So you’ve seen the photos, watched the videos, read the exaltations, maybe even met a mule or two in real life – or maybe you’re like me, and you just said yes without thinking when your husband asked you one evening if you would like a mule. Whatever brought you here, you’re probably wondering: what next? How exactly do I get a mule? What do I need to know?
If you’re still trying to decide, then the following articles may be useful to you: Five Reasons To Get A Mule (And Five Reasons Not To) and Advice For New Mule Owners.
This is a UK blog so I will be focusing on UK specific answers.
Where Can I Get A Mule From?
To my knowledge, no one in the UK is intentionally breeding mules. We have a lot of accidental mules, and a few where people have just thrown a donkey and some mares together for the novelty factor, but there isn’t anyone deliberately and thoughtfully breeding quality animals. There is a lady in Wales called Susannah Powell who was breeding very nice draft mules via AI, but I don’t think she’s still doing this – if you’re interested, please contact the British Mule Society who can put you in touch.
Mules come up for sale fairly often if you know where to look, but mules who have been well-handled are rare and mules who have been trained to ride are even rarer. This is because we don’t want to part with them once we’ve got them!
So what are your options?
1. Be patient and wait.
Let’s be honest, patience is a virtue you will need when you become a mule owner! Join Facebook groups like Mule Owners UK, Mule Welfare UK – Group Chat, Donkeys And Mules For Sale UK, and follow the Mulography page, to give yourself a good chance of seeing that Unicorn – er, I mean trained mule – when he or she becomes available. The members of these groups will often share adverts they’ve seen on sites like Dragon Driving and Done Deal so it’s a good place to watch and wait.
2. Rehome a mule from a charity.
As of June 2018, The Donkey Sanctuary was home to 163 mules. Mules often end up in sanctuaries because they are not straight-forward animals, and as many are left unhandled in their early years this can create a real challenge to work with. You may not be able to find a rescue mule who is fully trained and ready to go, but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort then you will surely be rewarded. Wallace The Great, the first mule to compete and win in British Dressage, is a Donkey Sanctuary mule!
3. Import a mule from overseas.
If your mind has immediately jumped to thoughts of America and expensive air travel, don’t panic – it’s not as difficult as you might think (although if you would like to hear more about bringing a mule from the US to the UK, you may like to read the import stories of Diamond and Sweetheart). I imported Xato from Mallorca, which sounds crazy and extravagant when I say it, and I certainly never imagined it would be a possibility; but the transport did not cost anywhere near as much as I thought it would, and I was lucky to have Xanthe organising everything and translating for me on the Spanish end. You can contact her via her page Mulefinder if you are thinking about getting a Spanish mule – I would 100% recommend her, and there are already several other Mulefinder mules in the country. You can also keep an eye on Longears & Stuff – Europe which will have sale ads from all over the continent.
4. Breed your own mule.
I’m going to raise my hands and say that I know absolutely nothing about breeding – however, for those of you who do know what you’re doing, I thought I would list this here as a possibility. The downside is that there aren’t many large donkey jacks in the UK so you may need to look at AI if you would like a larger mule (I have a friend in Scotland who’s an AI technician, if you’d like to go that route – I can put you in touch. She used to run a stud and works as a freelance equine midwife so you’ll be in knowledgeable hands!). There are Mammoth Jackstock donkeys at Hamerton Stud, but when I last spoke to them – admittedly some years ago, now! – they didn’t seem keen on providing jacks for mule breeding. You would have to contact them yourself.
How Do I Know What To Look For?
The answer to this question largely depends on what you want to do with your mule. However, assuming that you want a trained mule and not a project, I would recommend the following checks:
- What photos and video has the owner or charity put online? I have seen several adverts recently that only show the mule loose in the field, often in that tell-tale alert stance, and often wearing a headcollar as well. This would suggest to me that the mule is difficult to catch, does not handle well, and is wary of people. It might just be that the seller is very bad at taking sale pictures, of course.
- Ask to see the mule being ridden, driven, led … whatever it is you expect to be able to do with your new mule, make sure you can see it being done with the current owners first. The benefit of this is twofold. Firstly, it provides proof that the “good to lead and catch, great for the farrier, hacks out alone and in company” mule is really what they say it is. Secondly, mules are generally one-person animals and form close bonds with their humans. It is likely that once you get your new mule home, you will experience a few problems as they adjust to different handling and new expectations. This is normal! Having seen how they can be will give you something to aim for and remind yourself of.
