Tag: dressage

Let’s Ban The Mules!

… and donkeys.

Horses must be more popular with equestrians because they are intelligent, elegant, and for the most part, we think we understand them. If you don’t own a horse, then I can bet you know someone that does. Therefore this specific equine is at least familiar to all of us. Whereas if I was to ask 10 people what they know about mules and donkeys I would hear little about their history, capabilities or intelligence. In fact those 10 blank faces would probably mention terms such as stubborn or even beasts of burden.

It may surprise some people to know in terms of brain size, intelligence and training capabilities that mules are exactly the same as horses. Mules understand pressure, release, comfort and reward. As an equine they are again exactly the same as horses in terms of versatility, herd instincts, psychology, defences and hierarchal dynamics.  The same is also true for donkeys.

All of our equines have a rich history here in Great Britain, utilised during military campaigns, farming, country sports, travel and leisure. Yet for some reason horses seem special, or at least more popular. Horses are not more special than mules and donkeys, they just look slightly different. Yet compare a Hanoverian to a Clydesdale, or a Welsh Section A to a Welsh Section D, the differences in appearance are extremely noticeable!

So let’s just assume I have changed everyone’s misconceptions regarding mules, and people rush out to purchase and own one. You’re going to have some great hacks, and join your friends to compete at low level competitions. But on the off chance you’re a great trainer, and wipe the floor with your competitors…you will get no further. You and your talented mule can just shuffle off and stay out of sight, thank you very much! Not my rules, but the officials of  British Dressage.

Could this actually be snobbism, even bordering on equine racism?  If there was a bus full of equines, and no available seats, would the mule have to give up its seat to a horse? Would it cause outrage if Judy the Livery Snob achieved 62% on her test and Wallace the mule beat her with 74%? Will Judy keep quiet at the village fete when asked how her competition went…or actually admit she got her ass kicked by a mule?

It would seem the USA are less draconian when it comes to hard and fast rules on what may define an equine, by changing the rules to allow mules to compete in dressage in 2004. In fact, as it turns out, mules do exceptionally well in dressage! It will not be news to owners in the USA that mules are talented and extremely versatile.

Heart B Dyna ridden by Laura Hermanson

Heart B Dyna ridden by Laura Hermanson

Picture Credit: Mules and More Magazine

Mules could make a comeback in this country if they were given the chance, and I have no doubt at all that whatever a horse can do, so can a mule. Wallace The Great has been in the news this week, owned by up and coming competitor Christie McLean. Wallace’ history is a tragic tale of neglect before being rescued by the Donkey Sanctuary and finding a permanent home with Christie. He has already proven himself to be intelligent (and very forgiving considering his past) and able to learn quickly, by coming third after just one month of low level competing. But unless the officials at British Dressage throw out these antiquated rules, Wallace will never climb the ranks or qualify for a championship.

Wallace The Great and Christie McLean


I’m not sure if it is equine racism or snobbism, but I am largely leaning towards ignorance. Many owners struggle with even basic training i.e. teaching their horse to stand at the mounting block, picking up a hoof, leading and catching. Mainly because people in this country concentrate on riding skills over groundwork skills, when there should be a balance of both. So perhaps if those owners struggle to understand the basic training of a horse, they think a mule or donkey would be more challenging.  As said, ignorance of equines as a whole. Yards should be full of not just horses, but also donkeys and mules. They should be ridden, driven, competed, loved and celebrated just as much as the horse.

British Dressage – You have the opportunity to promote equine welfare and quash ignorance. Let the mule not be seen as a beast of burden, but as a versatile intelligent animal that deserves a chance in the spot light. Don’t waste it.

The Livery Snob

For donations or re-homing inquiries contact the The Donkey Sanctuary



Selling My Horse!

