March 30, 2010
Where There's a Mule, There's a Way
By Helen T. Hertz
When Diana Schmid purchased a six-week-old orphaned mule and named him SaMule, she couldn't have known the journey they would take together, the challenges they would face, or who would be there to help them.
SaMule had a pretty rough start in life. His dam, a Palamino and white Foxtrotter mare, was sold when he was just three weeks old, and he was put out with several geldings who didn't take kindly to his attempts to nurse. Diana, who'd had her eye out for a white mule, brought him home at six weeks and nursed and babied him. As far as SaMule was concerned, Diana was Mom. It was sweet when he was little, but as he matured, Diana had trouble setting boundaries.
"He wanted to be on top of me," she recalls. "He was doing good with his groundwork, but he had no respect. He was too desensitized."
Diana wanted SaMule trained to ride and drive but was hesitant to try to work with him alone. She had used Meredith Hodges' training series Training Mules and Donkeys to get SaMule started, but she also had entrenched ideas about training going back to her youth. In her experience, as in that of so many others, training wasn't a gradual process of developing communication and trust, it was a means to an end: to get on and ride.
She recalls that Meredith told her how important it was that the mule's owner be the one to train him, that she should do it herself because, after all, you wouldn't send someone else out to make a friend for you.
"I understood but I always thought, 'Yeah, but.' Once you pass 40, it's not so easy to come off an animal, and, frankly, I was scared" she says.
She had heard very good things about a trainer in Kentucky and after doing some research on her own, sent SaMule to him for some schooling. While he was there, she got little news of his progress. There were a few brief phone calls and a grainy photo of him being ridden in a parade; that was about it. After four and a half months Diana made the long drive from her home in northwest Wyoming to collect SaMule. When she arrived the trainer brought him around and then quickly disappeared, leaving Diana to stare in shocked disbelief at what remained of her once beautiful mule.
Nearly starved with cuts and scrapes and a badly swollen hock, SaMule was unrecognizable. Diana could only cry as she loaded him and rushed for home. For weeks she worried he would die. He ate and slept, but that was all. He didn't seem to recognize her or the other mules he had known well. He was frail and weak but more than that, all his rambunctious spirit seemed drained from him. Then, one day, Diana went out to him with some grain. He took it and then, just as he used to do, he wrapped his head over her shoulder and gave her a big "hug."
SaMule was back, but Diana knew that she'd have to start from scratch with him, both physically and emotionally. This time she would do the work herself. She felt she'd let him down and owed him all the time it would take to make things right. For help she turned once again to Meredith Hodges, trainer, author, producer, and cheerleader and counselor.
Working with Meredith's training videos and workbooks and communicating with her by e-mail, Diana began the process of building SaMule's strength and confidence and winning his trust. Communication is a two-way street and although there were times when she was impatient and wishing for faster progress, Diana made sure that SaMule understood what was expected of him at each step before moving onto the next. Seven months after his return, Diana rode him for the first time.
"Those videos were monumentally awesome because they kept reminding me to stick with the method and the progression," Diana says. "When we worked, I'd always start at a point where he'd had success and add to it. If he wasn't getting it we'd go back to where he did. He has been a huge learning experience for me in terms of not giving up, and Meredith's been a huge help in that."
Diana continues to e-mail Meredith to share her struggles and victories. She says working with Meredith has shown her not only what SaMule can do but also what she's capable of doing.
"When I first contacted Meredith, it made me feel really special to actually get her," she recalls. "She's been like a coach. She gave me pointers and insight, but she also gave me the encouragement to press on and the confidence to stick with it."
These days, SaMule is the picture of health. He's a big fan of wagon trains and is learning to drive with another mule. Diana is confident that because they've taken their time with training, SaMule, who's now seven, has many good years ahead of him.
She knows he'll always carry the scars from his ordeal in Kentucky, but she also knows that whatever strides he makes going forward will be a result of Meredith's resistance-free method, her own persistence, and the bond of trust and wonderful friendship she shares with him.
For more information about Meredith Hodges and her resistance-free video training series Training Mules and Donkeys, please visit www.LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 800-816-7566. Also, be sure to visit Meredith on Facebook. Become a friend on her personal page and become a fan on the Lucky Three Ranch fan page.