Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forum › Draft Animal Power › Mules › Getting them to go.
- August 28, 2013 at 1:32 pm #80902
I finally bought a second mule to put with the one I already have, he is a 12 year old and came off an Amish farm back in March so he hasn’t seen much work for probably close to a year. The guy told me that he didn’t work well single but does good double. Since I only have a single harness and my new team harness won’t be here for a few weeks yet I decided it was a good time to work him single. The first time I hooked him we were doing pretty good as I was leading him pulling a sled until we hit gravel and he ran away. Long story short we went back to some ground work and I found he doesn’t lead well with me but I can hook him to my golf cart and the lead rope never gets tight. He he seemed to be doing well with whoa and getup so I decided to hook him back to the sled inside the pasture this time. I half expected another run away but this time I had the opposite problem as he just stood there wouldn’t respond to my commands. My wife grab his bridle and give a tug and we went about 25′ and stopped so I got off and lead him a few feet and jumped on the sled and he stopped again. I tried slapping his butt with the lines but no reaction so I tried giving him a poke with a stick and all he done was pucker his butt. I even tied my other mule beside him and the other mule would try to pull him but he can only pull so hard hooked to his halter.
I was tempted to hook him back up and if I couldn’t get him to go then hook him to the golf cart and have the wife drive it while I talk and signal to him. I can’t believe that this mule doesn’t know what he is doing and I wonder if he is trying to see what he can get away with. Any suggestion on what I should try? Thanks PaulkAugust 29, 2013 at 5:03 am #80906
Hi Paulk, There are a lot of possibilities here. This mule doesn’t trust you at all. In my opinion not trusting you is the same as not being trained. We get too wrapped up in “this guy must know this”. the things we teach them – go, stop, left, right; they could learn in five minutes. The things we are really trying to “teach” when we are starting an animal is, “follow our lead”.
Working with a lung line or rope halter or round pen, would be good ways to safely get this animal to recognize you intentions and directions. To get it to start “listening” to you. With each of these tools some extra skill or experience is needed on your part in order for the animal to get the intended messages.
I personally would drive this mule single (I never expect that they already know how to work alone – and working alone is a big challenge for the animal). But working alone is the best way to develop the trust between the two of you. In order to avoid those runaways you need to know when he is ready to be hooked to something. Anticipate his reactions to any change in the noise things make (gravel) and the change in draft. Use caution in what you choose to hook to. Nothing too light, nothing to heavy, nothing too noisy. Then work your way up.
Perhaps I shouldn’t ask this and please don’t take offense; but is this a mule you want to keep? I only say this because I do believe if you keep it you will be training it. Is that something you have the time, interest for? DonnAugust 29, 2013 at 11:41 am #80916
Hi Donn, thanks for weighing in. I don’t take offense to any advice offered or questions asked when I come to the forum for help. I would like to keep this mule as I have bought a few now that haven’t worked out from auctions. I finally just bit the bullet sold my project mules and went to the guy that I got my first mule from. I spent a small fortune to get him but he is near identical to my other mule and has a good personality so I would like to make this work. I am just a little disappointed that I am having these issues as I have the interest in training and working but lack the time and knowledge. I work a full time job and have 30 head of goats and about 20 chickens so when I get home I start chores eat supper then if nothing is broken or no emergencies then I try to work with my mules. It maybe nothing more than haltering tying them then picking out there hooves and putting on fly spray, leading and rubbing on them but I try to do something everyday.
