A mule is the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. (A hinny is the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse).
While the exact origin of the first mule is unknown, it was deliberately bred by man in ancient times, possibly first by the inhabitants of what is now northern Turkey. Mules were documented in Egypt around 1300 BC, and Homer mentioned mules in The Iliad in 800 BC. Explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World with four donkey jacks and two jennies, along with a number of horses, and in the 1700s, General George Washington became a prominent mule breeder.
Their numbers in America were flourishing in the 1900s, but the arrival of engine-powered vehicles eliminated the need for mules in agriculture and the population decreased drastically. Mules continue to be used as beasts of burden all over the world.
The main distinguishing features of mules are their long, large ears, short erect manes, and a voice that begins like a whinny and ends in a ‘hee-haw’ sound. Body type is generally horse-like and can range from draft-type, quarter horse-type, pony type and a finer-boned athletic type.
Mules tend to be very smart and quick learners. Their common sense comes with a strong sense of self-preservation which can be misinterpreted as stubbornness. Mules are sure-footed, tough, and possess plenty of stamina.
A mule can come in any coat colour or pattern, but they often have a lighter belly and muzzle. Mules, both male and female, are sterile and cannot reproduce.
Mules are used for plowing, logging, trail riding, and as pack animals. They are increasingly seen at traditional horse shows competing in a variety of events including dressage, jumping, driving and obstacle classes.