Their pace is slower than that of the horse, notwithstanding the many reports published as to their being equal in speed . to him. uI have seen it asserted that there were mules that had been known to trot a mile in harness in three minutes. In all my experience I have never seen anything of the kind, and do not believe the mule ever existed that could do it. It is a remarkably good horse that will do this, and I have never yet seen a mule that could compare for speed with a good roadster. I have driven mules, single and double, night and day, from two to ten in a team, and have handled them in every way that it is possible to handle them, and have in my charge at this time two hundred of the best mule teams in the world, and there is not a span among them that could be forced over the road at the rate of a mile in four minutes. It is true of the mule that he will stand more abuse, more beating, more straining and constant dogging at him, than any other animal used in a team. But all the work you can get out of him, over and above an ordinary clay's work, you have to work as hard as he does, to accomplish."
The mule is one of the very best beasts of burden man possesses, and for this purpose he is employed chiefly in mountainous countries, and those in which wheel carriage cannot be resorted to. He is also greatly in request for transport purposes during war; his patience, robustness, and endurance of hardship and fatigue, rendering him particularly well adapted for the exigencies of field service. The mules of Asia Minor, Syria, Cyprus and Mexico, are famous as pack animals.
As is known, the mule is a hybrid between the horse and the ass. That which is the produce of the male ass and the mare horse is the most valuable, and that which is generally bred; that between the horse stallion and the mare ass is perhaps more gentle in disposition, but is not nearly so hardy. The "henny," or "hinny," as this creature is termed, has generally the legs and feet, and mane and tail of the horse sometimes even the head; it is nearly always small in size. In rare instances, the animal will have the fore-quarters of the horse and the hind-quarters of the ass.
The voice of these animals usually betrays their lineage, for while those of the first kind bray like the ass, the second kind neigh like the horse.
Mules also inherit the shape and peculiarities of the sire to a greater degree than those of the dam; from the latter they obtain size, but rarely inherit bad shape or unsoundness from her. In the great majority of cases - ninety per cent. - the donkey transmits his shape and soundness to his progeny.
A writer says: "If any gentleman wants to purchase a mule for the saddle, let him get one bred closer after the mare than the Jack (stallion ass). Such an animal is more docile, easier handled, and more tractable, and will do what you want with less trouble than the other. If possible, also get mare mules; they are much more safe and trusty under the saddle, and less liable to get stubborn. They are also better than a horse mule (male) for team purposes. In short, if I were purchasing mules for myself, I would give at least fifteen dollars more for mare mules than I would for horse. They are superior to the horse mule in every way. . . . The most disagreeable and unmanageable, and, I was going to say, useless, animal in the world, is a stud (stallion) mule. They are no benefit to anybody, and yet they are more troublesome than any other animal. They rarely ever get fat, and are always fretting; while it is next to impossible to keep them from breaking loose and getting at mares. Besides, they are exceedingly dangerous to have amongst horses. They will frequently fly at the horse, like a tiger, and bite, tear, and kick him to pieces. I have known them to shut their eyes, become furious, and dash over both man and beast to get at a mare."
The popular notion, that to obtain a good mule colt, large mares must be bred from, has been shown to be erroneous. The average-sized, compact, serviceable mare, is the best to breed from; in fact, the mare and Jack should be of the average size, the latter being well marked and the best of his kind. The only advantage in employing large mares is to give the mule larger bone in the limbs, with good-sized hoofs - points in which the ass is usually deficient, and the mule generally more so, while his body is, in the majority of cases, heavy.
Mares 14 to 14 1/2 hands high, put to the largest donkeys, produce good mules for draught or saddle; for pack, the best size for mares is between 13 and 14 hands.
Large mules are not generally preferred, as they are inconvenient to handle, and have often weak limbs, while they eat as much as horses. The most usual and convenient height is from 13 to 13 1/2 hands, the average being 14 to 15 hands.
But these points can rarely be obtained, as the mare, even with good legs and large solid hoofs, breeds close to the ass, and particularly in these parts. With these exceptions, the nearer the foal approaches the sire the better, as the best mules are those which have the asinine marks most developed, and have the deepest of the different colours. Spotted and dappled mules, as well as those which are white, or have a white muzzle and white rings round the eyes, are considered weak and of little value for work. Those which have the characteristic black stripes round their legs, black manes and tails, and black stripes down their back and across their shoulders, are generally the best.
With regard to age, a mule is scarcely full grown at five years, and though he may be worked much younger than this, yet the labour should not be heavy; until six or seven years old he is not fit for full work. Mules live and work longer than horses - a mule at thirty years old is supposed to be equal to a horse at twenty.
The best mules are those with a good appearance, having a broad chest, strong neck, bright eye, fine strong legs, large hocks and knees, a good length between the point of the shoulders and the withers, and a moderate sized body. A narrow chest, large belly, light limbs, small feet, and turned in hocks, are defects in conformation. Mules with straight backs are best suited for bearing burdens; those with a hollow back for saddle or draught. The male mule can carry more weight than the female, though the latter is better for work, being more docile.