Maybe I have fanaticized about owning a team and working them so long that I expect too much too soon. Plus my first draft mule was and is a treat to work with so maybe that spoiled me. I have spent a fair amount of time with this mule since we had our run away and can really tell a difference in his attitude in a good way. I have got him to a point if he bulks on a lead rope I can give it a couple quick easy tugs and he will start again. Should I just keep up with the basics? PaulkAugust 29, 2013 at 1:44 pm #80917
IMHO you are correct about needing to work on the basics. Fashion yourself a 12 foot lead rope and work on leading forward and backward on a loose line matching your speed, longe both directions walk/trot at minimum, disengage the hind quarters and front end and side pass. Until you have complete control of the feet on a lead rope you can’t hope to have control of the feet on the end of the lines. Give obvious consistent cues and reward the slightest try. Reward means remove the pressure not apples and sugar cubes. Petting is OK as long as they come in your space and get pet on your terms not theirs it lets them know you aren’t the boogie man on the end of the rope. A positive relationship is harder to form with a mule than with a horse but when it is acheived it carries more weight with a mule than it does with a horse. “Mitis in Rey, Firmit in Modo – Gentle in the Matter, Steadfast in the Way”.August 29, 2013 at 5:09 pm #80919
Paulk, I am glad to hear you are making a little progress. Yes, patience and the time you put in will pay off. Bringing any animal home can be tricky, especially a mule, as they might take a while to get to know us. These methods don’t really delay putting the mule to work, just ask us to read the animal well as we work with it. How comfortable is it with what I am asking of it now? can I add to the challenge at this point or just wait a moment until the energy level comes down again. With a new animal we might need to watch more closely because we are learning their body language as well as them learning about us. Keep up the good work. DonnAugust 30, 2013 at 2:14 pm #80926
Mlelgr, I took your advice last night and haltered my mule got a 10′ or 12′ lead rope and had the mind set that the only thing I would ask of him was just forward and reverse with concentration on rewarding him with just the slightest movement. I was satisfied if he only moved one hoof in the direction I asked. It was only about a 20 minute lesson but when I was done I could get him to move forward with just voice command and if he balked it was only briefly instead of a firm feet plant like when we started. Backing up took a little pressure and coaxing but was able to do.
Donn thanks for the words of encouragement. Sometimes I see guys handling their animals so effortlessly and forget all the time and troubles that I’m sure they experienced also.
I hope to get in some good lessons over the long weekend as well as some fence building. That’s always good work for my old mule as I can load all my tools and supplies on a sled and he will move up when asked and is happy to stand and patiently wait while I’m working. If I could teach him to drive posts I would have it made! PaulkSeptember 6, 2013 at 9:25 am #80984
Update on my progress. I took some of the advice I was given and have spent the last several days of working the new mule with just a lead rope and have had great improvement in him. Last night I decided to put the bridle and lines on and try to drive and I had success. We drove probably a half mile or so with me just walking behind with the lines encouraging him. We stopped and started several times and he stills hesitates on starting a little but once going responds well and has a good whoa. I think if I spend the next couple days doing this I may be able to hook to the sled and try pulling it empty and then maybe we can move to starting a load. PaulkSeptember 7, 2013 at 11:35 am #80994
Glad to hear you are making progress. For sure, mules must first come to trust you before they will work well. Just curious, did you purchase this mule from a seller in Missouri?September 9, 2013 at 9:23 am #81041
TCM, I bought him from Jerry Craig at Craig farms in Tennessee. If you are thinking of Jonny Kelso in Missouri I did talk to him a few times but all he had was teams for sale. I bought my original mule from his sale he has in Mayfield Ky. but he too came from Jerry.
I worked the new mule off and on Saturday all day. We worked on leading, standing and ground driving. All in all it went well. Sunday I ground drove him and he was responding good so I decided to hook him to the sled. As soon as he starts and feels the load he will stop and if you get after him he will go a little ways and stop again. I have tried a stick and give him a poke and the neighbor even give him a good pat on the butt and all he does is clinch his butt checks. We hooked him to my golf cart and made a few laps around the pasture and he will pull the sled and for the most part not let the lead rope get tight. This sled only weighs around 200lb so it shouldn’t be much of a load.
I am really starting to think this guy is a follower and not a leader. I was told that he could have been part of a big hitch and just followed the others lead. It has also crossed my mind that the Amish got rid of him because he is lazy but I wouldn’t think he would have made it 12 years if that was the case. Once I get my other harness I hope I can hook him with my old mule and he will come around but I would like to get him to work single especially since I only have one harness right now.
