Why celebrate mules?
They are stubborn. They are contrary. They are uncomfortable to ride. They jump fences. They kick.
There’s a long list of reasons why some people don’t like mules.
But there’s a much, much longer one about why mules should be celebrated.
“The reason that most cowboys don’t like mules is that the mules are smarter than they are,” said Greg Neal, who has worked with mules most of his life.
“I’ve seen a lot of pretty good cowboys who couldn’t do anything with a mule,” Neal said. “You’ve gotta be patient with a mule and earn their trust. A mule doesn’t forget. Once you’ve won it’s trust, you’ve got to keep it’s trust, too. Once they figure out that you take care of them and you’re not gonna abuse them, they’ll do most anything for you.”
In Neal’s experience, mules can have personality plus.
“I once had a mule that whenever I was going fishing, I’d just open the trailer and holler that I was going fishing. That molly mule would come from wherever she was at and jump in the trailer and off we’d go.” That particular mule was a star at packing things into the back-country. She packed her first deer when she was a year old, and that was followed by a career of packing elk, game, and camps. “That mule packed eggs and never broke and egg,” Neal said.
Mules, he thinks, have better and maybe stronger backs than horses. And they don’t get themselves in trouble, either.
Dennis Brennen and his wife, Peggy fell in love with mules after watching a movie that featured them. That was in the 1970’s and they have been mule fans ever since.
Dennis will be teaching a free mule workshop at 9:00 on Saturday morning at Mule Days.
Mules’ personalities are different than horses, Brennen said. Mules are very self-preserving. “They don’t panic, but they want to know that what you are offering them is not going to end their life.”
Riding mules is not for everyone. “I’ve tried riding them,” said Greg Neal. “I don’t like riding them. I always kinda felt like I was going out over the front of them all the time. Maybe their necks are shorter.” But Peggy Brennen loves riding them. “They are surefooted. And they are really observant,” she said. “With those great big ears they hear everything. When my mule wants to stop and look or listen, I know there’s something out there. I let him check it out. I always learn something.”
Mules have tough feet that are shaped differently than horses. They are longer, narrower, and the hoof’s “bulbs” protrude farther toward the rear. Brennen, a farrier, seldom shoes his mules, and when foot protection is required, fits them with Easy boots— rubbery shoes that he can put on and take off.
But there’s more to a mule than good feet. Another reason they are so sure footed, Brennen noted, is that their eyes are set just a little bit farther back in their head than a horse. “That means that they can see where they are putting all four feet,” Brennen said. “It also accounts for the saying the “Horses kick, mules aim.”
Mules are loyal. “They have kind of like a dog mentality,” Peggy Brennen said. “They think ‘This is my person. But you over there, you’re not. I’ll accept you, but you are not part of the herd.’” Not that mules are stand-offish. They are just sort of particular.
And not only are mules hardier than horses. (They colic and founder less, are easier keepers, and can eat shrubs if they have to) but they also live a lot longer, with a longer working life than a horse. “Our two oldest mules lived until they were 42”, Dennis said. “ But we use mules in their 30’s a lot.”
There’s not much to NOT like about mules. And you can see them at their best at Mule Days!
Some of the best events that will show off a mule’s talents include the Friday morning driving events, starting at 9 a.m., the Max Walker Cowboy Poetry gathering Friday night at 6 p.m., Dennis Brennen’s free mule clinic Saturday morning at 9 a.m. , the parade and Grand Entry Saturday from noon to 1 p.m., and of course the all-mule “horse show” featuring English equitation, barrel racing team penning and lots more Sunday beginning at 9 a.m.