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A Guide to Mules

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A male donkey, a female horse and a little mule

A mule is the sterile hybrid offspring of a mating between a male donkey (a jack) and a female horse. The offspring of a donkey mare (a jenny) and a stallion is a hinny. Mules have proved themselves to be more useful to humans than hinnies. They are stronger and more horse-like in appearance whereas hinnies bear a stronger resemblance to donkeys in size and character. Both are, for the most, part sterile, though male mules should always be gelded as they have a very strong urge to reproduce despite the fact it is going to get them nowhere.

Mules and hinnies have smaller ears than donkeys and a horse-like conformation, though their neck is straight and muscular rather then having a crest. Mules come in all the usual equine colours. However, genetics ensures that using a coloured or spotted horse results in offspring with vibrant and trippy spot patterns.

Mules v Horses

Mules owe their strength and resilience to the fact that they are hybrids. They are stronger than horses if compared on a size to strength ratio, and they live longer and are less prone to disease. They can also thrive on a diet that is nutritionally poorer than that of a horse. As such, they have proved to be popular pack animals, particularly with the military. During the Second World War, British troops in Burma were almost completely reliant on mules for the transport of supplies. Another role in which the mule overtook the horse was in agriculture. They proved to be particularly useful in the cotton growing areas of the United States where breeding programmes were devised to produce stronger and more powerful animals. Many pioneer towns in America have streets wide enough to turn a mule team round at speed.

Today mules are popular as leisure animals. They can turn their hoof to, and perform credibly, in all equestrian disciplines, such as dressage, show jumping and cross-country. They excel, however, in two areas. Firstly, in endurance riding. While they are not as fast as Arab and thoroughbred horses, their strength and stamina counts for a lot. The second area of excellence is high jumping. While horses are capable of jumping great heights in puissance1 classes - the course allows them two warm-up fences and a galloping start - mule high jumping classes consist of the mule jumping an obstacle often exceeding its own height from a standing start.

Donkey mares are often bred with gaited horse breeds such as the Tennessee Walking Horse or the Peruvian Paso to produce high stepping and quality-riding mules. This was also the case in the Middle Ages when mules were the transport of choice for Popes, clerics and gentlefolk.

Mules have an undeserved reputation for being stubborn and bad tempered. This is only true if they have been badly treated. They just have an increased sense of 'self' and do not take kindly to being misused. Given time, patience and affection they prove to be gentle and obedient. It is true to say, however, that they can kick you into the middle of next week, if so inclined.

Muffin the Mule

Muffin the Mule first trotted on to the television sets of Britain in 1946 in an episode of For the Children. His partner in crime was Crumpet the Clown, who proved the saying 'never work with children or animals' correct by promptly disappearing into the show-business void. Muffin's appeal was instantaneous and a dedicated slot on Children's Hour soon followed.

Rumours abounded that Muffin was in fact operated by puppeteer, Ann Hogarth. True Muffin fans know this to be a scandalous fallacy. His co-star was Annette Mills who played the piano and sang. Other members of the cast to grace Ms Mills's piano top included Peregrine the Penguin, Hubert the Hippopotamus and Grace the Giraffe. Muffin's last television appearance was in 1955; Annette Mills died four days later.

Moscow Mule

A Moscow Mule is a refreshing cocktail created in America in the 1940s by a barman who was trying to get rid of excessive stocks of ginger beer and vodka. It can be bought bottled but is better made fresh. Recipes abound and it should be made to taste, but a good guideline is one part lime juice to two parts vodka to four parts ginger beer.

Mules: Shoes Of Distinction

Mules are backless shoes and have either flat or wedge-style heels. Mules originated in the 18th Century but have been making a decided comeback over the last few summers. Particularly stylish mules are made by Patrick Cox and Jimmy Choo.

The Spinning Mule

The Spinning Mule was the basis of the success of the British cotton industry in the 19th Century and was another hybrid, hence its name. Devised by the British inventor Samuel Crompton around 1775, the Spinning Mule combined the advantages of the Spinning Jenny and the Water Frame. The resulting machine allowed Crompton to spin yarn fine enough to produce luxury fabrics, previously only produced in Asia.

Initially, cottage industries were small enough for the mule to be of great use, but as the workforce increasingly moved into factories, the industry as a whole grew bigger and alternatives to manual power were sought. The mule's major plus point was that it could be powered by one of the new steam engines being produced by engineers such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton. By the 1790s, it was being enlarged to the point where one operator could run several hundred spindles at one time.

While the spinning mule made many mill owners wealthy men, Crompton died penniless. He had not been able to afford to patent the device.

Other Mules

The word mule is as versatile as the animal. It is used to describe a sterile hybrid, as between a canary and other birds or between certain plants; a stubborn person; a small, usually electric, tractor or locomotive used for hauling over short distances; a person who serves as a courier of illegal drugs; the mule armadillo is a long-eared native of Buenos Aires; mule deer live in the Western United States; a mule pulley is an idle pulley for guiding a belt which transmits motion between shafts that are not parallel.

Mules have kept up with the latest technology. A multi-lingual enhancement of GNU Emacs, Mule can handle not only ASCII characters (7 bit) and ISO Latin 1 characters (8 bit), but also 16-bit characters like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. Mule can have a mixture of languages in a single buffer. Mule runs under the X window system, or on a Hangul terminal, mterm or exterm.

1Puissance is a competition where a horse tests its abilities by jumping high obstacles in showjumping.

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