The mule being a different animal, should be recognized as individuals and trained accordingly; those 63 chromosomes produce a unique and hardy animal that has an emotional side to him as well as a calculating mind that enables him to think things through when approached with a new task from his handler. If you take into consideration the physiological components in a mule, and understand their meaning and what they provide, then working with your mule will now be rewarding and far more productive. The physiological components of the mule are listed below.
Vision – The mule’s eyes are among the largest of any land mammal and are positioned on the sides of the head. The range of vision is 350°, with approximately 65° of this being binocular vision and the remaining 285°is monocular vision. This enables him to spot predators or potential predators. The mule’s wide range of monocular vision has two “blind spots,” or areas where the animal cannot see: in front of the face, making a cone that comes to a point at about 3–4 ft in front of the mule, and right behind its head, which extends over the back and behind the tail when standing with the head facing straight forward.
The placement of the mule’s eyes decreases the possible range of binocular vision to around 65° on a horizontal plane, occurring in a triangular shape primarily in front of the mule’s face. Therefore, the mule has a smaller field of depth perception than a human. The mule uses its binocular vision by looking straight at an object, raising its head when it looks at a distant predator or focuses on an obstacle to leap over. To use binocular vision on a closer object near the ground, such as a snake or threat to its feet, the mule drops its nose and looks downward with its neck somewhat arched.
Hearing – Mules hear sounds over a wider range of frequencies than we do, although the decibel levels they respond to are about the same. Humans with good hearing perceive sound in the frequency range of 20 Hertz to as high as 20,000 Hertz, while the range of frequencies for mules is reported as 55 to 33,500 Hertz with their best sensitivity between 1,000 and 16,000 Hertz. The mule’s ears are shaped to locate, funnel and amplify sounds. Mules have the ability to rotate each ear independently as much as 180 degrees to pay attention to a sound without turning the head. The ears are also used to express and communicate.
Smell – The mule has an acute sense of smell that they regularly employ to provide them with information on what is going on around them. Mules use their sense of smell in many different and important ways. Mother Nature equipped the mule with a strong olfactory sense that can tell the animal whether a predator is near. All it takes is a strong upwind breeze to bring a dangerous scent to the attention of a wild herd of donkeys, mules and horses. After getting a whiff of the predator, the herd literally high-tails it (their tails stick way up in the air as they flee) out of there in a flash. Although domestic equines are kept in an environment where they are protected from predators, the instinctive behavior of being highly aware of his surroundings is self-ingrained. The mule has developed a high sense of self-preservation and will not approach danger.
Skin – The skin of a mule is less sensitive than that of a horse and more resistant to sun and rain. This makes mules a dependable option for owners who work outside in harsh weather and strong sunlight. Mules are slightly less sensitive to the elements because Mother Nature intended him to be hardy. But remember a mule uses their skin, lips, hair, nose, and their muzzle to their physiological advantage. Their sense of touch is their most acute sense. The mule can sense a fly anywhere it lands on them, and twitch that specific muscle to get the fly off.
The skin also provides a protective barrier, regulating temperature, and provides a sense of touch. Mules from draft horse mares and mammoth jackstock breeding will have a different thickness of skin; their skin will be thicker. Mules from Thoroughbred mares tend to have skin sensitivity issues due to their skin being thinner.
How sensitive a mule is, depends on the age, the training and the breeding. A mule that is overly sensitive to touch will usually stay that way during his lifetime; it is simply physiological and nothing more. Older mules tend to be less sensitive to touch and appear to be more settled. In addition to being responsive to pressure and pain, mules can also sense vibration, heat and cold. Mules are capable in bracing the muscles in their body to protect himself from intense pain (from abuse or a heavy handler) such as a whip or spur.
Researchers from Northwest A&F University in Yangling, China, are doing research about the molecular mechanisms at work in mules that provide this superior muscular endurance. Their genetic testing of samples from crosses between donkeys and horses mapped a total of 68 genes in the “muscle contraction” pathway, eight of which were found to be significantly enriched in mules. In the hybrid individuals and their parents, one of these enriched genes, TNNC2, was mainly expressed in the fast-skeletal (facial) muscle. Its expression level was found to be two times higher in the mule than in the horse. So, if you think that mule is making faces at you, he probably is.
Taste – mules prefer sweet and salty tastes, so they will usually meet their requirement of salt if it is provided in a block form. You can “doctor” a mule’s grain with molasses or honey to eat crushed medicine, however 90% of the time, the mule is onto you. They use their keen sense of smell to aid them in identifying what is in his bucket. Mules being individuals will be up front with you whether they like or dislike what is on the menu. Some mules refuse treats all together; others may develop a strong desire for apples, corn or carrots.
The mule I am working with now, insisted we have a trusting relationship before she would accept anything from me in the form of treats or grain. I could halter her, start working with her, but her heart just wasn’t in it. She needed to know that she could trust me; in other words, her give a damn was busted. That’s just who she is. Due to her history, I can understand that; and I don’t blame her for this quirk. Today, we make great riding partners and…she loves margaritas.
