"Go Forward" Cue

by Tim Doud - Diamond Creek Mules - Cody, Wyoming

Originally published in 7/09

Training starts with an exercise as basic as moving forward. Teaching your mule the “go forward” cue is essential to everything he does. It is essential to walking, side-passing, loping, trotting, trailer loading, leading, crossing water, leaving a group on a trail ride to ride alone, jumping, moving cattle, barrel racing… and the list goes on.

Once your mule understands the cue to move forward, then you can teach him any maneuver with the reins and your legs. But if your mule ever locks his feet or is reluctant to move then you are missing this essential step in your training.

Has your mule ever refused to move when you ride or lead him? Do you ever find yourself constantly kicking your mule to get him to walk forward? The “go forward” cue is the answer.

You ride the mule you lead

Many people don’t think leading and ground manners are important. They think that it is OK for their mule to have bad ground and leading manners, as long as he is fine under saddle.

However, if there are “holes” in your mule’s leading and ground manners, then there will be “holes” when you are riding your mule and in his overall training. Period.

Many people will bring me a mule with riding problems. The mule will buck, run off, lock-up his feet, won’t respond to the bridle, etc. In every case, I can see the problem when the owner is handling the mule on the ground. Most of the time, the problem can be fixed on the ground before I even get on the mule. I will never ride a mule that has bad ground manners.

“Go forward” cue

This is why the “go forward” cue is essential to your mule’s training. If this is not solid, then everything else will have holes. Your mule should go forward when you ask him to. It should not matter if you are asking him to walk, trot or run next to you on the ground. It also should not matter that you are moving through the pasture, walking into the trailer or running across a tarp.

To teach the “Go Forward” cue, you will concentrate on the point of the hip. If you get the hip to move forward, the rest of the mule will follow.

For this lesson, you will need a halter and lead rope or a bridle with a snaffle bit and a stiff dressage whip.

With the halter or bridle on the mule, stand off to the side of the mule at the shoulder. Place the free end of the lead rope over the mule’s neck. Hold the lead rope about six inches from the halter or bit. Look at the point of the hip. Looking at the point of the hip is your first cue. This is called a “pre-cue.”

If the mule does not move forward, kiss or cluck to your mule. This is your second “pre-cue.” The next cue is to take the dressage whip and gently tap the mules “point of the hip.” We want to encourage the mule to move forward, not beat or hurt the mule. We do not want the mule to feel any pain. Pain will only cause resistance in the mule. You want the mule to know that you will keep tapping until he moves forward.

The second the mule moves a foot forward, immediately stop the tapping and praise the mule. If the mule does not respond, tap a little harder. But be sure to stop tapping the minute the mule moves forward, even if for just one step.

It is important to stop the cue and praise the mule. This tells the mule he gave you the right answer. It will get the mule to try harder to find the right answer.

Be sure to understand how your mule thinks. He may try to move backward, left or right, or up or down before he tries moving forward. This is how he finds the right answer. Your mule can move in six different directions; up, down, left, right, forward or backward. When he finds the answer you are looking for, then you praise him. As you continue to reinforce the cue and continue asking, he will learn exactly what you are looking for and begin getting the answer sooner and sooner.

An immediate release will get your mule to respond quicker and try harder. After much practice, the mule will start to respond from your pre-cues. You will be able to teach your mule to “go forward” by looking at the point of the hip and kissing to the mule.

After the mule responds to your cue and you have praised him, ask the mule to “go forward” again. Go through your pre-cues and cues until the mule moves forward.

Work on getting your mule to constantly take one step forward. Then, after he is consistent with one step, begin asking the mule for two steps, then three and four and so on. By now your mule should be responding to your pre-cues, but be patient, this will take many repetitions.

You may be thinking, “How will this help me in the saddle?” When riding, you will use the same formula, but with your legs. Understand that this will translate to the saddle. Your mule will begin associating what you are asking with what you did on the ground and he will get the right answer quicker and more consistently.

While in the saddle, if your mule stops moving forward, concentrate on the point of the hip, then kiss or cluck to the mule. These are your “pre-cues.” A kiss or cluck tells the mule you want “movement.” You are asking the mule to move something.

