"Mules are intelligent, sure-footed, and dependable mounts," says Dr. R. Dean Scoggins, equine Extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana. "Their popularity is increasing in just about all equine sports, including driving, trail riding, dressage, hunting, jumping, cross country, endurance and working cattle."
A mule is a cross between a mare (a female horse) and a jackass (a male donkey). A hinny is a cross between a jennet (a female donkey), and a stallion (a male horse). Hinnies are less common than mules because jennets and stallions have a lower conception rate than mares and jackasses. In general, hinnies tend to be smaller and more horse-like than mules, but the similarities between hinnies and mules far out number the differences. A mule and a hinny can only be distinguished by parentage, not by appearances. Hinnies and mules have
the same sexual characteristics and drive as their parents but they are sterile due to an uneven number of chromosomes. Like horses, male mules should always be gelded.
Mules draw different anatomic, physiologic, and tempermental characteristics from each of their parents. A mule resembles a horse in its height, the length and shape of its neck, and the length of its coat and tail bone. It resembles a donkey in its short thick head, long ears, short mane, coarse coat texture, thin limbs, and small hooves. The hair on the first half of the tail is short like a donkey's and it is long on the second half, but not as long as a horse's. Mules come in all horse colors, including leopard, appaloosa, and pinto, but their belly hair
is usually lighter and finer like a donkey's. Mules can bray like donkeys or whinny like horses.
A mule's foot is more elastic, upright, and boxlike than a horse's. A healthy mule foot on a horse would appear to be a very contracted foot. A mule's hoof is more supple and less likely to chip than a horse's. Some mule hooves grow continuously, without wearing down or chipping, which can be crippling if not trimmed.
Mules require the same vaccinations and parasite control as horses. Regular dental care, as well as hoof care, is needed to maintain health and soundness.
The difference between horses and mules is in their care and feeding. The most common problem is overfeeding. Mules need less protein than horses and show ill side effects if fed too much. Grass hay with a small ration of a complete vitamin and mineral feed is the best diet. Mules are less likely than horses to overconsume water when overheated but they can, so they should be cooled down like a horse.
Mules are very hardy animals. They can withstand hardship and severe conditions, dry climate, heat, and irregular meals. Mules usually won't overeat or thrash around when tangled up or in cramped quarters. They are typically resistant to most problems encountered in horses, such as wounds, chronic lameness, infectious diseases, and digestive disorders. However, it is myth that mules will not founder or colic, even though they are less susceptible than horses.
Mules are more susceptible than horses to habronemiasis (a parasitic skin infection known as Jack sores) and to lungworms. They can have heavy lungworm infestations without showing any symptoms and can be silent carriers of the parasite. Mules pastured with horses should be tested and treated for lungworm regularly.
Horses never forget but they usually forgive. Mules never forget and never forgive. Mules are always thinking, and they have a strong sense of self-preservation. They resent being hurt and when mistreated they become very evasive and uncooperative. While horses usually run from scary stimuli, mules are likely to attack. Mules kick with greater accuracy than horses, and they can kick in any direction and strike anything within their reach. However, a mule is neither vicious or stubborn but will respond as treated.
When well treated, mules are, in general, more sociable, gregarious, and less quarrelsome than horses. They readily bond and work well with people who treat them well. They also enjoy rolling in the dust and like to sun bathe on hot days.
By Theresa A. Fuess, Ph.D. - Information Specialist
University of Illinois - College of Veterinary Medicine