Today, you can find mules and donkeys on Facebook Groups, classifieds, Craigslist, and at auctions. There is no shortage of options. What I want to talk to you about today is how to buy a mule or donkey on Craigslist or at an auction. Not all mules are equal and I don’t mean just different colors. Mules are unique from horses and I want you to know what to look for whether it is a mule or donkey you’re wanting to buy.
Now, for those folks who maybe are considering a mule or donkey over a horse, I want you to know you’re not alone. People from all around the world ask why they should consider a mule or donkey over a horse.
Maybe they’re thinking about buying one for themselves. Maybe they are looking for an experience to share with their children. Maybe they want the family to join in on the joy of caring for, training, and riding an equine and they’ve heard good things about the mule or the donkey. Yes, I want to tell you how to buy an animal at auction, but I also want you to know WHY these animals are amazing, first.
Before I get too far, if you’re already convinced that a mule is your next buddy, I want you to consider purchasing my instructional video, So You Want To Buy A Mule. In this video, I answer every one of the common questions folks want to know when they’re going to look at a mule they’re considering for purchase.
I’ll talk throughout this article about the mule and about the donkey. I use those two terms interchangeably almost always. There are some instances where the donkey is different than the mule — but for the most part, know that when I say mule, you can also read “donkey”.
Why Folks Choose the Mule and the Donkey
Everyone has different reasons for choosing the animal they do. For me, I encourage folks to choose the mule because they take care of themselves. The donkey is very self-sufficient and that is a trait passed along to the mule, too.
You can take a green mule and ride it on the side of a mountain and because of the way their brain works (which they get from the donkey) that mule can take care of himself along the cliff. That mule will go in and out of rocks, see danger in the future, and make a decision to avoid danger.
There is a downside to this, though.
The is IMPERATIVE that when you ride, you are the herd leader. The downside of this amazing benefit is that if you are not the herd leader, they will end up taking you wherever they want to take you. And boy, will they do that.
When it comes to being in the mountains, working, pulling wagons, packing… they’re strong and they are consistent. They are a well-rounded equine. Moreover, they’re a great all-around animal.
A Unique Animal that Stands Out and Catches the Eye
Folks in the equine community know that the market has bottomed out when it comes to horses. It’s been this way since 2008. So folks looked around and found that mules are something unique, something different. With an over saturated horse market, mule and donkey owners now have something no one else has and they have something they can show off!
The mule is a unique toy — very different. There are all these articles that say, “Mules are safe. Mules won’t hurt themselves. Mules won’t overeat. Mules wont…” and all of that sounds great. Mules become easy maintenance in their eyes. So now they have something they can show off, enjoy, and practically maintenance free.
Except it’s not the case.
Yes, the mule is unique. Yes, the donkey catches the eye. Yes, they are consistent. Yes, they are smart. And these are just a few reasons why folks seek out the mule.
But get this in your head — they are still an equine. They all buck. They all bite. They all kick. They all run off. They do it because they’re an equine.
So do not choose the mule because you heard someone say they’re maintenance free (they’re not). Choose a mule or donkey because they are smart, consistent, and hard working.
The Consistency Of A Mule or Donkey Over a Horse or Pony
Mules and donkeys are smart. They think about the next step they’re going to take before you do.
Just look at the Grand Canyon.
They do not ride horses down the walls of the Grand Canyon. Have you ever stopped to consider why? Consistency. Mules are more consistent and sure-footed than the horse. Horses will tend to blow up and go into fright and flight. This would be considered inconsistent behavior.
Fright and flight is normal for all equine. The equine is at the bottom of the food chain and that’s why they take off running or start to buck.
But the mule is more apt to stop and look at something and figure it out rather than get themselves into a jam. They handle the heat (weather) a lot easier. They can go up and down these mountains with ease and in the heat, too. They handle it pretty nicely.
They handle cool weather, too. Still with the Grand Canyon, it can get really cold! It was eight degrees below zero the last time I was there packing freight. Our team handled it wonderfully. They can take the cold weather, and even ice.
The surefootedness mentioned along the walls of the grand canyon, well, when they’re walking on ice, they’re very careful about how they put their feet on the ground because they can feel it give. You will see them take smaller steps as a result. They are very, very careful about taking care of themselves.
It still has to be said that the mule is part horse and that means that there will always be horse in him… just how much? That can vary from mule to mule.
Today, mules are being bred very well, but they’re breading for cow work or for cutting which is no good for the trail rider — the trail rider just wants to go down the trail.
Cow work is extremely fast moving and the horses have to think quickly. They also have entirely different muscle structures. In this scenario, the hip is going to be higher than the wither.
If we take a mule, bred from one of these horses, the mule will have a downhill hip — if we use him for riding it can be a problem. For a trail rider, we want the ride to be balanced and if the rider is always trying to stay on and keep the saddle in place, it’s no fun riding on the trail. So a downhill hip is going to cause you a lot of problems.