Squeeze with your legs if the mule does not move forward. If he does not respond to a squeeze, you will start lightly bumping the mule’s side with your legs. Finally, you bump harder until the mule moves forward.

Just like when you were on the ground, the second the mule moves forward, stop the cue and praise the mule. If the mule is moving forward, leave your legs still.

However, understand that if you keep bumping the mule with your legs as he is moving, the mule will start ignoring your cues. This is called “burning the cue.” If you keep cueing your mule after he is doing what you’ve asked, then he will say, “Well, he keeps kicking me when I am not moving and when I am moving, so I guess it doesn’t matter what I do, so I will just stop moving.” Then, your cue is burned out.

Just like on the ground, If you are consistence with your cues, your mule will start to respond from your cue, then from your pre-cues.

So, if you are leading your mule and he stops and will not move his feet, go back to his shoulder and ask his hip to move forward. You now have a cue to give your mule to step into the trailer, walk up to the wash rack or cross a tarp, cross the river, and move forward. You will be amazed at how your mule will follow you any where.
Tim Doud can be reached at  www.diamondcreekmules.com, or by phone at 307-899-1089.

Q&A with Tim Doud: Training is a Long Term Commitment

originally published in 2009

by Tim Doud
Diamond Creek Mules
Cody, Wyoming

My husband, Jim and I live in NE Arizona. We bought two older mules three years ago…our first mules. Two years ago we bought two paint mares; they were both in foal to a jack. Those two mule colts will be 2-years-old in May. They lead, tie, trailer and pick up their feet. We have had pack saddles on them, overnight camp trips, saddles with long-lines with just a halter and snaffle bits. They get handled daily, but not worked on a real regular basis; we both still work full time away from the home. Wanted to give you some background on them and me.

Both Jim and I have had horses for the past 25 years. What I am looking for is other training lessons I can work them with. These two john colts are our first babies ever – then we turned around and rebred the mares to a much smaller jack to give us some future mules we could use for packing. Those two will be one year old in May. The 2-year-olds are 15 hands already. What I don’t want to do is burn them out on the same ‘ole lessons. Can you give me some pointers? We ride, pack and drive. We have a forecart now with two harnesses and my husband is building a covered wagon. Any info you can give
us would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you very much for your time and input,
Tanya and Jim Pea, Concho, Arizona.

It sounds like you have a plan for your mules and your mules have a great start. The number one thing to remember about training is training is a long term commitment. We live in a ‘quick fix’ society, but you cannot buy this bit, or that video and your mule will magically be trained. You can get any mule to do anything you wish with a snaffle bit. It is not the bit that trains the mule; it is the person behind the bit. A good example is the mule that won’t stop. I am sure you have seen ads for bits, “guaranteed to stop your mule”; most of these bits are very severe. What happens is the bit will cause the mule pain. The mule will stop when you first use the bit on him, but as the mule gets use to the pain he will run through the bit.

The best solution…..Training. Any mule will stop on a dime with a halter if he is trained to do so. That type of response will not happen overnight; it takes many hours of teaching on your part and learning on your mule’s part.
But, it is possible. Anything is possible with your mules, but teaching and learning needs to happen for them to learn what you want them to learn.

The first and most important detail in training…..training takes place every time you are in contact with your mule, whether you are feeding, brushing, leading, petting, etc. There are lessons that can be taught in several brief segments or lessons that can be taught over several 60-90 minute sessions.

A few examples of lessons that can be taught in brief segments are teaching him or her to pick up his feet on cue, come to you on cue, leading with or without a lead rope, or waiting patiently for your cue to eat his hay.

A few examples of lessons that should be done several times in 60 or 90 minute segments are: teaching turns in the round pen, sacking out, saddling, ground driving. I will explain these lessons in detail in upcoming articles.

Regardless of the length of the lesson, over time, you are teaching him to always look for a cue from you when you are around him. It will also build a partnership between you and your mule. Any time you ask your mules to respond to a cue and they respond correctly, make sure you reward them. This is the process that will have your mule looking forward to your lessons and learning.

