How are mules and horses alike?
Trending animal? What the mule can do
More and more often you read about mules and enthusiastic mule riders and maybe you are looking for a horse for yourself and are wondering whether a mule could be a nice alternative. Or you are just interested in mules and want to learn a little more about the special animals. Or maybe you are wondering how mules can be ridden or, quite simply, how they actually sound? Are they just like horses or completely different? I will now answer all these questions together with the horse and multi-trainer Dana Santana Goetze.
No matter where I look on Facebook and who I meet on Instagram - more and more often mules and donkeys are included as mounts. There are special riding donkeys that are bigger than the little donkeys you know from the petting zoo and the mules are becoming more and more popular among riders. It seems that mules are real characters that can do much more than just be "stubborn". As is well known, this is the bad reputation that precedes them and the donkeys. Mules can do so much more, are real personality developers and exciting mounts.
Therefore I am particularly happy that the email from the multi-owner and horse trainer Dana reached me. Not only because she came out as an enthusiastic reader, but above all because she wrote me more about her Muli Jule and after a lively exchange we decided to do an interview about the Mulis and their experiences with the animals. On her blog mule-jule by the way, can you read more multifacts.
Reading tip: By the way, HERE you can find an experience report by the horsmeanship trainer Nadja von Verstehepferde on mule training
But now we're going to talk in detail about the mules, the mule breeding, how they can be trained and ridden, what makes them so special, why they are becoming more and more popular and where you can get a mule when you're looking.
Interview about mules
Interview with the horse trainer and mule expert Dana Santana Goetze about the peculiarities of the mules, what makes them up, how you have to train them, what distinguishes them from horses, how they can be ridden and everything you need to know about the mule
Dana is not only a horse trainer and personality coach, but also trains her Muli Jule and has dealt intensively with the trend breed. So I'm happy that she lets us share in all of her experiences in this interview.
What is the difference between the mule and the horse?
Horse Whispering: What is the difference between the mule and the horse? Physically and in behavior?
Dana Santana: Their physical characteristics all go back to the donkey father: the big ears, the small oval, thick hooves, the legs that are close together. Mulis are incredibly sure-footed and can put one hoof in front of the other on the catwalk. They are much more agile than horses and, in particular, can move their hind legs in a much larger radius than horses.
Since donkeys behave territorially, they are sometimes even used as protective animals against wolves and dogs. Therefore, small animals such as dogs or cats should not be left unattended to Mulis.
Most of the time they don't have a long mane, just a small head and a standing mane. From the donkey father they also inherit the straight back with little withers, which is often associated with a broader rib stand.
As with the horse, every animal naturally has its own character or special features. In general, however, mules are considered intelligent, open, straightforward and particularly curious. They have their own will, they think along with them and they make their own decisions. If humans and mules fit well together, they build a close connection and are also ready to do a lot for their humans.
Compared to horses, they take better care of themselves, regenerate faster, are more resilient (up to 150 kg), get older (over 40 years) and are less prone to disease.
Difference between mule, mule and mule
Horse Whispering: What is the difference between mules, mules and mules?
Dana Santana: The easiest way to remember this is to make clear how the animal was shaped: A mule has a horse mother and was therefore shaped by her in the typical horse language. Therefore, a mule should stand together with horses (or other mules).
A mule has a donkey mother, is socialized accordingly and should therefore be socialized with donkeys (or mules). Mules are much less common, but the two hybrids cannot be distinguished from one another from the outside.
Muli is an abbreviation that is usually used to refer to the mule.
Horse Whispering: Are donkeys stubborn? Or: are mules stubborn?
Dana Santana: No. This is just a widespread prejudice and is due to the behavior of the donkey part in dangerous situations: While horses fall back on their escape reflex, donkeys first evaluate the situation. They assess their counterparts and then decide whether they have to fight as a defensive measure. They also show this behavior in new situations or during training. These moments of reflection and evaluation are then misinterpreted by people as stubbornness. During this time the mule cannot be moved either. It's still thinking.
