A book for caring owners

You may copy any part of this document but please give the author credit for what you use. ODE TO THE MULE
  • A Horse can be dominated by man
  • A mule can be dominated by none
  • A horse succumbs to aggression
  • A mule succumbs to affection
  • A horse is indifferent to man
  • A mule is affectionate to man
  • A horse moves then thinks
  • A mule thinks then move
  • A horse looks at you
A mule looks into your soul! Author unknown.

This work is intended to be a book one day. As for now it is a work in progress!
When you see (Google), A Google search is recommended!

INTRODUCTION

There are hundreds of thousands of mules in the world, and several thousands here in Spain and in France with growing numbers of English speaking owners. It is though diminishing in numbers specifically here in Spain and also in Portugal, France and Italy. This is due in part to modern farming methods, but also to a great extent because children inheriting farms from parent and family members would rather sell country Cortijos, Fincas and country homes. Sadly this not only cuts their links with their culture it effects the very way land evolves andwater tables survive! Now back to the mule!

Few people know anything about this amazing creature, and those that do, have only rudimentary knowledge. Because of this the average person remains ignorant of the mules’ abilities and qualities. So often these intelligent and noble creatures are misunderstood and maligned.

So whether you have just picked up this book and are browsing, or are interested in owning a mule, or maybe you have a mule and struggled to understand it. What follows is written for you. Today there is no shortage of books, Videos and DVD’s to help the mule owner. But they are written for the American market. This market is feed by a specialized mule breeding culture. With huge National organizations and clubs to evaluate the quality and blood lines of the mules parentage. Too many groups to list here! So the problem remains for the European mule owner! If they decide to chose a mule or even a donkey for riding, who is going to educate them? How do we choose which mule is right for us! While there are many hundreds, possibly several thousand horse trainers in Europe; few if any understand the big difference between the horse and the mule and donkey, and not many of those will feel inclined to admit their ignorance. Putting a mule in the hands of a horse trainer who does not understand the nature and psychology of the mule, or even its dietary needs could ruin that mule’s potential or even kill it! Likewise surrounding a mule with horses can also have a negative effect on its behaviour.

“A mule must be trained the way a horse should be trained!” Pat Parelli.(Google)
Pat Parelli is right. For this reason I have embarked on a journey of rediscovering my own knowledge based on experiences with mules and attempting to put it into writing in simple every day language for those like myself not grounded in the equestrian world and its jargon! As the majority of Europe’s mules originate from Spain and France, and very rarely were breed for the saddle I can speak from my own practical experience re-training the Spanish and French mules for saddle and driving, (carts and Carriages).. This is something I have done seven days a week since the year 1998.

HOW IT BEGAN.

After living in Spain for a while I decided to try my hand at owning a mule as it would help me in my journey of discovery. I owned land with Almond and Olive trees, and have always wanted to understand the Spanish way of doing things. Buying a mule was easy! Understanding what was going on behind those big brown eyes was a different story. My first mule was called Mango, as in Spanish for Handle, as he gave me a new handle on life; quite literally! His previous owner, like hundred of such people here in Spain was an uneducated man, who on our first meeting enjoyed showing me the mules ability to endure hardship and pain, by kicking this poor creature in the stomach with huge force and exclaiming Mi Mulo muy Noble! A scene I have now observed many times in dozens of different towns and fairs across Spain! For this reason I consider any mule I own here as a rescued animal!

Many American mule owners will disagree with some of my methods. For your benefit I’ll explain why some things I say seem at odds with the training methods used in the USA and progressively here in Europe.

In this part or the world there is one abiding difference between our mules and theirs? Trainers like Pat Parelli, Brad Cameron, Steve Edwards and Monica Erman, (Google), and a dozen others, train mules BREED specifically for saddle in a country that has a mule riding culture. Also their mules are born into a society that respects and reveres the mule! These people have all refined the art of the equine Clinician by training animals brought to them that have been breed for this role and that have been ridden, sometimes for years before these trainers see them! There rolls are in the main to educate the rider to better understand the needs of their animal; Well yes, I do that to, However: Here on the other hand, we have to search, research our way through tens, and sometimes hundreds of mules that were either breed solely as a pack animal, or came about by accident! Some mules have been so emotionally damaged that for the average person interested in owning a mule for saddle or driving the cost in time and money to successfully do this sadly exempts there purchase. When you put that together with the culture of poor animal husbandry, and the heavy handed way animals are treated by their less than enlightened previous owners, the job of finding a mule for saddle is a minefield for the uninitiated! Then once you have found your mule re training of the animals requires a very different approach and handling to the way horses are trained. A name well known in the world of horse training, Pat Parelli states “A mule is like a horse, only more so!” Here I want to remind you of a previous statement I made, “A mule MUST be trained in the way a horse SHOULD be trained!”

To ride a horse well a man must be proud,
To ride a mule well a man must be humble. Author unknown.

