Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breeding For A Mule?

by Lisa Fergason, Equines by Design, Sanger, Texas

Reprinted from the January 1997 issue of Mules and More

Do you want to raise a good mule colt? By good, I mean a mule that possesses a pleasant, willing disposition and conformation that allows him to be sound and athletic for his use as a saddle animal. Of course you will have preferences as to the breed type, size and color of the mule you are creating, but there are basic qualities that your hybrid offspring will need to get from his parents, the jack and the mare.

When choosing a mare to raise a nice saddle mule from, first and foremost should be the disposition of the mare. The offspring will inherit a tendency toward his parents' disposition. In addition, the mule colt will spend his first six months of life learning from his mother and imitating her behavior toward people and her reaction to situations. Your mule colt needs a good role model, choose a mare that is a pleasure to be around.

It seems important to me to look for a mare that is strong in conformation traits that donkeys lack in for use as a saddle animal. Typical donkey conformation is weak through the back, consequently the hip and shoulder which tie into the back also suffer structurally. A long back is a weak back...for example, think of a two-by-four piece of lumber, the longer it is, the easier it is to bow it down with weight. A longbacked animal characteristically will also have a short, straight shoulder and slight hip. So my priority in looking for a mule mother would be one that is strong through 1) the back (a short back and loin for strength), 2) the hip (strong hindquarters with a long croup for power and 3) a long sloping shoulder for smooth gaits. These conformation qualities will contribute to a mule's ability to perform athletically and with a continued soundness.

Look for a mare with a good length to her neck and a narrow throatlatch. The disadvantage of a short, thick neck (common in donkeys) is that it will be very hard to pull their head around if you need to, for training purposes or to stop a runaway in an emergency. A long, slender neck with a narrow throatlatch allows for much more flexibility and balance.
I also look for a mare that is low in the hocks--donkeys tend to be very high-hocked. Performance horse trainers will agree that a low hocked horse will be much more handy in getting down on their back end as in a cutting horse or a reiner and that the lower hocked horses are prettier movers, they move up underneath themselves and are easier to collect. Of course, straight legs are important and will prevent future unsoundness. 

After all the above qualities are met, I hope to find that the mare has a pretty head. I admit this for aesthetic reasons--it doesn't affect how well the mule will serve as a riding animal and companion--but it sure makes the animal easier to look at. Especially stay away from a mare with a Roman nose or pig eyes.

I really feel that breeding a mare destined to be a broodmare for a mule colt her first breeding is a good idea. The maiden mare should have less trouble foaling as mule foals seem to be smaller (more narrow frame) and vigorous from horse colts.

When you make the decision to breed for a mule colt--you owe it to the resultant mule and reputation of mules everywhere--to use a good mare that will throw a good mule colt. Please, let's stop using a mare to raise a mule from because she isn't good enough to raise a horse colt from--the outcome of this contributes to the stigma that mules have been trying to overcome for years.

There are plenty of good mares out there--use them to produce GOOD mules.

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