In no way is this the definitive work for those thinking of buying a mule. But, hopefully, it may be a useful place to start your knowledge building. I don't care if you think it's a load of rubbish. Just be careful and safe with your mule. No matter whom you speak to about mules, everyone's experiences will vary, and some more than others! From here on I am going to share some of what I have learnt from my mules, the ones I have owned and worked with. I have the highest regard for the British RSPCA, but they like almost 100% of vets know nothing about mules. Do not let a vet prescribe for your mule unless he understands the difference between your mule and a horse! Spanish mules have no evolved resistance to any kind of equine drug. Where there is a dosage variation for donkeys and horses discuss side effects with your vet. Vets are not infallible, your mule is not disposable, but knowledge brings responsibility, you are accountable!
A mule and its paternal parents are tough. So do not be to kind to your mule! No! I do not condone negligence and cruelty! Hopefully with my experience and your common sense you will find the right way forward for you and your mule. It is also my hope that what follows will inform, encourage, and entertain you as you move closer to buying a mule. What I have to say is based on my experience. People who have never owned a mule are not entitled to share their opinion on mules with me. (I'm funny that way, and it's not just mules!). When you have owned a mule for one day you will know more than those with only opinion to share. You had also better grow a thick skin against some horse owners. Your mule may even cost you a friendship or two. You will also realise that there is more to learn about mules than you thought, and just when you think you have cracked it, they embarrass, or surprise you again! So often it seems authors are contradicting each other when they write about keeping mules. They are not! Many of us could write a book for every mule we have owned.
Remember this. If you own a mule, you must feed and care for him. He on the other hand is no way obliged to do anything for you! If you do not remember this, the mule will certainly remind you!
A Mule is neither Horse nor Donkey. It is an exotic and complicated mixture of both. I have personally owned twenty five mules and neither was exactly like the other in temperament and going. My own mule, Duke, has a nature a bit like all of them and a lot like none of them. Anatomically and character are drawn in part from both parents. Every colour you see in horses can be found in mules.
WHY are you buying your first mule? Try to be clear about why you want it, and what you want to achieve with it. Maybe you fancy the idea of owning a mule just as a pet. Rather like the way someone would keep a dog or a cat. I call these animals Garden Mules, and that's fine, as long as you're not keeping a perfectly strong and healthy animal restricted solely for the purpose of your being able to look at it. However if your giving a home to an elderly mule, or one that is carrying a permanent injury then I cannot think of a better use of your money than to home a mule like this. The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon sometimes has animals for fostering. Here in Spain hundreds of mules each week go to premature death due to the decline in the number of active small holdings. The sale of the traditional Spanish Fincas to foreigners, and the sedentary attitude of the new owners, means the decline in mules and their breeding. We at Alberts Mules are fighting back, and currently have ten mares in foal to our Jack, and another twenty maids in waiting. So many useful mules are sold for dog meat here and in France. It is a scandal. I would love to see a European ban on the sale of these animals, and a UNICEF program to provide them to impoverished third world countries. Veterinary support like that provided in the projects of Dr Elizabeth Svendsen and her colleagues. Now that's the kind of human / equine action I could support. Any mule I sell I consider a rescued animal. But we cannot buy them all and many, because of their history, are not suitable for retraining as saddle, or pack animals.
Maybe you want a mule for riding. Mules make a wonderful riding investment. Do you have open country around, or bridle paths? It will not matter to your mule. He will love it! Will you be satisfied with a walking mule, or something a little more athletic? Some have more of a trot in them than others, and all may want to trot at some time!
Even if you have little or no experience of riding we can find the right mule for you. Do not worry! The day I bought my first mule was the day I learnt to ride, such was my faith in that mule. He was over 16hh, and I have short legs! You can learn to safely ride a mule quicker than you think! There is no shame in finding a local stable and booking a few hours hacking. This will help you break the nerves barrier and give you some useful equine experience. Get your self some Brad Cameron training DVDs or Videos, www.muletrainer.com . But don't bust a blood vessel if your mule thinks Brads has got it all wrong! Just think SAFETY!
