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.
Diamond Creek Angel has been cued to
"Go Forward" and is moving around Tim with her head
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
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
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
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
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.
Tim is now asking Angel to disengage
her hind quarters and stop.
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
At the moment he decides to put weight back on the foot, begin
the process all over again.
After several repetitions, Angel has
taken the weight off her hind left leg and is resting
her foot on her toe.
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
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.
After "Sacking Out" Angel, Tim is now
picking up Angel's foot by the heel
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.