A mule is the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey (the offspring of a stallion and a female donkey is called a hinny, but we won’t go there today). And yes, it’s true that mules can’t reproduce – something to do with having an uneven number of chromosomes. You can only get a baby mule by crossbreeding the two different parents.
A quality mule combines the size, strength and speed of a horse with a donkey’s patience, sure-footedness, endurance and survival skills. In the old West, if you needed a heavy load hauled long distance over murderous terrain, you wouldn’t want horses. You’d want mules, and you’d have to pay top dollar for them. (Anybody remember the old Frankie Laine song about “Mule Train”? If you do you’ll probably want to kill me for putting it back in your head.)
My main source for this post was a wonderful old children’s book, ALBUM OF HORSES by Marguerite Henry. Here are some fun facts I learned about mules.
Mules are known for their stubbornness. But muleteers call this quality wisdom. If a mule’s load is too heavy, he’ll wait for you to lighten it. If he’s put in enough hours he stages a strike. If the water in a creek’s unfit to drink he won’t touch a drop. If the weather’s hot he slows his pace. If his pasture is hilly, he eats uphill so he won’t have to bend. Unlike a horse, a mule never overeats or drinks icy water when he’s too hot. If he doesn’t like the way things are going he simply takes a nap and refuses to budge.
Here’s something I didn’t know, and I’ll bet you didn’t either. The person responsible for making the mule popular in America was none other than George Washington. After the Revolution he put his mind to scientific farming. He was especially interested in a breed of huge Catalonian donkeys in Spain. Hearing of his interest, the king of Spain sent him two superb jacks (male donkeys) as a gift. One died on the ship, but the other (Washington named him Royal Gift) survived to breed with many mares and sire a vast family of strapping mules. Even today (this according to my father) the finest mules are bred by crossing these big Spanish jacks with Percheron mares.
Do you have any personal experience with mules? Know any good mule stories? Have a favorite movie mule? I’d love to hear from you.