ECOLOGY has a friend in the mule. Cheap to feed - what you put in comes out as excellent manure. Frequently no vets bills unless you're careless! Little or no need for frequent farrier visits. Stronger than a horse. Wonderful for ploughing. How about a mule to pull a mower to cut that large lawn of yours? Cut the village green and earn some money! Or to drag logs for yours or other peoples' fire wood. A mule can go everywhere a Land Rover can go, and more! If you live in a rural setting, ride to the local shops and let your mule carry your purchases home for you. Go on be eccentric! So many things a mule can do to save on fossil fuels and pollution! Or what about a mule just for the fun of it.
EXPERIENCED RIDER be patient! The mule will not understand all that squeezing you are doing with your legs unless your buying him trained for saddle. However a mule generally will learn faster than a horse.
GAITED MULES are rare in Europe. The Mule can have between one to four speeds, gears, or gaits. Do not let anyone tell you that an ungaited mule is somehow devalued. An ungaited narrow hipped mule will carry its rider safely along the narrowest track or mountain pass and not put a hoof wrong. There has been many a horseman in the mountains of Spain and the American wilderness that would have swapped his grand horse for a mule. Particularly when he found himself with no room to dismount, and a horse whose width and big feet meant they where continually breaking the edge of the track threatening to pitch both horse and rider over the abyss. Remarkably, if you give them their head, both mules and donkeys will invariably move to within inches of a track edge. Quite exciting!
Most mules are Cow Hocked. That means the hind legs are rather like knocked knees! In the majority of cases mules also have narrower hips than the horse. It gives the mule a slight side to side action. A very gentle hula hoop movement. Great for your hips and thighs if you ride often enough! In ancient times mules and donkeys were the preferred mount of bishops and gentry. The reason for this is the gentle nature and secure ride of the mule or donkey, and it's fondness for human company. What else would be good enough for the Christ! It was only arrogant snobs, and louts with swords that rode horses! These days they are called Huntsmen and Eventers!
BLIND PANIC! When it comes to Flee or Flight! Horses generally flee. Mules generally fight! See: www.horsegazette.com
The mule's general resistance to blind panic and ability to telegraph its moods make it the ideal mount for the novice. I have only once seen a tethered mule freak out. That was because some idiot had put a slip knot around its neck that was rapidly strangling the animal. Normally once a mule understands he is tethered he will not pull or resist. However, last year I saw the result of a horse being tethered for only a few minutes. Tied to a ring in the wall of its stable, the horse broke its own neck thrashing around when a plastic bag fluttered by!
A mule, due to its variety of size, and its staying power, if started early enough, offers the experienced rider far more potential for endurance competition, and long treks,. A fit mule is around 25% stronger than a fit horse of equal size and weight. I have exchanged many emails with Howdy Fowler, often called Burro Bill, of Denning, New Mexico. He advocates working his animals six to eight hours a day six days a week carrying government and private survey groups across the deserts, and into the Grand Canyon, often covering 40 miles a day in very trying temperatures. Something he has found he is unable to do with horses. Here in Spain mules have been used for thousands of years, and their strengths, and their weaknesses are well understood. A mule has smaller nostrils, and larger lungs than a horse. It breathes slower and longer than a horse. This is what helps the mule function so effectively in hot temperatures. Here in southern Spain it is the humans that cannot cope with the temperatures in excess of 40 degrees not the mules. A visitor challenged me in an accusatory way one day "Why do you make your mules stand out in 40 degrees plus?" I told him," Well if you can get them to go into the stable and stay there I will give you ten euros (10 dollars)!" He thought I was being cruel. I had to point out that mules love sun bathing. In the open they were free to catch any small breeze that might happen along, turn their thick rumps to the sun, and drop their heads in the shade their bodies made. Mule logic often evades some quite intelligent people!
WATER should always be available, and a big mule can drink up to 45 litres a day when it is hot. If you live in a really cold climate you could mix hot water to warm up their drink. Your mule will really appreciate that. It's not really pampering, it's more compassion, or dare I say? Love for your mule. That's easier to do if you have a daily routine. I take my mule out in the morning on a lead rope. He rolls, shakes himself and I put him back in his enclosure. He eats straw for ten minutes then drinks. Mules like routine!
BUDGETS are easier to fix for buying a house than a mule, or horse for that matter! Buying a house first time around you usually know what you want. But the first mule, well it's hard to know what you NEED! A working man will not buy a mule because it's pretty, has lovely ears, or has a good nature. It will be made to work! They buy a mule from the feet up. Good natured mules can have a premium on them and are often ideal for western leisure riding.
