5 Key Questions to Help Identify and Be Effective with Your Mule

The reason for this article is to bring awareness, identify and build safety.  We hear the talk from people either at the clinics, when they come to our place for lessons, when they bring in training stock or when they are looking to buy an animal and they are not sure where to start or what to do.  These are 5 questions you would want to consider when evaluating what you have or what you are going to buy.  We must take an honest look at ourselves, our stock and our situation.  It can be a tough thing to do and it is one of the most important.   


  • How to Determine a Starting Point for Choosing the Right Mule?

Shopping for a mule, horse or donkey can be a difficult task.  Where do you start?  For me there are two arears that I would first want to think about when I begin looking for a mule, horse or donkey.  

First, I would identify my skill level and expertise to know how I would be able to support my mule or them me.  For example, if I were a green rider with little to no experience, I would want a mule that would be able to help me learn to be a better rider and be safe at the same time.  A mule that would allow me to make mistakes and not get into trouble.  If I were more advanced in my education and could handle a green or troubled animal that would be something to think about.  Also, you not only should look at your skill level and expertise, but what are you willing to work with?  Do you want to learn more to be able to support the animal you have or are you content with knowing what you know? 

Then, I would want to consider what “type” of mule I wanted.  A riding mule, a driving mule, a show mule, pack mule, pet or all the above.  I would think about height, age, color, breed, John, or Molly mule, etc.  It’s like shopping for a car.  You want to find something that would fit your specific specifications, your needs and your wants, as well as compatibility.  

For example, I wouldn’t go out a buy a bright neon green commuter car, that doesn’t have 4-wheel drive or won’t pull a trailer.  It wouldn’t fit my needs or wants nor my lifestyle.  Same for a mule.  I wouldn’t go out a buy a 17hh thoroughbred mule that is a three-time World Champion Hunter Jumper.  It wouldn’t fit my needs or wants or compatibility, plus I couldn’t rope without a horn and I would look funny in those britches.  I do not ride English, although it is a great discipline and I appreciate that style, it’s simply just doesn’t fit my needs. 

Once I’ve narrowed down these few specifications and found animals that fit with in these specifications, I would then look deeper into soundness, overall behavior, how do they ride or work.  And MOST importantly I always think about safety, for myself and my stock.              


  • How to Determine if Your Mule Needs Training?

Well, ask yourself questions.  Is my mule good to catch, does they lead soft, stands quiet, not spooky, good with their feet, good to tie, good to trailer?  Do you feel you can walk, trot and lope while being safe under all conditions?  Then ask yourself, do they do these things all the time, without hesitation, without a hiccup or flaw?  Or do they sometimes do them?  Or do you find yourself saying “they always do them except for when”.  For example, “they always load in the trailer great, except for when their buddy doesn’t go with them”. Or “they always stand quiet except for when it’s feeding time”.  These are questions that we as the mule owner must look at and answer with an honest response.  

For me, the “except for when” and the “sometimes” statements for me mean they don’t do them, period.  If they did them, they would always do them and in any situation.  I am not trying to say your animals are all misbehaved, untrained wild beast, but I am saying they can be better.  

I am a firm believer that every mule, horse, donkey and human can benefit from training.  No matter what our skill level or animals’ skill level, I believe that we can always perfect and build on our skills and expertise.  I believe George Burns once said “do your best and never let it rest, do your best better and your better best”.  

When we talk about training it doesn’t necessarily mean fixing a problem or teaching them something new, it can be perfecting what they or you already know.  I think that we ALL need to learn and advance in our education every chance we can get.  You’ll never know the answers to these questions if you never learn yourself or advance yourself beyond what you already know.  I study every day and I am always thinking about getting better.  Let’s go Beyond Green!!    


  • Can I Succeed by Myself?

I think we can succeed by ourselves if we put ourselves in successful situations.  Meaning you fit the situation and you are not over mounted or out of your playing field.  I feel that there are three types of animals, A, B and C and three types of riders, A, B and C.  

“A” animal anybody can ride.  They are safe as humanly possible.  They’re good for grandma’s and kids under 5.  They learn without resistance, can tolerate inaccurate timing and are forgiving of mistakes.  And they are hard to find!  

“A” rider is a new, inexperience, green rider that needs to be safe at all times.

