People often ask me when I like to start my babies. My response is, “I like them to be dried off!” What I mean by that is, I like to get my hands on them as soon as possible. Being able to be around them and handling them in a quiet and easy manner. We must put a lot of thought and consideration into working babies. It is so easy to start them off when they are young rather then waiting for them to grow up. It is so important to be able to handle and be around the babies from day one.
Remember a baby is a baby. Mule, horse or donkey, they are no different. They may be different in certain physical characteristics, but at the end of the day they’re all the same. I feel the same way about people. I treat everyone the same when I meet them, or work with them, but if there are adjustments to be made, we make the adjustments and carry-on. That’s how I handle the babies.
I like to be able to start introducing human contact from day one. It is ideal to be around the baby with the mare present. The mare can assist you when working with the baby. It is important that all my mares have a good handle on them, so I can be in the pen with them both. The mares should be good with having you around the baby without being too nervous or protective. If your mare is gentle and stands quiet that is great. However, if the mare gets too nervous or tries to keep herself between you and the baby it is best to halter her, and either hand hold the mare or tie her up while you are work with the baby. I like to make the mare as calm as possible, so the baby doesn’t get worked up or nervous as well. It can help to give the mare some feed to help keep her calm in these situations.
I like to stand with the mare and rub on her and wait for the baby to come to me. The baby will want to be close to the mare and will keep coming back to her. I wait patiently for the baby to come to me. Don’t force it, just set it up and wait for it. If we were to look at the natural environment of the horse, mule and donkey, there is no human involvement. In their herd environment there is direction, there is discipline and manners are taught. If one needs more direction it is given to them, if one needs a clearer picture, the picture is painted for them.
We will only succeed if we have a plan and a solid methodology. Anytime I handle the babies, I make sure that they are learning positive results. For example, when I first start to handle them and get my hands on them, they’re going to be a little bit nervous and unsure. If I were to put my arms around the baby, they are going to take off rather than stay put. If I try and hold onto them, I can’t, and they learn how to get away. Knowing that I can’t hold them, I would just let them go, start over, rub them and present a way that they never know how to leave. If they do leave, I just let them go and start over.
Once I can rub my hands all over the babies and they are comfortable with me being around them, I would take a lead rope and start to rub them all over with that. I would toss it over their neck and back and get them use to the rope on their body. When they are good with all that I would start my halter training.
I would have them in an enclosed environment with the mare present, preferably tied up for everyone’s safety including the baby! I like to start with a web halter with a long lead rope, so that the rope and the fence can contain them without holding them. I like to guide them, bend them and released them without them learning how to pull or fight. When I halter the babies, it is very important to stay off center and not be face to face. They are going to fight the halter and pull on the halter rope, so we need to be off center, so they don’t fall over backwards. Babies will be like a fish on the hook at first, and if we guide them and release them correctly, they don’t learn to pull. This sounds easy to do, but it takes a little timing and awareness.
Again, I adjust accordingly. I don’t pull and I don’t fight them. I don’t want to teach them that they are strong and that they can pull away from me. We see a lot of larger mules today with this issue. They run off on the halter rope. It is very challenging to fix, if it can be fixed at all. Because of this, it is important that we don’t pull on the baby, so he doesn’t learn to pull on us. Now I’m not saying we don’t need to hold on, because we do, but think about it and don’t make it a tug-of-war.
I like working babies in very small sessions, a couple times here and there. They’ll go through a stage of wanting to come to you, and then when their instincts kick in, they are going to want to be away from us. Don’t fret about that, let them come back and forth. Let them come to you to get rubbed on and let them look forward to it. It’s a great beginning. Remember that you will ride the mule you lead. Take your time getting them to follow a feel and not learning how to lean against it.
Please feel free to contact me @ (760) 403-3922 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or need help with anything. Check out Mules and More Magazine online or Tindell’s Horse and Mule School Facebook page for videos on some of our first touches on one of our baby mules, The Gamblers’ Marshall Dillion!