When you’re doing cow work, it’s extremely fast moving, the horses gotta think quick, and they have a different muscle structure. So the hip is higher than the wither. For a cutting horse person, they want to be down working the cow, moving it around. So the mule’s hip is higher.
Why do you need to know this? Because you need to know what is happening in the equine community and in the current breeding practices so you can know what you’re looking at when you are inspecting an animal for purchase.
Yes, There’s a Difference Between Mules and Donkeys
Now, a lot of people think that mules and donkeys are the same animal – they are not. They are both smart, calm, and hard working, but donkeys are descended from the African wild ass and were first bred about 5,000 years ago in Egypt. A mule is a hybrid, the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. A male horse and a female donkey produce a hinny, which is a bit smaller than a mule.
Your donkey can be a variety of sizes: miniature, standard, and mammoth. A donkey can reproduce and has 62 chromosomes. A mule can also be a variety of sizes, but it cannot reproduce because mules have 63 chromosomes.
Now let’s go back to this. The donkey doesn’t have the strength in the hip and the legs like a mule does. The mule gets their hip and leg strength from their mama, the horse.
Why does that matter? If the average trail rider went out for a six-hour ride on a donkey, the donkey would be pretty pooped by the time you got back. Not so with mules. The mules have a stronger back end and legs, yes, they do, and can go on longer trail rides.
Just like us, donkeys and mules can work out. If you and I were going to go on a long hike, we wouldn’t just wake up one day and go on a 20-mile hike. If we were smart, we would prepare ourselves to be ready for that hike, strength wise. So we’d be training. We’d be doing small walks, then longer ones to get ready for the big one.
Well, it’s the same thing with mules and donkeys. You can strengthen them so they can move longer. Start by going on short trail rides, then longer ones; build them up so they can handle 6-hour trail rides. Even with the trail riding training, the donkey really doesn’t have the ability to go on long trail rides and do well with it simply because of their muscle content.
Resist the Urge… Don’t Buy a Pretty Mule
I know, you want the prettiest mule or donkey you can find.
Trust me. That’s not what you want to look for when buying an equine.
You may end up with a pretty mule but there are a couple other things you may wind up with that you didn’t bargain for. Namely, an unwilling disposition and a poor conformation. In other words, a problem mule.
A lot of folks will look at how pretty she is. I have so many owners call me saying, “Oh, this is a really pretty mule, but…”
This is what I call a “But mule.”
He’s pretty, but… he has lots of bad habits and doesn’t work.
You want a mule or donkey with a good disposition.
What You Need to Look for When Buying a Mule
You want to buy a mule. You want a quality animal. You want an animal that you can work with and grow together with. Great decision.
You must look for disposition first. Disposition is really important and if you have a willing disposition you have the makings of a million dollar mule.
After conformation, you want to look for disposition. The disposition is how the mule is physically structured. Legs straight and an even back.
Finally, after disposition and conformation, you want to look for training. Training is VERY important. However, you don’t want to take their word for it. You want to be able to verify that the animal is trained.
In addition to the above, I always recommend a veterinarian check on your potential mule.
After confirmation, you look at the mule’s training, it’s very important, always check for that. The last thing you do is have a veterinarian check out your potential mule.
Disposition for a mule is the same as location for real estate… it is what it is. They say location, location, location… so we say, disposition, disposition, disposition.
Disposition is essentially the mule’s willingness to do the things you ask him to do. You want a mule that is thinking:
“Oh, you want me to pick up my foot? Okay!”
“You want me to stand still right here while you groom me? Sure!”
“I want to be near you. I want to do what you want me to do.”
You don’t want a mule that is moving around a lot and trying to get away from you. You want him easy to catch. When you walk up to him, he’s standing there, nice and quiet.
You can see a good deal about a mule’s disposition by asking the owner to brush it.
Does the mule seem to enjoy the grooming?
Is Mr. Mule standing there quietly?
Ask the other to put on the halter.
The mule should put his nose into the halter and, as the owner walks the mule on the lead rope, you want to see slack in the rope and the mule following the owner, not dragging.
A mule with a good disposition likes to be around people and is always willing. Just about anything you ask of the mule, even though you may not know how to ask it correctly, they’ll at least have some kind of try. In short, you want a willing nature.
If your potential mule won’t work with you and doesn’t like people, stop right there. Don’t go any further – keep looking.
After disposition, I want to look for conformation.
The mule gets his conformation, his structure, from his daddy, the donkey and his mama, the horse. Mr. Mule usually inherits the best traits from each of his parents.
Because mules are a hybrid equine, there isn’t a standard for conformation. Every mule is a little bit unique. Still, there are things you should be looking for when checking out a mule you might want to own.
When you’re looking at the mule, make sure that the head and neck are even with the rest of the body and in good proportion with the overall conformation. Make sure it doesn’t have a downhill hip, you want the back to be straight, the wither and hip the same height.
