Owners eager to explain merits of mule over horse

Healthy, low maintenance | Owner says mules are strong and sure-footed

RED DEER, Alta. — Mule owners are just as stubborn as their animal’s reputation.

There’s no turning back once they make the switch from horses.

“They’re smarter than a horse and their strength is incomparable,” said Les Sjogren of Park Lake, Alta., who rode his 17-year-old mule, Katie, during a Mule and Donkey Association demonstration at the Mane Event held April 25-27 in Red Deer.

“They’re more sure-footed than a horse, they outlast a horse by 10 years. They’re never sick and they never get lame and it takes a third less feed to maintain a mule.”

It was not love at first sight between Sjogren and his mules, but the chemistry came together once he figured out how to work with them.

“Don’t get into a battle with them or you’ll end up frustrated,” said Sjogren, who competes in reining, equitation and cutting shows with his mule, sometimes against horses and sometimes against other mules.

It’s at those shows that people begin to see the versatility of mules. It’s one of the reasons Sjogren joined with other mule owners to put on the recent demonstration.

Nicole Kroetsch of Edmonton brought her Warmblood mule to the demonstration, jumping it over fences to show off its ability.

Kroetsch is not sure what her mule’s lineage is, but believes it is the result of a warmblood mare and a mammoth jack stallion.

Mules have horse mothers and donkey fathers. It’s Kroetsch’s first mule, and she doesn’t think she’ll return to riding horses.

She had to learn new skills once she made the switch. Jumping with a mule is different than sitting on a horse because of its long, flat back.

Terry Aris, who runs Tired Ass Ranch near Lundbreck, Alta., said he acquired his first mule 30 years ago but still has some horses.

He uses an eight second rule to train mules. He pauses eight seconds at each step of training, lets the mule process what’s happening and then goes on to the next step.

“You have to slow down and give them time to think,” said Aris, who had a four mule hitch at the Mane Event.

Aris has used his fjord mules for raking and cutting hay, combined driving and demonstration shows.

He said no one is neutral when it comes to mules. People love them or don’t like them.

Aris knows which side he’s on. He said mules have more personality and are a lot more fun to be around.

“We really enjoy them.”

Sjogren said he has seen more mules going to the mountains as either pack animals or riding animals for their calmness and surefootedness.

“They don’t panic and they’ll watch themselves. With their little feet, they’ll pick their way through a trail.”

  • A mule is the offspring of a male donkey (a jack) and a female horse (a mare). Mules can be either male or female, but can’t reproduce.
  • Mules look similar to horses but have more endurance, a higher pain tolerance and greater physical strength for their size.
  • Mules have been labelled stubborn but it is the animals’ strong desire for self-preservation that may make them resist a command they think is dangerous.
  • Mules and donkeys have a natural attraction to humans. When treated with patience and understanding, they learn to trust and obey.
  • Mules can go 24 hours without water and can carry about 150 pounds.
  • George Washington was an admirer of mules and was instrumental in securing imports from France and Spain.
  • The mule is the official state animal of Missourri.

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