MY APPROACH

Well to start first I want to say I love my horse! For me it is not a case of buying a sound looking mule and accepting its providence; and understanding mule psychology simply going to work to retrain it! Firstly we have no idea what rigors and trauma a particular animal has experienced. The way mule’s process information dictates my own HUMANE APPROAH to train them. Mules can be dominated like a horse but because of their THINKING NATURE, dominating them is not the way to get the best from them. The harder you push them the more likely it is that you will shut down their enthusiasm to work with you. They become preoccupied with avoiding the pressure you apply to them. Often just locking up totally and refusing to co operate. That’s not being obstinate, it is almost human!

The training method I use we call the 51/49% technique. Simply speaking, I train a mule to accept my suggestion that it complies with my wishes. I use the minimum negative pressure and coheres the mule into complying and reward him with a treat when he does. Once the mule accepts and complies, I stop rewarding him with treats and substitute it with a gentle stroke of his head and petting. When he does not comply, I work through a series of exercises until we find one he does comply with, and reward him for that. From there we simply begin to build in reward for compliance, but never punish him for none compliance!
The mule works with me because he wants to, MOSTLY!

There have always been two ways to train any animal. With Force or Thought. Many years ago people knew the value of treating animals kindly in order to improve the long life of a mule. Like you and I; basically it needs to be happy and healthy. In order to know what makes mules ‘Happy’ we must study them, not feed them to death! Here in Spain folk knowledge was passed down verbally, but sadly over the centuries like a ‘Chinese Whisper’ the content of the message has become distorted, and even turned around! So the old owners of mules carry out practices ritualistically their fathers did, and they think; so did their great grandfathers! Sadly today more often they are wrong! The truth died out until recently. The good news is we have re discovered it, and this is why.
GEORGE WASHINGTON DID IT! (Google).

The Spanish mule evolved from the great Spanish Catalan Jack Donkey. In fact almost all quality mules for almost any kind of task owes its success to the Spanish Donkey. The American west would have had to wait a long time to be populated and the American Industrial revolution might not have happened if it had not been for these Spanish donkeys. Enter George Washington, the great American President. George was a farmer and he had always struggled with trying to farm huge tracks of land, just as the pioneers struggled to cover thousands of miles with horses as the prime means of transport. He knew mules were much stronger than a horse the same size. He knew they had more durable feet, and could work harder and for longer than a horse, but he just could not get enough mules of the right size to accomplish what the American people needed. Big healthy mules 15, 16 and 17 hands high at the withers (Shoulder). (A hand is 4 inches or 10 centimetres). The small European donkeys that had been coming mainly from England could not breed big enough mules for pulling wagons and ploughing. So the President asked the king of Spain for some Spanish Jack Donkeys to breed with the horses the Americans already had. It worked! The west was not won from the back of a horse as so many movies have depicted. American history shows it was the mule the pioneers rode, and that pulled those wagons thousands of miles to open up the new land!

19th Century Spanish Cowboy riding his muleThis is a print of an 19th Century Spanish Cowboy riding his mule. Note the saddle horn had already become a practical addition. Also the stirrups are carved from a solid piece of hard wood. Identical stirrups are still used in parts of South America; Note the chinks in the tail. 2 chinks denote that this mule is both a pack and a saddle mule. 3 chinks would have denoted the animal was also trained to pull a cart. Marking mules this way is called “BELLING!”. Earlier the US Army had tied small bells to the mule’s tail. They were described as a 1, 2, or 3 bell mule! This made it easy in a skirmish for a solder to find a mule that could be ridden, rather than jump on an untrained mule.

WAR MULES

In the 19th Century Britain also used many thousands of mules in its military campaigns. This is a poster reproduced as a cartoon for the ‘Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News’, (London) dated November 15th, 1882. It is entitled: Egyptian Mules In Training At Aldershot. Aldershot still is the Garrison Town of the British Army. ‘SCAN ASAP’

During WW1 and WW11 the USA exported 180.000 and 250.000 mules to Britain to aid in the war effort. They were used mainly in the Asian and Pacific War, but several thousands also were used in the War in Europe to carry cargo and artillery and ammunition!

NEW ERA

After the war, the tractor really came into its own, but many thousands of mules were still used by poor and die hard old time farmers in the United State, South America, and in France and Mediterranean Europe. In Europe they stayed in use in the mountainous regions. Carrying Olive and Almond, and also Grapes from the millions of trees and vines. From Portugal to Greece the European mule fought to hold its place in local cultures until recently.

The USA held many devotees of the humane training methods that today form the basis of my own eclectic training methods. The humane training methods came to public notice when the American trainer Monty Roberts (Google search recommended)came to prominence, and an American TV company made a documentary about his methods in the early 1980’s It was re shown in almost every country in the world making the Title ‘Horse Whisperer’s a house hold term. A little later another American called Pat Parelli came to the attention of the equine world. Now there are hundreds of such people all promoting their own brand of horse training... Their general title is Clinician’, and more commonly Horse Whisperer’! The later is not a modern term, and was sometimes given to Witches and even Rasputin was said to have a Whisper gift!

What ever we are called, it is not how we speak to the animal that is important, but how we observe and listen to them that is the key to understanding their needs, and building a trusting and productive relationship between them and us!
The more one understands people, the more one loves animals.
The more one loves animals, the more one loves the mule.

