"Stubborn as a mule." "Work like a mule." "Work like a donkey."
"Don't be a donkey's ass." "Sure-footed as a mule." "Sure-footed as a donkey."
"Aren't they the same?"
You've heard each of the above, I am sure. Let me start with this: THEY ARE NOT THE SAME. And I'm here to give you some truths about both. Why? Because I can. Because a mule named Theodore features greatly in The Good Time Girls and he would take umbrage should you call him a donkey or Jack. As you can see, a donkey looks like a donkey (or burro) and a mule looks like a horse. Sort of. Bigger ears, bigger head, bigger stubborn streak. They do have some things in common, though.
Genetic Origins: Both donkeys and mules belong to the Equidae family, which also includes horses and zebras. Donkeys (Equus africanus asinus) are a distinct species, while mules are hybrid offspring resulting from the crossbreeding of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare).
Hardy and Resilient: Donkeys and mules share a remarkable level of toughness, adapting well to harsh and arid environments. They have evolved to withstand extreme temperatures, require minimal food and water, and possess strong hooves that are highly resistant to diseases.
Longevity: Both donkeys and mules tend to live longer than horses. While the average lifespan of a donkey ranges from 25 to 35 years, mules often surpass the age of 40. Their longevity can be attributed to their hardy nature and ability to thrive in challenging conditions.
Intelligence and Loyalty: Donkeys and mules are renowned for their intelligence and remarkable memory. Once they trust their human handlers, they form deep bonds and exhibit unwavering loyalty.
Street Smarts: They have a strong sense of self-preservation, often displaying caution and alertness. Or the ‘stubborn as a mule’ tag. If they think something is dangerous, they won’t go forward no matter what you request. They make also jump thirty feet to the side and knock you on your behind if you’re not watchful.
Physical Characteristics: Donkeys are typically smaller in size compared to horses, standing at around 36 to 48 inches (91 to 122 cm) at the shoulder. They have long ears, a stocky build, and a bristly mane. In contrast, mules inherit a combination of physical traits from both donkeys and horses. They are generally larger than donkeys and possess a horse-like body, with shorter ears compared to their donkey parent.
Reproduction and Sterility: One significant difference between donkeys and mules lies in their reproductive abilities. Donkeys can reproduce amongst themselves and with horses, producing offspring known as "hinny" when bred with a female horse. However, mules are almost always sterile, meaning they are unable to produce offspring of their own. This characteristic contributes to their rarity and adds to their appeal as unique animals.
Work Abilities: Donkeys have been used as working animals for centuries. Their strong muscles, endurance, and ability to carry heavy loads make them ideal for tasks such as transporting goods and working in agriculture. Mules, on the other hand, inherit the best of both worlds. They possess the strength and endurance of their donkey parent, combined with the agility, speed, and willingness to work associated with horses. As a result, mules have been highly valued for their versatility and have been used in various fields, including agriculture, transportation, and recreational activities.
Jack (or Jackass): Male donkey
Jenny (or Jennet): Female donkey
John: Male mule
Molly: (Female mule)
Fun Fact: George Washington and His Mules
When we think of George Washington, the first President of the United States, we often associate him with his military leadership, statesmanship, and his iconic estate, Mount Vernon. However, there is another aspect of Washington's life that often goes unnoticed—the crucial role that mules played on his plantation. He loved mules. He considered them superior to horses in every way, what with their adaptability and smarts and strength.
At Mount Vernon, mules were primarily used for agricultural purposes. They plowed fields, pulled carts laden with crops, and transported heavy loads of harvested goods. With their ability to navigate challenging terrain and their resilience, mules played a vital role in ensuring the success of Washington's agricultural endeavors. During the American Revolutionary War, mules played a critical role in supplying Washington's army. They were used to transport food, ammunition, and supplies to troops, often in challenging and treacherous conditions.
Washington actively sought to improve their quality through selective breeding. He imported Spanish jacks (male donkeys) to mate with his mares, aiming to produce larger and stronger mules. Washington's efforts contributed to the development of superior mules, which were sought after by others in the burgeoning nation. PS - The image above is Mammoth - a mule from the Washington line of mules.
When I was growing up, an old black and white photo hung on the wall of my grandfather plowing a Kansas field with his trusty mule. When my mother walked by it, she'd say, "That's a mule's ass." I chose not pursue more clarity on the comment.
I love mules, and my affection for them is steadfast - or "Stubborn as a mule."
K.T. Blakemore grew up in the United States West and never left. THE GOOD TIME GIRLS is the first in the Wild-Willed Women of the West Series, featuring women who take no prisoners and succeed through sheer grit, determination, and a parcel of luck. (PS - a new cover is coming...and you are the first to see a sneak peek of it.)
Her award-winning historical suspense and young adult historical fiction, written under the pen name Kim Taylor Blakemore, has been awarded a Silver Falchion Award, Tucson Festival of Book Literary Award, and a WILLA Award for Best YA Fiction.
In addition to writing, she runs the Novelitics ranch, which provides developmental editing and workshops to novelists. She teaches editing and craft workshops to writing groups around the United States and Canada.
She has hung her hat in California, Colorado, and currently the Pacific Northwest. The rain does not deter her research whether it be train timetables from 1905 or the best way to catch a loose horse.
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