Mule Notes: Backwards is Forwards

Faithful readers might have wondered about Jolene. The beloved mule, who I’ve come off several times, has gone back to basics with me.

Jolene, the challenging mule

Since an incident that traumatized both of us, I’ve only ridden her a few times. Instead, we’ve done a lot of ground work, ponying, and chilling. Plus, I’ve gotten some help.

Muleman Tyler Willbanks loves Jolene. He loves her so much, he offered to buy her at first sight. Sorry, Tyler, she’s not for sale!

Willbanks has decades of experience with all variety of equines and runs a horse-powered farming operation here in Mancos, Colorado.

Once he started working with us, he agreed that she needed to rebuild her trust and ride-ability. He feels strongly that she has experienced some trauma (probably in Missouri, where she came from originally).

His suggestions are valuable for any skittish

Tyler Willbanks teaches a course on horse packing


  • Use the round pen for building trust, not respect.
  • Go through a lot of gates (since she can balk at them). Make sure to wait her out and be patient.
  • Give her a rub on her shoulder, but then push her away or move away. Use space as a reward. She appreciates space more than petting.
  • Use a tarp or other objects to put her in discomfort, but don’t let it be you that is the discomfort or the scary object. Have it be something else.
  • She’s stand-off-ish. But be the more stand-off-ish one. She’ll say, ‘oh, wait. I thought I was the stand-off-ish one’ and will be more interested.
  • Back up and have her come to you. Have her back up and give you space.
  • Saddle her every day. If you pony her, pony her with a saddle on.
  • Once you’re riding, Jolene will benefit from moving other horses as well as cows. It will be good for her self-confidence.

Thanks, Tyler!

Jolene as a ponied mule

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