Mulis and breeding - is that possible?
Horse Whispering: Can you breed with mules? I mean to know that they cannot reproduce at all?
Dana Santana: Exactly, actually you can't breed with mules because they are sterile. However, there are rare exceptions in which mule mares have given birth to foals. Muli-stallions are always incapable of procreation. Muli-mares, however, become stony and the hormone levels of muli-stallions develop like horses, which is why they are easier to handle as geldings.
Horse Whispering: Why are mules sterile?
Dana Santana: This is because donkeys and horses have different numbers of chromosome sets. While donkeys have 62 chromosomes in 31 pairs, the horse has 64 chromosomes in 32 pairs. If a mule arises from this connection, it receives 63 chromosomes that are not paired. Therefore it is - with rare exceptions - not reproductive.
Horse Whispering: There are different breeds of horses - are there also different mule breeds?
Dana Santana: In Germany there are still no real multi-breeds like horses. Often they are more of a pasture accident. In other countries, however, there are already specific breeds: For example, the Swiss love to breed stocky cold-blooded mules with their Freibergers, while the Brazilians and Spaniards specialize in very noble, large mules with a lot of blood. Gang mulis are also bred in the USA with special gang socks and Missouri Fox Trotters. But there are no worldwide breeding registers for mule breeds.
Muli or horse - the training
Horse Whispering: Can you do everything with mules that you do with a horse?
Dana Santana: Basically yes: In the USA, mules have been taking part in dressage tournaments for a long time. You can also jump very high from a standing position. The world record is currently 1.80 m! Corresponding competitions are held in the so-called Mule Jump.
In the UK, the Muli Wallace even won a dressage competition in 2018 after initially being banned from the event.
In Switzerland and Germany, however, mules are more likely to be found in the recreational or endurance rider area. Some also hike with their mules because they can carry heavy loads (the so-called hemming). Many carriage drivers also take a liking to mules. And because of their strength, some even use them for backing wood in the forest.
Horse Whispering: Horsemanship or click - what is more what for the mule?
Dana Santana: Both are possible. Personally, I don't like clicking that much, but I have a lot of horsemanship experience. That's why I tend to use elements from horsemanship. Of course, I also have cookies for reinforcement. Other multi-owners also successfully use clickers.
Horse Whispering: How do I have to adapt if I want to switch from horse to mule?
Dana Santana: That depends on where you stand: If you already have a relaxed, open inner attitude and humor, you don't have to change a lot. If you also have fun on excursions in the countryside or in a carriage ride, a mule is an excellent fit.
However, if you still have an attitude according to which equidae have nothing to say and then want to train through a lot of constant pressure, you will not have any fun with a mule and should not get one.
Horse Whispering: Do I then have to train or train a mule differently than a horse?
Dana Santana: In a horse world in which horses are already fully ridden at 2 or 3 years of age, mules are considered to be late developers. However, if you look at their life expectancy of 40 years or more, starting with, for example, 6 years or more is not really late. Personally, I always wait until the animal is ready anyway.
There is the saying: Mulis got to you treat the way horses are treated should. With outdated training methods, which are based on increasing the pressure up to violence and recurring repetitions, you won't get very far with the mule. Due to their strength and intelligence, they are able to physically withdraw and do so if they consider it necessary. They take good care of themselves and are less likely to be overwhelmed than horses.
Personally, I have been training horses for years the way I think mules should be trained: I see their potential and I am enthusiastic. Therefore I praise a lot! I am very clear and have a vision. Then I see which small sub-goals we can achieve together today - depending on the daily form - and what the animal would like to contribute. I take a lot of breaks and give me a lot of space to think. If something doesn't work, I question myself.
Due to their physique, mules are able to carry more loads than horses. I have already discussed the question of how much muscular training the mule needs to keep it healthy for a long time with some mule owners. I train my now 4-year-old multi-mare just like I train any horse: At home with a mix of pole training, transitions, lunging and easy side movements. And also a lot in the terrain over tree trunks and uphill and downhill.
