Being tall, heavy, and fat is no criterion of serviceability. A mule measuring 14 1/2 hands high, to be in good working condition, should not weigh more than a thousand pounds; heavier than this, his legs will probably soon give way.
A great deal of care and patience are required in breaking-in mules to work, as their temper is more readily spoiled than that of the horse, and bad treatment will make them more afraid or defiant of man than they naturally are. The breaking should be gradual, and calmness and gentleness are very necessary. To train a mule properly, it is necessary to establish, from the very first, confidence between him and the trainer, and men of irritable temper should not be allowed to undertake the task. It is necessary to avoid allowing the animal to acquire a vice while training him, as he will probab]y never forget it; and nothing is more profitable at this period than good treatment. Once the trainer has gained the confidence of the animal, he can teach him to do almost anything. Therefore it is that well-bred and well-cared for mules, which have been gently broken in, will be found almost as good, and as tractable and docile, as horses. Bad training and ill-treatment ruin their temper. The mule is easily frightened by noises and strange sights, and time should be given him to realise that they are harmless. The animal's ear is particularly sensitive, and rough handling of it, or the slightest injury, will make him frightened and stubborn.
Speaking of training, an American remarks : "Owners and raisers of mules should pay more attention to their habits when young. And I would give them this advice : When the colt is six months old, put a halter on him, and let the strap hang loose. Let your strap be about four feet long, so that it will drag on the ground. The animal will soon accustom himself to this; and when he has, take up the end and lead him to the place where you have been accustomed to feed him. This will make him familiar with you, and increase his confidence. Handle his ears at times, but do not squeeze them, for the ear is the most sensitive part of this animal. As soon as he lets you handle his ears familiarly, put a loose bridle on him. Put it on and take it off frequently. . . . Nothing is more important than that you should bridle a young mule properly. I have found from experience that the best way is this: Stand on the near side, of course, take the top of the bridle in your right hand, and the bit in your left; pass your arm gently over his eye until that part of the arm bends his ear down, then slip the bit into his mouth, and at the same time let your hand be working slowly with the bearings still on his head and neck, until you have arranged the headstall."
Gentleness in working and managing the mule is also very important, though it is seldom observed; and there can be no doubt that much of the prejudice against the use of this animal is due to the bad temper or unmanageableness he manifests through cruel or improper treatment of him, by those who either do not understand his disposition, or imagine he should be treated with harshness and violence.
Harness for mules should be strong and well made, and the collars and pack-saddles well fitted and easy. The bit should not be too thin or strapped too tight, lest it may produce a sore mouth, which is very difficult to heal, and during the continuance of which the animal cannot eat well, and may become irritable.
Mules, and especially small ones, can carry 30 per cent. of their own weight; the load may be estimated at from 200 to 300 pounds. A team of four mules, driven two and two, will, if of good size, draw a load weighing 50 cwt., in addition to the waggon, at the rate of four miles an hour on a good road.
A mule with a load on its back will walk a little over three miles an hour; but the same pace should be maintained throughout, for either trotting or slow moving, and especially long halts, tire and injure the animal.
Mules show by their gait when they are fatigued. They should, therefore, be carefully watched, so as to abstain from pressing them when they exhibit signs that their strength is exhausted. A tired mule droops his head, his neck becomes horizontal, and the ears fall back immovable. So long as he has strength, the ears remain erect and incline forwards; as soon as he begins to fan his ears - to allow them to swing backwards and forwards, it is an indication that fatigue is beginning to tell on him.
With regard to food, in the United States mules generally receive, in towns, a mixture of maize and oats in the proportion of 1 to 1 1/2, the quantity of the mixture allowed per diem varying, according to the size of the animals, from 4 lbs. to 10 lbs. Together with this grain ration, from 6 lbs. to 12 lbs. of hay is given. Small mules are, in some instances, fed only twice daily, morning and evening.
The experience gained in wars shows that the mules from Egypt, Persia, and India, thriving on little grain and coarse grass, are more hardy and enduring than the Spanish, which, being finer bred, require better food to keep in good working condition.
They should be groomed and kept comfortable, but they must not be too much nursed and pampered, as they then become delicate, and less able to withstand hardship and exposure to weather.
More care is required in shoeing mules, perhaps, than horses, in consequence of the formation of their feet, which partake of that of the ass. Their diseases are also similar.