The advert will nearly always start with how the owner is full of regret, they nearly always have a sad heart, sometimes family circumstances forces a heart-breaking sale, and apparently it’s time to let this amazing horse go to his forever home. This horse is incredible and will ensure the next owner can compete to a high standard. Next comes the parentage, and there will be some long-winded name the writer assumes everyone will have heard of. I believe some people may be interested in blood-lines but I also believe those buyers won’t be on Facebook looking for a ‘good-do’er’. Moving on, this horse will have hunted, competed at both show-jumping and dressage, is good in all traffic, good to shoe, box, load, travel, clip, catch and is 100% bombproof with 3 good paces and ‘easy’ in all ways. There it is, in black and white, the generic horse selling advert.

The writer will not tell you they hunted just the once because during the meet when the farmer’s wife was handing out sausage rolls and mulled wine the horse reared 97 times and kicked out at the hounds running around its hooves. The first jump was negotiated at a heart-stopping flat out gallop but in the last stride the horse did a gravity defying 30 mph to 0 mph sliding halt. But hey, all was not lost, the rider at least made the jump while the horse followed the hunt on the other side of the hedge leaving them quickly alone with just the sound of the wind for company and the ever fading bark of the hounds.horse-2048590_960_720

Competing at both jumping and dressage is true enough (probably). The advert would be too long if it actually included that while the rider was performing the part of the test that required ‘a medium walk on a loose rein’ the horse actually napped out of the arena door. Or that a relative/friend was drafted in to stand with a whip and a ready click of the tongue at the scary looking upright. This doesn’t matter because after the second attempt of the course it went ok-ish and they were pleased with the clear round rosette that now proudly adorns the fridge. Plus they did win occasionally, the year the horse and rider dressed up as Santa and Rudolf at the yard Christmas Show was a resounding success and over the years the story may become a little embellished to where it wasn’t a Christmas Show, no they actually won the Working Hunter class.

The horse was obviously good in traffic some 3 years ago when a group from the yard went for a hack around the village on a quiet Sunday afternoon. They met at least 4 cars and even John on his bicycle that was off to visit his Aunty Mavis who lived ‘down the way’. The horse wasn’t too sure about John and his bicycle, but going past this nightmare contraption sideways while snorting with a clattering of hooves still counted as been quite good, mainly because no-one died.

No-one ever seems to question why a 12 year old horse wouldn’t be good to shoe and box, but these details seem to add some padding to the already outstanding achievements of this amazing horse. As is the 3 good paces, I should hope so! I have to reach back, way back, in my memory to try to recall a sound horse that is missing a good pace, but I’m struggling to recollect a horse that can cope with both walk and canter, but is unable to execute a reasonable trot. Clipping always goes swimmingly well although it can be somewhat of a hurried affair to get it completed before the Sedalin wears off.  Loading is also entirely possible, but the advert omits minor details such as it takes 3 hours, 46 carrots, a lunge line, 4 people and a bucket of feed to actually complete the mission of getting the horse on the trailer. But getting to a show on time is entirely possible if you start attempting the load at 4 a.m.

The ‘good to catch’ is somewhat worrying and things have not gone well  if you have a horse that does not trust a human approaching it with a head-collar. There could be various reasons why, too many to include here, but all those reasons add up to a whole. This whole has produced an animal that wants nothing to do with you at all. Logic defies me why people then think it’s acceptable to tack such an animal up to ride. There is some work to do here and it does not involve riding.

Many adverts contain the same generic information yet no two horses have had exactly the same training and experiences. Never assume an 8 year or 12 year old horse has seen everything, or is experienced in all manner of environments and situations. You may just end up with an equine brain full of incorrect training and faced with undoing 12 years of miscommunication and unpleasant experiences. If all of these adverts contain the same generic information, then what aren’t they telling you? The adverts won’t contain information that includes intermittent lameness and bouts of colic. Or that yes, the horse is great on the road, but avoid garbage collection days, the horse cannot tolerate wheelie bins.

Lastly…100% bombproof? There is no such thing.