AND SO TO THE MULE.

Mule riding has become a popular sport and pastime in the USA. To day because of the mules gentle willing ways riding mules for pleasure is developing into a cult hobby throughout Europe! So much so that you can find National mule owners groups in almost every country in the EU. In the United States and Canada there is a thriving industry providing specialized clothing, harness, and saddles. A thousand hotels, Ranches and riding centres offering every kind of riding experience for everyone from Granny to Grandchild and every ability! A dozen specialized magazines like Western Mule Magazine, Mules and More magazine, and the Brayer to name but three. Several weekly TV programs dedicated to mules and owning them are watched by more than a million regular viewers each week! There are more than 1.000 specialized mule fairs and auctions annually. In Andalucía alone there are dozens of mule fairs, sales, and Romareas where mules, donkeys, and horses are ridden in processions and sold in town centres at certain times and holidays.

WHAT IS A MULE? (Google)

A mule is the off spring of a Male (Jack) (Google)Donkey and a Female (Mare) Horse. If a male horse mates with a female Donkey the off spring will be a “Hinny”. Hinnies are generally considered less energetic than a mule. Therefore less well thought of. I have no proof to argue either way. There are two ways to tell the Hinny from the Mule! Most people cannot tell them apart. For reasons that are not clear to me, I can! There is a saying in the sailing world, “if a boat looks right it will sail right!” As a sailor I understand that! I have learnt that If a mule looks right it’s a mule, if not it’s a Hinny! Fou6 years ago I found an article written in the 1880’s. It described a simple method of deciding if the animal was a Mule or a Hinny. It works like this. If we place a Horse mare and a Donkey jenny in opposite ends of a field, or tie them in two different stalls the off spring of either will simply attempt to close with which ever female represents its mother!

NO LEAD IN THE PENCIL

The mule is generally considered to be infertile. A horse has 64 chromosomes a mule has 63, and a Donkey 62. Scientifically this makes it impossible for them to divide into Chromosome pairs. This imbalance in Chromosomes has lead people to believe that mules are infertile. Strangely this is not totally true. There have been many recorded incidents of mare mules giving birth. So in these cases we have an example of nature rewriting its own rules it would seem? The most recent mule birth occurring in Morocco in 2002. (Google) A mule gave birth to a male foal in a small village called Oulmes, 75 kilometers from the city of Fez. The 14 year old mare mule gave birth on the 14th of August. This is such a rare occurrence that the Romans had a saying “Cum mula peperit!” Roughly translated it means, ‘don’t hold Your Breath!’. Dr Gigi Kay a horse vet, from South Africa has visited the mule mare and her foal. She describes the foal as looking a bit like a baby donkey and a bit like a baby mule! In China in 1988 a mule was reported to have given birth. Also an American couple called Bill and Oneta Sylvester reported that their small mare mule gave birth for the second time to a mule foal. They called the later “Blue Moon! For obvious reasons! In both cases the father (Sire) was ‘Chester’, there own Jack Donkey.

However there is an old saying here in Spain. “I will pay you when a mule gives birth!” As for the male mule, it has become normal practice to castrate them as a matter of course. So who know!

WHY THE DIFFERENCE?

The Horse evolved amongst grassy plains and Rolling Meadows. Its reaction to a threat is to take to its heels. A job it accomplished with great success. It’s muscles, (heart & lungs) and skeletal frame and feet developed to enable the horse to out run anything going in a straight line. The horses’ muscle developed in bunches. Its lungs and respiratory system developed to enable the horse great acceleration and sustainable speeds over longish distances. Its feet evolved appropriately to allow grip and self cleaning. The horse became a “Flight or Fight” creature.

The Donkey evolved amidst the rocky, mountainous, and dry desert like lands. Water was limited, and temperatures could be in excess of 120f during the day time, and fall to below freezing at night. In the mountains and rocky areas running away from a supposed threat could be more hazardous than staying to think through a response. So the development of the donkey has equipped it to face its fears and think before reacting. Unlike the horse the donkey muscles are long and very elastic. The donkeys’ skin is thicker than a horse’s skin. Its heart and respiratory rate is slower than the horse enabling the donkey to withstand extremes of temperature and short burst of great energy. The donkey is able to walk for many days without food and water. Its feet became smaller and harder than the horse, giving the donkey agility and grip with less risk of damaging it’s feet. To make up for its lack of speed in a direct line the donkey developed large sensitive ears giving excellent early warning of danger. The donkey became a “Think or Fight” creature.

One other attribute the donkey has that is not seen so much in the horse, is that donkeys are almost magnetically drawn to humans. They love socializing and being stroked by us almost to the point of their being nuisances

The mule simply inherits the best characteristics from both parents, plus an exceptional Hybrid Vigour. With a couple of minor exceptions the mule gets the skeleton of the horse with the muscles, and heart and lungs of the donkey. Its feet are generally bigger than the parent donkey and smaller than the parent horse. Its muscle over skeletal frame gives it great flexibility. I have owned mules that could clean their own anus (backsides), and scratch the top of their head with a rear foot (hind hoof!).

