anything a horse can do and they usually do it better and with a sense of humour. Mules come in all sizes and colours, ranging from miniature to saddle and draft types. They are a truly made to order animal that is created in one generation. While modern mules excel in the recreational field - trail riding, endurance and competitive trail, packing, driving and ranch work, mules can do it all. From driving to dressage, from cutting cattle to packing out big game, jumping to gymkhana, a good mule is worth its weight in gold.
What is a Mule?
Why Own A Mule?
How To Buy a Mule
Are Mules For You? By Jane Lambert
A Veterinarian Suggests That You Reconsider The Mule - By Robert M. Miller, D.V.M.
To Make A Mule
What is A Mule
A mule is the hybrid offspring of a donkey a jack or "stallion" (Ass) and a horse mare. The reverse is more rare and is called a "hinny" and although they are indistinguishable, occasionally the hinny may have more horse like features. Mules are sterile; having 63 chromosomes as compared to the horse at 64 and the donkey at 62. The females called "Molly" or mare mules come in heat just like a horse and the males called "horse" or "John" mules must be gelded.
Mules are highly intelligent, and like the donkey parent, have an extremely well developed instinct for self-preservation. this instinct makes them less prone to injuries to themselves and their handlers.
Mules get their strength and speed from the horse parent and hardiness, intelligence, stamina and personality from the donkey side of the "family tree". The mule is much tougher than either parent and can do more work on less feed and rarely has health problems like colic or founder.
Other the the long ears, mules look very similar to horses. However, the muscle composition is different with mules having smoother muscles than horses. Much like comparing a football player to a ballerina, both are very strong but the mule has greater strength for his size and more endurance.
Mules and donkeys have a natural attraction to humans. When treated with patience, kindness and understanding, they learn to trust and obey but treated with pain and abuse, they are not likely to comply.
WHY OWN A MULE?
Mules have been bred for some 3,000 years. Mules were used by the Jewish people before the time of King David and by the Ancient Greeks and Romans for harness racing, as draft animals, in farming, and as saddle animals for the nobility and clergy.
The mule combines together many of the good features of both parents such as the intelligence, longevity and sure-footedness of the donkey with the size, and rounded body conformation of the horse. Because mules are a hybrid, they exhibit hybrid vigour and are noted for their stamina and endurance.
Mules are highly intelligent, and like the donkey parent, have an extremely well developed instinct for self-preservation. This instinct makes them less prone to injuries to themselves and their handlers.
Mules are noted as easy keepers and are renowned for their strength and endurance, and ability to withstand heat.
Mules come in a variety of colours and sized ranging from miniature to saddle and draft types. They are a “made to order” animal that is created in just one generation.
Most mules today excel in the recreational field – trail riding, endurance riding, packing, driving, and cutting cattle to packing out big game – a good mule is worth his weight in gold.
A VETERINARIAN SUGGEST YOU RECONSIDER THE MULE - By Robert M. Miller, D.V.M.
Soundness, a trail-wise disposition, and sure-footedness in hazardous terrain make the mule an attractive mount for country horsemen.
The place is Bishop, California - Memorial Day weekend 1977 - Mule Days. The three-day celebration, exclusively for mules, is in full swing. Warm sunshine and clear blue skies bless this town on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Immediately to the west loom snow-topped peaks; the grandstand is packed with mule fanciers, curious horsemen, and bemused tourists. All through the day, and on through the evening, they watch the varied events.
There are chariot races, a mule parade, packing contest, jumping events, roping competition, driving and pulling contest, trail classes, reining classes, and many other horse show and rodeo events. All limited to mules. We see mules cutting cattle, roping steers, and bucking in the wild mule-packing contest. The mule’s range in size from miniature teams to draft mules with teams representing the western national parks. There’s also a hilarious braying contest – performed by humans; one lively contestant loses his false teeth in his enthusiasm.
And there are races. Mules run sprints ranging form 50 yards to a quarter mile, and races vary in length up to a mile. At the finish line five veterinarians inspect the winners. Although they are not designated race officials, their fascination is professional. They look at racing mules seven, eight, ten year of age; many have been racing since they were two. Some are entered in many events each day.
One mule runs several sprints and a mile race in a single day, in addition to barrel racing, stake racing, and a variety of regular show classes. Their legs are clean and sound, Not a splint or a windpuff can be seen. There isn’t a single big knee, a bucked shin, or an enlarged tendon. None are lame. Why? How do they stay sound?
Seeking answers, the veterinarians – all of whom are equine practitioners exposed daily to the tragedy of lameness in beautiful horses – look at the mules, run their hands down the tough little legs and wonder.
Recently, an older veterinarian mentioned to me that he was thinking of retiring. “What are you doing to do?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, “retire to my ranch and maybe raise mules.”
“Why Mules?” I asked, not mentioning my own interest in those hybrid creatures.
“Because they stay sound.” He explained.
The fact the mules usually stay sound probably explains the interest many veterinarians have in the animals. But there are other qualities that attract horsemen to mules, and one does not have to be a veterinarian to appreciate them. What Qualities? The beauty of the beast? Their noble heads? Not likely. There is little prestige in being mounted on a mule; one has to value the mule, and ignore the impressions of society.
