Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lesson on Moxie(3rd Level Mule)

*Long, word heavy post without a lot of pictures, but there is a lot to tell!

Yesterday, I rode Moxie, Laura's big black john mule.  It was a great privilege to ride him because he is very well trained, and because of that, Laura doesn't let many people ride him.  Since he has a lot of training, he is extremely sensitive to the small nuances in the rider's position and aids.  Every aid means something to him, and he's always looking to his rider to be the leader, and to make all the decisions.  He is constantly asking what his rider wants next and he wants the rider to take initiative and control everything. This is the reason why he is not a lesson mule(and why high level horses don't always make great lesson horses).  It's difficult for novice riders to focus on controlling the horse/mule while still working out their own body, which is why most lesson horses are horses that will make their own decisions when the rider can't/doesn't.  It was a real privilege to ride Moxie, and I appreciate the opportunity because it shows that Laura trusts me.

For example, when I looked down and to the left before taking off, he went that way.  I can't just look down and squeeze him to make him go off like I might do with another horse; I have to be prepared, have a game plan, and look exactly where I want to go.

 I rode Moxie in a western saddle and bridle because I can possibly do a mule show at the end of the month(instead of the dressage show).  According to Laura, mule shows always have a very fun, relaxed atmosphere, even at rated ones like the one I might do, and the people are very friendly, so it will be a great first show experience.  Plus, Laura knows most of the people there–the horse world is small, and the mule world is even smaller.  If I go, I will enter a novice western trail course, and possibly a pleasure class.

 While riding, I had to be extra careful with my hands because like I said, he is sensitive, and curb bits can be strong and harsh in unsteady hands.  I rode with split reins and kept them long, with only a light contact on his month.  My hands stayed close together because in the show I will have to ride with one hand, which shouldn't be too much of a problem since I have been learning to turn with my legs and upper body instead of my hands.  However, if I did need my hands I was told to move my hands slightly to the inside so that the outside rein touched his neck, making him turn.  This is what is called neck reining.

 I struggled at first, using too much hand and becoming tight.  I walked him around a bit, then asked for the jog.  However, I was too tight and leaned too far forward, resulting in a tight, bigger than intended trot.  Laura got on for a few minutes to school Moxie and to demonstrate just how light he could be, then let me back on again.

 A western position is about relaxation, not tightness(no position should have a lot of tension but Laura told me to be relaxed and loose in western).  Also, I was told to sit more on my seat bones.  In my head, I kept a mental image of a reiner doing a sliding stop to help me to see how my position should be like. One mental image she used that was helpful in causing me to relax was to imagine that I was riding the best mule in the nation–the king mule.  It really helped me to sit upright and proud.  It should also be noted that riding western, I focused on having my legs more loosely at my side rather than keeping a hold Moxie's side.
Picture of Moxie from the first time I went to Laura's
ranch, back in January.  I miss the green grass!

The next time I asked for the jog was a bit better.  When I focused on leaning slightly back(really I was upright but it felt like leaning back because I had been too far forward in my upper body) and relaxing, Moxie jogged off really nicely.  To return to walk, I was told to lean slightly back, relax my body by breathing out, and to close my fingers slightly.  This is where the stopping reining rider imager proved useful, because my position should be similar to that, though perhaps not as pronounced.  The first few times, it took several dribbling strides to return to the walk.  However, after doing walk-jog transitions every few strides, and focusing on breathing out even more quickly, I began to get sharp transitions between the walk and the jog.  There were a few times throughout the ride when I became tight again and leaned forward.  Guess what?  It caused the faster, tight trot.  All I had to do to fix it was to sit up more.

 At the same time, I worked on steering without my hands.  To do this, I put my outside leg slightly forward and squeezed to push his shoulders over.  As the ride progressed, I had to do less and less with my hands.

 After a while, I tried one of the obstacles that had been set up around the arena.  There were walk-overs(cavaletti that are walked over in trail course), cone serpentines, a rope gait, a side-pass pole, and four poles arranged in a box, though I only worked on the box this time.  I jogged over it, turned around, and jogged back several times.  Moxie is surprisingly maneuverable in spite of his large size(17 hands).  Laura could almost turn him on the dime when she rode him!  I was able to turn fairly tightly when turning around to go back over the box.  I didn't make a large circle; I used leg to push his shoulder over and turn him around.  Unfortunately, one of Moxie's hooves dinged each pole when I rode over them, which would have resulted in a 1/2 point off for each ding had it been a competition.

 Next, I practiced the turn on the haunches because they always show up in trail courses, and are performed in the box, but I did it outside of the box.  To perform a turn on the haunches, I had to lift my inside leg to "open the gate," put my outside leg forward to push his shoulder over, and be prepared to close my fingers should Moxie decided to surge forward.  At first, I didn't close my fingers in time and he made a small circle instead.  Then, Laura told me to break it down step by step.  Doing this, I was able to get him to turn bit by bit, though he did go forward a few times before I could stop him.

 Then, I incorporated the turn on the haunches into the next exercise, which was to make a square at the walk.  At each corner, I had to do a quarter-turn to make the 90 degree angle.  Starting out, I used way to much rein, and I didn't close my inside leg in time to stop him from make a turn more than 90 degrees, causing him to cut in.  Consequently, I over-corrected and used the reins, pulling him too far to the outside.  After a bit, I breathed and decided to take my time.  I kept my hands at the horn and applied outside leg to push him shoulders over, then quickly blocked his body with my inside leg almost before he was finished turning, which worked out well.  There were a few times when I slipped into letting him make round turns again, but after I was doing the exercise well, Laura decided it was best to stop on the good note.

  I will continue to practice on Moxie and soon tackle the other obstacles.  If I can keep Moxie round, which I worked on too but didn't focus entirely on like I do with Lucky(he didn't have a martingale or training aid I might add), go through the obstacles without touching them, and ride one handed,  I should be prepared.  The key to trail course is for me to take my time; it is not a speed event like show jumping.  Lucky will get the month off as I get to know Moxie, but the next step with her is to ride her roundly without a training aid.


  1. what a great change and opportunity to learn something a little different.

    1. It's a wonderful opportunity! I love trying new things.

  2. Moxie sounds really awesome - how cool that Laura lets you ride him! the show sounds like fun too, good luck getting in all your practice so that the classes go well!

    1. Yeah, he is, and it's cool that I can ride! :) Thanks! The other other riders will probably ones that have been riding a few years but are new to showing, like me, so it should fun!

  3. First shows are always scary but it sounds like you've got a great coach helping you prepare! Super fun lesson, too!

    1. Yeah, she's making sure I am really prepared so the show is a good, fun experience. It was a great lesson!


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