Mules can be trained to make standing jumps (No run up) over obstacles few show jumping horses could clear! In 2003 the Champion jump in the USA was six feet for a mule of only 15hand high. That is only 60 inches at the withers! Pack mules have also been known to crawl under fallen trees and boulders while carrying a load.

Hearing Aides or Radar?

The mules large ears give them exceptional hearing.
Steve Edwards,(Google) one time cowboy, and now recognized as one of the best mule trainers in the USA says: “When I was wrangling in the old days I soon leant to rely on a mule as my beast means of getting the job done. When looking for the stray steers or cows with their new born calves, we could find ourselves 25 miles from the main herd. In that open prairie I often found I had lost track of where I had been 8 hours before and where I needed to be to get back to the herd, but my mule always new exactly where the herd was. I’d just sit back and let that mule take us there. I am convinced mules have the best hearing of any other animal on God’s earth!”. In Brazil notorious for its huge farms and distances needed to ride in order to maintain the security of cattle herds. The Peons (cowboys) use mules extensively. In 2007 I was on a farm in Brazil that had 20.000 cows roaming the grass lands. The rancher owned 200 mules that enabled his men to ride long distances without support. Big trucks ferried 50 rested mules at a time to the head of the heard sometimes 200 hundred miles away, and then returned with 50 mules for R&R. The rancher told me that if he had been using horses he would need 500, and have a huge veterinary bill. The hardy mules seldom got sick!

The ignorant can be educated, the stupid seldom can! I believe that! Throughout my life I have known many stupid people, but never a stupid mule! A stupid person should not be allowed near a mule, ever! I educate people, and re train mules. I always try to meet anyone wanting to buy a mule. I feel I owe it to the mule to do my best to protect it from the worst of mankind! When someone visits my home in preparation for owning a mule I am clear what my priorities are! Money is of secondary importance. I know from experience that when a person with no equine experience comes and displays a calm spoken easy manner, balanced with discipline, Asks lots of questions, and listens to the answers; is prepared to take their time, and my advice, that person will always make a better mule owner than someone with a lifetime with horses, that thinks they know everything! “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” Proverbs 12, v1.
Mules have a way of teaching us humility. Once they get the hang of it they learn fast and never forget! That can seldom be said of people!

Remember once you have purchased your mule, you must, feed it, keep it in good mental and physical health. The mule on the other hand has no responsibility to do anything for you! Remember I said that!

WHO WILL BE MOTHER?

Well if you want to breed your own mule there is always someone who knows of a good horse mare, but never just take the word of the owner. Whether you’re breeding from someone else’s mare or choosing a mare to buy for breeding purposes. Take a long time to study the animal and ask around from any source you can. Don’t be embarrassed to ask frank questions outright. It’s your money! Take time just watching the mare grazing and how it responds to you. Ask the local vet (if there is one) I’m in Spain! When possible look at fouls previously breed from her! Always have an animal on approval, even if you have to pay to transport the animal back to its owners. Better that than buying someone else’s problem and being out of pocket the full cost of buying it!

WHO’S THE FATHER?

This is going to be a much harder question to answer here in Europe with virtually no history of breeding mules for saddle! If your paying for a breeding session (mare to be covered by the jack), or using the cool shipped semen method, Know your animal. If you are buying the semen do your research!

Temperament is always first on my ‘Must have list’ when I am looking at the animal. If either parent shows attitude problems, is aggressive and hard for the owners to handle, we really don’t need that passed on to our saddle mule! Walk Away! We are looking for an affectionate and inquisitive donkey. It must enjoy being touched anywhere on its body (Anywhere)! Always warn the owners before you arrive, that you will expect to see a clean well turned out animal. Its very hard to pick out some genetic defects when the animal is covered in mud, and quite frankly why should you get filthy? They want to sell you an animal or a mating. The onus is on them to make the decision easy for you! If that does not happen. Walk Away! There lack of consideration is insulting!

Good Confirmation, (Body shape and Balance) are extremely important. The donkey should look right! Even straight front legs at 90 degrees to the body and small feet. The head should not look BIG! The neck should be equal to1/3 the length of the whole body. Never buy a donkey with short muscular neck. It will inevitably translate to the off spring and you will have a mule that’s hard to turn, and huge arm muscles! Get someone to walk the donkey around, and wherever possible watch it make tight turns. It needs to be able to cross over its front and rear feet easily with light and positive steps. Stay away from a donkey (or horse/mule) that moves awkwardly and is badly balanced! The exception is a young animal with no training! Watch from the rear (Horse/Donkey or Mule) the animal should walk a straight line over 3 body lengths and more. If it veers off one side or the other Walk Away! If one hip rises higher than another, moves from left to right more one side than the other, Walk Away! If its feet are unevenly worn comparing one to another Walk Away! The Hocks should stay firm and almost rigid through lifting the foot and placing it back down. If it wobbles or lacks tension, yes Walk Away! You always want the Jack to look smooth and well coordinated in its movement! Lastly If everything else looks right don’t make a decision until you have seen him walk, trot and canter, and gallop, and generally he should look like he enjoys his life, his stable mates and people in general. Then look at some more before you decide!

