.
Since then she has been wearing the blinders again, with tape on the offending rub spots, and has been mostly bitted down a little. These are small events in the life of a working mule, but good learning opportunities for beginning teamsters and I wanted to try to share that.July 16, 2016 at 9:41 am #89214JaredWoodcockParticipant
I was just talking to my wife this morning about how after joining this community and hearing runaway stories I must be a ticking time bomb because I havent had any significant runaways. This story is a good one because I can actually relate to the small mishaps that I may have blown off as nothing. As long as no one gets hurt and the work gets done I just check it off as a little joy ride.
I have never had a mule but always liked being around my friends riding mules. I have been thinking a little bit lately about buying a young mule or two to train up as my next replacements while I still have my current bombproof horses to help train then.
Could you list some more specific stats about this mule? Age, time in harness, imprinting, runaway history, etc?
Thanks for sharingJuly 16, 2016 at 10:14 am #89216
Jared, You ask really good questions. She is three y/o (four in Sept.). About 16hh. Maybe 1300#. She is a Suffolk mule that was born here. She was easy to start; last year she plowed snow, pulled logs and raked hay. She didn’t try to run with anything last year. She was open faced all year. I did feel her tense up with traffic and dogs, and I was very careful in minimizing her exposure to those things. I also didn’t have anyone else driving her much last year.
She has run three times this year. She has been working regularly at all forms of hay making, plowing, discing, etc. After the second mishap in March (I was frost seeding and after finishing 15 acres, I stopped to pick up some supplies I left by the edge of the field. She saw me with a rubber bucket and bag of seed in my hand, and lines in one hand, and off the cart and decided it was time to go. After that I put blinders on her.
You don’t have to, nor should you feel like a ticking time bomb. the key is prevention (easy for me to say!). Animals well prepared, people well prepared, and equipment well prepared for what is being asked of them is the best prevention.
Young animals at work can be a challenge as you ask them to do things they haven’t done before.July 28, 2016 at 8:02 pm #89235
I like your interpretation of the situation and think you probably have it well in hand.I would like to add that if the runaway prospect team mate is bomb proof a buck back or tie in works well.
But the best training for a horse to behave and not run is to control its movement. Using foot ropes in a humane way like a good teamster would humanely use a bit is a great way to go.
I have observed and worked with Don Yerian form the B Bar ranch Suffolks using this technique and have used it on some of my own horses. He has started over 2000 horses in his lifetime and his technique is incredible.
If the horse gets to jiggy you home his foot a little…thus controlling his movement. When he settles, then you release. If he runs you can hold up one foot and he won’t run too far or fast on three legs–as soon as he stops you give it back. If he paws at the hitch rail–hold up his foot. He soon learns that you are controlling his movement, like in the round pen and this is a deep genetic truth of the horse that he always listens to–If I can move, I’m dead. This guy behind me can control my movement (humanely) so He must be the leader and I had better listen to him.
I have never seen a more incredible trainer than Don and this group of techniques he uses. Even in the Amish country.
It would be a great technique to try on our mule. email me for photosJuly 28, 2016 at 9:51 pm #89236
–If I can move, I’m dead.
should say: If I CAN’T move I’m dead.
Another time I use this foot rope commonly, is a horse that won’t stand for whatever reason. Say the horse won’t stand when it is facing near the hitch rail–it keeps starting, stepping forward, pawing etc. trying to get back to the rail to get set loose. You can hold them with the bit which is painful to the horse, drive them in circles, turn them away and head back away, back them up, work them down, and I have tried all of these and more with varying success.
But if they do this behavior and you just hold up their foot and release when they are quiet while not manipulating the bit–this works much faster and is more effective.
I have actually gone to much lighter bitting and even bit straps to keep out of the horse’s mouth in favor of controlling a horses movement by controlling it’s feet.July 31, 2016 at 12:31 pm #89242
I posted some photos of foot ropes on my Facebook page which you can access thru my website:
workhorseworkshops.comAugust 2, 2016 at 2:27 pm #89254Does’ LeapParticipant
Interesting pictures. Thanks for posting those on your FB page. It’s a little hard to tell, but it seems like you have 2 configurations – one pulling the foot back and the other pulling the foot up to a ring on the belly band. Do you have a preference? How much force do you to exert to pull the foot up? Are you trying to lift the foot or just exert some pressure on it? What range of reactions have you experienced from horses with this type of pressure exerted on them? I’d be interested to read about examples of successes and shortfalls using this technique.
GeorgeAugust 3, 2016 at 12:07 pm #89259
Walt, Thanks for sharing that. I had some mixed experiences with these set ups many years ago and never reconsidered them until now. Like anything else, it is just a tool with which we can hopefully express our intentions to the animal. With any tool (round pen, rope halter, whip or stick) the secret is understanding how to use it to say what you mean. Often the less tools you use the less things you have to figure out before you begin to express yourself.
I think the mistakes last time where both mechanical and mental. The mechanical part was in working with a friend who had used his setup on a couple of big horses successfully. While it worked fine to pick up the feet of a young shire horse the lighter, faster, mule kept on going. I think that setup was trying to pick up both front feet and didn’t have the leverage to do it. Plus I wouldn’t want to pick up both feet today. Just one – just enough to stop them.
We will rig one up today, and if it looks good we will try it on the mule tomorrow. The mule by the way is not the one mentioned above. She has worked well this season; she has made a couple mistakes and so have we; but over all she has done well. I have another three year old that really needs something. I hope this is it.
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