- If the mule you’re thinking of buying is overseas or a long way from you, ask for this stuff on video first. I would personally recommend going and visiting your mule before you buy, but I understand that this is not always possible especially if they are abroad; having video might save you a trip, or it might save you ending up with a big problem on your hands if you buy sight unseen.
I’m only an enthusiastic amateur, so I’ll give you this video from Steve Edwards for some further information (as a disclaimer, I don’t necessarily agree with all of his mulemanship ideas, but you can make your minds up for yourselves!).
What Do I Need Before I Get My Mule?
When people ask if there are any differences between training a mule and training a horse, the easiest answer is: no, you must train a mule the way you should train a horse. The same is true for looking after them, too. We all know that horses are herd animals who need equine company, mental stimulation, constant access to food, and the ability to exercise themselves in order to be at their best physically and mentally – yet how many horses actually get this kind of basic care? If you were to shut a mule in a stable for 20 hours a day, stuff him full of sugary feed, and give him only solitary turnout on a rectangular featureless paddock, you would soon be in serious trouble.
Here are a few guidelines for the kind of environment that works best for mules:
- Good fencing. Mules are escape artists – especially if their brains aren’t being kept occupied! There are also some mules who like to go walkabout just because they can. A genuine story I came across involved a mule who had been escaping his paddock every day for weeks by crawling through a damaged section of fence hidden behind bushes; his owner had absolutely no idea he was doing this until a neighbour happened to mention it to her one day, because the mule would always put himself back in the field before his owner came home from work! Almost every mule owner I’ve spoken to agrees that electric fencing is the best at keeping mules contained.
- Poor grazing. Again, this is something that benefits horses too, no matter how lovely we might think that big field full of lush green grass is. Mules are particularly susceptible to sugar – it’s a myth that they can’t get laminitis. A little sugar will make them cray-cray, a lot will make them very ill. The livery yard we keep our own herd on is unfortunately cow pasture which the owner insists on fertilising every year, but I’ve so far been able to manage this by strip-grazing and introducing a track system.
- An area of hard-standing or well-drained soil. Like donkeys, mules are prone to problems such as thrush and white line disease. Giving them somewhere they can keep their feet dry and providing regular hoofcare will keep them healthy. I am a huge fan of Artimud by Red Horse and will use that to pack any crevices underneath the foot once or twice a week to make sure that everything stays in good condition.
In the UK it can be difficult to find a vet, farrier or dental technician who is familiar with mules, but if they know about donkeys then you’re probably going to be alright! I have a list of recommended professionals here.
If this is your first mule, you may like to read some books and watch some DVDs to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Ben and I binged on the Brad Cameron Saddle Mule series before optimistically bumbling off down to Devon to pick up Marty! I have also heard great things about the Lucky Three Ranch training series, the Ty Evans DVDs and of course Steve Edwards. As with most mule products, all of these are only available in America so you will need a compatible DVD player and some extra cash to cover the extortionate shipping and import fees.
Some other DVDs that aren’t mule-specific but feature the kind of good horsemanship skills that you will need for mules, are Buck Brannaman’s 7 Clinics, Steve Halfpenny’s Groundwork For Softness, and Warwick Schiller’s online video library (no shipping costs! Hurrah!).
As for books, some of my favourites are The Mule Behaviour Problem Solver, Meredith Hodge’s Training Mules And Donkeys, and for general mule information The Mule by Lorraine Travis and The Natural Superiority Of Mules by John Hauer are also both excellent.
You may also like to take out a subscription to Horsemanship Magazine, which provides great articles if I do say so myself and aims to feature mules and donkeys in every issue.
Are There Any Societies I Can Join?
Yes! There is, in fact, the British Mule Society (Facebook) who are the main people to go to. You can join from £15 a year which gives you access to the Mule Journal which comes out three times a year (£20 if you want the print version).
There is also the newly formed Mule Welfare UK (Facebook), whose mission is “to inspire people to create a better every day life for mules in the UK” – something Mulography can wholeheartedly get behind.
What Should I Avoid In A Mule?
If your potential mule looks like this:
Then avoid at all costs. It’s too late for me but you can still save yourselves.