What is a Mule?
Frances, Uncle Cory's Mule
When I was a little girl I wanted a horse more than anything. But we lived in town and horses were not allowed. I loved horses so much I pretended I had one and I galloped all over my grandfather’s huge front yard on my imaginary horse. I wonder how much that wish was reinforced by my Uncle Cory’s big brown mule. We visited Aunt Fanny and Uncle Cory on Sunday afternoons and I’d stand at the fence and watch the mule munch hay as he took his day off from plowing cornfields. One day Daddy and Uncle Cory let me go into the barnyard and ride the mule. It’s name was Frances, after the talking mule in the movies.But once Daddy picked me up and put me on that mule’s back I realized I was high up off the ground and that was scary. So the ride was short and that was the last time I asked to ride Frances. It was years later before I learned Frances was not a horse.
So, what’s the difference between a mule and a horse?
So, what’s the difference between a mule and a horse? Well, a mule is only half a horse, a cross between a male donkey and a female horse. Reverse the formula, female donkey and male horse and the product is called a hinny. A male mule is called a John, the female a Molly. But, breeding those two will get you nowhere. The mule is sterile because of its genetic makeup; the donkey has 62 chromosomes and the horse has 64 resulting in the mule having 63. With an odd number of chromosomes scientists say it’s a one in a million chance of a female mule being fertile. There have been no known fertile male mules.
Mules come in as many sizes and types as there are horses and donkeys to produce them. There are draft mules, saddle mules and miniature mules.
George Washington was the first person in the United States to own mules. He learned that mules made good farm animals and he contacted the U.S. ambassador in Spain to ask about them. In 1785, King Charles III of Spain sent Washington a male donkey as a gift. But that jackass didn’t like Washington’s mares. So Washington had to get another, less picky, donkey to start his mule-raising project.
Mules have starred in movies and been the main character in books and songs. There is something about a mule that captures the hearts and imaginations of the human being. They have a long and colorful history.
Today mules are making a comeback. Their hardiness and surefootedness make them ideal for packing trips and trail rides. They have also been successful in the show ring. Some people even are using them to farm, reminiscent of the days when farms were small and mules were the only tractors used. Another surprising use for mules today is in the military. They can go where motorized vehicles can’t, whether in a jungle or desert, to pack in supplies.
You can read all about mules in The Book of Mules: Selecting, Breeding and Caring For Equine Hybrids.