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Save Your Ass Rescue Does Just That!

Published: 4/12/2010
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By Maddy Butcher

My recent fascination with mules came after reading an article by Susan Orlean in the New Yorker magazine, of all places.

In it, Orlean wrote humorously about the differences between mules and their more popular equine compatriots. Click here for abstract.

To paraphrase: Mules think. Horses don’t.

I remembered meeting several mules while working summers in Montana. Then, too, they seemed to be --  shall we say -- more deliberate than horses.

I read elsewhere that folks are strongly discouraged from bringing horses down into the Grand Canyon. There are rickety bridge crossings and perpetual steep dropoffs to negotiate. Donkeys are ok. Mules are ok. Horses are not ok.

Readers have been boasting about their mules and donkeys. How they so prefer them to horse s. And anyway, who can resist those faces? Those ears? Those eyes?

So, I got curious and I started scouring the Internet for more local, rescue-oriented information.

When I stumbled across Save Your Ass long eared rescue in South Acworth, New Hampshire, I said to myself, “Road Trip!”

Click here for video feature by NH television.

President Ann Firestone and Vice President Lillian Fillimore greeted us at the well-tended facility. It's way up in the hills, about 55 miles west of Manchester and 10 miles from the Vermont border.

They have nine long-ears at the moment and can accommodate up to 12. Some of their charges come from owner surrenders. Some come, directly or indirectly, from auctions.

I met a wonderful mule named Marlin. His mom was a Belgian. His dad was a mammoth donkey. He looks like what a Golden retriever might look like if it was a mule. Firestone told me he's got the personality of a friendly, lovable dog, too. He likes to hang out with folks.

Marlin is taking dressage lessons with Ann and Lillian at a farm up the road.

I learned a few things about donkeys and mules:

Mini donkeys are under 36 inches.
Standard donkeys are between 36 and 56 inches.
Mammoth donkeys are over 56 inches or 14 hands.

Horses have 64 chromosomes. Donkeys have 62. When they are bred, the offspring has 63 chromosomes and is sterile. A horse mom and donkey dad makes for a mule. A horse dad and a donkey mom is less common (their pregnancies tend to be less viable, said Firestone) and called a hinny.

One obstacle is acquiring a long-eared after owning horses is having the right gear.
I mean, where are the withers?

Fillimore told me many English saddles, especially the treeless and synthetic saddles, tend to fit all right. Otherwise, be prepared to ride with a breast plate and cruper!

From "The Revolution in Horsemanship," by Dr. Robert Miller and Rick Lamb:

To understand the mule, you must understand both the horse and the donkey.
Remember that the horse evolved on the grassy plains with flight as its primary survival mechanism. When frightened, the horse's instinct is to run first and think later (if at all) from a same distance.
...Donkeys evolved in rocky, precipitous terrain where blind flight could be fatal. The donkey thus learned to freeze when frightened and wait to see what happened next. He might end up running away, but it is just as likely that he would stand his ground and even fight when threatened.
...Now consider the mule. The mule may run when frightened, but it won't run blindly.
Said Pat Parelli: Mules separate artistic trainers from crude trainers. They won't tolerate injustice, whereas most horses will."

Mules Do Not Suffer Fools.
Push a mule too hard or too fast, and you will find out in no uncertain terms that you have made a mistake. The mule remembers your mistakes. You might even call it holding a grudge.
Because of the influence of the donkey, the mule has a more analytical brain than does the horse. He will not do something we ask him to do unless he believes that it is the safe and right thing to do. You have to give him time to reach that decision.
It is much harder with a mule to get that surrender, that submission to our leadership. The mule is not willing to suppress his own survival instinct just because some human asks him to.
Mules thus represent a greater training challenge than horses. A good horse trainer isn't automatically a good mule trainer. But the reverse is nearly always true: a good mule trainer makes a great horse trainer.

View Reader Comments:

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4/13/2010 Ann and Lil
Great write up Maddy! It was so wonderful to meet and talk with you. Be in touch and come visit any time!
4/13/2010 Stasia
SYA is a wonderful rescue and adoption program. I encourage your readers to help their ongoing work with a tax-deductible donation. I have been a fan and supporter of their efforts for many years.
4/13/2010 alan
Great story. I love mules, ever since I met Bill, the mule guy in Valley Ford, CA. His mule, J.D., was a very friendly, smart, handsome ride. I'm familiar with SYA through Facebook. I make occasional donations through PayPal. They are a wonderful 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Thanks for the story.
4/13/2010 JoAnnie
What a great article! SYA is the best organization, with the BEST people in the world.
4/23/2010 Donna Runnels
This is so true and is such a great explanation of donkeys vs. horses vs. mules. I've had all three and prefer a good mule, but they're hard to find.
4/24/2010 Lee
When you have a mule you have a partnership instead of just an ownership. The mule learns to trust and forms a bond with you. SYA does their best to find new homes for longears that are truly deserving of a fresh start. Bless them for all they do, support them so they can continue.
11/3/2010 A
These people are saints, they helped me in my time of need and helped me find a great home for my donkey, I can't thank them enough!
1/27/2011 Circlekfarm
I have owned a mule for 3 years and I am still learning everyday what works and how to make the most of our relationship. So very different from 30 years of horse ownership!
7/18/2013 Laureen
I HAVE A MUSTANG MULE! She was supposedly born in the holding pens, and auctioned by the BLM over the internet - I was the only person that bid on her. She is a 2yo red dun with a dorsal stripe and stripes on her knees and hocks. After 8 weeks,we can already have her feet trimmed, lead her everywhere, trailer load, etc. I love her. Of course, when I went to the pick up location to get her, I wound up adopting a baby burro too! Now there is one you cannot get out of your pocket!
7/19/2013 Lynne
What a great story! I, too, have a love for mules - born of my first Grand Canyon mule ride, when I met a mule named Phyllis, who took great care of me every step of the way. That ride changed my life! It has been my pleasure and privilege to share my life with several rescue mules, several of whom spent their last years with me. I have a pony rescue mule right now, and hope that there is a saddle mule in my future!!
9/6/2016 pooja
This is so true and is such a great explanation of donkeys vs. horsess

"A canter is the cure for every evil" - Benjamin Disraeli, The Young Duke