SPAIN has an extremely long way to go when it comes to animal protection and animal rights issues. No I am not an "activist" in the current sense of the word. In fact any kind of extremist usually scares me. However I am actually more worried that the British are going to apply the same laws they have for horses, to mules as they become more popular in the UK. I know some folks who have a passion for a certain type of equine. I stopped going as each time I went there I saw animals in extreme distress. One time I visited, and was told an animal we had talked of previously was dead. Within minutes I saw an animal with hoof holes (the result of being feed to high protein food stuff). The next time I visited the first animal I saw was exhibiting signs of colic (same cause). This animal later died. When I was offered the opportunity to read a current and some back dated issues of these people's news letters. They were full of long drawn out descriptions of the passing of one animal after another. But it was all to clear to me why the animals were dying. They were being killed with love. These folks worked themselves into the ground all day making sure there was food in front of their animals. There was always a jolly good reason why the animals could not be exercised! These people were so fixed on their goal to save the animals from the knackers; they were blind to their own mistakes. I know in my heart that the last thing these people wanted to do was to do harm to the animals they clearly loved. But harm they did! I hope the British mule owner will be free, and intelligent enough to ensure that the animals they buy from Spain and France are not overly pampered. Does your local RSPCA know the difference between mules and horses?
MY MULES never receive exactly the same amount of grain each day if they have not worked! Unless they need building up. Blue gets around 28lbs of straw (Not Hay) a day. Usually pretty rough stuff. Plus around 2 or 3lbs of mixed cereal. Around two odd days a month he gets only the straw, and water. Never feed a mule whole Oats or Alfalfa. These and some other cereals are extremely high energy and protein foods. As a staple diet they will drive a mule crazy. Turn him to horse, as we often say! However if your mule has worked hard today, and will be expected to work hard tomorrow then 2-5lbs (depending on his size and the length of the day) of corn soaked in a bucket of water for 12 hours will set him up fine for work. Put a lid on the bucket (flies)! Mules need less protein than a horse. Only around 11%. But they need more Grease or Fat. For this reason all the Ganaderos (horse & mule dealers) I know, feed their mule stock, stale bread and beet! However it has to be extremely dry. Blue gets a loaf or two a week. I always microwave it till it's hard! Grass hay is good but be careful not to over feed if you combine it with flaked or whole corn. These days we can get the best English horse feeds. Spillers, Baileys etc, the best are the "Cool Feeds". The same products produced for Cobs and Draft Horses (Cold Bloods) are great for most mules.
WORMING your mule is important. If you're not sure how much wormer to give him, you will need to know his weight. You can try looking at www.ruralheritage.com. Within this site they have a programme that will calculate your animal's weight for you, and instructions on how to go about it. It works for horses too!
MULES MATURE a year later than the horse. This should not interfere with halter and handling training. 18 months is a good time to start lunging and long reining. Some people start leading a young animal from around 6 months. Helping it to settle down to handling. At two years a mule should stand to be groomed, saddled and have its feet trimmed. It should load and clip easily. The weight of an adult rider should not be applied to a mule's back until it reaches or exceeds its third year. Again, some people driven by circumstances start this much earlier. We have some good three year old mules.
MULE BACKS are generally flatter than a horse, (Except Draft, and Gypsy Horses in particular!). Some mules have almost no wither at all. Flat backed mules can be hard to keep a saddle on! English saddles are not made to fit flat backed animals EVER! I feel the mules' action is wrong for it! The English saddle is wrong for it. If you want to bob up and down like a flea on a hot tile, buy a pony! Putting an English saddle on a mule is like, greasing the road in front of your Land Rover! In my search for the right seat for my four legged all terrain mule, I have used English, Portuguese, Spanish Classic, Spanish Vaquero, Australian, and Western Saddles. Due to the Americans appreciation of the mule and the huge leisure industry that has evolved around the American mule, western saddles are easily available to fit your mule. A western saddle gives the rider more flexibility, and security. The part of the saddle that fits over the animals shoulders (The Gullet) can be bought to fit various width animal shoulders. Unlike the Spanish vaquero saddle that is one size and rigid. For my own safety and comfort I would only ever use a western type saddle on my mule. Although breast breeching is standard on a western saddle a tail crupper is not. For this reason western saddles are often rigged to take two belly cinches (girths). If you really want a crupper on your saddle, email me and I will tell you how to make and fit a 'D` ring to take one). If your animal complains or refuses a crupper the second cincha behind the animals belly does the same job real well. The other advantages that the western saddle offers are what are called the swells at the front of the saddle, which keep you in the seat going down hill, and the horn, the piece that rises out of the swells at the front. As well as being a great place to hang stuff on, the horn makes a great hand hold.