A Few More Examples:
Since your mules are wearing snaffle bits, you can work on bridle work from the ground. Everything you do with the bridle on the ground will transfer to the saddle. Bridle work can be done in 60 minute or 15 minute lessons. You can work on give to the bit, disengage the hindquarters, move and lift their front shoulders, side-pass, etc. Just be sure that when you end your lesson with your mule he is better at the exercise than when you started.

Another great lesson to teach any mule is to ‘Spook in Place’. It is unfair to ask any mule not to be afraid. Just like different people are afraid of different things, so are mules. What you want to teach your mule is “I know you are afraid. But, here is what you do when you are afraid. I will give you a cue and tell you what to do.” Eventually you will have taught your mule to stand still, not run away, buck or rear. Anyone can ride a mule that is afraid if the mule does not move his feet and knows what to do when he is afraid.

I teach all young mules these lessons BEFORE I climb into the saddle for the first time. I spend a minimum of 90 days starting a mule under saddle and at least four to six weeks doing ground work before I even think about mounting. That way the mule knows how to respond to my rein cues should he get scared when I am riding him.

A solid foundation is the key to a great partnership between you and your mule. No matter what the age of the mule is, a foundation can be put on your mule, it just takes time.

Tanya and Jim, you are correct that you do not want to drill any lesson into your mules. The mule will lose interest and his performance will suffer. I am sure you have seen a mule with his ears always pinned back. This is a mule that is not enjoying what he is doing. Always remember to allow the mule to be a mule; he is not a machine or a piece of equipment. He thinks and breaths and lives just like we do. If the mule enjoys what he is doing he will look like he was born to lope or slide or stop or anything else you ask him to do.

It is a personal decision you will have to make on when to start your mules. Your two year olds can be ridden if their joints are closed. Only an x-ray from your vet will tell if the joints are closed. Personally, I start all my personal mules the fall of their third year. A mule will live 10 years longer than a horse. I will give the mule a year in the front because I know I will get 10 years in the back, and they will not have joint problems later in life.

Another reason I wait until they are three years old is I have other mules to start. When a person only has one or two mules it is harder to wait. You want to start your mules so you can use them. I also run an outfitting business. My camp is located 22 miles from the road. This requires a 10 hour ride to get into the camp. So, by starting my mules the fall of their third year, by the time they are ready to be ridden, I can ride them into my back country camp.
This allows me to put about 50 miles of riding on them each week.

Again, in the following months I will be writing articles explaining how to teach some of the exercises I discussed previously in this article. I would like to thank Tanya and Jim, and all the other readers, who have sent questions. If you would like a question answered in an upcoming article, or would like me to discuss a specific lesson for you, please let me know. I would be happy to discuss it with, or for you.

Tim Doud can be reached at www.diamondcreekmules.com, or by phone at 307/899-1089 or by email at bliss@wave.com.
If you mail please include your phone number so Tim can call you to answer questions.

Lessons for the Mule Foal

by Tim Doud
Diamond Creek Mules
Cody, Wyo.

You have your foal...Now What do you do?