In this report, I am happy to conclude that mules are not autistic horses.
This concludes my report; I can confirm that mules are not autistic mules.
Teeth floating is necessary for mules. The process is to “file” down points that develop over time in the mule’s mouth. Equine teeth are open-rooted, which means that they grow continuously and rely on chewing to keep them ground down to the correct length. The top set of molars is wider than the lower set; equines chew in a circular motion, which means that over time, if the mule has an uneven bite, sharp spurs can develop. Floating is the process whereby the spurs or spikes are “floated” or rasped down with a dental file designed for use in equines. Age is not always a factor; have your mule’s teeth checked during regular vet visits. Floating your mule’s teeth is very important in order to prevent oral pain and to assure your mule is healthy overall.
Mother Nature made them this way. Decisive on their likes and dislikes, they are judgmental animals. You might say they view things in black and white. Either they like it or they absolutely don’t. It’s not that the mule has ESP or can read your mind, but he is very good at reading the situation. And a mule isn’t going to work at something that he doesn’t like.
Mules are sensitive; they have a keen sense of smell, acute hearing and they are athletic like his horse mother. The thinking side of the mule comes from his father the jack. This is what makes this hybrid a unique animal to work with. Their high sense of self-preservation is what makes the mule an excellent trail partner. They certainly won’t allow them to be in a situation that could cause them harm.
Comfort is everything to the mule. They will not tolerate ill treatment or endure incorrectly fitted tack, saddles or a saddle pad that does not allow for good wear or comfort. Behavior issues will quickly develop if the mule is in discomfort or suffering from pain. A mule that is experiencing discomfort may toss his head, try to rush downhill, buck, kick out, move sideways, gape at the mouth or even rear.
If the mule’s negative behavior escalates, a vet or massage therapist may be the answer.
The Buying Process Just how do you buy a mule, horse or donkey without getting screwed? It’s certainly not like going to the local dealership to buy a truck, where you select the gear package, pick out a color, test drive it and take it home. Buying a mule can be so involved and shopping alone for a good one is like searching for the Holy Grail. Buying a truck is so much easier! Trucks don’t get parking lot sour and they don’t form strong attachments to other trucks. I have learned that most new buyers are not comfortable with dealing with a seller when buying a mule, horse or donkey. High pressure sales people can be obnoxious to deal with and this makes the buying experience unpleasant. The smooth talking salesmen can be so slick that an uneducated buyer can walk away with a mule that is not exactly what they had in mind to begin with. Buying a mule is a skill set and yes, you can learn it; especially since I wrote the book on it! I will take you through each step on making a smart purchase; you will have the knowledge on how to close a deal and walk away a winner because you bought your mule with better judgment. You will be more confident during the buying process and you won’t be second guessing yourself on your recent mule purchase. You feel better already, don’t you? I know I do, because I see many mistakes being made by both the buyer and the seller; this can be critical to the new mule owner and the mule where neither come out ahead. It doesn’t do the mule any justice to be placed in the hands of an unqualified owner. The outcome for a mule handler that is lacking confidence and a higher skill set makes it into a risky situation. I have seen new mule owners get hurt while attempting to work with their new mule; including the barn help that offered their expertise or services during the handling process. In addition, I have seen mules get hurt due to a new mule owner or trainer that used their own methods in their attempt to manage the new mule. I would like to see changes in the mule industry. I would like to see more educated trainers and handlers in the business. I am hopeful that in time there will be more qualified mule buyers and professional sellers qualifying their buyer before taking their check. That is where this book comes in; it will help to educate the buyer and improve the business transaction between buyer and seller. Let’s learn about seller techniques so you the buyer at least have a sporting chance at mule buying.
The private seller
Reasons individual parties may sell a mule:
1. The mule is more than they can handle.
2. The mule developed bad habits while on their watch. Meaning – the mule owner allowed the habit to develop, which means the owner contributed to the problem
3. The mule was not worked with; was allowed to “settle” in with the herd. This created herd sour, not bonding with the new owner.
4. The mule jumped fences, new owner did not have appropriate setup for this type of mule that liked to wander.
5. The mule did something wrong due to discomfort – the owner did not catch on to the mule communicating this until the mule had enough. (ex. bucking, kicking out, running through the bridle.)
6. Heat cycles were an issue with riding/handling.
7. The seller is unable to show leadership to the mule (leadership, i.e. not control) and cannot develop a partnership.
8. Mule does not trailer well.
9. The mule spooks from various situations which requires an experienced handler to work with the mule in developing his confidence.
Let’s talk about mules! Every mule I have trained or worked with, I have learned from. My life lessons with mules has been fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking and mostly comical. I use to be so serious and didn’t have the confidence to speak to people. Mules have changed all that!
I have several books that I wrote about mules and now I have a podcast about mules and the ranch lifestyle, called Mule Talk! I am always searching for guests to come onto the show, so if you know of anyone, corral them my way! ~Cindy K. Roberts