October 27, 2022 — When it comes to packing up your gear and hitting the trail with an animal helper by your side, mules rule – although some llama and alpaca enthusiasts may disagree! Mules have the double advantage of being a reliable pack animal, like llamas and alpacas, as well as a sturdy ride for adult humans. Mules also are extremely intelligent, gentle if treated well and make good family pets.
Here are some fun facts that you may not know about mules.
Breed a male donkey with a female horse and its resulting offspring is a mule. The reverse – breed a female donkey with a male horse – creates another hybrid animal called a hinny. Like many hybrids, mules are almost always sterile.
Ancient & Long-Lived
Mules are one of the oldest known hybrid animals, bred as working animals since the pharaohs ruled Egypt, as early as 3,000 BCE. Mules generally have longer lifespans than horses, between 35 to 40 years. If well cared for, mules can live up to 50 years.
Hardy, Sure-Footed Beasts
Mules have a different muscular structure than horses that gives them greater endurance and strength for their size and stature. On average, a mule can carry 20%-30% of its body weight compared to a horse at 15%-25% of body weight.
Mule hooves are harder, tougher and less likely to crack than horse hooves. This makes mules better suited for mountainous, rocky or other harsh terrain than horses. However, hoof care is still essential to keep mules healthy and mobile.
Designed for Heat
Mules’ long, donkey-like ears help them with heat radiation, making them ideal working animals for hot, dry climates. Mules also have thicker skin than horses, making them less likely to overheat.
Mules tend to eat smaller volumes of food than horses of the same size and weight, making foraging easier. They also are less likely to overeat.
Kick Packs a Punch
Be cautious around the backside of a mule. If scared or spooked, mules can kick both backward and to the side, with great strength.
About 8 million mules share our planet and are found on every continent except Antarctica. Most of these animals are not pets but support people’s livelihoods, used as work animals on small farms or for transport. Sadly, many mule owners lack access to veterinary care and education on how to keep their animals healthy. This in turn can impact the owner’s well-being and the larger community reliant on these animals for their livelihoods.
How We Are Helping
Morris Animal Foundation has been supporting equid health studies for more than 60 years. Equids – horses, mules, ponies, donkeys, zebras and related species – often are plagued by similar diseases and health challenges, ranging from herpesviruses to glanders (a bacterial disease) to African horse sickness.
Morris Animal Foundation also supports studies that directly benefit mule health. One ongoing study is working to improve pain management for mules. Since mules can be stoic animals (like cats), researchers are defining behavioral signs, such as facial grimaces, to help determine if a mule may be experiencing pain. Findings will help improve veterinary care and quality of life for mule patients.
In another study, researchers are developing an educational training program for Spanish-speaking horse owners in Colombia to improve early recognition of colic (a gastrointestinal condition), knowledge of risk factors and appropriate treatment when access to veterinary services is limited. Findings will benefit mules with colic and help the owners who care for them.
If you would like to help improve the lives of mules and other animals around the world, please donate today. Your gift will support life-changing studies to improve the care and well-being of the animals we love.