You have decided to raise your own mule. You have either purchased a mule foal or found the right jack to bred to your mare. Once you get your new mule foal home or your mare foals out, what do you do?
One question I get asked a lot is “What age can I start training my mule?” The answer is, “Right away.”
You should never start riding a mule until his leg joints have closed. The only way to be sure a mule’s leg joint has closed is to have the joints ex-rayed by a veterinarian. Most mule’s joints will close when the mule is three years old.
A mule must be physically able to carry weight in order to insure his safety and health. But there are many things we can do with a foal that does not require the mule to carry weight. These are lessons that they will need later in life when we start to ride, drive, pack or just handle them.
The number one thing to always remember when working or being around a mule foal is to treat the foal the same as you would treat a mature mule. What I mean by this is that none of us would allow a mature mule to kick at us, bite our sleeve, push us against the gate, etc. Remember the mule is always learning, even at a very young age.
One thing you do not want to do is to get into a fight with your foal. If the foal is acting scared or aggressive, step back and rethink your lesson plan. A foal will react violently to pain.
The goals to accomplish with your lessons include 1) developing control of the foal; 2) gaining trust and respect from the foal; 3) getting the foal to move his feet when you ask and in the direction you want and 4) teaching basic manners.
When working with a foal limit training sessions to 15 minute sessions. This will allow the foal to rest and nurse between sessions. You can do more than one session a day or only one session a day. Just remember to not drill your foal with lessons, you want the foal to enjoy the time you spend with them training.
A lot of people think it’s cute when a foal comes up and nibbles on our sleeve. If we allow the foal to continue this behavior, the foal will soon start to bite our sleeve, then nip your arm, soon we have a mule that is biting us and we do not know why. We have taught the mule to bite.
So how should we control this situation? Spend a lot of time hugging the foal’s head and lightly rub his nose, ears etc. Not a hard rub, but a soft rub. We do not want to hurt the foal. Foals who get a lot of attention paid to their head’s rarely bite.
Soon the mule will keep his mouth away from us. We are also sacking out the mules head, so the foal will be ready to halter, bridle, clip his ears, etc., later in life.
Biting is an act of aggression and the worst thing a mule can do. If the foal does bite us, the correction is the same as an adult mule. You have three seconds to make the foal think he has made the worst mistake of his life. Your correction must happen immediately after the bite within three seconds. If you wait any longer, the mule will not associate the correction with the bite.
Make enough noise to startle him. If you have been calmly working with you mule, he will know that he did something wrong.
If he bites you again, your correction should make him think he is going to die. You are not allowed to hit the mule forward of the withers. You cannot hit the mule with anything that will injure the mule. As an example, you could take the lead rope and swat the foal’s rump. Remember you must stay behind the withers. Shout and holler when you correct the foal. You only have three seconds to correct the mule. After three seconds go back to cuddling your foal.
The mule should allow a person to touch any part of his body. The earlier in the foals life you teach this lesson, the easier it is for the foal and the owner. Some people will begin as soon as the foal is born. This is called imprint training. See the February 2011 issue of Mules and More or visit my website www.diamondcreekmules.com for my article on imprint training.
Teaching the mule to allow you to touch any part of his body is sacking the foal out. You will start with your hand. Foals love attention. Start petting the foal with your hand on his body. The key is to stop petting BEFORE the foal tries to pull away.
Start where you can pet the foal and work towards the area that you cannot. Let’s say you would like to work on picking up the foal’s feet. Start by rubbing the foals back and work towards the front shoulder. Remember to pull you hand away before the foal moves. This is the release for the mule.
When the foal stands calmly with you rubbing his shoulder, work your way down the foal’s front leg. Do not run your hand straight down the leg. Run your hand from the foals back, to the shoulder and inch down the leg, then back to the shoulder. When the mule is comfortable with this, go two inches down the leg, then three inches, then four inches, etc., while always going back up to the shoulder or back.
Soon you will be down to the foal’s hoof. Always remember to stay in front of the front shoulder. A foal can kick you, just like a mature mule. Always keep yourself safe and keep the mule safe.
As you touch the foal’s hoof, the foal will pick up his hoof on his own. Work on holding the hoof. When the foal will let you hold his hoof, take your hand and tap his hoof. This will teach the mule to have a shoe nailed on later in life. Even if you do not shoe your mule, the mule will be easy to trim and your farrier will love you.
Use the same process for the foals hind feet. Start at the foal’s back and work your way down to the hind leg.
When the foal is comfortable with you touching every part of his body, take a soft lead rope and sack the foal out, then a halter. Keep building on this lesson by introducing something scarier to the foal than your last item, but not scarier enough to make the foal move away. Remember to work in 15 minute segments.
Teaching a mule to lead is easiest done as a foal with the mare at his side. If you have a helper to lead the mare, you can concentrate on the foal. The foal will always stay next to the mare and follow the mare.
You can use the mare to get the foal to walk and stop. If you or your helper walks the mare forward, soon the foal will follow.  When the mare stops, the foal will stop with her.
Remember to sack your foal out with the halter so you can calmly place the halter on the foal. Never leave a halter on a mule, especially a foal. The foal can catch the halter on a fence or feeder in his pen. The foal can also catch his hind foot in the halter and injure himself or, worst yet, be killed. 
Build trust and a “want to” attitude in your mule. Mules should always give you a right answer. As a trainer you want to always be teaching a mule to improve. But you must also know what the mule can do and what he cannot.
A foal, just like a child, will not want to go to school if school is not fun and the student is not improving. This would be the same as walking up to the mule throwing a saddle on his back and jumping on. This will not be a pleasant experience for the mule or the owner. We must start the simple exercises and lessons that the mule can accomplish and build confidence in himself and in people. Soon the mule will learn that we will not put him in a situation that he will feel pain or get hurt.
The mule will start to learn that if he is ever scared or unsure of what to do, he can look to us for the answer. Respond to our cues 100 percent of the time and we will take care of you. This is harder for a mule to learn than a horse. A mule is always looking out for his safely.
These are just a couple of the many lessons that you can teach you foal. Remember that you can teach the foal almost any lesson that does not require the foal to carry weight. Keep training short and fun for your foal and as he grows up you will have a mule that is a very good student.

