Buying A Mule: Should You Buy A Young Mule or An Experienced Mule

All the time, I get phone calls, and it says, “I want to buy a 12-year-old mule.” I say to them, “Why 12 years old?” “Well, he’s got lots of experience.” Well, so what does that mean? Does that mean that you can just ride the mule, that he’ll know what to do? Eh, wrong answer. Does it mean that it’s got lots of experience, so if he sees an elk on the side a mountain, he ain’t going to get scared? Wrong answer, eh. Oh, if he sees a bear on the trail, he’s not going to be afraid. Eh, wrong answer.

Folks, I don’t care if he has hauled out 100 elk out of the mountains if he’s chased around pigs and jumped fences. I don’t care how many times he’s been up and down the trails, hauled fat people, skinny people, whatever. It don’t make a bit of difference. You cannot put in the size of a nut, walnut. They have brains on each side. They have the cranial lobe, which tells the right side what the left side’s doing, left side what the right side’s doing, but the part that really handles the information is the size of a walnut. They cannot, it is impossible for them to remember everything.

What’s possible? Natural flight because of fright, flight because of fright. They are going to use that natural instinct of running off because it is the best way to keep them from being in a problem. Horses, mules and donkeys. Mule will run off just like the horse will, y’all. They’ll buck. They bite. They kick. They’re an equine. It is part of their life to help them protect themselves from what they perceive is a problem. Now, you’re at the Grand Canyon, you get one in behind the other, the mule doesn’t have to think. He’s done that, probably, several hundred times. That’s different. One in behind the other, you’re okay, pretty much. Do you still got to think once in a while? Yes, and that’s something to be considered, but think about this.

I have been at Yosemite packing freight, five mules behind me, and then, all of a sudden, my gelding I was riding, it’s all government mules, government horse, he looks up and sees a bear. This horse has been there for almost four years, seen lots of bears, lots of bears, lots of people. We’re going down the trail, five mules behind me, and next thing you know, this bear, young bear, comes down off of the hill and onto the same trail we’re on. Of course, all the mules’ ears are up. My riding horse is up. Everybody’s thinking, “Oh, man. Look, a bear.” What is the leader going to do? That leader is the horse. What’s he going to do? Whatever he does is what the mules are going to do because equines have a leader, herd leader.

Now, what was my horse doing? My horse was sucking back a little bit, thinking about turning, going the other way. Wait a minute. We’re on a narrow trail, probably as wide as my arms are long. It is straight off on the left-hand side, probably 1,000 feet, and it’s a big old gradual hill on the right-hand side. I don’t have a lot of places to go and, especially, turn around five mules and go the other way. Now, wait a minute. I got an experienced horse here that’s seen bears, mules that seen bears. Well, why isn’t he going on? Because it’s a different situation. It makes no difference. Every time you see something different, it’s going to be in a different place, different smell, different side of the mountain. Do you see what I’m saying? They’ve seen the bears. I’ve seen these bears looking over a fence and almost touch them going by, but it makes no difference. They’re an equine, flight and fright.

What do I do? I use my legs with my spurs, and I tap him right side, left side. I saying, “The right brain, go forward, left brain, go forward,” with my spurs. That makes where I’m at uncomfortable. That means, going forward, i.e., toward the bear, comfortable. Well, wait a minute. He’s uncomfortable. That’s right, but if you go ahead and don’t use your spurs, if you go ahead and try to do it with your hands and your seat, you are not going to have anything but a wreck. Well, wait a minute. I got an experienced horse. This horse was 12 years old, been at Yosemite a lot of years, been up and down this same trail.

Understand, if it wasn’t for me, the herd leader, communicating with my hands, my legs, and my seat, I would not be able to get that horse to go forward. I’d be running back through a bunch of mules, maybe a bunch of hikers and stuff. It’d be a mess, so I use my spurs, right brain, left brain with my spurs. Then, at the same time, I’m slapping my leg, and I got my dally rope around the horn and left hand on the reins, and I’m saying, “Hey, hey, bear. Get of out here. Hey, hey.” Man, that bear turns and takes off. This horse thinks, “Hey.” His head goes straight up, his ears go straight out, and he starts trotting toward this bear like, “Okay.” There we are. What would have happened if this 12-year-old horse would have turned and taken off? You’d have had a heck of a wreck, so age don’t mean nothing.

