Mental State of the Mule

Due to the hypersensitivity of the mule, their mental state can easily escalate into an anxiety level that would encourage bad behavior. You see, mules can feel energy from other equines and from a person. Their intuition is far keener than ours and mules will often mirror the feelings of their rider and respond accordingly. Our world is different from the mule, as humans we view emotions differently than mules do. We may mask our feelings. But in the presence of a mule, these animals can sense the way we really are. When a person interacts with a mule, they become part of the mule’s environment, and that person ultimately becomes a herd member.

One reason some people prefer mules to horses is that the former are generally easier keepers. A mule approximately the same size as a horse, at a similar level of work, consumes less feed. A mule can eat anything a horse eats, but he uses it more efficiently. For the sake of not overfeeding your mule, consult your veterinarian for the best diet for your mule or donkey.

Always remember, you can never force a mule to obey you. If you forget this rule, your mule will remind you when the appropriate time comes. If you try to force the mule, any compliance will be short-lived. The best methods are based on explaining to the mule what you want. If you use a method of restraint, like a twitch or a Scotch hobble, it must be approached with the idea that you are explaining to the mule that you want him to stand still, not that you are forcing him to submit. This is where a good degree of handlers often fail in their mule training.

Handlers often try to “drive” a mule to compel it to do what they wish. Horses may be driven or pushed into an impulsive state of energy. When a whip is applied to the horse, he will instinctively spring into motion (although sometimes not in the desired direction). When a whip is applied to a donkey, his instinct is to remain where he is until he is sure of the situation. If an abusive handler were to continue to whip the donkey, he would become more resolute and may drop to the ground in a heap of defiance.

It is not the donkey’s nature to panic and flee, as may be observed when a donkey is spooked. He will walk or trot (or, in an extremely frightening situation, canter) a short distance, stop, and evaluate conditions before going farther. A spooked horse may bolt uncontrollably over a great distance, causing harm to himself and/or the rider in the process. What puzzles many mule handlers is that in any given situation the mule may act like either the donkey or the horse. The muleteer must recognize and appeal to both the horse and the donkey temperament resident within the mule. Most of all successful mule trainers recognize that the mule is a unique individual.

A mule’s or donkey’s attitude to his work is one of partnership with his handler. While well-trained horses obey without question, mules and donkeys are more task-oriented. They seem to be concerned with the overall job, rather than with isolated cues. Once you have taught a job to a mule, he will continue to perform the task almost unaided and in clockwork fashion. If you interfere with his task by continually giving cues, he will be offended and may resist.

Mules are renowned worldwide for their outstanding muscular endurance, but what gives them this ability to outshine their horse and donkey parents? Hybrid vigor has long been recognized and widely exploited in animal and plant breeding programs to enhance the productive traits of hybrid progeny from two breeds or species. However, its underlying genetic mechanisms remain enigmatic.

Researchers from Northwest A&F University in Yangling, China, set out to understand more about the molecular mechanisms at work in mules that provide this superior muscular endurance.

They said their work, in which muscle, brain, and skin samples from mules, hinnies, and their parents were tested, revealed significant differences between mules and hinnies, as well as differences between mules and both of their parents.

Apart from skeletal muscle tissue, which is the main difference that separates mules from hinnies and their parents, there are also clear differences between these animals in both the brain and skin. The findings, they say, provide new insights into the genetic mechanism underlying hybrid vigor in mules. The work could provide the basis for future studies of the genetic and molecular mechanism of hybrid vigor in donkeys and horses.

Interestingly, the mule has a different odor altogether. He doesn’t smell like a horse and he doesn’t smell like a donkey. This could very well be a factor in sensitive horses decide not to accept a mule as a herd member, simply because of his physiological traits provided by Mother Nature.

As prey animals, horses prefer to stay in herds, and communication is accomplished by body language rather than vocalization and sound. They rely on body position and subtle body and head cues, even the twitch of an ear or the widening of an eye, to communicate within the herd.

Overall, mules tend to be healthier, sounder, and live longer than horses. This might result from hybrid vigor, and the genetic superiority of crossbred animals. Mules are less prone to injuries because again, it is due to their heightened sense of self-preservation.

