Having several young horses/mules at a time makes for hilarious fun times. I currently have two yearlings (Pax and Uma) and one two year old (Sriracha), and maaaaay be adding a new secret two year old to the herd sometime in the near future... but more on that later!
I'm of course in no way a trainer (like, not at ALL), but I'm pretty decent at putting a good solid foundation on the babies, at least on the ground. They have a checklist of "stuff" they learn in their yearling, two year old, and three year old years and I'm always trying to finesse this to make it the most well-rounded and low-stress experience that I can for them. I've worked with many youngsters over the years but Pax is my first homebred, and as such I've really had the chance to play with this and customize it. I'm currently trying to sort through the list of things I want all of my babies to be doing well in their first years. Pax had a grand head start over the mooles because she is bred from solid-minded stock and I started working with her from the very moment she was born, but it has been a bit trickier with the other two. They are mules so they are just different, plus they had had zero interaction with humans when I first got them. I'm certainly not perfect - in fact I think I may have really missed the boat on working with Pax's ears properly! - so I'm going to keep trying to improve it with every babe I work with.
The one thing the mules have that Pax has much less of is a healthy respect for human space. If the mules are frightened of something they tend to spook away from me, even if they are between the scary thing and myself. Pax's first instinct is to leap into my arms every time something worries her or she gets a bit fractious, which is both annoying and potentially dangerous. She has gotten VASTLY better about this as she mentally matures, but it's something that makes training goals completely different for them all. The mules need to constantly be reminded that my touch is a good thing, and Pax needs to be reminded that sometimes my touch means get the hell out of my space you giant terrible monster.
In general, I expect all of my babies to be able to do these things at these stages of life (if all goes well):
Halter and lead
Be easy to catch in the field
Stand for hoofcare
Being ponied or led out for trail rides/off property
General despooking - tarps, balloons, umbrellas, bags, etc
Not kill anybody during vetwork
Maybe they can go to a local show or two if they are mentally ready for it, but I'm just not in a hurry like that. Why do it? They need to learn how to be solid citizens, but they're just babies. It will come.
Two Year Old Year:
Continue with all the things they learned as yearlings, plus:
Wearing a saddle or harness
Wearing a bridle with bit (especially for in hand showing)
Some in hand shows
More off-property adventures, either in hand or ponying
Tiny Mule Specific: Learning the basics of lunging and roundpenning
I'm not adverse in their two year old year to learn the *very* basics of lunging and roundpenning - i.e. go and whoa - but it is an awful lot of stress on those very fragile joints. Better to do things like go be ponied and get lots of miles in just seeing stuff.
Three Year Old Year:
Continue with all the things they learned as two year olds, plus:
Learning how to lunge/roundpen more in-depth (but still, keeping circling to a minimum)
Long lining/ground driving
Riding Specific: Basic backing (sitting on them, steering, stop and go, don't kill anybody)
Driving Specific: Learning about draft shafts, dragging a tire or small sled, basic hitching
Four Year Old Year:
Continue with all the things they learned as two year olds, plus:
Miles and miles of trails! Lots and lots and lots of walking and exposure to terrain and sights
Walk/trot/canter and basic contact - general green beans riding and driving
Into their five year old year and beyond, they then go into their specific show careers and learn about jumping, more in depth driving, or whatever it is that they are destined for. I think a lot of them are still mentally and physically immature at 5, but at 6 and 7 they start to put their grown up pants on and then they are more capable of getting down to real business and heavy work.
|The side eye is strong with this family|
|Pax comes by her personality honestly|
I like this schedule. I like it mostly because I don't have any serious time constraints (as in, I don't have to have horses prepped for X competition at X age). I also like it equally because even if my babies are doing really well mentally, having a schedule like this makes me go, "Okay I know she seems completely ready to do something like learn about lunging, but I have no need to push that until she is this age." It holds me accountable for the babies and their soundness. I think people get a little crazy about some of the things they want young horses to be capable of doing as tiny babies. I'm not a fan of futurities, the FEI young dressage horse tests, or the USEA's young event horse program. (I do like the Future Event Horse program though, and do intend on doing that with Pax). I can't see any reason that a five year old horse should be jumping Training level equivalent type jumps. I also don't see why a six year old needs to be doing collection of any sort. Their skeleton isn't even done fusing at that age. It might be my unique perspective, but seeing as many horses as I do, I can't tell you how many poor broken down critters I come across that would probably still be sound and working today had they not be pushed heavily when they were babies. Why are we all in such a rush to cripple our horses? What's the big hurry here?
Anyway. Rant over.
I like being methodical about putting the building blocks together, and I don't like to leave gaps or holes. I like to lay the foundation carefully and then layer on top of it, piece by piece. But I'm always open to added information or new ideas, if you have any! See anything you would add in there?
|Sriracha learning about wearing boots and bells|
|Learning how to whoa|
I swear these mules come with a pre-installed whoa button. I have no idea how they pick it up so fast.
Sriracha did her first ever "lunging" session the other day, and she did quite well. She is the resident two year old, so she is ready to start learning about some lunging, walking around the neighborhood, and despooking. Since she is still learning all of the basic stuff that she missed as a yearling, she's not quite ready for things like bridling and wearing a harness, but she'll get there. She's a smart little devil.