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Re: [MarvWalkerHorses] Bolting mule

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  • Margo Nielsen
    If you go back to basics you will find what gaps there are in her training. Since she sounds reactive (i.e. the bolting) I would do the opposite of the
    Message 1 of 10 , Feb 22, 2013
      If you go back to basics you will find what gaps there are in her training. Since she sounds reactive (i.e. the bolting) I would do the opposite of the "running through the fear" exercises. I would start with the least amount of pressure to find out what her response point is. I would look for responses instead of reactions. Then, if she REACTS to something that you expected a response from, that will give you a clue to what she is sensitive about.


      On Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 12:43 PM, Linda <lindavg@...> wrote:


      I have no clue what her mare was.  She's tall 16 hands and long legged, fine boned for a mule and a nice (smaller than many mules) head.  She wears a regular horse halter.  If it doesn't turn out to be vision or hearing, I'm going to have to go back to basic training issues.  We have pack stations here, and I could send her to work in the national park for the summer.  Think that might help her get a grip?  I sure don't want to do anything that might make her worse.


      On 2/21/2013 2:47 PM, Margo Nielsen wrote:

      Do you have any idea what kind of horse breed is in her heritage?

      I have heard of blindness issues in Appaloosas and Rocky Mountain Horses...
      especially the chocolate ones. My Phoebe mule is chocolate from her Shetland parent, so I've been worrying about that myself.


      On Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 12:34 PM, Linda <lindavg@...> wrote:

      Hi Margo,

      and thanks so much for all of your valuable input.  I never really thought about vision or hearing in my horses.  They just all seemed to manage okay that way.  Vision with Cher (mule) is the one thing that is really sticking to my brain.  It's nothing I can put my finger on, but more than once I have looked at her straight in the eyes and see a rather clouded corneal area in both eyes and have wondered about it..  When I look at her from her side, they look normal.  Sometimes when I see the clouded areas I think to myself about asking someone who might know, then something else always comes up and I forget.  Or I write it off to "must be a mule thing" since she's my first. 

      But, with her re-occurrence of bolting, and no obvious painful physical issues, maybe it is more subtle.  Actually diminished vision would explain a lot of her other behaviors.  It could also explain why she might be more fearful with me not being as strong as her previous owners.  I guess this may be  the next physical issue to rule out.

      I really appreciate your time and thoughts on this and I will definitely let you know where we end up.

      thanks everyone again for listening,

      On 2/20/2013 4:35 PM, Margo Nielsen wrote:


      I only thought of her not seeing well because Dixie, the problem horse which brought me to this group, turned out to have vision problems. She had been a very reliable and calm mount before my friend and I bought her, but the strangest things would spook her... mostly when something was raised higher than her eye level. She'd toss her head and back up with a start. 

      My friend, who was an amateur and going to be her sole owner became afraid of her because of this. She discovered, through reading an article in a magazine, about the symptoms of a condition where the top part of the pupil became shaded with an overgrowth of tissue. We checked her eyes out, and sure enough, she had it. Got the vet out and he confirmed it.

      But if her (name of your mule?) eyes and ears seem to be sharper than the horses', maybe it's all to new for her. Maybe your environment is so different that she hasn't figured it out. Maybe your lifestyle and riding choices are things she hasn't been trained and accustomed to. I know that some people believe that if you assert your leadership over a horse, that it should be ready to do anything you ask of it. The question is, does she know what you expect of her? How can she relate what she was doing before to what you're asking her to do now?

      I can use my Arabian mare, Toffah as an example. She had the same owner from the day she was born to when I purchased her. She was trained as a show horse and won ribbons in Western Pleasure and 1st Level Dressage, and had 6 foals, one every two or three years. I bought her at age 19 for my 12 year old daughter to use in 4-H.We do trail riding and just a little bit of arena work, so after about 2 weeks of letting her get used to us and our place we decided to go out on the trail, a few of us with me on Toffah. We ride a half mile up the street, then in sugar sand and up and down sand dunes and drainage ditches. 

      Although she was in great shape, she seemed very unsure on any footing except the pavement and flat areas. When we were in a wide open space, she was unsure of going forward unless another horse was in front of her. When we were in an arena, however, her demeanor was completely different. She would keep a consistent pace or gait as long as you wanted, took nice long firm strides and was push button with all her cues. Different horse, different environment. 

