Sometimes jackasses can be pretty stubborn, even though that’s not their nature. OK, got your attention, but what did you think I was talking about? Mules, of course.
What exactly is a mule? Technically, it is the offspring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). A male donkey is referred to as a jackass, so then a mule is half of a jackass, right? Just a little of how my logic works. A horse has 64 chromosomes and a donkey has 62, so a mule ends up with 63. Because of the odd number, a mule can’t reproduce.
Jim always wanted to have a mule. We even went so far as to go to Missouri and visit a farm where they bred and raised mules. He read books on mules, we just never got as far as getting one. However, friends Frank and Patsy Orns have had mules for 25 years now.
Frank swears by their virtues. When asked why he would rather have them as opposed to horses, he doesn’t even have to think before he answers. “They’re smarter than a horse! They remember what they learn and you don’t have to keep training them over and over like you do a horse.”
Mules are intelligent and loaded with personality, both good and bad. Everyone has heard the term “stubborn as a mule’ and with good reason, but not exactly for the reason you may think. They have a strong sense of preservation. If they are overheated, overworked or overused for any reason, mules will either slow down or stop completely. Hence, they have earned their reputation and maybe there is something to be said for it. How many times do we push ourselves when we are physically or mentally exhausted? I have been accused of being stubborn as a mule before so maybe I should start considering that a compliment!
If you are seriously considering adding a mule or a horse to your menagerie, it may be wise to take a closer look at this breed, as they definitely do have some outstanding qualities. If you have ever watched a western movie, you know that mules are the first choice when it comes to pack animals. Who can forget loveable Ruth, Festus Haggen’s mule on the Gunsmoke television series.
The reason they are such good pack animals is their sure-footedness, which is both physical and psychological. They actually assess the situation before they do anything and they naturally have strong, upright and boxy feet, which is also part of the secret to their surefootedness. Their body is narrow, which helps them to wind through small areas. Joking aside, they get this from the ass side of the family.
Mules’ feet are strong, tough, flexible and usually not as brittle as those of a horse. For this reason, they have less of a problem with split and chipped heels. Those that work on pavement and stony ground are shod, but most pleasure animals and ones that work on softer ground never see a shoe. Regular hoof trimming is all that’s needed.
All in all, mules excel in physical soundness. Their legs and hide are tougher and more durable than that of a horse since they have the tough physical and mental qualities of a donkey. They are definitely less expensive at the vet’s office and their leg problems are usually less severe.
As a general rule, mules have fewer feeding problems than horses. They rarely overeat and require less food than a horse. Good pasture or clean hay is usually sufficient and non-working mules usually don’t even need grain.
Donkeys are similar to camels in their ability to drink only enough water to replace lost body fluids. Most mules inherit this ability, making them prime candidates to endure heat better than other counterparts.
They also have a longer lifespan than horses. Eighteen years is average but it is not uncommon for them to live to be 40.
Most people are still confused as to how a mule, donkey, burro, hinny and jackass are related. Here’s the lowdown: a mule, of course, is the offspring of a female horse and male donkey; a burro is a small donkey; a hinny is the product of a male horse and female donkey; and a jackass is a male donkey. If you are like me, next time someone asks, this all will still be clear as mud.
So, why do Frank and Patsy feel such a bond with Tick and Tess, their brother and sister mules in the photographs?
“They are peaceful and relaxing to be around,” Frank says. “What we really like to do is hitch them up to the cart or wagon and visit neighbors.”
After talking with Frank and Patsy, I have the utmost respect for this breed, but just don’t feel the need to own one. I have the best of both worlds, when I feel the urge to be around one I’ll just visit Tick and Tess.