And just look for good confirmation: structurally strong bones, sound hooves, healthy teeth, good weight. The back legs should be straight and squarely placed
The front hoof should be round and the rear hoof oval. The wider the heel, the healthier the hoof! The hoof walls should be smooth, dense, and tough, with the heels broad and well separated by a large tough frog. Back hooves are usually smaller than the front and more oval shaped. Hooves should be sound and fit the mule’s proportions.
The downside of confirmation in mules is that they have their daddy’s bone structure, which is not a very straight bone structure. It’s very crooked. You could end up with a mule with a very tiny hip, more like the donkey, and they can’t handle a lot of trail riding, their lungs are small as well.
Unfortunately, when you look at the majority of mules, because they haven’t been maintained well as babies, their feet look like they’re turned out or they’re turned in. And that makes the legs crooked. And so, because they were not maintained as babies, now they’re paying the price later on as adults by having crooked legs.
You might think that having crooked legs would be painful. Yeah. It’s not the best thing in the world, especially if you’re competing. I can safely tell you that the downside is they wear shoes incorrectly.
Mules don’t show pain like we do. I mean, the mules brace into pain. They’re very solid and they get that all from the donkey. They can be literally collicking and you don’t know it until they hit the ground dead. They’re that sullen about that sort of thing.
Conformation is a major problem in saddle stability and general endurance. The downhill hip creates the biggest problem when it comes to saddles not staying in place and having the potential to slide forward.
I’m going to tell you probably 75% of the mules out there have extremely poor conformation, simply because of the way they’ve been taken care of when they were younger.
We’ve talked about disposition and confirmation. That’s really the two most important things. And the next thing of course, is training. If you’re going to be spending money for a mule, like say for instance, between $5,000 and $10,000 (the price can go up from there), the mule should have some kind of training.
I don’t listen to someone who says, “Okay, this mule has done 30 hours of trail riding and has experience up and down the Grand Canyon.” They’re not going to tell you about the bad wrecks and the catching issues or failure to communicate.
They may even be able to do the dog and pony show and have a short demonstration for you. Everything will look good and then you come home and, well, you realize you don’t have the mule you thought you did.
If you really want to know if a mule is trained, ask the mule or donkey seller to show you what the mule can do in a 10-foot circle. Can he turn on the forehand? Can he turn on the hind quarters? Can he side pass? Have the seller demonstrate this basic ground foundation training. Then take a turn. You should feel comfortable to be able to conduct your own training test with any mule you’re thinking about bringing home.
Sidepass means he should move sideways.
Turning on the front end means he will stay in place in the front and the back end will go around.
If he’s turning on his hind quarters, the back end will stay in place and the front end will come around.
Try and pick up the feet. You want him nice and quiet and you make your way around to pick up each foot.
And do it all in a 10-foot circle. That will tell you more about the animal you’re thinking about owning than any words or stories anyone could tell you.
Sure, none of this is impressive. Folks think, “Oh, I need to see him on the trail, then I’ll no.”
Nope. Wrong answer.
On the trail the mule will rely on the mule in front of him who is relying on the mule in front of him. And sellers know this. They’ll put you out on a trail ride and that mule really shines — because he is following the mule in front of him. All the while, you’re thinking, “Man, this mule is perfect.”
You buy Mr. Mule, bring him home, and it’s just you on the trail and your mule can’t do it. He can’t ride on a trail unless he is following other mules or donkeys. And now you’re thinking, “Man, I thought I bought a trained mule.” No, you bought a mule (hopefully with a good disposition) but he wasn’t trained.
Show me that 10-foot circle and I’ll show you whether he’s trained or not.
Something else you can take note of is how the owner rides. When you’re riding, you don’t want to have two hands to direct that mule everywhere. You want to ride with one hand and then 80% off your legs.
Notice the bit. If the seller is riding in a shank bit (a bit with shanks coming down which is a finished bit) then that mule should be ridden one handed and the person should be riding off his legs.
A properly trained riding mule should be ridden with one hand — if he’s still in training, you’re going to be doing two handed reining.
If you’ve made it to the vet check with your potential new mule or donkey, you’re probably looking at a pretty nice one. You always want to have a veterinarian look at this mule. The vet is going to be able to tell you things about the mule that you might not have seen with your eyes. The vet will also know things to look for.
One thing you want to ask for, and this is a biggie, is for an X-ray of the scapula. It is really, really important to know what shape the scapula is in. If they take the X-ray and say, “All is good,” you have lucked out!
X-ray the feet as well. We want to check Mr. Mule for ring bone. You want to also check that Mr. Mule’s farrier care is up-to-date and that he is wearing shoes.
Have the vet look at the mule’s teeth. Have the wolf teeth been pulled? Are the teeth floated properly? Make sure the teeth are balanced, that the TMJ is correct, and the incisors are correct.
The teeth are very important. Not only for eating but also to aid in good communication and tolerance of the bit you use. When the mule’s mouth is correct, no sharp points, he will be a lot happier. If you would like more information about how bits affect eating and communication, read Mule Bits – Everything You Need to Know.
