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