Neu Perspectives

The Long Eared

I have a healthy admiration and respect for the long-eared creatures although my experience with mules was humbling and somewhat fleeting.

I was once told “A mule is like a horse, but more so.” And I doubt a truer thing has ever been spoken.

When they gather mustangs out of the desert and into the government corrals, I often see that there are both wild horses and wild burros in the mix. Of course, my wheels get to turning, and I remember even remarking aloud, “I wonder why there are no mules if the horses and burros are all running together out there.” 

Not that I’d necessarily be keen on taking one home. I have a healthy admiration and respect for the long-eared creatures, but I haven’t found a driving need for one yet in my life. 

Mules’ physical strength and endurance are incredible. In general, they carry less “flight” and more “fight” as their self-preservation is different than a horse. They learn things extremely quickly, which is often a detriment for the amateur horseman. A situation with repetition is not where they thrive. They remember things extremely well, and if they get into bad habits or counterfeit tricks, it’s very hard to “unteach” them, whereas with a horse it’s much easier to change their minds about things. A horse is often more of an athlete, but a mule is extremely strong. Their gaits are usually smooth, and their overall physical endurance is more impressive than an equine’s. 

My experience with mules was humbling and somewhat fleeting. When I was in my early 20s, working in the Colorado mountains managing a trail ride operation and riding colts, I was eager enough to put some money in my pocket that I said yes to pretty much every opportunity to do so. Enter Katie the mule. Her mother was a draft horse, and her father, a mammoth jack. She was ridiculously intelligent, tricky and quite beautiful for a mule. She was a caramel color with a pretty face, a long neck and a capable, strong body to climb mountains and do whatever she wanted. Which is exactly what she did. 

I had heard that mules took a different training pattern than a horse, but I didn’t know what that meant exactly, so I just went to her.

She had been started in the past but learned how to get away from her rider.  She knew if she went under trees low enough, her rider would eventually be scraped off. She was extremely tricky to catch, and once she was saddled, she bellered and crowhopped and would then duck under the nearest aspen or evergreen, shed her rider and go back to her friends at the headquarters.

Not only did she embarrass me several times in front of trail-riding vacationers, but she also ended up being the reason behind the two root canals I had. By the end of summer, she finally just rode down the trail, but I don’t think I advanced her much. I sure worked hard for every dime of that $350. Part of me still wishes I could try again and see just how much she could teach me, and part of me is OK with her being in the past. 

Since Katie left my life and went on to humble some other poor soul, I’ve learned to appreciate the qualities a mule has to offer. They are so ridiculously smart, and I respect that. Absolutely nothing beats them in the mountains. If I were to run a pack string or live somewhere where I needed a team of animals to be sure-footed beasts of burden, you can bet I would have a slew of mules. I haven’t tackled training once again, but I’m guessing I would learn a lot going through the process now. A horse has so much feel, life and fills in for us humans so much. A mule would no doubt expose my holes and put me in a position to work through things in a way that they find agreeable.

And after more thinking than I care to admit, I believe there ARE a few wild mules out there in the desert. They’re just hiding behind a bluff somewhere, far too thoughtful, capable and clever to be caught up in the corrals with the rest of ’em.

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