The last word is that most vets don’t know enough about the mule to know that the scapula gets damaged by the saddle sitting on top of the wither. They don’t. They don’t see enough mules.
For many years I traveled the expo circuit and connected with vets in attendance. They would follow me around and I would teach them about the mule. It was common to hear them say, “Wow, I have never seen that!”
Today, I have a piece of scapula from an antelope, same concept as the mule or donkey, and I share it with folks to show them just how thin the fiber is atop the scapula. I hope they can put together in their minds just how painful it is to the animal when a saddle with a 200lb rider comes down forcefully on that thin layer.
Come to think of it, one clinic I did in illinois I had five vets following me around. One of these vets did special work for the insurance companies… autopsies. When you’re talking about horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, insurance companies want to know what happened when they can’t perform or even die. So many of these horses, because they ride with one cinch, they find the scapula beat up. So now the horse is crippled, and it’s not because of shoeing, it’s because the saddle kept banging on the scapula.
Now, folks who listen to me will say, “Steve, how can that be? I thought you said that the horse shoulders move forward and backwards like a piston. It’s the mule and donkey whose shoulders move up and down!” Even though the horse scapula goes horizontal, the vets see that it kept banging on the saddle tree, which kept banging the scapula and finally crippled the animal.
Most of the time people throw on a saddle with no rear cinch. So this vet said, “It made me think. I hadn’t ever really considered it in the past. I always thought it was banging on bone. I wasn’t thinking about the fiber above the scapula. There’s about half an inch, it’s just all the way across the top of the scapula. And it’s about a quarter inch thick… that’s all and it gets broken off.” Yes, it does… and when it does, the animal is crippled.
I am going to tell you straight up – be prepared for a tough vet visit because mule’s don’t vet very well. The veterinarian comes out, the mule pulls back and throws a fit. There again, most veterinarians don’t know how to approach a mule. And when he puts a needle into them, he does it like he would a horse — but you really shouldn’t do it that way with a mule or donkey.
With the money you’re going to be investing in ownership of this mule, make sure this investment won’t lead to problems down the road. Don’t just go with, “Wow, look, this is great!” Ask questions so you can anticipate problems down the road.
What You Should Ask the Mule Seller
When you visit the mule you are interested in buying, there are four areas you should talk to the seller about:
- nutritional program
- shoeing and trimming program
- dental program
- riding with one cinch or two on the saddle.
Should you ask about age? Honestly, folks, age doesn’t matter much. A three-year-old that’s well-trained can do just as much as a 23-year-old.
What Is the Age of the Mule or Donkey?
Let’s talk about age a bit more.
When people go to look at mules, the seller usually says, “Oh, he’s 12-years-old.” That puts the mule right in the middle of the selling age which is between 4-years and 20-years-old.
After 20-years-old, a lot of people will think the mule is no good, anymore. Not true. They are EXCELLENT and can still do a lot. My wife’s 28-year-old mule was an awesome mule until the day she died. There is nothing wrong with buying a three-year-old or a 23-year-old, just make sure they have a good foundation.
The mule will be fine at either age… the question is, will you be happy with a 25-year-old mule? I’ve seen mules last until they are 38-years-old, doing very well. So it’s more of a preference.
If you need more help deciding the age of the mule you should buy, read this article, Buying A Mule: Should You Buy A Young Mule or An Experienced Mule?
Ask About the Nutrition Program
So, you’re talking with the current mule owner, make sure you ask about what they are doing for the current nutritional program. If the owner just says, “I turn them out on pasture,” that is a warning sign for you. Pasture does not have the vitamins and minerals your mule needs.
Your mule needs so much more than ‘feed’. They need zinc, vitamins A, B, and C, in addition to other specifics according to the unique needs of the mule.
A COMPLETE feed is what is important. Read my article, Mules Can’t Stand Prosperity — Feed and Nutrition, for more information about what to feed your mule. You can also get my Feed Talks video absolutely free.
Talk About the Shoeing and Trimming Program
Once you’ve spoken about nutrition, ask about the shoeing and trimming program. There is a chance you’ll hear them reply with one the most common misconceptions folks have about the mule and the donkey.
“Mules don’t need to be shod.”
Get away because they do. The donkey has the worst foot of all the equine and are very prone to getting contracted heels. The mule inherits his foot from the donkey. I want you to learn more about contracted heels at my article here.
Basically, a contracted heal is where the heel starts coming inwards on the sides and that makes the frog (the middle of the hoof connected to veins running up and down the leg) smaller and smaller. Why does that matter? Well, the frog is responsible for the pumping of blood up and down the leg — small frog = bad foot. If you don’t have a foot, you don’t have a mule.
If the owner tells you they don’t need to be shod, you don’t want to buy a mule from them.
A Mule and Donkey Dental Program
You’re well on your way to eliminating a potential problem mule. Next you want to ask about their dental program.
- Have their teeth been balanced?