My own interest in mules began several years ago when I asked a fellow equine practitioner why he was raising mules. “Well, after you’ve trail ridden a few good mules, you’ll prefer them to horses.”
I snorted: “Come on now!”
My friend looked hurt. “Okay,” he said. “I’m going to loan you a good mule for a year, and you’ll see what happens.”
A couple of weeks later, he delivered a 27-year-old gelding named Jerry to my house.
Over the years I’ve had a bit of experience with mules. I packed salt on a mule one summer when I was cowboying. She was a perverse gray creature, and constantly led the horses over low spots in the pasture fence and over cattle guards. Later as a veterinarian I treated a couple dozen mules, usually anticipating great difficulty, but was usually pleasantly surprised at how well I got along with them.
Jerry taught me about mules. He took me up steep canyon walls. He taught me to respect his judgment. I learned that if he refused to cross a creek at a given point, it was because he had spotted a shallower place downstream. If he refused to slide down a shale slope to the bottom of a wash, it was because he had observed a game trail that was easier going a few yards ahead. I tested all the myths I had heard about mules on Jerry and learned they were not myths. After a 20-mile trail ride on a summer day, he refused to drink water for four hours – unlike a horse; an overheated mule will usually not founder himself by drinking too much water.
At 27 years of age, Jerry stayed fat on a minimum of good feed. He relished poison oak and chaparral. He never gets excited. His flinty feet never needed shoeing, at least not for the riding I was doing. Most remarkable of all, after a lifetime of matched racing, pulling a stagecoach, herding cattle, arena roping, and countless miles on the trail, he was still absolutely sound. He covered the miles in a smooth little running walk that never faltered.
Finally, I took him on a trail ride; sixty-five riders gathered one Saturday morning. Sixty-two were on horses representing almost every breed. Three of us were mounted on mules. It was hot, and our destination was a mountain peak, uphill all the way. We started out with most of the horses jigging with excitement and the three mules (a two year old molly, a three year old molly and old Jerry) placidly taking up the rear. Several hours later the three mules were up front, still patiently stepping out, sweating only behind their long ears, which paddled rhythmically in cadence with their feet. Behind us were 62 wrung-out and strung-out horses, lathered and heaving, the sweat pouring off their fetlocks in a steady stream.
That ride did it. My riding was now confined to trail riding, either alone or with a group. I had to have some mules, and I decided to raise my own. I started by breeding my wife’s fine Quarter mare (of racing lineage and schooled for dressage) to a jackass.
My current project has been greeted with some scorn, particularly from some of my clients who own good thoroughbreds, or Arabians, or other well-bred horses. Their contempt can’t be based on past poor performance by mules. After all. The record for high jumping was once set by a U.S. Army mule, and wasn’t the Bicentennial cross-country race won by a mule?
Perhaps it’s just that mules, despite their desirable qualities, suffer from a form of blind discrimination.
Mules are, of course, a hybrid creature; the sterile offspring of a mare and a jack- a male donkey. I believe that much of the mule’s fabled intelligence can be accounted for by virtue of his sire’s characteristics.
For example, horses when frightened will usually panic and flee blindly, often injuring themselves in the process. A frightened mule, on the other hand, will usually assess the situation, and avoid injuring himself. The first time a horse entangles himself in barbed wire, he will usually fight the wire and may inflict severe self-injury. By contrast, a mule enmeshed in wire will usually quietly wait for help. Why this difference?
The horse evolved on the open plains. When frightened, his best method of survival was instantaneous flight. The donkey, on the other hand, learned to survive in rocky and rugged terrain. Rash and hurried flight there, when frightened. Would have meant death or serious injury; so the wild ass learned to first judge the situation and then react. In each case, nature equipped the species to respond in the best manner to insure survival.
Horses and asses have different chromosome counts, and a mule is a true genetic hybrid, not just a kind of long-eared horse. The equine-only endurance rides that prohibit the entry of mules are therefore biologically justified in their decision. A mule is only half-horse.
The hybridization not only explains the judgement and decision-making ability of the mule, but also accounts for his amazing strength and stamina. Hybrid vigor is a recognized characteristic, and examples abound in both a plant and animal kingdom.
As a horseman, I am attracted to the mule by his endurance, his smoothness of gait, his calmness his versatility, and his easy-keeping qualities.
As a Veterinarian, I am fascinated by the mule’s resistance to disease, his longevity, and his tendency toward soundness.
Most of all, as an amateur animal behavior scientist, I am intrigued by the personality of the beast. He does not respond blindly to training; he makes up his own mind. The mule is said to be unforgiving, and if abused will eventually settle the score with the person who hurt him. It’s a common saying when it comes to training. “Mules will separate the men from the boys.” Crude and quick techniques that often work on horses won’t always work on mules. I like that. If mules force us to use more patient and scientific horsemanship and fewer gimmicks, then I am all for them. Physically and psychologically, what we learn from mules will, I hope, benefit horses.