You can reach Tim Doud at www.diamondcreekmules.com, by phone at (307)899-1089 or by email at bliss@wavecom.net. You can also “Like” Tim Doud on Facebook. Tim’s past training articles can be found on his website.

Picking Up A Mule's Hind Feet

by Tim Doud, Diamond Creek Mules, Cody, Wyoming

Many people own mules that are weary of having their feet picked up or having their hind feet handled. There are many reasons why your mule could be like this. Your mule might have not been trained to pick up his hind feet or might have had bad experiences with this before. Whatever the reason, we cannot change it. All we can do from this point forward is teach our mule that it is OK for us to handle their hind feet.

Tapping his foot, pinching his tendon or dropping his foot and letting it hit the ground all cause the mule pain or discomfort. These are not the best ways to handle this issue.

To accomplish your goal of picking up his feet, begin your lesson by putting a halter and lead rope or a bridle with a snaffle bit on your mule. I like using a bridle with a snaffle bit because your mule will learn the lesson faster. Prerequisites for this lesson are the “Go Forward” cue (featured in the July 2009 issue of Mules and More) and “Disengaging the Hindquarters.”

An important note to remember: never assume that your mule will not kick. Always stay in a safe position when dealing with the hind feet. A mule that is sensitive to you being near his hind end may react quickly if he is nervous or pushed too hard. Use caution.

The ultimate goal of this exercise is to teach your mule to take the weight off his hind foot so you are able to pick up the foot with ease.

We will work with the left hind foot first. With the left rein in your left hand and a dressage whip in your right hand, ask the mule to “Go Forward.” The mule should circle around you with his nose tipped in towards you with no pressure on the rein.

Next, ask the mule to disengage his hind quarters and stop. The hind-quarter should move away from you to the right. The mule should be facing you when he stops. If the mule disengages his hind-quarter, but does not stop, keep disengaging the hind-quarter until the mule stops. Remember to release the rein each time the mule disengages his hind-quarter.

Again, you are looking for your mule to take the weight off his hind left leg and rest his foot on his toe – cocked, if you will.

If the mule stops and does not take the weight off his left hind leg, take slack out of the rein and ask the hip to take another step away, to the right.

Continue working on “Go Forward” and “Disengaging the Hindquarters.” Each time you “Disengage the Hindquarters,” look for the mule to take weight off the left hind leg. However, each time the mule keeps weight on his left hind foot, ask him to “Go Forward” a few steps again and take slack out of the rein and again ask him to disengage his hind-quarter and stop.

When you are successful and the mule does rest his foot on his toe after the stop, allow the mule to stand still. Continue allowing him to stand as long as that foot is resting on his toe.

At the moment he decides to put weight back on the foot, begin the process all over again.

When your mule is consistently standing and resting his left foot on the toe, you can begin “Sacking Out” the foot. Make sure that the mule will not kick out before you start sacking out the foot. If you believe the mule will kick out, stop the lesson and fix the problem of your mule kicking. I will cover kicking mules in another article.