- Have the teeth been floated?
- Have the wolf teeth been removed?
These things need to be done if they have not been.
Trail Riding and Saddle Fitting
The last thing you want to talk about with the current owner is riding.
If you discover that they have been riding with one cinch, you do not want that mule. This means the saddle has not stayed in place, instead, it’s been going forward on top of the mule’s shoulders and during each ride, the saddle cantilevers and constantly hits the scapula with every step.
Mules are V-shaped in their shoulders and horses are A-shaped. Mules carry their weight down low and horses carry their weight up high. What does that mean? Simply put, all equine are not the same… mules and donkeys are different from the horse and what may be ‘acceptable’ to the horse is completely off-limits for mules and donkeys.
If you’re ready to buy a mule, watch my Ready to Buy a Mule video.
What Mule Sellers Will Tell You
Sellers are looking to move their animal and it’s just like any other sale — they want to put their best foot forward. I am not accusing anyone of being dishonest or deceitful – but I am going to tell you that you’re not going to hear the entire truth unless you know how to ask for it.
You’re going to hear sellers say, “Anyone can ride him.” That’s just not true. What I’ve learned since working with these animals dating all the way back to 1981 is that there is no such thing as a mule that anyone can ride.
I’ll give you an example, it’s a really good story.
I traveled to many clinics with a well-trained mule. I mean, you can see this mule in a ten-foot circle do everything and when you go outside of that, do all sorts of additional things like walk over tarps, go over wood pallets. Really fun stuff.
I would then ask people in the audience, “Who has been riding here for 20 years?”
Hands fly up and I pick someone out. They come down into the arena, climb on my mule, and in 15 minutes it looked like that mule wasn’t even broke.
The problem, and I want you to hear this, is that they had no idea how to ride that mule. Folks are used to sitting on the mule, riding behind another mule going down the trail. I know that it’s fun, but I need you to understand that this is not riding. People think trail riding is getting all the mules lined up, one behind the other.
I want you to have a real gem of an animal, that’s why I want you to pay attention to what I’m sharing in this article.
Sellers know, and I’ll make this point again, that if they put a mule in front of the one you’re looking at, that mule will go anywhere… not because he’s trained, but because he’s following.
It’s easy to think, “Man, this mule is doing really good!” No. It’s because he’s following another equine. And something else, you’ll notice that many sellers are going to be riding horses and that is something to pay attention to. Why? Because the mule is very subservient to the horse and will follow him anywhere.
They want their mule to look as good as possible and, I’m sorry to say, that it can be a very underhanded transaction. I want to believe the best in folks, but I also want you to know what I’ve seen.
You Need to Know the Downside
A lot of mule owners won’t even know the downsides of their mule or donkey. Some will, but they won’t point them out.
They’re going to tell you how good the mule does around traffic (which doesn’t make any difference). Just because the mule has done it a half a dozen times, doesn’t mean they will do it again.
So, let’s just say the mule or donkey has gone up the trail and they have become a good trail animal and never made any mistakes. Well, I’ve seen it that the same animal will be going up the trail and one they finally make a mistake. It’s going to happen. Even the best mule will make a mistake. Do not buy a mule thinking you’re not going to have problems if you buy the right mule. You are going to have problems. The time will come. Even though your mule may be well-trained, you will still encounter problems.
The seller will tell you the mule is kid-safe, very well trained, and is bomb proof!
No such thing as a kid-safe mule.
There is no such thing as a well-trained mule.
There is no such thing as a bomb-proof mule.
They do not exist.
Even my wife’s mule, as good as it was, would still have the flight and fright in her. It was her instinct. It is the instinct of all mules and donkeys because they are the bottom of the food chain, they are prey.
Where Can I Buy A Mule?
I do a weekly clinic streamed live on YouTube and Facebook (register here) and there is one question that comes up almost weekly… “Where can I buy a mule?”
You’re going to get the truth from me. I will not lie to you, I want you to know the absolutely fact:
There is not really a ‘safe place’ to buy a mule.
The equine economy has higher end sellers are charging top dollar for equine. So a lot of folks have mules for and they attach stories to them, price them as high as they can and, ya’ll, they’re not worth the money.
Can I Buy a Mule Online or From Another State?
The easiest place for people to start buying a mule is online and even over the phone.
It’s easy, but it’s not a good idea because, folks, you want to see the mule live in person. How are you going to do all the things we discussed above if you can’t see the mule live and in person?
Right now, people are buying up mules from other states because the sellers are telling them all the things they want to hear. On my live stream, every other week it seems, we have folks saying one week, “I ordered my mule and he’s being shipped up from New Mexico.” Three weeks later that same person is coming on the program saying, “I received my mule and I think something’s wrong. I was told he was trained, had been down the Grand Canyon a dozen times, and was used to pack freight through Yosemite.”
Another one of my clients bought three mules and a couple of them he can’t hardly deal with. What should he do? He spent all this money, was told they could do this, that and the other thing and you come to find out it’s not true.
Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do at that point.
I don’t want this to be you.
Folks will share pictures online of mules and you definitely need to examine those photos.
What are you seeing?
Is the saddle sitting on top of the scapula? Yes. Why would you want to buy a mule that you can already see will have problems later on?
Is the mule being ridden with one cinch? Yes. Again, this is creating problems that you will have to deal with. Maybe they’re not issues that are showing symptoms now, but the day will come when the mule will just say, “Nope, not gonna do it,” and now that problem is yours.
Is the mule being ridden with a britchen? Still only one cinch? “But Steve, they are riding with a britchen, that keeps the saddle from moving forward.” No, it doesn’t. The britchen keeps the saddle from rotating to one side or the other. The saddle is still moving forward and banging on the scapula.
Can I Buy A Mule At Auction?
Folks I am going to tell you what I’ve seen since 1981. I’ll let you make the decisions…
I want you to be careful when you go to these big auctions. Sellers are going there thinking they’re going to sell their mules for big money. And buyers (you) are going there thinking they are going to be taking home a really good mule.
The problem with the auction is that you can’t see them, you can’t touch them, you can’t smell them. If you’re going to buy a mule, go see them, touch them, and smell them — stay in the area for a couple days to see them on day one, day, two and day three. Stay for one day for a few hours, watch the mule. Then come back the next day or two days later, unannounced, and look at him. Really do your homework.
The majority of people buying mules at auction have been calling me with questions about problems they’re seeing. And you know what? The questions that I’m getting from each one of them, located all across the US, the questions are identical.
- My mule runs away.
- My mule pulls.
- My mule keeps pushing me around.
None of these folks, and they’re good folks, by the way, none of them went and touched the mule or watched it in person. They didn’t spend time with the mule to see if they could get along together.
Something that folks don’t like to hear, but it’s the truth, is that the mules will sometimes make up their mind that they don’t like someone.
Some mules will get along with everyone and then some mules will say, “Nope. Just Steve,” or, “Nope, just Eileen.” In my case, I’ve spent enough time with these animals (since 1981) to learn how to communicate with them and I can pretty much figure out how to get along with any of them.
The good news is that a mule flat out rejecting you doesn’t happen often. But it does happen which is why you need to spend time with them to discover if you can get along.
Can I Buy A Mule From A Trader?
A trader is someone who goes to actions and buys a mule cheap. Usually auctions are bad places to buy mules and horses because that’s where you’ll often find ‘junk’ that folks are trying to get rid of. Think about it, why would someone want to sell an amazing, really good animal?
Traders will go to these auctions and buy up mules, horses, ponies, and then attach a story to them and turn around and sell them for XYZ dollars because the animals are really pretty!
Honest buyers will fall for it because they want to go up and pet on the mule and if the mule lets them pet on him, then the mule must be okay. But mules are not dogs. They are equine and petting doesn’t mean a whole lot to a mule. It means more to you than it ever will to them.
What means something to a mule is eating, drinking, pooping, and having you clean up for them. Ultimately, what the mule wants is just to be left alone. That’s heaven for them.
What the trader will say, and this is really important, he will say, “I’ll give you this mule for one year and if after that year you don’t like him, I’ll get you another one.” He will take the bad mule back.
Sounds good, right?
Well, the downside is that you’re going to get another one that is going to have the same questions around him and now you’ve wasted a year plus the time it took for the new mule to arrive.
Will you finally have a mule that likes you? Will you finally have a mule that has a willing disposition? Will I have a problem mule on my hands? You need to personally interact with that mule. Smell him, touch him, watch him, spend time around him, lead him. You need to see that mule being ridden IN PERSON.
Unfortunately, traders will knowingly sell you a bad or damaged mule. I hate that it’s true, but it is. They’ll know you’re coming so they will ride the mule real heavy so they’re tired or even drug them so that by the time you get there, the mule is nice and quiet. You think, “Wow, what a nice mule.” The drugs wear off, the energy comes back and that mule blows up and hurts someone. Yes, it happens all the time. Nearly every week during my online clinics we have a story similar to this.
When you’re considering an animal, get the blood tested and let the vet tell you if the mule has been doped up. One by one eliminate concerns.
Just a couple other things to look out for…
Traders will show you how trained a mule is by standing on top of him and waving a flag or jumping off and crawling between its legs. That’s just dog and pony tricks. It does show that the mule has good disposition (which is a plus) but don’t be fooled into thinking that means trained.
Traders will say, “Oh, this was a Grand Canyon mule.” They can definitely get their hands on those kinds of mules. They won’t tell you the problems that the mule has or why he isn’t a Grand Canyon mule anymore, but they will use Grand Canyon as a selling point.
I would not recommend buying a mule from a trainer.
Is It Okay to Buy A Mule Off Of Craigslist?
Buying a mule from Craigslist is better than buying a mule online or buying over the phone.
In many cases these mules will be local and you can go to personally see the mule. Smell the mule. Touch the mule and watch the mule.
