Family Equidae + The Mule
Another semester of equine learning has begun! This fall I’m enrolled in Horse Science 1 and as part of the intro material we are looking at the Equidae family which includes horses, zebras, and donkeys. We are all familiar with these species, but I wanted to take a moment to look at a fourth creature: the Mule.
Mules are a cross between a horse and a donkey. If a donkey is the father, then the offspring is called a mule. (When a horse is the father the offspring is called a hinny or jennet.) Mules are similar in size to horses but with longer ears and thicker heads.
Mules have been classified throughout history in several categories including draft, sugar, farm, cotton, and packing/mining mules. Of these categories, draft and sugar mules are the tallest and heaviest (ranging from 16 to 17.2 hh and 1,150-1,600 lbs.). Farm and cotton mules were considered midsized and the pack/mining mules were the smallest (12 to 16 hh and 600-1,350 lbs.) – ideal for navigating mines and narrow trails. Modern classifications of mules include draft, pack/work, saddle, driving, jumping, or miniature.[i]
The type and color of a mule depends on the type and color of the horse and donkey used to breed it. Common mule colors include bay and black, but many other colors are possible. Because mules have been domesticated and enjoyed by man for so many years, they can be found wherever mule lovers live and are possible wherever horses and donkeys coexist.
Mules have been domesticated and have played an important role in North American history. Explorers and settlers relied on them to build roads, railways, and telegraphs.[ii] Today, they are still a useful animal for work, but many owners also enjoy using mules for pleasure riding and driving.
Header Image Credit: Noah Holm
[i] Parker, Rick. “Breeds, Types, and Classes of Horses.” Equine Science, by Rick Parker, Cengage, 2019, pp. 65.