BUYING THE MULE!

What is the right mule for you? Just as no mule is the same as any other, neither are the people that want to own one! So firstly we need to look at you! Take a close look at yourself. Height, weight, Your balance and coordination and why do you want a mule? Any pet requires your time. A mule will need more of your time than you may be aware! Mules enjoy company. They do not enjoy being alone! They get bored, and can exhibit annoying signs of frustration. At the time of writing this I currently have a six year old John ‘male’ mule. He gets feed and brushed twice a day. I always try to do at least one practical exercise a day with him. When the idea hits me I take a walk up to the stable just to say hi to him! He still gets bored! Currently he has been introduced to being ridden, and to pulling my nice new 2 wheel cart! As of September 2008 my mule has ‘Casper’ a six year old Gypsy Horse as his stable mate.

There is absolutely no point buying a mule simply to feed it daily! Having said that, there are many mules that are carrying injuries exempting them from ever working again! These are what I call garden mules. It’s a great way to give a mule a happy and long life and save him from the dog meat man!

Before you go to look at your prospective purchase mentally prepare yourself for the time ahead! ALWAYS go being prepared to return home empty handed! Although it goes against your nature you should not show the seller your pleasure or satisfaction at the animals they are showing you. No smile, whoops, or chuckles of happiness. You never see a dealers behaving like that! It will cost you money! If you have no previous experience never go to a sale alone! If it cost you a couple of hundred Euros/Pounds to take an expert. Spend the money! It could save you thousands in the long run! Never discuss the animal you are considering in front of the seller. They may speak your language. If they do not, work out a strategy where by you can speak to each other and say what you wish, but your face gives nothing away, or show displeasure while talking positively! Go on, have fun! Don’t forget the price he tells you is his ASKING PRICE! Don’t pay It! Make an offer! Here in Spain it is not unusual for the true value of an animal to be hiked up 100 percent, and sometimes more for the gullible first time buyer! In Spain and France there is also a tradition that anyone who introduces you to the seller, and or translates for you receives the minimum of 10% commission.

A lot of good mules get left behind because they are not pretty! Us your head! The best mule is the one that will do all you ask, and then brings you home safely! We all have egos and it’s great to be complemented! But the best compliment comes from the mule that shows you, ‘Thanks for a great time!’; But then if it is also handsome, why not!

SHAPE UP!

So after disposition (Attitude) we are looking for a mule that can stand with all four feet squarely planted on each corner. From the side the front feet should ideally be sloping back more or less at 45 degrees. If it is less than 40 degrees it is described as broken back, and if it is nearer vertical it is called broken forward. The latter two may produce strains on the foot joints. (Donkeys seem to naturally display a broken forward tendency so don’t exclude them from the buyer’s option)

NB: I have owned mule that have physiologically and mentally been either more donkey than horse, or more horse than donkey. Generally speaking. If a mule looks more donkey than horse it will act more donkey than horse! Here are some photos of mules I have owned showing the various differences.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR.

Firstly do not let the owner or dealer rush you. Stand back and look at the herd, group or single animal. Get a sense what is going on in the animals head! If you have to tell the owner to give you 5 minutes just to look! He will likely be surprised, but insist nicely! If your in Spain never say SI! To anything unless you’re a fluent Spanish speaker! Some years ago I left my wife in a Spanish motorbike shop while I test rode a bike! I foolishly told her to “just smile and say SI, if anyone asks you anything”! When I returned she had managed to buy a scooter, choose it colour and method of payment by simply saying SI!

Back to the mule. Ears should be alert, and responding to every sound virtually turning through 360 degree. Don’t be put off if there appears to be a lot of black wax clogged in the hair in the ear! That can be snipped or trimmed away! WARNING! Some unscrupulous sellers sometimes block animals’ ears with just about anything they can find! It can mask nervous and extreme reaction by the animal to unfamiliar sounds. Giving the impression the animal is almost Bomb Proof! If you’re not yet comfortable around these animals do not go and stick your finger in the ear of one! You may not appreciate the consequences!

The mules head should be well in proportion to the rest of the mule, and should be held above the shoulders, and the neck at around 40 degrees to the body. The nose can show light signs of the occasional drip! But should defiantly not show signs of snot or mucus! Eyes should be bright and responsive to your movements! Look for a nice easy walk. Feet lightly but purposefully planted on every step. A smooth strait line should be observed as the mule is walked away from you. A nice, but gentle girly roll from side to side of the hips/rump area as the mule is walked a way from you! NO excessive rising of the mule’s shoulders or hips/rump as it walks. Look along the top of the back. You should look and feel along the mule’s spinal column. Are there any vertebrae higher (obvious) or offset to left or right (less obvious). Often you can spot the vertical defects from 50 yards! If there are, Walk Away! If you’re not sure, a good test for back problems in all equines is to either put a riding or pack saddle on them and mount or load them up. Are they reluctant to walk down hill? Do they quickly stop (mules can do that without apparent reason) Do they start to limp? Does the animal stop and throw its head back and or Does it make a vocal protest? If so, Walk Away and suggest the seller calls a Vet!!