Let me tell you something else. On my ranch, when I was training mules and selling mules to sell … training them to sell, I would have three- to five-year-old mules. They had a foundation. They knew what turn on the forehand, turn on the hind quarters, side pass, stop, everything within a 10-foot circle. They knew how to have a foundation, controls. When I pick up on the rein, I got a whoa. I go to the right or left, I get turns. Okay? A three- to five-year-old, I am punching cows on the side of a mountain. A three- to five-year-old, I am chasing mountain lions with the dogs. A three- to five-year-old, I’m packing elk out of the mountains or deer.

Now, let me ask you something. Would you rather have one that is young, that has a good foundation, with no bad habits to speak of, or would you rather have a 12-year-old that’s probably got several bad habits? Why is it that, when they have a mule for sale, that this mule, they don’t tell you about the bad things? They tell you only about the good things. How many wrecks has he been in, for heaven’s sake? You see what I’m saying, folks? It makes no difference of age.

Now, it does make a difference in this, in that a mule matures at seven years old, roughly, in a general thought. The other thing is their knees need to be closed. You could either have a veterinarian do some X-rays on it, or I like to look and see if the knees are closed by if the hairs are still curly around the knees or if the hair is long. The best way, best way, is X-rays. Okay? Now, do I want to take a three- to a five-year-old and hammer him all the time up the side of a mountain moving cows and stuff? No. I’m going to give him a break. I’m going to ride him a day. He’s going to get three days off. I’m going to watch his temperature. I’m going to watch his breathing.

But guess what? I’m going to do the same thing with a 12-year-old. Yeah, their bones are more solid and this sort of thing, but few of them can handle a whole day of punching cows without rest. Usually, like at Yosemite, we had a couple riding horses, and we had our pack mules, and that’s what they give us. On ranches, when I go to work there, they’d have horses. They’d give me five horses. We rode them one day, give them three off, and we fed them accordingly.

Don’t go be looking for a 12-year-old with lots of experiences. Look for a mule that has a foundation. Pick up all the feet with ease. You can ride him within a 10-foot circle and see the mule stands still and quiet. You can see that when you get on. You can see the mule stands still and quiet when you saddle him and brushed him. You could see the mule back up on a light rein. You can see the mule go right and left. Let’s go at this. By the time he’s three years old, he should not be in a snaffle bit unless you are training. He should be in a finished bit. I got the videos out there for finished bit, and I can talk to you more about that, but look, folks, if you’re buying a finished mule, there’s not going to be two hands making them go. It’s going to be one hand, smooth and easy.

My video So You Want to Buy a Mule? that’ll help you out a lot. If you want to call me and ask me a question, be happy to. Remember, folks, make sure you get a vet check. Make sure that you have your dental vet look at him for dental work, and you make sure your farrier looks at him. Most of all, don’t let anybody tell you that this mule doesn’t need shoes. If any farrier is worth his weight at all, he’s going to see that contracted heels are going to be a big problem. That’s one of the biggest problems with mules. They have the donkey foot, and because they have that donkey foot, it gets contracted. It expands, it contracts. When the back of the hoof comes in small, that frog comes in narrow like this. The smaller the frog, the less the blood pumping up and down the leg. You got a small foot in the back, be careful, you got trouble. Besides that, it could take your farrier two to three years to get a contracted heel fixed. That’s why you see their legs so crooked.

Okay, folks. There you go. 12-year-old is fine if it’s got training, has a foundation. 20-year-old, fine if it’s got a foundation. All right? Hey, happy trails. Give me a call. Let me know what I can do to help. Come on, get on my website. Be happy to visit with you. My website is www.muleranch.com, or my email, steve@muleranch.com. You’ll also see me Instagram, Twitter, all that trick stuff. Give me a holler. Let me help you. Have a good one.