So why are mules known for being kickers? If you think about it, the horse is the nervous nellie in the mule equation. It is the horse that is prone to kicking and horses are nervous creatures. The horse mare handed down the kicking trait to her offspring the mule. The mule being naturally suspicious and cautious should be worked with or trained not to kick. This is simple enough by tying the mule in a rope halter to a tree or hitching post; using a lunge whip or broomstick merely to touch his legs up and down while assuring him this is ok. If the mule has been owned by a heavy handler, he may be fearful of the whip/broomstick; simply caressing his sides and topline while rewarding him will help him through this process. After several days of introducing the touching of the legs with a lunge whip or long stick (along with moving your hands in closer to the mule’s leg), the handler will be able to ask the mule for his foot. By doing this, a soft cotton rope placed around the ankle and then pulling up while asking for the foot is foolproof. Holding the foot for a second or two is best in the beginning.

When working with young mules (6 and under) keep in mind their mental state is different than compared to a horse. For one, the horse will go along with you and submit to you, whereas the mule will carefully think things through first. Handlers tend to rush a mule’s schooling, not realizing the damage that can be done by doing so. Anytime a mule is lacking an introduction to a new task or lacks foundation training will undoubtedly show up in a mule’s confidence level; and at some time, somewhere it will surface. That is why the working partnership you have with your mule is critical to your training program.

A recent interview with Brock Milam of Milam Mules (Missouri) gave sound advice about working with mules. He said, “To be successful and to really get along with that mule, you have got to take the time and learn that mule. And let that mule learn you. If you let him get by with things, then it is a matter of time before an unskilled rider will decide to trade off for a different mule.”

I think we tend to have so much going on at work and at home that we spend time with our horses and mules as recreation/therapy time for us. We release our nervous energy at the barn, check our cell phones for updates and we tend to lose the connection. Remember when you are with your equine partner, he has a heart and soul…an emotional side to him that is looking for leadership and comfort. Stay safe, ride your ponies, and don’t forget the oats.

Mules Are So Definitive

Trimming around the corral.

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. Now that you know this, try not to be a knucklehead when working with your mule, whether it is a new task you are introducing or just spending time on the trail.

Mules are sensitive; they have a keen sense of smell and acute hearing and they are athletic like his horse mother. The thinking side of the mule comes from his father, the donkey 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. See? This is more valuable information you now know…so try not to be a knucklehead when saddling or trying out new gear on your mule. Keeping your tack and gear clean is ideal and of course, you should adjust it several times during your ride, be aware when your mule gains/loses weight, and take notice of hair density…it’s not rocket science, but you are dealing with an animal that is smarter than you (and me) so, try to keep up.

If the mule’s negative behavior escalates, a vet or massage therapist may be the answer.

If you are needing to find an answer to your situation I am glad to talk with you. Contact info:

Cowgirl Points -How to Collect Them

By Cindy K Roberts 

In the rodeo world, an established point system that scores a rider’s performance is used. For example, a judge awards points primarily for spurring action in bareback and saddle bronc riding. The rider loses points if his toes are not turned out with his spurs in contact with the horse; if spurring is not continuous throughout the ride; and if he is not balanced and in control. Points are gained or lost according to the rider’s rhythm and timing with the horse’s bucking. Now, in bull riding, points are scored by the rider maintaining body control and position regardless of what the bull is doing. Spurring is not required in bull riding, but definitely adds points to the score. When it comes to scoring the stock, high kicking action with hind legs fully extended makes for a better score. This all adds up to a better show and yes rodeo is a sport, it takes balls and one must be an athlete.

Interestingly,  the established point system in the cowgirl world is similar. Points are gathered from the first pony ride to the very last barn dance, these special moments build up the very ego of a special woman who is connected with her horse or mule. The greater the experience the higher the points and the more accomplished the rider feels. Unforeseen events or screw-ups work against the point system and are hard on the ego. Screw-ups such as getting dumped; you could get dumped by your horse or you could very well get dumped by your boyfriend; we know that neither is good…very stressful to the cowgirl’s ego. Pride is weighed in heavily on this point system; a gal has bragging rights on the very event that is recorded as an accomplishment or milestone in her Western world. Life is competitive around the barn and ranches; scoring high is essential.

