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
Descendants of notorious outlaws, muleskinners, horse thieves, brothel workers, wagonmakers, as well as Texas Rangers gathered at the N Bar Ranch in Reserve, New Mexico. These modern-day desperados, rode at the top of the mountain in the Gila Mountain Wilderness, on the same range as the Apaches once roamed. This is a modern-day dime-store novel published by Every Cowgirl’s Dream.
I’ve had the opportunity to own a lot of wonderful mules in my career. When I was young, I bought mules and donkeys at sale barns. I wanted to learn more and have stories/articles to write about these fascinating creatures and here I am many years later still learning! As I learned, this mule, Cabo loves conversation – no kidding and carrots or cookies are not needed. She just wants to hear a soothing, quiet voice that offers praise and if you don’t talk to her, she will turn her head and look at you for a cue, a word or a whisper.
I’ve never experienced anything like this and I’ve worked with a lot of mules. The (horse mules) ones that have never been kissed are usually shocked at the new sensation and suck back to think about the ordeal. I mean, come on, most guys are not going to be kissing on their mule(s).
I wasn’t sure how Cabo was going to react when I gently smacked one on her; she could have nudged me out of the way, leap back, or throw her head up. From the response I got I instantly knew Cabo has been kissed many times.
OK, so if you’re a guy reading this you can scroll on by or you can admit to your tender side when spending time with your mule. Your mule adds “cool” to your image, because you have the finesse and the right gear to put it all together and look spectacular while in the saddle!
Back to the conversation part of this story. When working around my mule, grooming, picking out feet, saddling, my mule will turn her head around. If I don’t acknowledge her in some way, she will in a short time get agitated. To Cabo, you have to be a working partner; any slight snub on your part and that makes her uneasy. I wasn’t a big talker when I brought this mule home, however I now talk, sing and sometimes dance around my mule. Stay safe and don’t forget to kiss your mule goodnight.
You remember Ruth the mule; the big boned, sixteen hand sorrel horse mule that hitched a ride from Oklahoma to live in Missouri. Ruth…big, ugly and friendly. Ruth was a big part of the family at the Missouri mule farm, or so he thought. Yes, Ruth is a male mule, and the gender thing was troubling for Ruth. Having a girl’s name was confusing and at times, Ruth felt left out when he was “home alone” in the big pasture; I could feel his pain. Ruth galloped frantically down the fence line braying, bucking and rearing for attention. I understood how Ruth felt, so I rode Ruth several times under English saddle whenever I visited the mule farm. After climbing on top of a tractor tire, I was in the saddle; Ruth and I hit the trails.
Later, Ruth’s owner had health issues and Ruth was not getting the attention he deserved. Now, Ruth was becoming reckless and ruthless (pardon the pun) by charging into the gate while the other mules were present. It was becoming dangerous for the other riders to halter their own mules at the gate and Ruth was just miserable. Quite simply, Ruth will have to go.
Sadly, Ruth was offered for sale under a different name, Chewy. It was decided that Chewy was a more salable name and since Chewy was so ugly his sale price was lowered, and the sale ad was quite blunt about Chewy being so homely looking. Sadly, Chewy was being treated like the red-headed stepchild, the family was hoping and praying there would be a home for this mule…somewhere.
As fate would have it, a family from Kansas came to look at Chewy. A young fifteen-year-old named Thomas test drove “Chewy” in the large round pen while a thunderstorm approached. This was all new to the big mule because “Chewy” thought he was going for a ride, not a boring lesson. The wind has picked up and fingers were crossed that “Chewy” would pass this job interview. “Chewy” was not a bad mule by any means but sometimes, mule karma can hit hard during the most critical situations. It’s those moments when the planets shift for no reason and then mystifying energy will cause a mule to act up for no apparent reason. I’ve witnessed it many times…I was literally holding my breath. Occasionally I offered my opinion to help build this connection because “Chewy” was desperate and needed someone in his life.