To begin “Sacking Out” your mule, stand at the mule’s left side. While his foot is resting on the toe, take you right hand and “Sack Out” the mule by slowly rubbing him from his head, working your way down his back towards the hip. Once you are at the hip, return to the mule’s head and praise the mule. By returning to the mule’s head, you are releasing any pressure applied to the mule.

Another tip, be patient when sacking your mule. Some mules may only allow you to sack to the shoulder initially. It may take several “releases” before you reach the hip.

Pay attention to the mule for any reaction to your “Sacking Out,” flinching, ears pinned, tension. Any of these reactions means you must spend more time sacking him out.

After your mule is comfortable with you touching him to his hip, work your way down to the left hind foot, constantly returning to your mule’s back for a release. Again, make sure your mule is completely relaxed and work you way down the mule’s leg until you can pet the foot while the foot is resting on the toe.

Remember, even while you are sacking out your mule, if he applies weight to the foot at any time, pick-up the rein and ask the mule to step his hind quarters away until he is resting the foot on the toe.

Next, work your way back down to the foot and pick-up the mule’s foot by the heel, one inch off the ground, then immediately set the foot down, return to your mule’s head and praise him.

As he gets comfortable with you picking up the foot for a second, one-inch off the ground, progress by picking up the foot for longer periods of time. Set the foot down before the mule takes the foot away. Also, do not let the foot drop to the ground, set the foot down.

Once your mule is comfortable with the hind left foot, you will need to repeat the entire process on the right side to train your mule to pick-up his right hind foot. With many reputations on both sides of the mule, your mule will calmly and willing pick-up his hind feet for you.

Diamond Creek Angel
Diamond Creek Angel has been cued to "Go Forward" and is moving around Tim with her head inwards

Tim is now asking Angel to disengage her hind quarters and stop

Angel has taken the weight off her hind leg and is resting her foot on her toe

After several repetitions, Angel has taken her weight off her hind quarters

After "sacking out" Angel, Tim is now picking up Angel's foot by the heel
After "sacking out" Angel, Tim is now picking up Angel's foot by the heel

Tim Doud can be reached at www.diamondcreekmules.com, or by phone at 307/899-1089 or by email at bliss@wave.com. If you mail please include your phone number so Tim can call you to answer questions.

Teaching A Mule To Pick-Up A Lead

by Tim Doud, Diamond Creek Mules, Cody, Wyo.

Haunches In is the best way to teach your mule to pick up the correct lead

Ride your mule along the fence to start your rollback. Finish your rollback by turning your mule into the fence and asking for the lope
Getting the correct lead at the lope or canter can be a difficult or frustrating task to teach your mule. How can we teach a mule to lope off on a left or right lead? How do we know if the mule is on the correct lead?

When a mule is on the correct lead, the mule is leading that gait with his inside front leg. If we are loping to the left, the left front foot will be the last foot hitting the ground in stride, but reaches the farthest forward to lead your mule.

The entire process of the canter or lope lead actually begins with the outside hind leg. That is the leg that pushes off and causes the mule to lead with the inside front and hind legs. So the canter or lope goes like this: Outside hind, inside hind and outside front, inside front – it is, in fact, a three-beat gait.

When the mule “strikes off” into the canter or lope, the mule will push off the outside hind and at the same time, pick up the inside “leading” shoulder to pick up the correct lead. For all of this to happen, you must have a light and supple mule that is willing to bend around your inside leg by being soft in the hips and shoulders.

The desired position of your mule to strike off correctly is having your mule’s hips-in and shoulders elevated. Below are some ways to help you achieve this maneuver with your mule to help you teach the correct leads.

Keep in mind, there are many ways to teach a mule to pick up a lead. That is great news for the mule owner. If we are having problems teaching a mule to pick up a lead, we can experiment with different lessons to teach the mule. I will cover just some of the lessons you can use. These are by no means complete lesson plans. Instead, I hope to give you the idea behind each approach and give you the opportunity to experiment to help your mule find the right answer. After all, training is just that, helping your mule with information you have learned.