Western saddles also offer a wider padded seat with good lower lumber support. I broke my back thirty years ago, and have several frozen vertebrae. Western saddles give me the comfort and confidence to ride! 'Down Under', an Australian company operating from Colorado, USA, also produce a saddle that will fit a mule. It's called the Easy Rider Poley. It's all leather and weighs around 24lbs. I have purchased several times from them, and found them reliable. Try www.downunderweb.com I can also provide you with a saddle to fit your mule. Email me at email@example.com I will try and put some examples on our web site for 2009. I can also recommend Reed Tack of Iowa, USA, for breast breeching and other tack. Buying by 'Visa' is safe with them at www.reedtack.com.
SADDLE BLANKET: Always use a nice thick saddle blanket, not one of those twee numnahs so often used on the horse. I have purchased every type of numnah, and shock absorber on the market! Waste of money! These days when I want a new saddle blanket I visit the local Car Boot sale. You can often find pure wool or Marino wool blankets for sale for only 5 euros (5$) about four quid! Trim the blanket so that when it is folded into four it shows below the skirt of the saddle up to 6 inches on both side, and 2 inches at the front and rear of the saddle. Around 80 X 70cms is fine. Fold the blanket into four and use it under the saddle. Perfect! If you want it to be really posh blanket stitch all pieces into a rectangle.
MULES' HEADS are often quite big and even a mule of 14.2hh will generally need a full size bridle. You can virtually use any kind of bridle you like on your mule. Many people also use a bit. As Spanish mules almost always start their live as pack animals they have no experience of a bit. Once you gain confidence bitting your mule will be easy. Some people like to ride with a bit less bridle. Either a German or English Hackamore are the most popular. This is quite similar to what the mule is used to with a bit less packing bridle. But, if bitting your mule works for you, then do it. I do! What ever you find the safest for you. Be in control! Be Safe!
SHELTER of some kind is important. Despite their hardiness it is only right to protect our long eared friends from the extremes of weather. We are blessed with quite short winters in southern Spain, with barely two weeks of hard rain a year. While it is easy for a hot mule to cool down, it is extremely hard for a wet, cold mule to warm up! Be sure to give your mules shelter from extreme winds. Despite their hardiness, if you are buying a Spanish mule for life in a much colder climate please think! Today, 18th December 2009-12-18 it has been around 75F at my stable, and below freezing in some parts of the UK. Do be sensible!
STABLING INFLUENCES: If you purchase one of our animals, I suggest you keep it stabled for two or more days. Limit the animal's visual stimulus while you and he bond. Keep It In The Stable if you can. The animal may be dehydrated and have diarrhoea (not always, but sometimes). It will find a dark stable a comforting and restful experience, and the mule/horse should de-stress more quickly, so you have a clean pallet to start with yours, and your mules training. So just ensure it has water and food on demand. The sooner your new friend begins to eat and drink the better! If two people are going to share a mule, work together. Some mules seem to bond to a person quickly. Hand feeding encourages this process. If you do all the work the mule may then not like sharing you with another human later! Those first few days, open the stable half door and just stand there. Talk to your mule (about anything), it wont matter! Just use a soft tone. Hand feed! If he tries to crowd you, just raise your tone a little and say No! Firmly. Put your hand flat on the front of his nose. Push him away from you and say 'Back'! If you have had enough just shut the door and take a break.
When approaching the stable always let your equine know you are coming. Begin talking to him, let him hear the keys. But what ever you do, do not! Creep Up; throw the door open, and burst in. One, or both of you, could end up smudges on the ceiling! Your mule may be standing. That don't mean it's awake! Even if a mule is looking at you it can often take several seconds before the mule responds to you. There is a kind of 'Hang Time'! So be careful! He is not slow witted. He is sometimes just pondering on your importance! Mules are far more tactile than horses, well ours are! You should see very quickly if your mule is enjoying your company.
