Connie Lara Mule Clinic

 Since we weren’t doing dressage, I decided to use my treeless saddle and hackamore. It made for a much happier Nilla. And looking at the pictures, my position is pretty good. It didn’t create the chair seat I was worried about. We obviously did not have any “on the bit” moments with the hackamore, but I was able to do the exercises which were mostly focused on bending and lateral movement. Nilla was also able to actually stand still in between our turns with this tack set-up. We still had a bit of circling and shuffling, but she was considerably better.

We started the clinic with a lecture on how we should come to warm-up with a plan. I have to admit, I pretty much never have a plan. I just meander around and daydream while getting the horse’s and my muscles warmed up. But even after warming up, I generally have no plan. Unless I have an instructor, I generally just go about doing whatever comes up. I don’t know if I’ve been converted, but it is something I should keep in mind.

Then we did some turn on the forehand and turn on the hindquarters. Nilla knows and loves turn on the forehand – she’ll spin around if I let her. But turn on the hindquarters was a new concept and she was pissed about it. I think she was so convinced that we should be doing turn on the fore and I was getting in her way. We will definitely have to work on this in the future as she needs to be able to do both.

Then we moved on to a series of spiraling exercises. I’ve done these before without cones, but the cones were really helpful for organizing the spiral. Nilla was being pretty good about bending and moving off my leg even if she wasn’t on the bit.

After the spirals, there was a set of 4 poles in a square with openings at each corner and a cone in the middle. The goal was to spiral around the poles, then go in at a corner, circle, and come back out the same corner. This was tight and a lot of the mules struggled with it, though some of the really well trained little western mules aced it. Shasta was also awesome at this. Connie made the joke that she thought Shasta could probably do 2-3 circles and my husband jokingly said, “I’m sure she could.” So Connie told him to show us then. And my husband groaned as he realized he should keep his mouth shut.
Of course, Shasta can do multiple rotations around a tiny circle.
After lunch, we came back and did a line of cones. There was much discussing about how you shouldn’t go wide on these – try to make as straight a line as possible. So not a serpentine. The cones were pretty close together though so Nilla could only manage them walking. 

Shasta, of course, could whip in and out of them even while trotting. The cones also weren’t evenly spaced so even though it looks like Nilla has plenty of room, you can see from the picture below that Shasta barely fits between the 2 cones at the other end of the line.

We also did a line of offset lines. It looked like this:

The goal was to go down the line and side-pass/half-pass between the chutes. Unlike, the poles, the goal was not to bend between the poles, but ask the horses to step over. There weren’t enough poles so the first chute was set up with small cones.

Shasta through the chute
Staying straight and stepping over

Nilla was not so awesome at this: she mostly went straight, but we did get a bit of sideways movement.

We then went on to a set up poles in a zig zag. Initially the goal was to just use the poles to circle and spiral over.


I really liked this exercise and think we’ll use it at home too. Nilla loves having a target/something to accomplish so the poles work a lot better than cones. Then Connie squeezed the poles together a bit and asked us to trot over them in a straight line. The first time through Nilla flailed all over the place as she really thought we should be zig-zagging and going over the poles in normal order instead of straight and angled. However, after one time through she totally got it and marched right over them. 

After going straight a few times, we made a course of going straight through the line, then circling around to go through the V, U-turn, and come back over the neighboring V. Here’s a terrible paint drawing to explain:

After the poles, we went down to the 2 barrels and did a figure 8. Around 3:30, Connie asked if we wanted to keep working or quit. And pretty much every person jumped off their mule. Quitters united. It was freaking hot and dry (because it’s in the middle of the dessert) and we were all pretty tired.

At this point, my husband and I scrambled to pack everything into the truck/trailer and take off so we could get back to our barn before dark. I talked to Laura about leaving Nilla for one month’s training and she agreed. I had wanted to send Nilla to her for a while, but kept hesitating because I won’t have anything to ride without her. However, the 4 hour drive wasn’t something I wanted to do often so I figured if we left her, I’d only have to come back the once to pick her up instead of twice to drop off and pick up.

I don’t think Nilla knew anything was happening, but Shasta figured it out and basically lost her marbles. She was screaming, racing around on her tie at the trailer, jumping sideways, pawing, and just would not settle. We got her on the trailer and she broke her halter trying to turn her head around to look for Nilla. Luckily she was already butt-barred in so she couldn’t get out. My husband left with the truck and trailer and I stayed to clean their stalls and feed and water Nilla. I think at this point she had figured out something was up, because she was nickering to me and following me around from inside her pen while I was cleaning the neighboring one. I finished up, gave her a few last pats, and then left her behind.

I’ll have updates from Paola – a fellow blogger who is Laura’s working student – and Laura so I can keep track of Nilla’s progress. I’m really excited to see how well she does. I only wish I could leave her for more than a month, but I need Nilla for a scheduled ride in May. And also, even one month without something to ride is a long time.

4 thoughts on “Connie Lara Mule Clinic

  1. Olivia

    They were surprisingly hard. I tend to think of cones as things for little kids to practice turns with, but clearly they can be used for difficult exercises too.

  2. Olivia

    They were really good exercises and a lot of them too. I already have an update that I'll share in the coming days. I have to spread out my posts now that I don't have much to talk about.

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