Mules are around 25% stronger than a horse of the same height and build (as seen from the horse owners prospective) in fact a properly trained mule will be more flexible than a properly trained horse, (remember Donkey muscles on a horse frame). For these two reasons it is not cruel or unusual to see larger people riding a mule!

99% of Spanish mules have no known providence. Never rely on what a dealer tells you about this mule! All salesmen tell you that what they are selling is perfect for you!

DANGER!

Due to their strength. Mules can carry injury with little if any signs of pain! Sometimes injuries can become suddenly apparent, and serious damage be done to a mule if the owners are not diligent.

Disposition. Look for an animal that wants to be with you within a minute or two of seeing you! Sometimes you can actually see the mule seizing you up before he comes over! Don’t rush in, give the animal time to think about you! Make mental notes of the ones you are interested in. Ask the seller to bring them out one at a time. Make sure both you and the mule and whoever is with you has room to escape! Note which ones show pleasure at your touch! Mule and Donkeys should enjoy being touched, and hopefully be willing to have all four of its feet picked up (at different times) and cleaned! Don’t fall for the trick that some dealers pull by lifting the rear leg and pulling it back!

This is not how you and the farrier need to pick up a rear foot! Don’t exclude the animal if it is foot shy, you could work on that yourself with friends and the farrier’s help. If it is foot shy try and discover why? (Another reason to have your expert available) Ask the owner to brush the animal and watch its reaction! If it’s a new experience we are looking to see how quickly the mules accept the new experience and settles down to hopefully enjoy it! Ask for the registration documents and they should tell you the animals Micro chip code. And any vaccinations it has had. They will also list its most recent owners! Ask the current owner the age and compare the age to what is printed in the registration document. Ask the seller to put a saddle on the mule and ride it for you; but you should be aware that the more you ask and receive, the more the owner may feel obliged to charge you for the mule! Logically the less an animal knows the lower its price! If you asking an owner who has only ever used his mule for carrying cargo to put a riding saddle on. His mule, then you or an obliging person trot off using a saddle the owner is going to rethink his original price for that mule! It is a game of balances!

What To Pay?

A good tip is to do all your looking and basics first. Then give the owner a pen and paper and ask him to write his price down for each of the animals you have seen. Then negotiate the price you are prepared to pay if everything is in order. Then get the animal ridden! If it behaves well or like a quality animal trained for saddle, you already have a price written down in black and white! To late for the old boy to change it. However don’t be surprised if he tries to up the price even after he has written the price down! What ever happens stick to your guns and don’t be badgered! Here in Spain it seldom occurs to the old timers that mules are good for anything other than for cargo. If its been ridden before, or used as a pack animal look for tell tale white signs in the hair on its back and sides. Or scares around its nose! The nose scares are caused by the use of the dreaded ’Medio Caña’. Many American call this a “Nose Biter”; a serrated steel nose pincher used to apply pressure (Discomfort/ Pain) to ensure the animals compliance. It fits under the leather nose band! The fact that the animal shows signs of having this used on it does not necessarily mean the animal is unwilling to comply! In Spain it has been a long tradition of using them as a security precaution! It’s stupid and cruel and in my own experience totally unnecessary! I have trained many mules that came to me wearing these awful things! Within days I have been able to ride the same mule without any kind of pressure or nose biting gear. Solely using an English or German Hackamore (Bit less Bridle)! Remember it should be in the mule’s nature to want to comply! The white marks in the hair on the back and or side are from a badly fitted pack saddle. They can also be a positively helpful sign the mule is used to being handled regularly, but also harnessed thoughtlessly!

BOY OR GIRL

I can guarantee if you buy a male mule (Mulo) here in Spain, you’ll meet someone who will tell you that Mare Mules (Mula) are more easy going. Or that they are easier to train than a Male mule. The truth if that some castrated John mules, can behave just as horny as a stallion, and others that just get a bit distracted when they get the scent of a mare.

Then there are some mare mules that drive their owners to distraction (me included) by continually squatting throughout the day at times every month displaying active virginal functions and discharge and being just as distracted as a male mule. In truth what you should be looking for is a good disposition towards you by your mule and do not let any little prejudices get planted in your minds about one gender of mule being naturally better than the other! It is totally a personal choice. Yours and your mules!

SO YOU HAVE BOUGHT A MULE!

Well if you live in Andalucía, and possibly anywhere else in Spain when you read this. You cannot take him home until you have acquired a ‘Codigo’. That is a registration number from the office of your local Veterinary Department/Office of the Governing Junta/Communidad in Spain. At this moment in time it is taking three to four months for the registration documents to be produced. You are not allowed, neither is the dealer to move an equine to any unregistered owners property. The fines are substantial! Once you have a Codigo this will enable you to have three equines registered to your home/stable address. Guardia Civil and Policia Local can inspect your property and demand to see your Codigo any time! They can also demand you provide proper housing and watering facilities for your mule. ”The Times they Are A Changing!”. While you’re waiting for your Codigo, this is the time to be doing research and building a shelter or stable, and getting the water fitted. Don’t forget you will also need to order Paja (Straw) for your mule. The Paja will also need to be protected against the environments! Don’t store it to far away from where you’re animal will eat. You may be fit and strong, but what happens when it’s raining! Or you get sick and someone less able has to help you? Maybe you fancy a holiday. A bail should weight around 14kilos and up to 24kilos depending on how the bailing machine is set! Some people price Paja and hay by the kilo and others by the bail. Ask which price you are paying and then weigh a bail or two! I was charged a kilo price on bails that where supposed to be a minimum of 14kilos to discover most where tiny only 8 to 11 kilos! Don’t pay for them before they are delivered!