"We only sell mules that do not like people to people we do not like!"
SAFETY: You must always put your safety first. Do not let some show off rush you, or show you how to cut corners. You may have to put yourself in harms way to rescue them. Put yourself in the mule's position. It always helps me to think of my mule as 800lbs of 4 year old child. Only the most bestial person would lack compassion, and patience, for any 4 year old moved from place to place as mules so often are. As soon as you feel comfortable but, hopefully not longer than three days (guidance only!), you should be touching, stroking, and petting your mule. Show him his brushes. Let him sniff at everything you have for him. Start to brush him, begin very gently, but just stick to the neck and shoulder areas to start with. Always brush head to rump. As with everything mules appreciate routine. Do not rush it. Let him think it is his idea. Remember you are both supposed to be enjoying the experience! But stay alert to his mood changes. As you progress you will eventually be more at ease.
HELMET: I always insist my daughter wears one. I never do! But you should! Nuf Said!
FEET: All mules have them! Feet on a mule can be quite hard. The Mules' Feet are small and seldom require anything larger than a number 1 shoe. Three quarters of a mule's weight is carried over its front legs. Because of this, andoure very steep terrain, and for economic reasons, Spanish mules are usually only shod on the front. Mules' feet can range from normal, like a horse, to extremely hard like a donkey. I have had mules that have needed trimming and re-shoeing every six weeks, and mules that only needed trimming after 12 weeks and never needed shoeing, even for the roughest going. Only experience will enable you to know what type of feet your mule has. Your farrier will tell you if they are hard, you'll hear him grumbling! If in doubt, shoe!
KICKING: Someone coined the phrase, some mules kick all the time, and all mules kick sometimes! I have been kicked by a horse! A few mules have tried, but I have never been kicked by a mule! If a horse is going to kick you, you get little warning! Mules and horses do telegraph their moods. A mule telegraphs if it is going to kick. If mule's ears are forward, he's listening intently in the direction his ears are facing. If his ears are slightly back, he is seriously considering if what's going on around him is ok, or he is listening to his rider, often with ears flicking alternately, back and forwards. If he is angry (likely to kick) his ears will go back, virtually flat against the back of his head. Just before the kick, he will swish his tail. DO NOT wait to see the tail swish, or you're already nailed! The ears can also flop around independently as if they are about to fall off. This displays a kind of `Zip Pittee Do Da!' I am enjoying myself, kind of attitude. Or occasionally he is walking, but has fallen asleep. Do not let the eyes being open fool you. The shutters may be up, but the house is empty. Careful how you wake him!
FEEDING is obligatory; spoiling your mule is not! The biggest problem that mules face is over feeding! Traditionally Andalucian mules are not grazed on meadow. It is to rich for them! (And anyway we do not have any!). Even an hour a day can possibly be too much for your Spanish mule! It is not a horse, so take your time. If you have to buy commercially prepared sacks of mixed grain or pellets - do not feed goat pellets to your mule. This feed frequently contains urea to assist sheep and goats digestion. It can kill your mule/horse! Read the labels, keep the protein down, or cut the high protein feed with lower energy bran. Mules need High Fibre and Low Protein Our working mules spend their lives walking. If you let your mule run with horses, it will think it is a horse. If you are not an experienced rider, you can kiss your walking mule good bye! I have had two of the nicest walking mules I ever owned go horse, due to them being stabled with horses while I was on holiday. The stable owner ignored my instructions. They were stabled, and fed with the horses what the horses ate, and far more than the mule needed. They were just like children allergic to 'E `numbers when I got back. For the stable owner they were just as spooky as her 'Warm Blood' horses. Hyperactive, hypersensitive, and just plain hard to handle compared to a good working mule I had left her with.
I am aware that some people in the UK and Europe who lack a background in working mules, but I also know these folks bought a mule and kept it with horses. Then complained the mule's temperament had changed! I feel they had wasted their opportunity to learn just how interesting and rewarding it can be to bond with a mule. Do not get me wrong! I have a horse, and ride with horsemen. They are just different !