“B” animal needs a little support.  It is an animal that rides well in and out of the arena but needs a little bit of support from the rider.  They handle things fairly well and can tolerate some errors but do need support to not fall apart.  They can be resistant to the lesson at first and with time and good support they can make the change.     

“B” rider is intermediate rider.  Has ridden quite a bit, learned a few things, is willing to take some time to fix or help their animal succeed and learn.  Has fairly good balance and can ride with confidence.  

“C” animal is be cautious.  They are always alert, spooky, nervous, braced and have a high flight response.  The need constant support to hold it together.  They are not for the beginner.      

“C” rider is a very experience rider.  Someone that has the tools to help the animal in the areas they need.  Studies and learns more every day.

Now to go back and answer the question “Can I succeed by myself” you’d have to honestly assess your situation, your mule and your skill level.  If you are an “A” rider you would be safe/successful on an “A” animal and not so much on a “B” animal and you could get in trouble with the “C” animal.  If you are a “B” rider, the “A” animal would be easy, and you would be confident on the “B” animal and you would be somewhat successful on the “C” animal.  If you are a “C” rider you’d be able to succeed and help with an “A”, “B” or “C” animal.  

I feel that you can succeed with your animal if you are set up for a successful situation.  In saying that it goes back to question 2, Determining if your mule and you need training.  Fit the situation and know how you can be successful.   


  • How to Identify What is Best for You and Your Mule?

If you look back at the previous questions and you now have a better idea of the type of mule your looking for or have, if you need or want training and what type of mule and rider you are, you can better understand what fits best for you and your mule.  For example if you are looking for a ranch type mule for ranch work, ranch versatility shows, or tail competition or simply riding down the trail for pleasure you should have a better idea if that fits you and your mules needs, wants and compatibility.  

If you have a mule that is built in conformation and disposition for ranch work and you like that type of riding, you’re good to go.  Or if you like riding Hunter Jumpers or Dressage and you have a mule that fits your specifications for those needs, wants and compatibility, you’re good to go.  

Now, don’t misunderstand me, you don’t have to have a specific type of mule that fits every specification for that specific discipline to do what’s best for you and your mule.  I am simply saying you must decide what is best for you, your mule and your goals.  Pick an animal that suits your needs.  If you like a fast ride or want to work a cow or do dressage or have a leisure trail ride, pick an animal that will best fit that situation.  If you don’t have the animal that fits what you would like to do, might want to find something that will.  

For instance, in my younger years I’d liked to do the pulling competitions at Bishop Mule Days.  At the time I had a team that did alright in the competition and was a nice team to be around, but one of the mules kept giving me trouble.  I trained harder and harder to help him and he’d be good for a while, then he would come a part again.  He wouldn’t pull hard enough, or he would balk at the start, just not preforming up to standards.  One year I met Mr. Gene Martin, a man that I respected and was a great teamster.  I asked him his thoughts about my team and he simply said, “if you want a pulling mule, get ya a different mule, that one won’t pull”.  Meaning the one that I was struggling with.  

The next year I met up with Mr. Martin and I had a different mule.  It worked out great and I won the pulling.  Mr. Martin told me that year “a lot of people ask me every day for my advice, and they don’t take it.”  If I wanted a mule that would pull and be good in the hitch, I needed to get another mule.  I did keep him until he died at the age of 35, and he was a great saddle mule.  But I never used him in the hitch again.   


  • Identify and Know if You and Your Mule are a Good Match?  


After reading and thinking about all the above questions you should have a better understanding of what fits your needs.  You’ll have to seriously look at your skill level, your wants and your goals to find a good match.   


It’s hard when we get emotionally attached to our animals or when were looking at something that only looks good on the outside.  But we must seriously think what is best for us and them.  It’s not rude, it’s reality.  I’m not suggesting that you get rid of an animal that you own or like or had for a longtime, let’s just make good choices from here.  Get help from someone like I did from Mr. Martin and trust their guidance.  I strongly recommend as a great student to team up and go Beyond Green!!  A good student studies in class, a great student studies at home.  


You can call me @ (760) 403-3922 or email info@jerrytindell.com if you have any questions.  I’d be happy to help anyway I can.  


Always ride safe and enjoy every moment even when it is tough.  May God bless our country, families and friends. 

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