In a matter of minutes, Thomas and “Chewy” were working together and “Chewy” was listening, waiting for the next request. Three lightning strikes later, Thomas dismounted and announced he would be “Chewy’s” new owner…but he was naming his mule, Ruth! It was though the heavens had parted; I knew then this was meant to be! I was almost in tears, then we confessed, that we felt sorry for the mule that was really named Ruth because we didn’t think he would be an easy sell, being that ugly.
Thomas proudly loaded his new mule into the trailer and promised he would keep us updated on Ruth Chewy. We waved goodbye with happy tears in our eyes. I was so happy for Ruth Chewy; it was like a mule dream come true; I always believed there is a mule for every person with a job to do and a person for every mule that is looking for a new beginning. Ruth has a new start in life and went home to Kansas…living the life of Riley as they say. Ruth Chewy watches over his new owner, standing over him as young Thomas does his homework in the barn, sitting next to Ruth. Ruth Chewy looks for Thomas every day and greets him with a bray, they are now inseparable. Thomas has ridden Ruth to his summer job, taken him to mule events and is now teaching him how to hobble, ground tie…well, for Ruth Chewy the sky’s the limit.
One day Ruth along with the entire herd, went through a section of fence that had been pushed out on the north side of the pasture. Ruth is not a troublemaker by any means, and he would have never left his new owner but knowing Ruth, his anxiety issues about being home alone got the best of him that day. I am sure that he didn’t want to be left behind. During this upset, Ruth had injured his fetlock and now Ruth is receiving veterinary care while being confined.
Ruth didn’t understand why he was being kept in a stall; this is the longest “timeout” session he has had in his entire life! Young Thomas took care of Ruth and spent many hours in keeping his mule company. Over several weeks of visits to the vet and the shoer, Ruth is back!
The fences were repaired and now “Ruth shouldn’t get into trouble again,” says his new owner. “We let him back out with the rest of the herd again 2 weeks ago. I hated having him in smaller pens. He does so much better in bigger pastures. He lost so much weight being stalled with his cast. I’ve tried everything to get it back up. Depression hits equine the same as humans. He is now gaining weight because he’s happier. (He was getting weight gain, vitamins, rice bran and 1 full can of grain. 1/2 can of grain in the evening. I tried alfalfa pellets and beet pulp plus a protein tub at any time he wanted and a round bale of prairie hay. He doesn’t like being confined. Tom loves his mule. Even when we don’t ride he’s always going out and talking with him in the pasture. He just lost weight in his top line. He just walked the fences constantly. Full of energy.”
One November afternoon, Ruth’s owner was sitting in the kitchen talking on the phone; she was in front of the sliding glass doors watching the mules eat. Ruth/Chewy is standing up behind a tree sleeping in the sun. When all of a sudden, he looks like he’s trying to do a somersault. Desperately trying to get his feet under him and falling on his face! Ruth fell while sleeping! Goofy mule! No worries, Ruth is fine. Funny though, Ruth was looking around to see if anyone saw him fall. Make a note, mules do not like feeling embarrassed. please
Now, Ruth Chewy is healed up and his young owner trained Ruth to rear up while he was on his back! Ha! Trigger has nothing over this mule! Tom and Ruth are inseparable. Ruth’s new life is very enriched and has moved up the social ladder. Yes, it’s amazing…bring a mule into your life and they insist on being included with all the social affairs. That was when Tom decided that Ruth needed to go caroling with him at Christmas time, in their local town. Hearing this, made me feel warm and fuzzy for Ruth Chewy. They say Ruth was amazingly cordial according to the manual written on mule standards for social graces. Kids running everywhere, cameras flashing, Christmas lights on the equines and houses and some were flashing. Vehicles between ours and the ranger and local traffic. Tom was in heaven riding his own mule to show off to the towns people. Needless to say,…Ruth was beaming too.
So, there is something to be learned here…every mule has a purpose…ugly mules need love too…never leave a family member home alone…and Ruth Chewy lived happily ever after.
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.