Mules Have The Best Parts Of Both Horses And Donkeys

To many horse-owners, mules don't have a very good reputation which is a shame. Those who love and understand the hybrid long-ears are staunch supporters of these maligned beasts which are neither horse nor donkey but a bit of both. Their fans would say the best parts of both!

In biblical times, mules were the chosen mounts of the well-to-do and wealthy. In Medieval Europe, mules were the preferred mount for the clergy and gentlemen. Knights rode massive heavy horses that could cope with carrying the armour required; peasants used donkeys and aspired to mules. The best mules were bred by the monasteries.  In 1495, Christopher Columbus took four jacks and two jennies to the New World, with the aim of producing mules for expeditions onto the American mainland. Breeding donkeys were shipped from Cuba to Mexico to provide draught power in the silver mines.

Female mules were preferred for riding mounts while males were used as pack animals. They played a large part in the development of America, being used for all manner of draft work. Mammoth mules from good Belgian or Percheron mares were both handsome and powerful.


Mule HeadCredit: By Sogospelman at en.wikipedia [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( from Wikimedia Commons

 In Spain, the regions of Catalona and Andalucia each developed large donkeys which were highly prized for producing mules. At one point, Spanish jacks were not allowed out of the country, although the King of Spain presented George Washington with a large black jack in 1785. Named Royal Gift, the jack is considered the father of the mule industry in the USA. In France, Poitou donkey jacks were mated with a draft horse breed called the Mullasier (mule producer) to produce huge draft mules. Mules played a major role during wars. In civilian life, they were used to pull ploughs, wagons and fire-fighting equipment. They were also used in the mines.

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Technically a mule results from a jack donkey covering a mare. A hinny results if a stallion impregnates a jenny (female donkey). Because each species has a different number of chromosomes, mules are almost always infertile. Males are usually gelded as they have stallion-like traits and can be quite unruly and difficult to handle if left entire.

Mules are very intelligent and will not put themselves in danger. While stubborn as a mule might be a derogatory term, a mule's reluctance to perform a task is usually based on sound reasoning. Although they may appear lazy, they will not continue working to the point of exhaustion. They are very smart and have long memories. Should one be mistreated, it is quite likely that they will get their revenge at a later date.

Mule - ArgentinaCredit: Wikimedia

Mules, if well cared for and treated with respect, become very affectionate and will be willing partners in all equine endeavours. They also have a ton of patience. They should be broken in by someone who understands their nature. Unless they are treated kindly and with respect, they will not reach their full potential.

Mules can do whatever horses do. They have more stamina and can carry more weight than horses of a similar size due to hybrid vigour. Their strength also comes from inheriting both the powerful hindquarters of the horse and the strong shoulders of the donkey. They excel at endurance and are good jumpers. In the USA, mules were used by raccoon hunters. If a wire fence was encountered, the hunter would hang his jacket on the fence and jump his mules over one by one. This feat would be accomplished with only a few strides take-off. In outback Australia, they are used in the drafting yards to hold calves for branding.

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Mules are tough, sure-footed and versatile. They can virtually be custom produced to the size you require. Small mules from small jacks and small pony mares such as Shetlands are ideal children's ponies and do well in harness too. Breeding from larger pony mares or from quality riding horses produces high-quality saddle mules. Good saddle mules often come from Quarter horse or Appaloosa mares. Large jacks used over draft mares produce the big 'mammoth' mules that are incredibly strong. In the USA, large red mules are bred from Belgian Draft mares.

Their conformation is usually a mix of both parents. Some say they are horse in the middle and donkey on the extremities. The body is strong and rounded like the horse. They have a flatter back, more pronounced withers and rounder quarters than the donkey. It has the clean, straight, slightly finer legs of the donkey with small resilient hooves. The head has a combination of features. The eyes are more almond-shaped than the horse because it inherits the D-shaped eye socket of the donkey. Males have prominent brow ridges. Pronounced arches to the neck are rare but a slight arch or straight neck is preferable to a ewe neck. They often grow taller than either parent. Hinnies may be smaller due to the fact that jennies are smaller than most mares.

MuleCredit: By Juan R. Lascorz (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

The forelock is usually thin; the mane coarse and the tail horse-like. Mules come in all colours bar a true horse pinto. This is due to the genetic factors. Some very strange markings are commonly seen in mules. The points are usually brown or tan with zebra striping often occurring on the legs and hocks. There is often a dorsal stripe down the back. They have a unique 'voice' which is a combination of a neigh and the grunting wind-down of a bray.

They are extremely comfortable to ride as the topline remains much more level than that of a horse. They are less tiring when ridden for long periods and are very tough. Being sure-footed and shrewd, they are popular on dude ranches and anywhere where tourists need to be transported. They have a strong survival instinct and will take great care of both themselves and their cargo.

Endurance riding is another area where they excel. An Australian mule, Juanita, was only 14hh but was the first mule to complete the 100 mile Tom Quilty Ride. In 1984, she won the award for top endurance equine, having covered the most miles of any equine without being vetted out. In the book written about her, her owner states that she loved trail-riding but didn't like going over the same terrain too often. When she was bored with a trail, she would become lazy. To get her really fit involved floating her to a new area. She would then trot along with her ears pricked, thoroughly enjoying her new surroundings.

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