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March 23, 2005

Build a Trail in Your Arena

If you are like me, here is something fun to challenge you and your mule or donkey!

I've been having a lot of fun lately creating a variety of obstacles to practice in my donkeys' training lessons. I think you might enjoy trying some of these ideas, too.

First, make it a game! Every lesson or two, change things around, rearranging your obstacles, adding new ones or combining obstacles.

Always start every new obstacle by introducing your donkey or mule to it. Let him check it out and take a good look at it. Then lead him through the obstacle a few times.

Once he is comfortable following you through them, you can try riding him through. Just take your time and let him learn to confidently work each obstacle one at a time.

Use your creativity to create new and challenging obstacles for you and your mule or donkey. The possibilities are endless, and can provide you with many great training opportunities and experiences. Always remember safety first when creating new obstacles and choosing a place to set them up. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

If you want to start out with something simple, you can try some of the simple obstacles used in trail classes at most shows. You might try these:

Wooden bridge - Either raised a few inches off the ground or a flat board laid on the ground.
Gate - The gate can be a swinging gate on hinges, or can be made from a rope run between two posts. Practice riding up to the gate, opening the gate, riding through, and closing the gate - all from your mule or donkey's back.
Rails - raised or on the ground. You can walk, trot, and canter your mule or donkey across them or between them. You can also back up through them and side-pass across them.
Serpentine and other patterns - Use your creativity to make different patterns to walk and trot through. These patterns can be made of all kinds of materials - logs, PVC pipe, garden hose, barrels, pylons, polebending poles, etc.

Once you get the simple obstacles down, here are some additional challenges you might like to try.

A few years ago when I went to Montana Mule Days, they added some extra challenges to their trail class course. Here are some that they did:
- Add a tarp or sheet of plastic on both sides of your bridge to simulate water.
- Instead of just backing a straight line, make it a zigzag pattern with PVC pipe, barrels, etc to define the pattern ahead of time.
- Lay a deer hide over a barrel beside the "trail" and teach your mule or donkey to comfortably walk past the hide without shying away.
- Leave a pile of tools beside the trail - Wheelbarrow, shovels stuck on the ground, ladder standing up, etc.
- Arrange other kinds of animals along the "trail" - geese, ducks, or chickens in wire cages, pen of cows, etc. At Montana Mule Days, they put a goose in a cage on both sides of the trail, and the mules and donkeys had to walk through between them.
- You can also have your mule stand still (not tied) while you pick up all four of his feet.

Here are some other ideas to try.

- Use artificial plants and trees to decorate along your trail.
- Place other unusual or odd-looking objects along your trail course - even things as simple as a barrel painted with bright colors and funny patterns.
- Set up a mailbox, and practice riding your mule or donkey to the mailbox, and checking the mail while you are still in the saddle.
- Hang a rain slicker, plastic bag, feed sack or tarp over the fence along your "trail" so that your mule or donkey can get used to seeing something like that blowing in the breeze.
- You can also tie several balloons to the fence.
- Make a real water obstacle to walk through. Oversized puddles will work as long as they are big enough that your mule can't easily walk around or step/jump over them.

This afternoon I was practicing sidepassing with Andy. I rode him up to the steps to our deck. Then I asked him to sidepass along in front of the steps. A little later I rode him up to my parent's motorhome to practice sidepassing along the length of it. The motorhome has a large tarp tied over the top, and it was kind of moving in the breeze a bit. At first Andy wasn't sure about standing that close to the flapping tarp, but soon he got to work and started doing his sidepass back and forth both directions along the motorhome.

Just have fun and be creative, and I'm sure you and your critters will have a great time spicing up your training with new challenges, and building a greater trust and stronger confidence in each other.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at March 23, 2005 08:09 PM