…and five reasons not to!
I talk about how great mules are a lot. It’s kind of my main interest in life. Many people have asked me why I have mules and I thought it was time to put some of the answers down in text. I’ve also included reasons not to get a mule because, despite how much I talk them up, there are a few scenarios where a mule might not be your best option.
Five Reasons To Get A Mule
- Because you want a good trail mount. Mules are the original 4×4! They are agile, curious and sure-footed, with naturally rock-crunching feet that very rarely need shoeing. Although all mules are different, they tend to take after their donkey fathers and are more inclined to stop and think when a situation arises, rather than the horse approach of react first, ask questions later. They have greater stamina and endurance, and don’t need to eat or drink as much as a horse. They are also better equipped to deal with higher temperatures. Their strong sense of self-preservation means that they will never endanger themselves and, by default, will not endanger you either – so long as you can stay on board!
- Because you’re willing to learn. Harry Whitney once said to me that he believes everyone should work with mules and donkeys before they’re ever allowed near a horse, and I can absolutely see the value in that statement. It is much easier to “wing it” with a horse than it is with a mule. If a mule does not believe you to be a confident, competent leader, then they won’t be interested in anything you have to say – and it is very hard to persuade them otherwise! Owning a mule teaches you patience, subtly, and will improve your horsemanship skills tenfold. You can’t force it with a mule.
- Because they are loyal and affectionate partners. A common phrase is that owning a mule is much like owning a big dog; I disagree, but only because I think they’re more like cats. Dogs are very loving, trusting animals, and you don’t have to work very hard to win them over. Cats, on the other hand, need you to prove yourself; and that’s what makes earning their trust and affection all the sweeter. It’s the same with mules! Most mules are one-person animals and it is very rewarding to have them come to you purely because you’re their human and they love you. If you’re in trouble, they will defend you. You only need to read through our Mule Tales to hear some great stories of mules saving the lives of their humans! Zorro’s trail rescue is a particular favourite of mine.
- Because you’re fed up of vet’s bills. Alright; mules can and do fall sick. Overall, however, their hybrid vigour means they are usually much healthier than their parents and their self-preservation means they’re less likely to hurt themselves fooling around in the field. They can endure higher temperatures and have inherited the donkey ability of only drinking enough to replace lost fluids. Of course there are always exceptions and I’m sure that, now I’ve written this, I’ll go out to the field tomorrow morning and find someone’s popped a tendon or something…! But generally, I don’t feel like my mules are quite the walking disasters that horses can be. Edit (27/09/18): I regret this. Other people’s mules are not walking disasters. Other people’s mules don’t live with a mule like Marty who believes it to be his one true destiny to cause damage, distress and injury to any mule who suffers the misfortune of sharing a paddock with him. Marty is awful. Don’t be like Marty.
- Because you appreciate personality (and have a good sense of humour). I’m not saying that horses don’t have personality – our horses have great characters; it’s just that it doesn’t quite match up to a mule. Mule owners will know exactly what I mean. There’s something about the way a mule looks right into you, not at you. Mules are very entertaining and are great levellers. One of my favourite phrases is “you can’t own a mule and an ego” – they’ll put you in your place soon enough! If you don’t mind your ride having an opinion (and a whole lot of constructive criticism to give you), then you and your mule will make a great team.
Bonus Reason: Because you’re bored of the drama. As anyone who’s been part of a horse community will know, drama sometimes seems like it goes hand-in-hand with owning horses. People fall out with each other all the time over the stupidest of reasons, especially online; but I have never encountered any of this when surrounded by mule people. Maybe it’s just that we’re too busy dealing with our mules’ latest escapade, or maybe they’ve just taught us the value of patience and that there are many ways to do something. Either way, mule folk seem to be a more pragmatic kind.
Five Reasons NOT To Get A Mule
- In the UK, educated riding mules are hard to find. We woefully underestimate the value of a good riding mule in this country, and that’s sadly reflected by the amount of unwanted, unhandled mules which end up in sanctuaries. I unknowingly went against all advice when I chose Marty, an unstarted four-year-old, as my first mule (and he was at least halter broken and from an understanding home when I got him). It worked out in the end and I’ve learnt an unbelievable amount about life and horsemanship thanks to him, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it! You’ll need to keep in mind that a semi-feral mule is not the same as a semi-feral pony. Mule specific tack is also difficult to come by in the UK, as well as finding trainers and other equine professionals who have experience with mules.
- If you’re easily frustrated. For the second point in what is apparently my list of Things I’m Warning Against But Have Done Myself: if you get annoyed easily, are short of patience, or don’t like to take the time it takes, then you will probably not get along very well with mules. However – if, like me, you fall head over heels in love with these animals, then this may well be enough for you to learn how to take a step back, take a deep breath, and calmly keep on keeping on.
- If your primary interest is competing. This is a bit of a stretch (honestly, it was pretty difficult coming up with five reasons not to get a mule) and it’s not that mules can’t do any of the sports that horses do (indeed, half the time they do them better), but in the UK events aren’t expecting them and therefore don’t always know how to react to them. This can sometimes lead to mules being unfairly excluded from competition due to assumptions made out of ignorance and bias. In America, mules have actually been banned from eventing and some other sports. I don’t know of any such rules here, but then I don’t know of anyone who’s taken their mule to that level. I would love to see it done, though! Edit (27/09/18): Since writing this, Wallace The Great came along and, with a successful social media campaign, persuaded British Dressage to change the rules and allow mules to compete. Nice one!
- If you don’t enjoy the minutiae of training. A mule will do amazing things for you, but you’ve got to explain to them why you should. Mules are smarter and therefore learn new things much quicker than horses, but the flipside of that is that is is really easy to teach them the wrong thing. You must be very aware of what you are doing (every time you’re with your mule, you’re training them) in order to maintain consistency and fairness – mules really don’t like it if you let them do something one moment, then tell them off for doing it the next. The mule’s tendency to be more fight than flight always means you can get yourself into trouble if you’re not careful with them. Really, this is all stuff that should apply when training horses as well, but it’s easier to get away with cutting corners when it comes to horses.
- If you want an easy life. Obviously, you can have an easy life with mules – but you’ve got to put the work in first. Mules get bored easily and need to keep their brains entertained, else they’ll go looking for entertainment themselves. I also find that going away for any length of time and leaving them in the care of someone else is a bit of a problem, although this is mainly due to my own personal situation with Marty – others may disagree. I try to set things up so that they don’t need to be handled while Ben and I are gone, because – as mentioned above – they learn things really quickly and it would be very easy for them to pick up a new and delightful bad habit in our absence! With a horse, it’s fairly easy to remind them what the deal is, but when a mule gets an idea in their head … well, time to work on your negotiation skills!