You still want to look for everything we discussed above… disposition, conformation, training. You want to ask lots of question (like I mentioned above) and you want to have your vet check out the mule or donkey before you take him home.
It is possible to find a mule worth your time using Craigslist. Just know what to look for.
Can I Adopt A Mule from the Bureau of Land Management?
You won’t find too many mules through BLM. You’re going to find donkeys and you’re going to find horses. Matter of fact, the Florence prison out here in Arizona has an excellent equine program where you can buy a donkey that has been ridden and even sometimes driven for for $250.
The Grand Canyon will also sell their mules. Still, don’t think if you buy a mule at the Grand Canyon that the mule has been there and done that. They won’t sell the good mules. They will sell the crippled ones or the ones they’ve had problems with.
Again, know what to look for, ask questions, do your homework, and then make an informed decision. If you get a mule with problems (and they all have problems) know what those problems will be before investing.
Is It Okay to Buy A Rescue Mule or Donkey?
Be very careful.
Rescue organizations traditionally do not understand mules and you will end up with junk that’s ready to hurt you.
I love mules and donkeys. I do. They have been so good to me and the honest truth is that some humans have been so bad to these animals that the most compassionate thing you can do is to put them down. They won’t show you the pain they’re in. They will brace into pain, but underneath, they’re hurting bad.
What makes humans so amazing is that God put his heart of compassion inside of us and that compassion helps us rescue and save so many otherwise hurting animals… and people.
Unfortunately the most compassionate thing we can do for crippled, beaten, and abused mules is put them down.
Often you will end up with a bad experience and an animal ready to hurt you.
Is There Any Good Place to Buy A Mule?
No, there is not a good place. There is not a safe place. Mules are big business and just because a mule has been camping all over Colorado, just because kids ride him, just because he’s got so many hours packing doesn’t mean he’s right for you. Don’t buy into it.
The big thing is, when you find a mule that looks like it might be a fit for you, no matter what problems he may have, what can he do in a 10-foot circle? That’s the test.
If he passes the test, then have a vet look at him and give you the sign that the mule is healthy on the inside.
I know people all over the United States selling mules — but I haven’t seen them ride their mules. I don’t know that mule. When I get time with the mule, do the things I’ve described in this article, then I can say, “Okay, I know this mule is well-trained.” It doesn’t happen very often, but I can tell you that it does happen and I’ve helped people out over the years in this way.
Occasionally someone I know will be selling a mule and I know they have good mules and that helps. So relationships with the seller or the mule themself can help you make a good decision.
The best thing you can do is find someone that is done riding their mule or donkey, they’ve had this old mule for a long time, and it’s just been a good part of the family.
I Just Bought A Mule, Brought Him Home, And Only Reading All Of This Now… What Should I Do?
If your mule is on his way, there are shippers who move equine across the country, even the world. Be careful of using a new startup company because they may not take the best care of your mule during the trip. The mule needs to care for the mule along the way, food and water, and if they aren’t cared for properly, they can lose a lot of weight and get shipping fever. It can be a real problem.
Once your mule arrives, you’re excited! I have a few things I want you to do right away or, if the mule or donkey is still on the way, do in preparation for his arrival.
Mule Saddle, Tack, Bits, and More
It’s not uncommon for a mule to come with a saddle, bit and bridle, saddle pad and other tack. Ask the seller if the saddle and tack are for a horse or a mule. Some so-called ‘mule saddles’ are not going to fit a mule. Folks, you need to educate yourself on what makes a mule saddle really a mule saddle. Read my article, Mule Saddle – Everything You Need to Know. In the end, you need to get your hands on one of my saddles.
Feed Program for Your New Mule
You want to be able to feed the mule the same feed as it’s been fed. Don’t just get it home and change feed. There is a possibility of them getting colic or some other types of health issues. Whatever they’ve been feeding the mule, take the feed with you… not just the feed, but the hay also. Just because it’s ‘hay’ doesn’t mean it’s the same hay you will have access to. It can have different vitamins or minerals in it and that mule can very easily colic.
When you do change the feed, do it slowly. Mix the old with the new in different proportions. Start out using three parts of the old feed and hay and one part new. To that for a week then mix two parts and two parts for a couple of weeks. Keep doing this until the mule is eating only the new feed and hay.
Your Mule’s Living Quarters
You want a good, solid stall. I prefer all metal. Mules tend to watn to chew on wood all the time and there is no stopping them because they get bored. They want something to do, so they will chew on it. A good metal stall is 20 feet by 20 feet. Have some shad so they can get out of the weather and out of the sun. That’s very helpful.
Inside the stall, the ground can be rubber matting or just dirt. Either is fine. In your barn stalls, most of the time, they will have rubber mats.
Your mule does not need a big pasture area. Take them home and keep them in a 20×20 pen.
