Stubborn as a Mule


Most of the time on this blog, I talk about things related to horses. Today I’m going to discuss another type of equine – mules.

We’ve all heard expressions such as “stubborn as a mule” and “mule-headed,” implying that mules are uncooperative and unpleasant. If they actually are that bad, why were they developed in the first place and why are some people so devoted to them?

Mules are a hybrid cross between a donkey and a horse. Usually a donkey stallion (jack) and a horse mare because the mother has the most influence on the size of the offspring. A hinney is produced by breeding a horse stallion to a donkey and is usually smaller. (Both are referred to as mules.) Almost all mules are two mulessterile due to having an odd number of chromosomes (63). VERY rarely a mare mule may reproduce, but there is no record of a fertile mule stallion.

Mules come in all shapes and sizes from minis (36”) to drafts (17 hands). The average size is slightly smaller than a horse. However they have the hardiness and endurance of a donkey, which made them invaluable for farming and carrying cargo. President George Washington was convinced that they were superior to horses for agricultural work and devoted a lot effort to developing a useful breed of mules. He’s considered the “father of American mules.”


While tractors and mechanization reduced the mules’ role on the farm, they are still valued for their ability to carry weight. All over the world they still serve as pack animals, transporting cargo in areas where vehicles can’t go. Due to their sure-footedness, they are invaluable in mountainous areas. They are used for packing trips, carry riders down into the Grand Canyon, and even pack muletransport military supplies in the Afghanistan.

Today, at least in the Western world, they are mostly used for pleasure. Mules can do anything a horse can and are now being shown in every type of class from English and Western Pleasure to Dressage and Reining. They even have their own exclusive event, known as the Coon Hunter’s Jump. In the South, farmers would hunt raccoons that were raiding their farms and during the chase would often encounter wire fences which were hard to see. So they’d put a coat or blanket over the wire and ask their mules to jump over from a standing start. The mules are so good at this type of jumping it evolved into a contest. Instead of running up to a jump as horses do, the mules clear up to six feet from a stand still!

What about the reputed stubbornness? It depends on who you ask. Mules are extremely intelligent – some say smarter than horses due to the hybrid vigor that also makes them stronger. They tend to have strong opinions about things. While horses can be literally worked to death, a mule will stop and say “no more.” They also will not accept harsh handling. So someone who tries to force a mule will encounter stiff resistance. But if you “ask” you can get a very willing, loyal partner. Many people dearly love their mules and prefer them to horses.

I once went on a day long trail ride on a Tennessee Walking Horse mule. While she didn’t gait, she did have a wonderful, ground-covering walk that was very comfortable to ride. How about you? Have you had any experiences with a mule? Gone into the Grand Canyon or packed into the mountains?


Mule photo credit:
Pack mule:
Two mules photo credit:


Categories: animals, Coon Hunter's Jump, Horses, Jumping, Mules, nature, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Stubborn as a Mule

  1. Do you happen to know whether, in the rare instances of a mare mule reproducing, the sire is a horse or a donkey?

  2. Doris

    Fascinating and you can hear the respect you have for these amazing animals in your voice.

  3. marsharwest

    ‘Fession time here. If I knew there was a difference between a mule and and a donkey, I’d forgotten. So this was a surprise. Think that’s truly amazing that despite not being able to reproduce themselves, they are so prevalent. Fascinating about their jumping trait! Wow! I FBed and Tweeted, Kate. So interesting!

    • I suspect most people don’t know the difference. They’ve certainly earned their keep for many centuries. Have a couple of friends who just adore their mules.
      Thanks for sharing.

  4. That little guy at the to of the page is adorable. Thanks for the post…and, so glad you’re feeling better.

    • He is cute, isn’t he? It’s amazing the variety of mules out there now. Every color, including Appaloosa, and a vast range of sizes.
      Thanks for stopping.

  5. Oh, I LOVE mules! My favorite was Claire, half Bergeron. She was a very big girl, but so sweet. She’d follow me around the field, try to eat my hair for me. Her eyelashes were a strawberry blonde that were so beautiful and long, almost two inches of eyelashes. So, yes, she was very pretty. Oh, I miss her now.

  6. janieemaus

    Well, I just learned something new and fascinating!

  7. Hi Kate, I believe I rode a mule years ago when in Santorini, Greece. A group of us were “zig-zagging” up the side of a hillside near Kamari to see what once had been a Roman camp. Since mules are more sure footed, and the climb was a bit precipitous, I believe these were mules. My son was with me and since he was ahead of me in the group, he took a picture showing me as I followed below. There are also what I believe to be donkeys used to carry passengers from a ferry up the many, many steps at Fira.

    • That sounds like a fun trip. It always amazes me when I see tiny donkeys carrying adult-sized people. Those must be really strong critters.

  8. There’s only one equine I love more than a horse. And that is a mule. My very first equine was a small mule. He was only about 13 hands and I was always on the stout side. But he was a sturdy little thing. Testy and always hard to catch most of the time. But, once saddled and bridled he would stay by you. I only had him for about two years and I felt as if we were getting to really like each other. Probably just my thoughts, but he did interfere when a steer charged me once when I was taking out some range cubes to them. I yelled at the steer and my mule come running from several feet away and planted himself between us until the steer backed off. Then mule looked at me as if to say, What do yo think you are doing? Sadly he got cancer and I had to put him down. I hope to never see another animal in so much pain. I did what I could to help him. We didn’t know it was cancer until we actually put him down and the vet did a necropsy on him. I think that is what it is called. I cried for days. I hope maybe to someday get another one. I do have a nice mare that I am riding now and do like her. At least most days. She can be trying like her momma. But she is easy to catch and does seem like she wants to please. Thanks for the post.

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