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63 chromosomes and full of sass

July 17, 2014

By Gretchen Ritchey

I remember as a child my grandfather, Myrtic Ashley, plowing his garden using a mule.

In the 70s, even the 80s and early 90s, it wasn't unusual to see someone being dragged behind a mule with a plow. But, today tractors are more widely used, causing farmers to put mule-drawn plows away.
Lately, the mule, a cross between a female horse and a donkey or Jack, has made a comeback. Many people ride them for everyday riding, some take them on trips in the mountains.
In 1979 when I was in fifth grade, my parents and I traveled to the Grand Canyon where we rode mules to the bottom of the canyon. My parents and I were used to the mule breed, but I vaguely remember some other riders talking about their extra long ears.
The mules I was used to being around were stubborn and hard-headed, so even as a kid I was somewhat apprehensive, or so I thought. According to my mom, I did everything I could to cause my mule to buck, kick or run, but I failed. She said she was scared that I'd fall off and roll down the canyon.
On May 28, my mare, Alice (a large flashy red and white paint) gave birth to a little red mule. A Molly Mule, that's what I was told she was. Mollies are female mules and Johns are males. Alice's baby was not planned nor known until April when we noticed some body changes, mostly an udder forming and signs of milk. That sort of thing happens when you let a mare run with a male donkey.
I was reading up on mules and found the reason why mules cannot reproduce offspring. I always knew that mules could not have babies but never knew, nor asked, why. According to Painted QH Farm, horses and donkeys are different species so they have different numbers of chromosomes and the offspring of these two is missing a chromosome. A horse is born with 64 chromosomes, a donkey has 62 chromosomes and their offspring, a mule has 63 chromosomes, which makes them a sterile hybrid, therefore they cannot reproduce.
Having a mule on the farm is a new thing. It's been a long time since I've had any dealings with a mule. And yes, being stubborn and sassy is genetic, but is it really just that? According to Painted QH Farm, what we think is stubbornness is the ability for the mule to think independently. Mules have a more complex reasoning thinking ability then their parents, which makes them more reliable.
All my research on mules says that they are very intelligent, one reason they are so desirable. I do see the thought process in the baby, more than I ever saw in her mother. It seems like at just two-months-old she has the ability to think about what you want her to and defies that. If you want to catch her and she doesn't want to be caught, she'll trick you.
Yep, she's a little sassy!
During my research I found that mules hooves are very thick and that most people who have riding mules do not shoe them. I had a horse named Boots who died a few years ago at the age of 35; he never wore shoes. Funny thing about him is that when I boarded him in Bryant as a child, everyone used to call him a mule. He had white feet, and the hardest feet you've ever seen. I miss that boy.
A few other interesting mule tidbits I found are: they eat less than horses, excel in physical soundness, live longer than horses, are more easily handled in large groups, have a strong sense of self-preservation, surefooted and careful, they don't look like horses and are loaded with personality.
If you haven't kissed an equine today, you don't know what you're missing.

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