So This Mule!

He is gentle, friendly and enjoys being with you. Your 5’8” tall and weigh between 8 and 14 stone. Your mule is 14.2 to 15 hands. Or maybe 15.2hh. He needs vaccinating. You’ll need a Vet! If you don’t know of one surprisingly your local pharmacist (Chemist) will likely be able to tell you. Traditionally it was a village or town pharmacist that sold veterinary supplies to the locals for home treatment of mule’s horses and donkeys in rural Spain. Even today your pharmacist will order vaccines and other animal related medicines if he is confident you will return to pay for them.

TRAINING YOUR MULE

Firstly no one ever bought a perfectly trained mule. The reason being that when someone begins to train a mule, he must at one and the same time begin to bond with that mule! A mule like a human is thinking and reasoning animal. If I train a mule, it is trained for me. We learn what to expect from each other. All I can do for you is to familiarize the mule with what it needs to know generally, but because he will do it for me does not mean he will do it for you! Because you two have not yet been acquainted to each others ways of thinking. Think of it this way. A child with a high level of self preservation is bonded to a parent/partner. Then one day the parent /parents give the child away! Will the child that has become comfortable and happy, and has felt safe with the first person, living and working in close contact with it. Would that child simply act as if nothing had happened? Would it/ could it, just pick up where it had left off! NO of course not! Neither can the mule! With care it should not take long to fix this.

MAKING HIM YOURS

We start by allowing the mule as stress free introduction to its new home as is possible. The very best way is to keep stimulus to a minimum. I accomplish this by shutting the mule in a darkened stable with a fresh supply of water and straw. If the animal looks weak I will also provide 2 kilos of mixed hard feed (mixed grain) and leave it in the stable for 24 hours. If you live in a developed part of the would you may be able to acquire a brand of Conditioning feeds? I check on the animal after the first hour making just enough noise so the mule knows I am coming, but make a point of not kicking buckets and slamming metal latches and locks. In fact no unnecessary noise at all! At this time it is helpful to see if the mule has dunged! If it is quite stressed the dung will be wet like a cowpat or worse! We need to look for signs that the mule is eating! If not, do not worry! Came back in 2 hours or leave it to the next morning! Remember move carefully at this stage! With any luck by the morning the food will have disappeared and the empty water bucket kicked over!
Before replenishing the food and water. Lean on the door and just talk quietly to your mule! Get it used to your voice. If it stands back and is unsure of you take a half step back yourself! This is where you need to start learning to speak the language of the mule. Body language is a huge part of your mule’s communication tools. If he moves towards you try moving a little further back. If he moves towards you more, lean gently towards him, but don’t take up to much of his space yet! If he backs off, then you back off a little to. Play this body language game with him. When you have had enough replenish his food and drink talking to him quietly all the time and close the door on him for a while! He should already be making the connection between you and his food and begin to look forward to your appearance.

MULES ARE PUSHY

Your safety is of number one importance! In the herd they push, tussle,

Bicker and fight for their position. Their status in the herd is their security! If there are one hundred animals in a herd each one has earned its place in the pecking order even if it is number 99. From now on when you enter his space hold a hand out between you and him! That’s your space. Do not let him enter it, unless you have 100% control. Never take your eyes off of your mule, even after you have trained him! He will always have his natural instincts. His reaction to a new sound, colours or article will always be instinctive! You cannot change that. So work with it! You do not have control with a bucket of water of grain in you hand! For the first few days or weeks, work within a meter or 3 feet of the stable door. Be careful the mule may try to rush past you! DO NOT TAKE RISKS! IF he pushes on your space, act calmly and raise the volume of your voice a little and say? NO while calmly reclaiming your space! NEVER WALK CARELESLY INTO A STALL OR CONFINED SPACE WITH YOUR MULE. ALWAYS BE ON YOUR GUARD! (It’s the same with horses!)

All mules kick sometimes, and some mules kick all the time! (It’s the same with horses!)

WHERE TO GO WITH YOUR MULE.

Just one hour drive east of Malaga, and 20 minutes climbing up to 2,000 feet will bring you to the door step of the most amazingly beautiful riding areas in Europe.

