I’ll be up front and honest with you, I’ve never owned mules…but I’d like to. Like many people, I am convinced that a horse is handsomer and I guess that goes back all the way to Roy Rogers and his palomino, Trigger. That golden beauty that could do amazingly smart things and fly like the wind. Have you ever seen anything in the movies or on television starring an athletic, beautiful mule? Oh, sure, there was “Francis the Talking Mule”…but everyone knew it didn’t chase down villians.
As a longtime western writer and trail rider, I’ve watched mules and admired their solid, steady natures. I know that mules are the only critters I’d trust my life going up and down the steep sides of the Grand Canyon. But still and all there are those jack-rabbit ears and that big, coarse head and…the HEE-HAW thing.
Years ago I did a week-long mule ride up in the High Sierras around Yosemite and it left an impression that sticks thirty-five years later. We were riding these nice, sure footed trail mules and the wrangler had a handsome Quarter Horse leading the way. We came off a mountainside and rode down into a heavily shaded swale, our mules plodding along in single file, seeming to be daydreaming. Suddenly, the Quarter Horse went crazy and took off at a dead run straight into a pine tree. The wrangler somehow managed to hang on but he couldn’t get the horse under control because we’d stirred up a swarm of hornets.
I saw those hornets coming out of the leaves by the thousands and they were really…well, angry to put it politely. Now they started attacking the mules and each of us riders. It felt like hard, stinging ice pellets hitting us in the face, neck, arms and back. The mules were getting stung even worse than riders, but they did what mules do best…they lit out of there just as fast as they could run. Not one mule, unlike the wrangler’s impressive Quarter Horse, went crazy and while the wrangler was in danger of losing his life, I knew that my mule would not allow himself to get injured and therefore neither would I if I could stay on board.
Stung in at least twenty places, I hugged my mule and thanked him with all my heart for getting us out of a bad mess. And as I rode through the Sierras instead of thinking how silly those long ears looked, I considered how much brains and good sense they carried between them.
I’ve always thought you could judge a person best by how they reacted in an emergency. And that day I come to realize the same standard could be applied to mules…in an emergency, they will not make the situation worse. They are self-preservationists and if you are on them, you are fortunately part of that package.
I used to ride a friend’s retired Grand Canyon mule and she was named Molly. She was big, slow and sweet. I liked riding her a lot, except for the fact that she didn’t want to take the lead and so you had to be content riding directly behind whoever else you were with. Molly liked it that way…yet admittedly, sometimes I didn’t. You get tired of trying to carry on a conversation by yelling at someone’s back for hours, “Hey, up there, how is it going? Remember the time when….”
But Molly was an impressive gal and although probably pushing thirty, she was willing and still extremely sure-footed. I never turned down the chance to ride her.
I believe that mules need to be marketed as handsome or even pretty…elephants have huge ears and no one seems to hold that against them. The Mule Society or whoever ought to let people know that mules are far advanced in the brain-pan over horses. A public relations program could do wonders for the mule. After all, the cattlemen somehow convinced the public that Black Angus beef tasted better than Hereford beef…why couldn’t mule lovers they do the same extolling the virtues of mules over horses?
A handsome horse is like a beautiful sports car…it catches the eye and brings an admiring sigh. But a mule…well, they are more like a pickup truck…solid, dependable, good to have with lots of utility and value.
I still prefer the looks of horses, but we all have our hangups and shortcomings. Really, when it comes to temperament, brains, common sense and a deep in-grown atttitude of, “get me saddled and let’s get whatever it is that needs doin’ done!” I’ll take a mule any danged day.
I met John and Sena Hauer at a meeting of the Sun City Saddle Club in January of 2016. The forty-five year old riding club is a group of mostly retired folks who love trail riding during the cool desert months of October through early April. Being a horsemen accustomed to riding in the high country around Williams, Arizona on my own horses, I never thought that riding in the desert would be very much fun. Boy, was I ever wrong! Mostly, this club rides around Wickenburg, one of the oldest and most historic towns in Arizona with about 2,500 in altitude which gives it a slightly cooler climate.
The trails in this high-desert country are rough and rugged and riding among saguaro and octillo cactus with spectacular vistas more than compensates for the beauty of the quiet, mountain forests. On the narrow, rocky desert trails, a rider wants to know that their mount isn’t going to have a misstep that could result in getting impaled on a cactus. They need to be riding a very sure-footed animal to feel relaxed enjoy to enjoy those scenic vistas and there is no better animal to be riding than a mule.
But whether you’re on a good horse or a no-nonsense mule, when you ride the quiet trails far from the sights and sounds of America’s busy towns and cities, you’re guaranteed to be having a wonderful day.