An example of how the cowgirl goes about collecting her points: to score points one must be subjected to a series of events that involves moving hay, catching loose stock, training mules and horses, fixing fences, gatherin’ strays, and doctoring livestock. . . just to name a few. Of course, while performing these necessary barn or ranch assignments the cowgirl will be subjected to a certain amount of sweat, pain, blisters, possible burns, bruises, swelling, sprains, fractures, breaks, tears, and at times . . . blood. As one may have guessed, blood will help you score higher as well as the sprains, fractures, and breaks; throwing a mule into this mix is clearly a bonus. Being subjected to mud puddles or taking in some dust rates lower on the score sheet. Cleaning tack as necessary as it is, also rates lower on the score sheet as well along with feeding the barn cats.

It seems that the more mileage one can get out of telling a story regarding one’s own scrape with nature or their last heroic triumph in breaking their last mule, adds a little spark to the tale itself. Including heightened details in your discussion on concussions, memory loss, and staggering to find your way back after being thrown on the trail is what sets fire to the cowgirl’s soul. You see, there’s something about a war story, in this case, a cowgirl’s adventure tale, that brings a flame to the listener’s ear.  The more drama ensued in the story, the higher points were earned. No one wants to hear a lame story on how the cat food was bought on sale for the barn cats, pouring the remainder in airtight containers and taking inventory of the felines lined up for dinner.  Shoveling manure is not rated high for storytelling either. Even though shoveling manure is necessary, it is listed in the average B rating in the points category, simply because it does not require a higher skill set to do the task. But . . . to hear the story on how mule cowgirl, Prairie Rose got caught up in the high and mighty Missouri River from her mule slipping into the treacherous waters with sinking sludge underneath him, she clinging to the saddle horn, then to ride out the muddy rapids to the other side; that true tale itself will take one’s breath away! Yes, that is one worth talking about! You can easily imagine the snakes and snapping turtles lurking through the waters, not to mention the turkey vultures hovering above!

The time you rode the northern slope one sunny February afternoon, your mule slipped on a patch of frozen ground; all of a sudden, went down, crashed on his side, pinned your leg to the ground, then ended up with a sprained ankle. Crawling on hands and knees to find a strong limb to support you, this all adds special effects to the story. Never mind that your mule stood there at the bottom of the hill waiting for your return, licking and chewing the whole time. You are going for the round of bonus points. This is your opportunity to add the part, you called your mule that promptly walked up and waited patiently as you struggled to get back on. The bigger the injury, the more sloped over in the saddle one should be when returning to camp or the barn. All these treacherous details are not spared in a good cowgirl adventure story. By the way, this is important stuff here: everyone leaves out the part about tetanus shots, antibiotics and ointment. There’s something about tetanus shots, ointment, and gauze bandaging that doesn’t really appeal to the readers or listeners of a cowgirl up story; if you want to remain popular, you just don’t mention it.

Getting lost on the trail is not considered a heroic experience for earning points, because you are supposed to have enough sense not to get lost in the first place. However, if one had to use a knife or pistol in order to survive while trying to find their way, then that places the event into a whole new category. Anytime you add bears, struggling with a big cat or your mule was standing guard for coyotes, the points are higher and that is something worth writing home about.    

The everyday actual tasks that rank high on the cowgirl Richter scale: roping wild mini-donks to corral them for the farrier visit, herding up young mules for their vaccinations, sorting mules for the pack string and moving cows to the other pasture; these are factual accounts of a cowgirl’s day that is worth some salt in talking about. Giving yourself stitches, cauterizing a wound, or drinking out of a hoof print certainly ranks high up there for gaining cowgirl points and will entertain your listeners for a long while.

There are special and cherished moments that will never be forgotten; giving birth has a special meaning and raising children is recognized as all-time extra points to be given to the living cowgirl. Helping to deliver a newborn foal into the world, bottle feeding an orphan calf, doctoring a sick horse . . . these challenges cowgirls embrace in their own lives. Cowgirls take responsibility for their everyday chores at home and work; they take pride in their work and they wear it well. They live, eat, drink, and sleep the cowgirl lifestyle. They contribute to everyone around them, they share and help others. They breathe in the cowgirl essence into their very soul. Live life well and score high amigos. 

~Cindy K. Roberts


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Follow by Email