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Old 12-18-2010, 12:25 AM  
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Mules vs Horses

At a packing clinic this past weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to some very experenced mule men and cowboys. It was interesting to get their perspective on both mules and horses. (I remember a discussion on this forum with Jerry a while back about the different abilities of both.)

All the cowboys/wranglers told me how much the respected mules as pack animals and appreciated a good pack mule. The calmer temperment, sure footedness, less liklihood to bolt when startled, strength and hardiness, etc, were qualities they valued. I learned a lot about what makes a good pack mule and what makes a BAD pack mule. (My two rescue mules that I took along were GREAT and I had offers from 3 different wranglers to buy them off me. My main riding mule, however, flunked out as a packer, and I was told she was the kind who would pull a string right off the side of a cliff!)

All the the men preferred to ride horses when leading a pack string for various reasons. Mules follow horses well, for one. That means the string is happy if they are following their lead horse, especially a mare. A horse can be more easily coerced past/through a potentially dangerous sitation, where as a mule might not go as easily if being used as a lead animal but will more likely follow the horse. Also, when packing overnight, the horse can be picketed or tied and the mules let loose to graze as the mules will not wander far from the horse. A bunch of mules on their own, however, could well run off.
They also agreed that molly mules have a better work ethic than john mules, particularly young johns who only want to play and make trouble where ever they happen to be.
The wranglers said they thought horses were more "honest" than mules and that mules could be coniving. If a horse is going down the trail, it is going down the trail, period. A mule, on the other hand, might be going down the trial, but also trying to figure out ways to avoid going down the trail. In other words, mules have more "try" in that they will try to work around the rules and can think up more ways to avoid work than horses will.

Because mules have a very strong sense of self preservation, they do not necessarily give you 100% like a horse might. A horse will run itself to death or over a cliff. A mule will not. He is going to hold something back so he always has something in reserve. He will work very hard, but when he has done enough he will stop. (This is why my most recent rescue mule - the one who walked from Missouri to Arizona with virtually no food and arrived 200 pounds underweight, would only walk 3-3.5 mph on the trip. They guy leading her was so frustrated that she wouldn't go faster, but heck - she probably figured she might have to walk to ALaska, so she wasn't going to knock herself out by going faster than she was able to sustain over time. Since getting some weight on she has shown herself to be a very spunky gal with a very fast, ground covering, over-reaching walk.)

Furthermore, as cowboys, they preferred horses for chasing cows. Although some mules are bred to be very "cowy" and quick, most will not overly exert themselves to run down a cow. Yes, the mule could probably run further and longer than the horse by the end of the day, but the horse will be more agile and quick when working cattle. (That being said, I know of a ranch here in southern AZ that is on such steep and rough terrain that all the cowboys ride mules rather than horses. It's a survival thing - just not very feasible to chase cows from horses over the type of country they have.)

Cowboys also have some rather strange ideas of entertainment - like trying to rope bears. It's hard enough to convince a horse that this is a good idea, but there is no way on earth a mule is going to go along with this.

So it was good for me to hear the perspectives. All the qualities that are admired in a good pack mule are also the ones I value for my riding mules - calm temperment, sure footedness, less likely to bolt when startled, strength, hardiness. Since I don't care to chase cows, and have no desire to rope bears, a mule suits me just fine as a riding mount. I also appreciate the fact that mules are less bouncy than horses (and therefore easier on my back), a quality the wranglers also admitted to.
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Old 12-18-2010, 08:24 AM  
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Thank you for taking the time to write out that discussion. It is interesting to see it from that standpoint.

I have to agree...it is a lot easier to work with my horse than it is my mule. I can trick Elvis into things, that I have learned is just not going to happen with Marshall.
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Old 12-19-2010, 07:54 AM  
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hmmmmmm.........am getting a donkey, and thinking most of the mule rules would apply here as well..............thanks for this great info.......it answered some of the questions that have been floating around in my head..............good to nkow that each has a specfic niche .......because i am torn between being strictly a long ear lover, and still loving horses for what they are...........sounds silly, i know, but it helps me to know that just one or the other might not fill all my needs.....kinda like having workboots and sunday shoes, i guess!
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Old 12-19-2010, 08:45 AM  
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What an awesome write-up, thank you!

I still have yet to work with a mule in any way, either pack or riding. But they do seem to be awesome animal, and I hope to own a riding mule some day. It was really interesting to get a perspective on the two personalities applied to the various jobs.
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Old 12-19-2010, 08:46 AM  
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Guess itjust depends on what you want to do. However, don't rule out mules because they are also very versitile. I was looking at some show results at one of the larger mule shows and it's really quite amazing what the high point mules and donkeys do. One mule will win top points in hunter/jumper, English and Western pleasure, driving, barrels, and trail. IMHO, it seems like horses are more specialized, while mules are able to do a whole lot of different things well. There are a lot of mule/donkey shows out there, and mules are allowed to complete in jumping against horses, in quite a number of places, thanks to the hard work and promotion of the "breed" by Meredith Hodges.
I have several friends who ride mammoth donkeys as trail animals. They LOVE their donkeys and wouldn't have any other. Donkeys can also jump, drive, and pack. So it just depends.
With either a mule or donkey, you are definitely going to learn how to work with their mind, not just their body. They are thinkers, tricksters, and have nothing better to do all day than figure out your latches and gates!
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Old 12-19-2010, 10:31 PM  
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Amen!!!!
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Old 12-20-2010, 10:08 AM  
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Several years ago, I attended the Mule Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

The infinite variety of sizes, shapes, colors, was incredible!

The heavy mule pulling and the coon jumping were going on in the Calsonic arena at the same time, and it was the loudest, most enthusiastic crowd I have ever heard at an equestrian event!
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