"It's just such a beautiful summer day … everyone seems to be just a little bit lazy and content to do nothing much but wade in the creek, eat the nice fresh grass or just look at the clouds rolling by," said Ginny.
"Yep, it sure is quiet right now. Even Equinox and Desi are just standing there, looking a little like statues," said Molly.
"They are so different, and yet so much alike. When they are playing it's as though they are siblings, and yet they are different breeds," Ginny remarked.
"Not unlike the rest of us in the stable,"
Molly said. "Think about it, Ginny. Beau is a quarter horse,
Ole is a North Swedish breed, Fern is a Thoroughbred, and you're
an Arabian. We're quite an integrated bunch. And we're just a small
sampling of the many breeds of horses. It's interesting to notice
that we have different characteristics, different colors, and different
personalities! Just like people, I guess," mused Molly.
"Equinox is a Chincoteague pony. The breed is somewhat of a mystery. No one really knows where they came from, but they seem to have been abandoned by colonists in the 17th century. That means that they could have had a connection to Spanish or North African stock. These wild ponies roam free on a protected island and are sold at auction to control the herds. It's quite an event to watch the ponies swim from one island to the other for the sale," Molly continued.
"Ole has such a stocky appearance," Ginny noted. "You only need to look at him to realize he is able to pull heavy loads and work very hard. But no matter how hard his job is, he has such a cheerful temperament … never grumpy! Maybe it's his disposition that helps keep him immune to a lot of the diseases that we horses get. He's already getting up in years, but doesn't seem to be slowing down. There's a lot of longevity in that breed!" Ginny said.
"How about me?" Molly said. "I'm really unique. I'm a hybrid and proud of it!"
"Do tell, Molly, I'm all ears!" teased Ginny. "What is a hybrid?"
"My father was a jack (donkey) and my mother was a mare – a horse. A female mule that's over 10 years old is called a Mare Mule … younger ones, like me, are known as Molly. Get it? But of course, I can't reproduce, so that makes me the end of my family tree.
But, we've been around for many, many years. The mule is even mentioned in the Bible and was used in caravans to carry riders and luggage. They worked hard treading belts to provide power for mills, and were favored by royalty for transportation. We've had a very colorful history.
The mule is very reliable in rough terrain. They are unflappable when they suddenly come across steep descents or narrow ridges or dangerous passes. The wise driver lets the mule have his way and there are rarely accidents. They are cautious and can brace themselves with their hind legs acting as a brake. They are great at sliding safely until they get to level ground. Mules are still used in the west, especially in the Grand Canyon."
"Maybe reliable, but also stubborn, Molly. You know how you put up a fuss at times," Ginny laughed.
"You just think I'm stubborn. Actually, I'm really smarter than you horses because I think about a situation, and if I don't feel it's safe, or that a load is too heavy for me to pull, I just won't do it. Treat me right, and I'll work very hard. Abuse me, and when the time is right I can bite and kick, and my memory is like an elephant's," Molly teased.
"Also, I have a lot more endurance," said Molly. That's why mules were so invaluable in the desert pulling the Mule Trains in almost unbearable conditions. We've been used in mines, pulling canal boats, on farms, lumber camps, cotton fields, city drayage … you name it, we've done it. We pulled everything from milk wagons to fire engines. One advantage to the mule is that it can be bred to suit a specific purpose - heavier for draft horses, lighter for little cotton mules."
"You're beginning to sound like a commercial for mules. But go on," said Ginny.
"OK … I'm healthier, a lot less subject to some leg and foot diseases, and we usually live longer. My hooves are harder than a horse's, and I need less food than you do too. I eat mostly hay, grass, some grains and of course, water, but I do enjoy some treats. You know I like carrots, apples, grapes and berries, and for a real treat, watermelon," brayed Molly.
"Mules were used during World War I, particularly the Missouri mule. President Harry Truman was the son of a horse and mule dealer and often bragged about the Missouri mule and its superior qualities. There are stories about heroic mules used during World War II in Burma. We've got a great deal to be proud of, don't you think?" said Molly. "Today we are used mostly for recreation."
Anything else you'd like to know about mules? Molly says check your library for "Dawn Horse to Derby Winner – The Evolution of the Horse" by Ann Crowell, and a lot more good books for summer reading. Also, search the Internet. You'll find a lot of material at both places.