The mule (Genus: Equus) is a cross breed between it’s sire, the male donkey and its dam, a female horse. A mule cannot be sired from a male horse and female donkey. Famed throughout the ages for possessing the best qualities from both the donkey and female horse, the mule has been an invaluable help to the progression of man as human transport and as a pack animal.
Donkeys and horses are different species with different chromosomes. The drawback of such a mix
is that mules rarely can create offspring. The hardiness and size of the mule can be attributed to the size
of the mule’s dam (mother).
Benefits of mules have harder hooves than horses and are believed better suited to cover rocky terrains and mountain passes. Also, the mule is reputedly easier to train than the horse, more patient and can cover a 50-60 mile area in a day, requiring just four or five hours of sleep. Another important benefit is the mule inherits the sire’s resistance to parasites and disease and natural ability to survive.
More benefits of the mule historically to humankind were manifold. Inheriting the sire’s appetite, the mule requires less food than a horse of the same size and is stronger. While inheriting the dam’s
ability to cover more ground in a day than the donkey. The mule can also outlive both its parents le Charles Darwin to say It “seems to indicate that art has here outdone nature.”
The mule inspired President Harry Truman to say:President Harry Truman
“My favorite animal is the mule. He has more horse sense than a horse.
he knows when to stop eating – and he knows when to stop working”
Table of Contents
Physical Characteristics of Mules
Some mules resemble sturdy quarter Horses, huge draft horses, shire horses, fine-boned racing horses, shaggy ponies, and others depending on the appearance of the dam.
Traits the mule inherits from its sire are reputed: surefooted ability, toughness, intelligence, endurance,
and willingness for self preservation. Like its sire the mule knows when to take a break. From a female horse the mule gets, beauty, speed, conformation and agility. However, the mule gets more agility and athleticism than both parents.
Muscle structure, thicker bones, strength and intelligence are reaped from the donkey. Mule’s skin is harder and less sensitive than horses skin which allows them more protection from the wind and sun. Colors of the vigor hybrids mostly follow the hues of the Dam such as bay, chestnut black, and gray.
The muscles of a mule are visibly different from a horse where the body is covered with masses of longer smooth muscle whereas the horse has more differentiated bulk muscle masses. The chest area of the mule has one wide muscle where as horse muscle groupings are separate and clearly visible.
Muscles on hind legs are wide smooth and long allowing the mule greater flexibility. A mule can kick sideways backwards or frontwards unlike the horse. Possessing thinner legs like the donkey
means the mule can free itself from trying spots with more agility and speed than a bulkier horse.
Myths About Mules
The mule is sometimes falsely described as inheriting the sire’s stubbornness. But stubbornness is confused with self preservation. A donkey will often stop dead when it knows it needs a rest from hard labor in the same way a human would take a break.
When approaching a stream or river mules and donkeys are famously slow and hard to coax forward. But there’s a good reason they are hesitant. Human’s possess a far better visual depth perception than donkeys and mules so they take more time to assess the route ahead.
Relationship With Humans
Mules inherit the donkey’s affability toward humans. When they are treated kindly they gravitate to human, obeying and and acting warmly towards masters. If communication levels of the owner are poor or he is treated cruelly the mule can be non responsive or even dangerous to handle.
History of Mules Use
Mules have been purposely bred by humankind for thousands of years with their first origins linked to ancient Turkey. Mules were known in Egypt since before 3000 BC and about 2100 BC and 1500 BC.
Pharaohs sent teams into the a sparsely populated desert region between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea known as Sinai to mine for turquoise.
The miners marked their route with carvings on rocks of mules and boats. Mules were the regular pack animal of common Egyptians citizens.
Breeding – How to get a Mule
Simply placing a Jack in a field with a female may not work. Unless the donkey has grown up around horses and thinks he is a horse he may not cross the equine divide. Whereas a mare may well be scared of a typical noisy Jack and not ‘show’ to the jack as she would to a male horse (stallion) making the detection of her heat cycle touch and go.
Most breeders will hand breed which eliminates the coupling issues and is the surest way to know if the mare has been covered. Pasture breeding can carry risks such as injury caused to either Jack or the mare … or worse he may kill her accompanying foal.
Fantastic Facts About Mules
- Mules have 63 chromosomes: a blend of the horse’s 64 and 62 of the donkey’s.
- Sumerian texts from the third millennium BC stated the price of a mule was 20 to 30 shekels, seven times that of a donkey. At Ebla, the average price for a mule was 60 shekels. Sumeria was the earliest known civilization, at about 4500 years BC in today’s Southern Iraq.
- A mule that can produce offspring is called a molly mule.
Mules in War Time.
Mules have played an important role in military action throughout the history of warfare. Pack mules provided flexible, robust travel for US infantry, artillery, cavalry, units during the Mexican war,
war of independence and both world wars. The mule is, the symbol of the U.S. Army.
In ancient Greece, the mule was highly valued as pack animals and to draw carriages. In ancient Rome, mules were used for transporting weapons and supplies with their superb endurance and robustness famed throughout the empire.
By the 18th century, breeding of mules had become a thriving business in France, Italy and Spain.
For decades the French Province of Poitou was the famed, principle breeding place in Europe.
500,000 mules were said to be bred each year.
In newly founded America, donkeys prevailed, though George Washington realized they were small compared with the mule. Washington wrote to King Charles of Spain requesting permission to purchase a good quality breeding stock which were hitherto illegal to export. In October of 1785, a ship docked in Boston harbor transporting a gift from King Charles for George Washington: two ‘fine jennies’ and a 4-year old Spanish jack named, appropriately, “Royal Gift’. “Royal gift” is credited for starting a legacy that “reshaped the very landscape of the country”.
- Rural Heritage Magazine