Extreme trails are great for mules! They score with their surefootedness and they also have a lot of fun on this challenging terrain.
Horse Whispering: Horses “mirror us” and thereby also help us advance as personalities - how is it with mules?
Dana Santana: It's the same with mules, only - depending on your personality - a little more challenging. If you want to work with a mule, you should have gone a long way on your path of personal development! 20 years ago I would have failed because of a mule with my attitude and attitude towards horses.
While the equestrian world is only just discussing whether horses can also say “no”, mules do it naturally. And you have to be able to deal with that as a person.
Horse Whispering: What makes training with the Muli so special?
Dana Santana: There is the following saying, which in my experience fits well: “You can order a horse, you have to convince a donkey and you have to negotiate with a mule”. When going for a walk, for example, there are always situations in which Mule Jule asks whether we can look at the entrance to the courtyard or at least turn into the pasture. Then she stops. Then we have to explain that we cannot visit every private driveway and then we negotiate. After careful consideration and a good offer (e.g. the prospect of a biscuit in the stall), she comes back with you. At first I was mentally stressed by the possibility that it would stop and I could not move it. Then the fear of loss of control, which every rider knows well, came through. In the meantime, I remain completely calm and even enjoy our discussions: We just make decisions together. Or sometimes one, sometimes the other. As in a real relationship, everyone has their strengths and preferences and everyone can decide what is done.
Even when leading, mules naturally run over the outer shoulder in the other direction if they want to explore something there. With this leverage, you have great power. Once they have learned that they can pull people around, they may also use it to go their own way. That's why I consistently trained a fine rear hand turn from the start.
Because of their intelligence, they learn very quickly. Sometimes they need more time than a horse to think about an exercise or situation - as is typical of a donkey. You have to know this, plan it in if necessary (e.g. at the farrier or visit the vet) and be patient.
In my opinion, the most important thing is the mental level. In my seminars with riders I see again and again what is particularly noticeable in training with my mule: we humans really have to be completely there. Mules are less tolerant than horses. If you are full of stress, fears or worries, the mule may go its own way.
The second thing you can learn from mules is to let go. If you approach things with an attitude of “this has to be done”, it won't work with the mule. In response to anger and anger, they can stop, run away or respond to resistance. If something doesn't work, you have to think about how to better explain it to the mule. In doing so, you often move out of your own comfort zone and learn to rethink.
The language of mules is more subtle than that of horses. Mulis therefore also teach us to look more closely and to feel more finely. But if you don't know or overlook this, you are crossing important limits. This can lead to excessive demands or refusal on the part of the mule.
Mulis riding - these are the facts
Horse Whispering: How “safe” are mules as mounts - so: are they more relaxed than horses?
Dana Santana: Basically, mules are considered more relaxed. On the other hand, they also make their own decisions and take care of themselves. If they come to the conclusion that there is imminent danger, they turn around in a flash and run in the other direction.
In my experience, however, the escape route is significantly shorter than with horses. My mule remains more dispassionate and less panicky than a horse. After a few meters it stops or even comes back. In order to minimize such moments, a focus of your training is additional serenity training.
Horse Whispering: What is the difference between riding a mule and riding a horse?
Dana Santana: As with horses, it depends a lot on the parents, of course. Overall, however, they are comfortable to sit on. Large-framed movement like that of a purposefully bred dressage horse is not to be expected. They prefer to explore the area for hours at a walk, but of course they are also available for trot or gallop sections.
They don't like constant repetitions and little new in training. But if you as a rider make the training varied or go off-road a lot, they are happy to be there.
While horses like to go back to the stable in the field, mules love to go further and further. If I let my mule decide where to go, we will get further and further away from the stable.