ARE MULES FOR YOU?
By Jane Lambert
Are you considering becoming a mule owner? Perhaps you should ask yourself the following questions.
How experienced with horses are you?
If you have not ridden or owned horses, you may not have enough background to deal with mules. They are smart, and if you make mistakes with them, they will take advantage of you. You must understand equine psychology and be able to read horse or mule body language – something that takes time and experience. If you allow your mule to outsmart you, he will.
How patient are you?
It takes patience to own mules. You have to be able to out think them, not overpower them. If you start trying to force a mule to do something, instead of convincing them that he wants to do it your way, you will have problems. Working with mules involves a lot of head games.
So….do you enjoy head games?
If you like to match wits, you will enjoy mules. They are highly intelligent animals who are always thinking. Mules don’t program like a horse, so in your training you need to mentally challenge your mule, keep him interested, quit before you bore him, and give him praise when he responds well. If your mule gets mad, or is in a bad mood, you might as well forget the day’s training session.
Realize, when you have a well – trained mule, that he is humoring you by responding correctly to your cues. Make him mad and watch him ignore you.
What kind of facilities do you have?
I’ve decided mules need electric fence. If you have barbed wire, they eventually cut themselves. If you use smooth wire, they lean on it and stretch it out. If it’s wooden, they eat it. For their own protection and for the good of your fences, consider a hot wire.
Do you have a decent rolling area- a good “dust bowl?”
If not, your mules will make one, even in your irrigated pasture. Simply expect it.
Do you have other animals?
Mules are very social and do not like to be by themselves. In fact, some people feel you can make a mule bond to you by making yourself the only animal your mule sees.
You should know that if you have horses, especially mares, your mule will become herd-bound. This is good if you are in the mountains, as you can just turn your mule loose, and he won’t leave his horse friends. This is bad when you need to take your mule out by himself. It bothers him a lot to be tied alone, ridden alone, and hauled alone, and takes time for him to know that he will get to come home and be with his buddies again.
Also, mules trample small animals. Do not put mules in with sheep, goats, hogs, colts or calves. Watch out for our dogs and cats, and I would not advise letting small children be unattended anywhere near mules.
What type of riding do you do?
Select a mule to meet your needs. Because mules can come from any breed of mare and from different sizes and types of jacks, try to select you mule with the mental and physical aptitudes you need.
Keep in mind that the jack will contribute to size, disposition, and soundness, but the majority of the mental attitudes and athletic ability will come from the mother. Know what you expect from you mule before you buy him, and select him to meet your expectations.
Do you “have mare, need jack?”
If you have a mare with the attributes you want in your mule, then find her a mate. My main advice in selecting a jack is to look at this offspring from similar mares. Jack beauty lies in the quality of his get. If you can’t see his get, get another jack.
Mules can be your dream come true or your worst nightmare. I love mine and thoroughly enjoy their unique personalities, surefootedness, and the mental challenge they present. But in deciding if mules are for you, realize that a mule is not “like a horse.” He is much more than a horse and is not for everyone.
How to Buy a Mule - by Betsy Hutchins
Buying a good mule is harder than buying a horse because fewer mules exist compared to horses and many trainers do not know how to train mules. Improper training ruins too many good-looking mules with good dispositions. Experienced gentle, bomb-proof mules are greatly valued by their owners. Well-mannered mules are no more readily sold than comparable horses, or are sold to friends of the owner without advertisement.
Before setting out to buy a mule, decide what qualities you want and need. As with any equine, various mule characteristics suit various people. If you want a high-quality show animal you need an entirely different animal from the safe, reliable mule suitable for a beginner.
Some folks want as much decoration as internal qualities. I frequently get requests like, "I want an Appaloosa mule (loud colored). It must be 16 hands, female, between 3 and 7 years old, with excellent conformation, well trained, gentle, and good for show."
You may want a mule fitting that description, but your odds of finding a mule exactly matching such a description are much lower than finding a mule approximately matching the description. You may have to settle for a sorrel mule fitting most of your other parameters, or a 14.2-hand Appaloosa.
After you decide on the characteristics you want in your mule, divide the list into what you must have and what you would like to have but could do without. If you must have height and good training, you may have to forego the color or gender. If you must have height and color, you may have to buy a young mule and train it yourself. A beginner might disregard color, size (beyond the minimum needed), gender, and age (ruling out old-and-decrepit). A perfectly trained, gentle, experienced, sound mule willing to tolerate mistakes will be safe and enjoyable for a beginner.
Next find a place to look for mules. Don't go to a sale and buy the first interesting mule brought into the ring. The Internet is useful for searching out magazines where mules are advertised and organizations that promote mules.
Make a list of people to contact and then start calling. Let everyone you talk to know what you want and what you will settle for, and include an accurate assessment of your own driving or training abilities. Although a dishonest seller will not care about whether your new mule is safe for you, honest breeders and sellers will take into account your level of expertise when telling you what they have. The majority of mule lovers want both their animals and the people who own them to be happy.
This site was last updated 08/11/10