I look forward to reading your articles!
I am interested in a training program for me and my mule. Just
recently I purchased the entire set of John Lyons books from a horse
person that no longer rides. I was not sure if all of the principles
would apply to my mule and was so glad to see the article about you.
Is there anything that does not apply to mules that applies to
A little about Franklin and me; I purchased him at a foreclosure
auction last January. He was a ‘gentleman’s farm’, although the
owners were not gentlemen. They owned property in Cooperstown, NY,
got in over their heads, had Frisians, mules, quarter horses,
miniatures, etc…..and one day just drove away. Franklin was mule #12
and gave new definition to a large impulse purchase! He is 16 hands
even, bay, long thinnish legs (definitely not draft mix) and he has
a gorgeous big head with amazing brown eyes.
It took about five weeks of my going to the barn every day for him
to decide he liked me and that he was my fella. I am 53, rode
English as a kid and am now riding western. Could use a lot of
lessons, and am working on that aspect. I have trail-ridden Franklin
for up to four hours and he is a prince on the trail. I trust him
completely and we have been in a couple of crazy situations, like a
giant 15 foot branch landing on his back, riding in the town parade.
He prefers to lead on the trail and kicks out if horses come running
up behind him. The problem is that he is pretty much in charge,
which I know is the exact wrong thing. He tried to dump me only once
and that was when the mare we were riding with went back to the barn
early. He whirled around in circles, each time getting closer to
where she was headed, threw a buck or two, and then gave up and we
went on our way with the gelding.
I do not want to continue to train him incorrectly, as I am sure I
have already done. As soon as spring comes I will start round pen
work with him. Any thoughts appreciated. Would love to attend a
clinic of yours. – Take Care, Terri Bright, New York
Thank you for your question. The books from John Lyons are a great
investment in your training program. Any good training program, like
John’s, will work for any equine. The major difference you will see
in training a mule versus a horse is you. You will need to be more
consistent and more specific with your cues when training a mule.
When I attended the John Lyons certification program I was the only
student in class with mules. I still did every lesson the same as
the other students did with horses. The difference was I had to do a
better job of communicating to my mules. I had to be more specific
with what I was asking them to do. I will always remember the first
day of the certification, Josh Lyons, John’s son, walked into the
room and the first thing he said was, “Who brought the mules?”
I responded that they were mine. Josh replies, “Don’t make any
As I mentioned above, training mules means better communication. You
can allow your mules to make mistakes, they all will at one point or
another. But, you must be confident, specific and consistent from
day one. It will make all the difference. Contrary to what many
think, you can fix any issues that arise. Just be patient, specific
Your mule will tell you if you are communicating effectively. Your
mule will also let you know if he is out-thinking you. If he
out-thinks you, he is essentially training you. For example, let’s
say you are starting to round-pen your mule. You ask the mule to
turn near the gate. You soon realize he turns perfectly for you in
that same spot every time. So, you continue asking him there because
he gets it every time. You think great, the mule has learned the cue
for a turn and it was so easy. Hold on…..it ends up that the mule
has memorized your pattern.
|WHEN YOU ARE
asking your mule for a turn make sure the mule is responding
to your cue, not a pattern you have created
When you are asking your mule for a turn, or to complete any task,
make sure the mule is responding to your cue, not a pattern you have
created. Make sure you ask for a response to your cue at different
times and places, while being specific and consistent.
Mules are always thinking; more so when you are with him or her.
This is their self-preservation. In order to build a better
relationship with your mule, you as the trainer, need to be sure you
make it easy for your mule to understand what you are after. If you
always ask the mule questions, or give it cues it can answer, you
will build a trust between you and your mule. If not, you will have
a mule that will not respond well to your training methods.
The best way to help a mule find the right answer to your question
or cue is to be specific and break your training session down into
smaller steps. If you ask your mule a question and he gives you the
wrong answer, do not get mad at him. Getting mad only creates
problems and the mule will become more defensive and eventually
harder to train. Take a step back and think about how you can make
the exercise simpler and more obvious for him. Then, ask the mule
again until he answers the question correctly. Once he answers
correctly, be sure to make a big deal out of it and praise him for
doing it right.
Being positive is one of the best ways to help your mule progress
quicker. Negative trainers are always telling their mule what not to
do; don’t walk forward, don’t back up. Positive trainers concentrate
on what their mule is doing right. No matter what you are asking
your mule to do, focus on helping him get the right answer as often
as possible. If your mule makes a mistake, which he will, instead of
getting mad at him, ask him again.
MULE ANSWERS correctly be sure to make a big deal out of it
and praise him for doing it right
Think about training as professional athletes do. A professional
basketball player is considered great if he makes 50 percent of his
baskets. How can we expect our mules to execute each command 100
percent of the time? The only way to achieve that is through
practice, training and learning. In order for the basketball player
to get to the 50 percent completion rate he must spend many hours
each day shooting baskets. The shot must become an automatic
response. The automatic response from your mule also takes hours,
months and years of practice----just as it does for a professional
Training is not a quick fix; it takes hours and hours of practice
with our mules in order for the mule to learn each cue. This does
not mean we must drill each exercise into the mule. We must make
learning fun for our mule. Do this by breaking each lesson up into
shorter sessions, or take your mule for a short trail ride to get
out of the arena.
However, there are a few important things to remember when choosing
a training program for you and your mule. Most importantly, be sure
the training program you choose works for you and your mule. Next,
when evaluating any training program three rules apply: Rule #1 –
You cannot get hurt. Rule #2 – The mule cannot get hurt, and Rule #3
– The mule must be calmer at the end of the lesson than before the
Rule #1 “You cannot get hurt”. You are more important than any mule.
If you are teaching a lesson you should ask yourself before you
start, “Can I get hurt doing this lesson?” If the answer is “yes”,
or even “maybe”, then do not do the lesson.
Rule #2 “The mule cannot get hurt”. Remember, you are responsible
for the mule’s safety. If you think the mule can get hurt, or will
be caused pain by the teaching method, then do not use the training
method. Accidents will happen, but you need to do everything
possible to keep your mule safe.
Rule #3 “The mule must be calmer at the end of the lesson than
before the lesson began.” If the mule is calm and relaxed after the
training lesson, he understands what the trainer is asking. Any time
we apply pain to a lesson, whether from a severe bit, excessive
force, etc., the mule will resist the training and will not learn.
He, instead, will go into preservation mode and vices/issues will
You mentioned your mule kicks at other animals in back of him on the
trail. He also tried to dump you once when another equine you were
with went back to the back. When your mule acts up like this, ask
him to do something you know he will respond to. Disengage his hip;
move his front shoulder to the left, ride a small circle around a
bush to the right, etc. Keep your mule busy and keep his mind off
the animal behind him, or the mare leaving.
Some people are afraid to train their mule because they think they
will ‘mess him up’. Equines, even mules, are like a blackboard, you
can erase and start all over again, no matter their history. The
history does not matter, it is what you do from this day forward
that will shape your mule’s future. A mule that has been abused can
take a lot of time to trust a human again. However, some of the best
mules I have are mules that were abused or given to me as
‘unfixable’. After years of training they have become great
Tim can be reached at
www.diamondcreekmules.com, or by phone at 307/899-1089, or