      I have seen horses who spent their life in riding arenas and enclosures freak out when they have no fence (border) to relate to and the texture and level of the ground changes, as with Toffah. I have also seen trail horses who find repeated exercises in arenas or on a lunge line become extremely bored, uninterested or just plain irritated by that environment.

      I have a mule too, Phoebe, but she is a pony mule. I don't know if having pony in her instead of horse makes a difference. She is also extremely alert. She was wild for the first 15 or so years of her life when someone dropped her off at my place on their way to Houston and never came back. I had to tame her a few months after she arrived because she had foundered and I had to keep her feet trimmed. She is still half wild, but I can walk up to her now, without tack and pick up her feet every morning to check them out. She never learned to follow me. We may get there one day. 

      I cannot say that she is necessarily smarter than the horses, but she has a definite intent to get what she wants out of me which I have to thwart and insist that we do it my way, which is surprising because of how little she had been around humans before then.

      I used treats to train her to give me her feet. If she let me hold it up, I'd reward her. I worked toward periods long enough that I could trim the whole foot. Then she decided to start having treats while I was holding it up and tried to rummage through my pockets and eventually fought holding her foot up at all... but she still wanted the treat. After that I just never gave her a treat until we were all done, and now I only give her a treat at treat time and never as a reward. In short, she changed the rules to her own convenience, so I had to reinforce my own conditions, otherwise it would take me the entire day to get her feet done!

      I trained Cherokee (my riding horse) to stand still while I mount and settle in with an alfalfa cube. Let me tell you, this horse had a long history of not letting people mount him easily before I got him. He'd back up 25 feet or spin around and around to avoid being mounted. It took me three times to succeed. Since then, for the last four years, he has never tried to change the rules. I can mount him with or without a treat.

      I have to be very subtle with my movements around Phoebe... If I move my head too fast, or even look directly at her, she will head for the other end of the yard. So, yes, your mule may be seeing a lot more of what she doesn't understand than what you realize. 

      If you could spend some time with her on a lead rope, and take walks, hand graze her and observe what interests her and what she is curious about, you may get a clue as to what she needs to get used to. Who knows... maybe she is one of those trail mounts who was trained to do a job and never had any personal attention and really doesn't understand people.

      One word of caution... in the beginning, do not stand right next to her when you are hand grazing her in case she starts or bolts, or you might get stepped on. Give her a good 5 or 6 feet with a slack rope so she can lift her head and look around while she's checking out the forage.


      On Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 4:33 PM, Linda <lindavg@...> wrote:

      Hi Margo,

      The previous owners are routinely buying and selling so nothing unusual for them.  Because of her history I also thought she would be very solid.  They are really strong riders, and I am older and not a super strong rider, but decent. 

      I have not had her eyes and hearing checked.  They seem extra good compared to the horses, but I can't be certain.  I am not familiar with these exams by vets except for disease. 
      Have you found them to be helpful?

      Her bolting has come from both visual and audio stimuli.  Subtle sounds and visions seem to be the triggers.  Real loud sounds do not seem to have much effect except she does notice them.

      Is it because I just don't know what a mule needs? 

      Thanks for your help,

      On 2/19/2013 9:51 PM, Margo Nielsen wrote:

      Is her bolting in reaction to things she sees? (you mentioned a kitten)

      If she's used to hunting wild animals you'd think she'd be pretty well exposed to just about anything.

      Have you checked her eyesight and hearing?

      Did the previous owners say why they were selling her?


      On Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 9:58 PM, Linda <lindavg@...> wrote:

      Hi Marv, and thanks for the questions,

      The mule started bolting on our 2nd ride shortly after I got her.  No reported bolting from previous owners.  They used her on their pig hunts in the hill country as well as elk hunting in Colorado.  She had girth galling when she came to me.  None of that now. 

      She has had a couple of body people, one chiropractor, one craniosacral and one physical therapist.   She got a  clean bill of health from all  of them. No sore or sensitive areas.  Her saddle is a result an independent saddle consultant with no ties to any special saddle maker.  The mule basically picked out the saddle and specific fitting with her reactions during the sessions. 

      I truly do not believe there are any issues with pain, at least none any of the experts in my area can find.

