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An Assologist's Perspective

What is a Mule?

    A mule is the sterile hybrid of any two equines of dissimilar species. The most common hybrid is of the male ass, known as a Jack, and the female horse, or mare. However the opposite cross is not all that uncommon, and mule people tend to call this offspring of a male (stud) horse and a female ass (Jenny or Jennet), a hinny. Some will tell you that the hinny is more horse-like in appearance than the opposite cross. In truth this is seldom so, and even experts will have a difficult time telling one cross from the other. In addition to these common hybrids, we have been seeing more and more Zebra crosses recently. This hybrid of an ass or horse with a zebra has several names, none of which are universally accepted or used. If the cross is with an ass, some folks might call it a zebroid, or even a zdonk. If the combination is of a horse and zebra, some would call it a zorse. No matter the cross, the hybrid offspring is still technically a mule.
    Mules are sterile and cannot reproduce. This does not affect the normal sex drive, though, and mules will breed, if not conceive. There have been stories through the years of mare mules giving birth, but to my knowledge, none have been substantiated. Male mules should always be castrated to prevent the dangerous behavioral problems inherent in studs. This castration is called gelding, and a castrated mule is known as a gelded mule, or simply a horse mule. In Europe you might hear him called a John mule. The female mule is known as a mare mule or a molly mule. Most horse people prefer geldings, while most mule people prefer mare mules. The mares tend to be easier to train.
    Mules will often grow to a size larger than either parent, and they live longer than the horse. They tend to have more endurance and strength than a horse of the same size, and they tend to be easier keepers. As a general rule, a mule will stay fat on pasture where a horse might not do so well. No need for fancy supplements either. Many mule owners won't even shoe the animal, as a mule's feet are so much tougher than those of a horse. They are disease resistant and are more tolerant of heat and cold. Founder and colic are rare in mules, thanks to built-in mechanisms inherited from the ass. All in all, it costs less money to keep a mule.
    Mules tend to develop trusting relationships with the rider or trainer. If treated well a mule will be your best friend, but mistreat him just once and he will neither forgive nor forget. Many a good mule has been ruined by one single fit of temper. Mules are generally more intelligent than horses. Mules and asses both share a very well developed sense of self preservation. Seldom will a mule allow you to put him in a dangerous situation, nor will he allow himself to be overworked. If the mule trusts you he may accept new and strange situations with little question, but when he balks the wise muleskinner investigates before pressing the issue. A recalcitrant mule could be warning you of danger. Caution in a mule is often mistaken for stubbornness and the uninitiated usually wind up regretting any attempt at forcing the animal to submit.

The Mules Heritage

    The first mules on the North American Continent are thought to have been bred by none other than George Washington. The Father of our Country crossed a huge  Andalusian jackass named "Royal Gift", named so because the animal came as a gift from the King of Spain, with his brood stock of large work mares. The results became quickly famous and mules became the most popular working stock on American farms. General Washington had 58 mules working his Mt. Vernon farm at one time.

The Mules Parentage

    The male ass is referred to as a jackass, or just "jack". The female is the jenny or jennet. Just as in horses, there are many sub-breeds and, also like horses, asses are categorized by size. There are miniature, standard, large standard, and mammoth asses.
    Other names for the ass include donkey and burro. Due to the connotation of the name ass, most folks here in the Colonies these days most often refer to the breed as donkey, and the jackass simply as a jack. Burro is a designation less used, but still not at all uncommon. It is a name Spanish in origin and more commonly refers, at least in the US, to the smaller sized asses common to Mexico.

The Mules Legacy

By the mid 1960's or so the specie had become all but extinct. Since then, thanks to the dedication of some very special people, the mule's popularity has steadily grown, and today they are common sights at fairs, shows, rodeos, and trailrides. The mule is greatly favored for it's endurance, easy gait, intelligence, and willing nature. Folks who laughed at mule riders a few years ago can be seen astraddle longears these days. They are still laughing - but for an altogether different reason. A well-bred, properly trained mule is a joy. The common sentiment is that once you ride a good mule, you will never want to ride another horse.
    There are now thousands of mules, and, as a result of this proliferation, the quality of mules has gotten much better. Many years ago when I first decided to try a mule I found that it was next to impossible to buy a good one. There were good mules out there but the owners weren't turning loose of them. The mules I found on the market all had "holes" in them and were being sold for that reason. The very few good animals I did find for sale were priced beyond reason. I didn't understand the reason for all this at the time, but I quickly learned.
    Instead of giving up on the idea, I bought a good jack and started raising my own mules. After a few years I started culling off the less desirable of the colts, keeping only the best prospects, and began working with them. I learned a lot in those years. I learned just how smart a mule really is, and just how cautious. I learned how easy it was to make a mistake in training and ruin a mule. With help from folks like Red Roper and Ray Hunt, I also learned better ways of training these incredible animals. In the process, I learned why it was so hard to buy a good mule in those days, and why they cost so much when you did find one.
    Times have changed, and there are many, many good mules available on the market for the would-be mule owner. They are still expensive, but the good ones are worth it. Several good breeders and trainers are represented in the links page. If you want a good mule, one of these folks will be able to help you.
    Mule breed associations and registries are abundant these days. The oldest, in this country at least, is the
American Donkey and Mule Society. ADMS was founded in 1967 by Paul and Betsy Hutchins and is headquartered in Lewisville, Texas. The ADMS publishes a quarterly 128 page magazine called The Brayer. An excellent essay titled Why a Mule? can be found on the ADMS web site. Another, entitled The Wonderful World of Longears, has been published by Eugenie M. McGuire and is quite good reading. Some mule publications are Mules & More, Western Mule, and The Saddle Mule News. Links to these and others can be found on the Mulelinks page. 

REMEMBER! Anything a horse can do, a mule can do better!


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