Haunches In – This is the best lesson to teach your mule. Ask the mule to move his haunches, hind quarters, inside the circle we would like to lope. Do this by using your outside leg behind the cinch or girth and outside rein towards the hip to move the hip inside. If we ask the mule to pick up his left lead while moving his haunches inside to the left, the mule will lope off in a left lead. Remember, he must be soft and supple to achieve success.

Shoulder In – Use your outside leg in front of the cinch or girth to move the inside shoulder in as we ask for the lead. Trot the mule off; apply pressure with your outside leg (right leg). When the mule moves his inside shoulder (left shoulder) to the left, immediately ask the mule to lope off into the left lead. Moving the inside shoulder in is the first step of the lead. In this instance, you are actually asking your mule to “fall into” the lead. Over time, you will have to go back to haunches-in to get the correct collection for a proper lead departure.

Rollbacks – This is the easiest of all the lessons to teach the mule. Ride the mule in a straight line along a fence or wall. Ask the mule to rollback turning into the fence or wall. Just as you are coming out of the rollback, drive your mule forward into a lope or canter with both legs. The mule will pick up the lead. If you ask your mule to lope and they do not, immediately turn your mule again and ask for the lope in the other direction. When your mule is loping, allow him to lope for several strides, then walk, take a break and try again.

Haunches In On Rail – This lesson is the same lesson as haunches in, but we will use a fence to help the mule. The difference is if we ask the mule for haunches in and the mule disengages his hind quarters instead of moving his haunches in, we will move to the fence. The fence will keep the mule from moving his shoulder to the outside. This will keep the mule walking or trotting straight, but still moving his haunches to the inside. The mule will pick up the same lead as the direction the haunches move.

Small Circles – Trot small circles with the mule in one direction. After several circles, ask the mule to pick up speed with both legs. Eventually, your mule will lope off into the lead of the direction you are circling. The mule will pick up the lead you are making your circles in. Make sure to make tight circles, but not too tight or you will slow the mule down or make him stop his forward progress.

Ride into the Fence – Ride the mule straight towards a fence. As you approach the fence, make a 90 degree turn. As the mule finishes the 90 degree turn, use your outside leg, and drive your mule into the lope. Your mule will pick up the lead for the direction you are turning. If you turn to the left, use your right, outside leg, and the mule will take a left lead.

Ride over Poles – Place six poles in a circle spaced about nine to 11 feet apart. Trot in circles outside of poles working you way into poles. Just before you reach any pole, ask your mule to lope over the pole. If they pick up the correct lead, lope away from the poles. If they do not pick up the correct lead, immediately stop your mule and try again.

Reverse Arch Circles - A reverse arch circle is when a mule has is head turned one direction, let’s say left, and is moving his body the other direction, right. With a mule performing a reverse arch circle to the left, you are putting the hip to the right and therefore will have an easy time of getting the right lead. Perform the reverse arch to the left, then drive your mule into the lope to the right with your left leg.

Serpentines – Serpentines are a figure eight pattern. Ride three-to-four serpentines at the trot, then ask the mule to lope off at the direction change in a serpentine. If your mule gets the correct lead, lope away from the serpentine. If not, immediately stop your mule and start your serpentines again.

A fun way to work through the exercise is to first, pick a lesson you feel comfortable with. Next, let’s say you want to get five correct lead departures today. We will start at five and subtract one point each time the mule picks up the correct lead. Add two points for an incorrect lead until you reach zero. But remember, when you first begin teaching this, you must be patient and understand that your mule has no idea what it is you are about to teach. Give your mule the opportunity to “get the idea” before putting the stress of consecutive correct leads into play.

Remember, these are just a few of the many ways to teach a mule to pick up a lead. Pick a lesson that is fun for you and fun for your mule and with practice you will have a mule that will calmly lope off in the correct lead when you ask. You can reach Tim Doud at www.diamondcreekmules.com, by phone at 307-899-1089 or by e mail at bliss@wavecom.net. You can also “Like” Tim Doud on Facebook. Tim’s past training articles can be found on his web site.

(top to bottom) TIM asks Angel for a Reverse Arch Circle to strike off on the correct lead