      My best interpretation of what Mark was doing:  Allowing her to release herself from the fear that she never had completely run through.  I know I have heard the old timers say to let a horse run through the bolt if safe and I figured it must be something along those lines.

      And, you're right.  Her bolting isn't cured.  I just don't know what to try next.

      Thank you,


      n 2/19/2013 5:27 PM, Marv Walker wrote:

      At 06:06 PM 2/18/2013, you wrote:


      Hi Folks,

      I'm new to the list, live on the west coast but found Marv because I'm
      going to retire in Georgia and wanted a connection with an expert out
      that way. I have been watching and appreciating your conversations and
      opinions, so I'd like to throw out my problem if you don't mind.

      I have a 11 year old molly raised on the Stephenson Ranch from Texas.
      She was sold to a friend of mine who dabbles in buying and selling on a
      very small scale and then sold her to me a couple of years ago. She is
      my first mule. I have foxtrotters otherwise. About the 2nd time I rode
      her, she bolted and scared me to death. My husband got on her, and she
      bolted three times with him until he decided he wanted nothing more to
      do with her. I spent about 6 months just hanging out with her in
      pasture and come to find out she is drying to please, extremely
      affectionate, and she basically stole my heart, so I was determined not
      to stop working with her.

      I took her to a clinic by Mark Rashid, and in one 40 minute period he
      basically cured her bolting. He said she was holding onto a fright, and
      was living in a constant state of panic. That was a year ago, and she
      hadn't given any sign of bolting until a couple of weeks ago. We were
      in a strange setting, she was smelling a kitten, (we don't have any
      cats), it wriggled like a snake, she freaked, knocked me down and ran a
      few steps away. I thought her fear was gone, but she is still holding
      onto it. It's written all over her. Head too high, ears too alert, and
      she has bolted a few times with me on her since. I tried running her
      in my round pen (kind of like Mark did), but is a little slippery with
      all the rain and she will not do anything to lose her footing, so she
      basically isn't going fast enough.

      Idly curious...

      What was Mark Rashid's chasing her around the round pen supposed to accomplish?
      This seems inconsistent with his mantra.  She was living in a constant state of panic?
      Really?  Panic ridden horses don't eat, don't drink, don't ever stand still.  I've
      seen horses in panic, never seen one in a constant state of panic.

      Did Mark even attempt to ascertain whether or not the mule had a physical issue
      that may have caused her bolting?

      Did the previous owners report any bolting?  When did the bolting start?  Two
      weeks after you had her?  Before then?

      I've seen horses go through this, but they seem to let go of the fear
      pretty fast, and my trotters just don't ever get there. Does anyone
      have any helpful suggestions? Anything is appreciated.

      My first go to in these situations is an equine chiro.  http://AVCADoctors.com if
      you don't know of one near you, followed by a CESMT.  One to access skeletal
      condition, the other muscular condition.

      Then I would follow that up with a skilled saddle fitter.  By skilled I mean one
      who clearly and logically lays out his discoveries while hopefully not "just happen
      to have one" in his trailer.

      Then and only then would I go to a training issue.

      I say all this based on, "drying to please, extremely affectionate, and she basically
      stole my heart,
      "  Compliant horses **usually** do not bolt unless there is a physical

      Can they be "trained" to overcome physical issues?  Sometimes.  Until the increased
      discomfort over rides the training.  He didn't cure her bolting.  She still bolts.  He
      merely figured out a way to increase her stoicism for a while.

      Marv "Horses are so simple.  And then along come humans." Walker
      Horse Info, Training DVDs, eBooks - http://MarvWalker.com
      Check Out Horses Who Heal ~ http://BraveMeadows.com

      View Margo's Architectural work at: www.nielsenhausdesigns.com
      View Margo's Animal Drawings at: http://anim8pics.jigsy.com/

      View Margo's Architectural work at: www.nielsenhausdesigns.com
      View Margo's Animal Drawings at: http://anim8pics.jigsy.com/

      View Margo's Architectural work at: www.nielsenhausdesigns.com
      View Margo's Animal Drawings at: http://anim8pics.jigsy.com/

      View Margo's Architectural work at: www.nielsenhausdesigns.com
      View Margo's Animal Drawings at: http://anim8pics.jigsy.com/
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