BY: NEAL MURPHY
Have you ever heard someone say about a person, “He’s as stubborn as a mule?” Or perhaps even you have been called “mule headed” by others. I think we all know what the meaning of the word is, but are mules really stubborn? If someone is stubborn, it means that they are contrary, unwilling to change, or unwilling to do things that are expected of them. Some people say that the stubborn person “walks to the beat of his own drum”.
Mule expert, John Hauer wrote a book several years ago titled “The Natural Superiority of Mules” in which he says that mules are not really stubborn at all. He says that they are simply too intelligent to do stupid things. They also have a powerful self-protective streak. As an example, if you load up a pack mule with too much weight he will refuse to budge. But when you lighten the load to a point the mule feels comfortable, he will get going. Another example – when a mule is exhausted after a long day on the trail, he will stop. Is he being stubborn? No, it’s the self-preservation thing. By contrast, a horse can be ridden to death.
Contrary to popular belief, mules are not slow. Sure, a quarter horse would win a race around a track, but a mule can keep up a nice gait for hours, and would likely win the endurance race against a horse. Hauer says that extreme heat doesn’t affect mules as much as horses. He explains that the large ears, inherited from the donkey side, radiate heat. Because mules do not sweat much, they do not require as much water as horses.
Other mule facts: Pound for pound, they are stronger than horses. They can jump better than horses. Their speed and agility is equal to a horse. They live from five to ten years longer than a horse. Also, their hybrid vigor (they’re produced by mating a male donkey with a female horse) makes them resistant to many of the infections and afflictions common to horses. In addition, they are exceptionally cute and loveable. Hauer says that a mule can do anything a horse can do; they can do some things better; and they’ll love you like a dog. “I kind of consider the mule a super-horse,” says Hauer.
Hauer tells about how mules have carried him with unwavering sure-footedness into the highest reaches of the 12,000-foot La Sal Mountains, through Nevada’s burning desert, and up Colorado’s canyons. They did not get sick, they did not go lame, they never missed a step, nor did they slip on a rock. Whereas on those rides, he recalls watching other riders dismount their horses and lead them along especially treacherous trails. “It never occurred to me to get off. I knew the mule could handle the trail better than I could,” says Hauer.
I remember that in the long-running “Gunsmoke” television series, Festus Haggen rode a mule named Ruth, instead of a horse. Perhaps Festus knew something about mules back then. It’s time to give credit where credit is due. Let’s put a stop to the “stubborn as a mule” myth. The next time someone calls you “mule headed”, just say “Thank you for the compliment”.