If I wanted to ride at the front, the horses would have to continually trot to catch up. So it's better to ride at the rear. If the horses then want to gallop off, I am happy to carry on walking. That way your mule and you do not get caught up in a flurry of horses, and your mule will not get carried along with the herd, or get kicked as they sort themselves out on the trail. When you stop on the trail, I advocate you tying your mule away from the horses. If a horse spooks he can go mental. A scared horse tied firm can break its neck thrashing around. Or stampede. If your mule is tied with it, it may become injured, or run with the horse. A startled mule may jump a little. It may even trot off a meter of so, but seldom go much further. Thanks to the donkeys inquisitive nature passed on to the mule, they usually want to stop and see what scared them, (before killing it)!
If your mule is getting a little hyper and you think you may have over feed it, put a saddle or a couple of sacks of cement on its back and make it work. If inclement weather prevents this, leave it on a water and straw diet for a day. Handle it and brush it as often as you can during this time. You will soon know if its problem is too much rich food. Always give access to fresh water 24/7.
PEDIGREE is not something you automatically think of when it comes to European mules. But surprisingly the quality of working mules here is very high. The Spanish, as with the Americans in George Washington's time, found that the quality of their mules was diminishing. in the 19th century. This was in the main due to the success of the mule in both countries. But for quite different reasons. George was a farmer and he knew the benefits of a good Draft animal. He also knew America was not going to be mastered and farmed by mules sired by the average European Donkey Jack! So he got the King of Spain to send him some giant Spanish Jack Donkeyss. In a nut shell, that's how the west was won! In Spain the mules and donkeys were so successful as riding and driving animals, that everyone and his neighbour was breeding them. The quality of Spain's horses and mules diminished as animals blood lines ran out! The quality of animals bred was so poor that it eventually started to affect the economy. Disease also became a real problem. Eventually the Government stepped in and decided that they would authorize the military to rear horses and donkeys of the highest calibre. They would then invite the ordinary people to bring their best mares and jennets to their friendly local military stables. Their animals would be inspected by a military vet, and if considered suitable, having paid an extremely low fee (today around 100 euros), a stallion of the appropriate type would be put to the females. You could choose horse, mule, or donkey. Today the same system exists, and has benefited the entire blood line of all Spanish bred equines to some degree. Many of our mules carry the coronet over a lazy E brand showing its royal assent (if you can see it through the mud!)
The white mule I'm riding here (Abbe) has one speed, (SLOW), boringly slow! But she would get you to the pub and back, or anywhere else you want to go, eventually! She was 14.2 hh extremely mild mannered, and carried a lot of donkey characteristics. She was quite flat backed.
This photo shows Ana. She had a moderate walking pace, and would trot when requested. Ana was 14.2hh and had a reasonable wither. She had been a ploughing mule until we acquired her. She went on to be a good saddle and driving mule.
This photo shows Blue on his first outing saddled. He is around 15.2hh and has a good walk. Blue showed signs of Arthritis and was retired to the Donkey Sanctuary here in Spain.
At the other end of the scale Ruby (pictured above) had a lot of quarter horse in her and is typical of the saddle mule preferred in the USA as a trail mule. Always wanting to be at the front of any trail ride, she had all the gears to get you anywhere you wanted to go! But only for the experienced mule packer / trail rider. She carried the Royal Brand!
These days almost all my sales are handled over the internet. I work hard to match you to the sort of mule that will deliver for you. Something my Spanish friends do not have to do for a local sale! I know that most of you folks new to mules and riding will automatically improve, and gain confidence. The mule and you will become a team and you will be a little more adventurous. Do not ask me for a PLODDER, if you think applying the title plodder to a mule some how makes it cheaper. When I use the term plodder for a mule I am describing a mule that will walk all day (Hack)! All mules will walk. Most will go faster if you ask them to. I have only ever owned one real slow walking mule and she was a pain! As working mules carrying a load, that's all they ever did, WALK!
Why is one mule more expensive or cheaper than the other? It can depend on size, age, experience, manners, and variations in the market. Sometimes, really mean ones can be the same price as really gentle and respectful mules. Tough farmers here don't care! They will make an animal work! I try to select the easy mannered mules for the internet before my friends ear mark them. Obviously what we pay for an animal also affects its sale price. Having an animal a long time will not make it cheaper. It's eaten more, we want our money back! You need to let me know what you can afford, but generally what you pay for a horse in the UK is what you will pay for a mule here!.