Separate Them From Their Buddies
My preference is to always keep your animals separate. Each mule has its own dietary needs. Each horse has his own dietary needs. If you have a horse, he’s the head of the pecking order. He will pick on the mule and keep him away from his feed. Not only that, the mule will keep the mule away from his buddies, too. I keep all my animals separate in individual stalls. I do not like to turn them out to pasture where they will most certainly develop all sorts of bad habits — both in feed and behavior.
It is important that YOU take care of them. YOU feed them. YOU get them water. Do not put them out with other equine. They will buddy up with other animals and will see you more and more as a predator. When they’re let out to pasture, they do not need you any more and they will put you on ignore.
It is essential that they begin to see you as the herd leader and they depend on you for everything important to them.
Read my article, Welcome Home, Mr. Mule for more about bringing your mule home.
Do I Have to Do Foundation Training With My New Mule?
When you get Mr. Mule home yes, you want to begin building a foundation with them for six months. They need four to six hours a week (not a day, a week) of training and interaction. Over six months at four to six hours a week you will build a foundation.
To complete this work and make the most progress in gaining trust and getting results you will want to order my Mule Foundation Starting Kit. Do not order just one piece… order the entire kit. It will be the cornerstone of all your training and correction.
Do not turn your mule out to pasture or start riding right off the bat. Do groundwork first. Get to know the mule on his level. Do groundwork, lots of grooming, picking up their feet, and use the time to get to know each other, especially if you’re a beginning rider.
A lot of people take these little moments with their animal for granted. They see someone else riding and think, “By golly, that 13-year-old girl rode it, I should be fine to.” No. Matter of fact, there is a special bond that exists between young girls and equine — it’s something I see but have never been able to put my finger on… but it’s there and chances are that girl can outride most of us!
Learn more about how I do Foundation Training with mules and donkeys.
Find Mule and Donkey Help
There is no such thing as the perfect mule. So many people are buying mules without knowledge and then they call me when they have finally come to their wits end, feeling like they’re up a creek without a paddle.
The best thing you can do is educate yourself. Read articles. Read books. Watch videos. Get educated so you know the questions to ask.
There are dozens of place to buy mules and donkeys:
- At auction
- From a trader
- Friend of the family
But remember, there are no good places to find a mule.
Good mules are all over the place. You just need to know what to look for and when you see it, you will be ready to buy it!
If you’re looking for your first or next mule I hope my experience helps you. Remember, no matter what you buy, a great relationship with your animal will start by building a good foundation with your mule.
I am here to help you so give me a call or send me an email and include photos and videos with the questions you have.
12 thoughts on “Mules for Sale — How to Buy A Mule or Donkey On Craigslist or At Auction”
This is a very comprehensive and informative article. It is truthful and easily understandable. Thank you!
Myra, Dave here and thank you for taking the time to read and leave a comment. Also, thank you for being such a great part of the Mule Ranch community! You make our community so much more special!
Thank you so much for writing this wonderful and very informative article. I am in the process of looking for a mule to buy. I will be asking all the questions you suggested and will be asking to see what the mule can do within a 10 foot circle. I will be looking at it’s conformation, disposition and training. I will observe if the seller is riding with one cinch or two. I will ask about his shoeing and trimming program and check out his feet, lifting each one. I will ask about his dental program. I will ask about his nutritional program. I will ask to go for a ride with the potential sale mule being in FRONT. I will look at how the saddle fits on the mule. I will also have a pre-purchase vet check along with the x-rays. I will be aware and do all of these things because of you sharing your knowledge. It may not be the prettiest mule, but it will have what’s important. Thank you so much Steve!
Hi Julie! Thank you for reading and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Doesn’t it feel so liberating and freeing to go looking for a mule to buy when you know exactly what to look for? Always remember you can send Steve a picture of any mule your considering and he can look at the conformation with you. Cheers!
My self Arvind
I am in search of mule teeth can any one make or provide me ( i mean mule from male donkey and female horse )
I am retired used to show horses and ride trails. I am thinking about purchasing a mule for me . I have enough land and cover the basic needs to keep a animal looked after very well. I read you opinion on buying shoeing feeding etc. it was a big eye opener a lot different than owning a horse. I will now do my due diligence and start the process of seeing if BT I am ready to own one. Thanks for your excellent facts and truthful advice. Dennis from Rayle Ga.
Thank you for this article. Although Im no longer able to ride, Ive been curious about mules for decades. The information you’ve provided is excellent!
I’m looking for a well trained seasoned female donkey or small mule nothing too young
Is it alright go use the trail lite saddle on a small gaited horse
A lot of great information here. I live in Wisconsin and winters are rough, sometimes a lot of ice. Do you still recommend shoes on all 4’s during the winter?
Looking for a mule that is well behaved for my wife for a pet she is 72 and a little slow getting around so i would like a good acting mule
Howdy Bob, Dave here and sorry we missed this comment… I can tell you that if you find a mule you’re looking to purchase, Steve is always willing to take a look at pictures or videos and tell you what he sees. So reach out when you get to that point.