The small town of Competa marks the gateways to an amazing mountain range known as The “Almijarahs”. After turning north at the Torrox, Competa turn off on the E215 Autovia from Malaga City and the airport, the newly surfaced road (2004) winds quickly up the 2.000 feet. Just after the English owned Restaurant and bar called the Pavo Real there is a dirt track that appears and drops down to the road from the right! There are no signs! If you arrive with your riding animal in a horse box you can park on a large flat and open area only a few yards off of the main road. From here you ride down into the valley keeping to the left hand track. The right track takes you a back way to the picturesque village if Frigliana. There are at least another 3 tracks off of this track to be explored another day! For now head down the left track. 30 minutes hack will bring you to a small stream, cross this and you quickly find a concrete water tank as big as a swimming pool on your right. Take the track on the right for a one hour ten minutes hack to the reconstructed hidden village of ‘Acebuchal’. It has one bar and a fascinating history. Thirty minutes further on is the touristic town of Frigliana. Or pass the water tank and another stream. To your left you will see the newly restored “Fabrica De La Luz” Competa original hydro electric plant. In the old days this small plant provided 110volt electricity to the town. The Guardia Civil, The Town hall and the Church as well as its Olive oil processing plant. Pass the restored buildings and climb up to the Alberge and the old Forestry building converted into a restaurant and venue for special horse and mule fiestas in the summer! You are now at around 3.000 feet. Once you leave the Alberge and the Hotel on your left, the beautiful adventure opens before you. You are now leaving Malaga Province and entering Granada, on the way to the Granada wilderness and this lovely Natural Park (National Park).

Well actually there are several tracks into these mountains. All easily found between Sedalla and Frigliana. They were laid down before the advent of written history. They were used by the people of Granada to reach the ports where the Phoenicians traders would buy their goods for distribution around the Mediterranean and beyond!

The Romans and later the Moors’ who ruled Spain for 800 years used them. These old tracks are truly the High Ways of Great Civilizations! The track surfaces change from Brown shale to white limestone sand.

In the last 200 years the mule packers of Competa (Considered the Specialists) led their mules through these mountains and into Granada to deliver locally produced wine, raisins, and Olive Oil, and rich produce from all over the Mediterranean. Granada was to cold to produce the grapes that made the rich sweet wine. Back then Granada was covered in huge forests, now all but gone to make space for hundred of millions of Almond, and Olive trees, and Sun Flowers. This change was only possibly with the introduction of powered machinery. The produce from the Malaga side of the mountain was distributed to the Granada towns of Jatar, nearest to Competa, then Arena Del Rey, Jayena, Agron, and the most beautiful of Granada’s towns Alhama De Granada from there onto The Palace of the Moorish Kings of “AL ANDALUZ, Arabic” Andalucia, Granada City it’s self. With the exception of Agron and Jayena the other towns are reachable from Competa after a longs days ride. There are hundreds of safe places to camp out with a sleeping bag, or go into Jatar and ask for Christine’s’ small hotel. You could ride on to the official Camp Site, or the Hostel at, El Pantano Bermejales; another 50 minutes to one hours further hack. If you take the highest track to Granada passing the Fire Tower you can still see several of the old Ice caves. The Competa Mule Packers were adaptable and creative when it came to creating a living. These men also cut tracks to the highest points of the mountain called Moroma. This mountain dominates the whole area east of Malaga known as the Axarquia. Until quite recently these men cut and gathered Ice from the natural caves, and when demand out stripped supply, they cut new caves using the most basic of tools. The ice hacked crudely into pieces was wrapped in skins originally, but later sacking was used to protect the ice from melting. Once packed the journey down Moroma was as perilous as any work man has ever known! Despite the mules sure footedness goat skin was tied around the mule’s feet. The goat hair facing the direction of travel to help prevent slipping. The skins were changed frequently. A mule often weighs 1.000 Ilbs and carries ¾ of its weight over it’s front legs! I leave the rest to the reader’s imagination! Today as we ride our mules we can see these ice caves above us just as they were left.

All around us we have the intricate magnificent beauty of these mountains, and its Eagles, Ibix, and wild Boar on hand for the patient and quite mule rider. Huge flocks of migrating birds can be seen everywhere during the spring, summer, and autumn. All of us can ride here to day. The views are without doubt spectacular! There are natural springs as watering holes that both human and animal can drink from. Beneath the mountain known as El Cisne (The Swan) to the North West side there is a lovely natural pool, great for swimming and filled by natural spring and waterfall, the later depending on the time of year! This makes a great half way point if you are going on to Jatar or intend to return to Competa’s surrounding area. This really is open country. I ride my mules up here, and there are local people riding here. Sometimes the rides are spontaneous, and sometimes planned. There are several riding and hacking stables both English and or Spanish speaking. Everyone is allowed to ride within their own ability. I didn’t start to ride until I was 55 years old. That’s why I choose the Strong, gentle giants called The Mule! Try it! You will not regret it! Contact me at mulesspain°yahoo.co.uk and I will introduce you to mules and our mountains. Or if you prefer I can give you details of horse riding and trekking in this area. Take A Deep Seat and Enjoy!

Foot note:

The reader should not assume from my writings that I am prejudiced against the horse. On the contrary I am the proud owner of a beautiful English Gypsy Horse. Bought specifically by me for riding!

Albert Vickers 2009

For further reference please look at our links page