|Kentucky Grey Mule|
Evidence of the mule has a long history reaching back to early Greece in the 5th century BC to a rhyton, a drinking cup or vessel frequently styled in the shape of an animal's head. One, now in a museum in Algeria, has the form of a mule's head with its long ears completed by a painted bridle.
Mules are hybrids who are unique in that they tend to be larger in size, show signs of higher intelligence, and exhibit greater stamina then either parent. A mule is the product of mating of a male donkey or jack with a mare. The successful breeding of a jenny (female donkey) to a stallion is difficult - when it does happen the offspring is called a hinney.
|Out of a Belgian Draft mare|
The mule inherits the size, ability to run, and conformation of the mare, and the character, endurance, and strength of its donkey sire. They are more independent than other equine species and live longer than their parents, while requiring less food for their size. Mules get their coloring from the mare, hence you will see sorrels, blacks, buckskins, duns, and greys. A breeding with an Appaloosa mare gives a kaleidoscope of colorations.
Amish farmers still use them as working farm animals, though they prefer horses to pull their buggies, which we see on the roads. A friend told me about the fun she had, as a town child visiting a farm near Sano, KY, riding the mules from the fields back to the barn. Her mother rode one to school.
The late western author, Louis L'Amour tells the story of a breeding of a mule by one of the Sacketts who had to leave the Cumberland Plateau in his novel, Lando. The character acquired a retired thoroughbred mare, put her in a field with a jack, and then headed west to make his fortune with a racing mule.
A true Kentucky racing story is of Old Red, who was owned by Clifford Grover. Born in 1920, Red's mother was a sorrel mare. He started his career early in that decade and continued a brilliant run into the 1930s. After his racing days ended he was sold and, most likely, spent the remainder of his life pulling a plow.
Mules have long been used to transport goods over rough country in caravans called 'mule trains.' Daniel Boone used mules to bring settlers into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap. The trains were immortalized in the song, Mule Train. Cowboy singer, Frankie Laine recorded it in 1949 and it was later sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1957. Drivers of the trains were called 'mule skinners.' Mule Skinner's Blues, tells the life of a driver; it was recorded by the Fendermen in the 1950s.
Armies used them for eons in mountainous areas like Afghanistan to transport artillery, supplies, and munitions. Sometimes, the poor mule's back was used as a field platform for firing a small cannon. The United States Marines still conduct training classes in the use of animals as packers - the ole mule can go where there are no roads.
From 1883 to 1889 twenty-mules hitched as a team were used in Death Valley to pull large wagons loaded with borax to railroad lines. The wagons (largest ever produced) were designed to hold ten short tons of ore. Interesting, the actual teams were made up of eighteen mules and two horses, though the famous washing soap was named 20 Mule Team Borax and is still in production.
Librarians used them as early book mobiles well into the 1940s, as there were few navigable roads in the Kentucky foothills and mountains.
Today mules, by the select breeding of 'hobby' breeders, participate in all areas of equine sports: such as racing, carriage meets, recreational traveling wagon trains (one operates out of Shelbyville, KY), western style rodeos, show rings, dressage, and pulling contests.
Kentucky enjoys an extensive breeding industry of mule production, where besides the local market Kentucky bred mules are prized in the countries of China and Mexico.
Nash Black, author of the forth coming detective novel: Forged Blade.