Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dearest Fenway,

My own Henry mule aspires to be the sort of steady trail companion you have become, but we have hit a rather troubling wall; that of his ears going anywhere near a bridle. He is perfectly content to have the crown of a halter unbuckled and placed behind his ears, but has a rather violent reaction when anything comes sliding towards them, despite having lived 4 years in a place where ears are only lovingly rubbed. (Which he enjoys quite enthusiastically.) Perhaps you can offer up some words of advice as to how to go about bridling? Building the bridle around his head each day is getting many buckles!

Your facebook friend

Dear Facebook Friend,

As I see it, you can go one of two ways. 

Option A:

First, make sure your bridle is comfortable and well-fitted and that your mule's bit is suited to his mouth. If his comfort is not in question, then buy "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor. Read it. Then, when your understanding of behavioral conditioning is fully developed, buy a clicker. Use it often. Disassociate the bridle with riding by practicing often, rewarding with food, and taking baby steps. Train, train, train. Have patience. Be consistent.  Break the exercise into small parts if you need to. Have you, by the way, tried sliding the HALTER over his ears? Maybe separating the bitting part of the picture from the sliding part will help him let down his guard. 

Option B, which you may want to use in conjunction with Option A in order to get some rides in: 

Buy a snap-over-crown mule bridle. Here are two companies that make them: 

They'll save you some tacking up time, anyway.

I do wish you luck with your problem. If I had an audience with Henry, I'd tell him this—"ears are best when they're shared. If you have a good human, you can trust her to take good care of them. They're not only rubbable, but also bendable, foldable, squishable, slideable, and huggable. No human worth a lick ever hurt a mule's ear on purpose, and surely your human never will. Let the muleness in, Henry. It will fill you up from your ears to your toes if you let it." 

Ears to you,
Fenway Bartholomule


  1. Fenway-

    Once again your common sense and wise words are both educational and entertaining. Your FarmWife is indeed a fortunate woman!

  2. Fenway, we have those bridles and they do come in handy especially for those elderly mules of mine [20+] who have ear sensitivities.

    Mules do not like the headstall rubbing their ears!
    Good job!

  3. Long time reader. When we got our horse Jeff, he was sweet as can be and had lovely manners until we went to put a bridle over his ears. Long story short, it turned out he had a chronic untreated ear infection and once the vet came out and we treated it, he went to putting his head down for the bridle. Might be worth checking his ears.

  4. Perhaps also consider a bitless bridle? A gentle one, like those made by Dr Cook (search of Google, easy to find). Even when humans try to use them gently bits are awful. We were so happy when our human saw a horse in a bitless bridle & decided to see if we would like it (we did!). Jerry & Nuts (with a bit of help from our human)


Thanks in Advance for Your Mulish Opinion!