Some mules do not accept a bit, so many mules are ridden bitless. The saddle theme can also be difficult. Since the shoulder movements of the mule are more vertical than those of the horse, it is very important that the saddle does not slip on the shoulder. Since the shoulders are often less pronounced in the mule, this can easily happen. Multi-riders therefore often use western, military or distance saddles. In mountainous regions, the front and rear legs are also required so that the saddle stays in place. Or you can have a saddle made to measure.
Horse Whispering: Can you ride mules in all disciplines - from Western to English - from dressage to jumping?
Dana Santana: Basically yes. Due to their character and their preferences, they are in good hands with the growing group of recreational riders who value a friendly relationship with their equine and who like to do a training mix.
Buy Muli - where and how?
Horse Whispering: If I want to buy a mule - where can I find mules and is there anything to consider when buying?
Dana Santana: In Germany, mules of various sizes and age groups are offered in the relevant horse exchanges from time to time. Mules are also handed in in multi-groups on Facebook or in the Maulitierforum. Small mules are generally offered more often, sometimes even given away. These are then suitable for children or for taking a carriage ride.
Large mules that adults can ride on are much less common, which often makes the buying process tedious.I personally looked at about 10 mules before I found my Mule Jule.
There are significantly more large mules in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Holland and Spain. If you want to buy a Muli abroad, you should have someone on site or go there yourself. With the Spaniards it is unfortunately customary to train mules early and there is no stopping at the use of sharp bridles and violence. Regaining the trust of such a pre-stressed mule is a lengthy process and not recommended for beginners. For Spain, I can recommend the German-speaking Iris Schneider from Extremaduramules (contactable via Facebook). With a lot of experience, she patiently and lovingly trains mules or helps to find the right mule on site.
In Germany, mules are specifically bred at the Melchert riding stables.
Before you carelessly make a decision for the next 40 years, however, you should get to know mules best. This is possible on a trek with Julia Krüger from Albmuli.de. She currently has a herd of 14 mules and is very knowledgeable about mules.
Muli posture and feed
Horse Whispering: Do you have to hold a mule differently?
Dana Santana: It's like with horses: open stables or paddock trails are best. Definitely in the company of horses or mules. A donkey buddy, sheep or the like is not suitable!
Horse Whispering: How are mules in the herd? So: typical mule behavior?
Dana Santana: In general, mules are easy to integrate, as they place a little less value on ranking than horses. There are of course exceptions and a Muliwallach may try to climb up more than a mare.
My mule broke a lot during the integration phase, which, in the experience of Julia Krüger, who owns over 14 mules, is also an integration measure. When there is stress, my mare goes away first. At the same time she is persistent and asks again and again whether she can come closer now.
On the first day she stood next door on a separate paddock. In the evening, however, she integrated herself into the herd over the fence. Attempts to bring them back have failed. She was just ready. Since then she has been standing relaxed in the herd and likes to play with the geldings.
My mule neighs more than horses, but not as often as a donkey. The mix of donkey and horse is also noticeable when neighing and puts you in a good mood!
Horse Whispering: Mule feeding - are there any special features?
Dana Santana: Mulis love to eat herbs and branches! During walks it is very exciting to see that my horse prefers to eat grass, while my mule likes to look for different herbs and branches depending on the season. Often I also have to research whether she is even allowed to eat one or the other. At the moment she loves moss and sticky herb, for example.
So that diseases do not arise in the first place, horses and mules should be treated and kept like animals with metabolic disorders, according to my very personal assessment. For me, that means good hay as a basic food, sugar-free supplementary feed or herbs, lots of exercise and meadows that are as rich in herbs as possible and, if necessary, only limited grazing.
Horse whisper: Thanks for the interview and for sharing your knowledge with us.
Who is our interview partner?
Dana Santana Goetze has been a horse trainer for many years and has also been a personal development coach for over 10 years. That is why she not only works with the body, but also with the head and heart.
Your credo: “In particular, what we think, our convictions and the feelings that go with them determine whether we can implement something. That's why I always concentrate on all three levels in my seminars: mental, emotional and physical. "
From this she developed what is known as 3D riding - you can find more information about her special method on her website: 3d-reiten.de
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