I am going to keep reading through old posts to get more ideas and keep working with him in the mean time. PaulkSeptember 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm #81042
I still maintain that he doesn’t trust you. Now I have hit a few animals in the butt that were ignoring me, I am not going to lie to you, but I don’t think with the mule that doesn’t know you it is helping build the trust you want. Patience, patience, patience. Find something light that you can get him to pull (a single pole is a safe easy thing). When he stops say whoa like it was your idea. When ever you can’t prevent him from stopping, always say whoa. Now wait until he gets bored of standing (for this mule it might take a while), then ask him to go again. Just my two sense, but you are still in the position of training the animal. Just out of curiosity, what kind of bit are you using?September 9, 2013 at 2:50 pm #81043
I thought maybe you got him from Phil Ropp out of Jamesport. We picked up a Belgian team several years ago from him. Even though they were an excellent, truly broke team, it still took me about three months before they fully trusted me, but when they did what a difference it made. They were a real pleasure to work with. Unfortunately, the partnership I was a member of dissolved and they were eventually sold. Don’t ever go into a partnership, especially with friends.September 10, 2013 at 7:33 am #81048
Donn, Patience is one of the things I need to learn myself. I seem to always be in a hurry because the aren’t enough hours in the day but I’ m working on that. The idea behind the stick was to hold it into place so that when he went to slow down or stop he would feel a little poke and get the point to keep moving but it didn’t work. Early I tried giving him a tap with it and that doesn’t affect him either. With my old mule I can barely touch his rear and he gets the point to move on. As far as the pat on the butt my neighbor is a little more aggressive than me but he has been raised with horses and has a couple nice riding horses and a buggy horse so I value his help. I do agree it isn’t the best thing to do.
I went out last night and worked with a lead rope some more. I took your advice and every time I noticed that he was going to stop I give a whoa and stopped him. We worked on turning and such also. The part about letting him stand until he decides to move maybe harder to do because he is good at standing when you stop him. He will stand and not move for a long time when I’m harnessing him or even when I tie him but I will work with that in mind.
I am using a twisted wire snaffle and he seems to respond to it. I think as soon as my new bridles come in I’m going to get Liverpool bits so I can have the option of leverage or no leverage.
TCM, it makes me feel better to hear that it took someone else a long period to get a broke team responding to them also. It’s hard to keep from getting discouraged some times.September 10, 2013 at 8:07 am #81049
I spent a lot of time doing a number of things with them to get them to trust me, but what really helped was talking them through situations where they balked. Rather than turning back and letting them win or just forcing them through it using more fear or force, I learned to talk them through it. It seemed that my voice and attitude was what won their confidence, which paid big dividends when we got into some difficult logging situations later on. Good luck.October 10, 2013 at 11:16 am #81328
Just wanted to give a little update on my progress. I continued to work the problem mule single and he is starting a little better. I neglected my older mule for a while and when I decided to get him out, we would get a few hundred feet from the house and he would want to turn and go back to the hitching post. I would have to stop and turn him back around and head back out. I took to riding him every day because it is easier for me to correct him in the saddle. Every time he turned to go back to the house we would do a few circles and head out in the right direction. We done this for about a week and he started showing less interest in turning to go back home.
I finally bought a new team harness but the wife had to have surgery and there was a bout two weeks I didn’t get to do much with them other than ride the one. So this past Sunday I got to hook them together and they didn’t do as bad as I thought. They started good stopped good but didn’t steer too good. I have managed to hook them the last three nights and go for a short sled ride but my steering isn’t getting any better. My younger mule will turn his head and keep walking straight ahead when I tighten the lines. I have tried steady pressure and even short pulses to send a better signal but it doesn’t seem to work. The older mule will try to push him or pull him but he gets frustrated and stops or just goes with him. Any thoughts? Should I just keep driving and eventually it will get better? I would like to graduate to a wheeled vehicle but I want to be able to make better turns first. Here is a couple pictures with my neighbor holding the lines. Thanks Paulk.
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