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Monday, October 12, 2020

The Missouri Mule

EQUUS CABALLUS (female horse) + EQUUS ASINUS (male donkey) =


Mules have been bred and used for centuries as draft, pack, and riding animals. Mules are mentioned in the Bible and appear in Assyrian bas-relief. Here in Missouri, we consider the mule ours. The first mention of mules in Missouri can be found in newspaper articles printed during the early Santa Fe trading expedition. Between 1870 and 1900, Missouri was the leading breeder in number and quality. In 1889, there were 34,500 mules foaled in the state of Missouri alone out of a total 117,000 in the United States. Of the 330,000 sold, Missouri supplied 68,300.

The Missouri Mule was adopted as the state animal of Missouri on May 31, 1995. Nearly two hundred years before, the mule was already making a huge impact on the state. From the early 1800s to the early 1900s the mule played a central role in farming and land development. In 1870, Missouri was the largest mule-holding state in the nation, a position it held until 1900.

The typical Missouri Mule is a cross between a mare of a draft breed and a mammoth jack or male donkey. This cross produces a stout, strong animal that is more easily managed and more agile than his draft horse cousins. 

With its short thick head, long ears, thin limbs, small narrow hooves, and short mane, the mule shares characteristics of a donkey. In height and body, shape of neck and rump, uniformity of coat, and teeth, it appears horse-like. The mule comes in all sizes, shapes and conformations. There are mules that resemble huge draft horses, sturdy quarter horses, fine-boned racing horses, shaggy ponies and more.

The mule inherits from its sire the traits of intelligence, sure-footedness, toughness, endurance, disposition, and natural cautiousness. From its dam it inherits speed, conformation, and agility. Mules exhibit a higher cognitive intelligence than their parent species.

A mule does not sound exactly like a donkey or a horse. Instead, a mule makes a sound that is similar to a donkey's but also has the whinnying characteristics of a horse (often starts with a whinny, ends in a hee-haw). Sometimes, mules are known to whimper.

Handlers “generally find mules preferable to horses because they show more patience under the pressure of heavy weights, their skin is harder and less sensitive, rendering them more capable of resisting sun and rain. Their hooves are harder than horses', and they have a natural resistance to disease and insects. Many farmers of clay soil also found mules superior as plow animals.” 

Mules come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, from minis under 50 lbs. to maxis over 1,000 lbs. Mules’ coats come in the all the varieties as those of horses—sorrel, bay, black and grey, white, roans (both blue and red) palomino, dun and buckskin, even paint, though they’re much less common. And appaloosa mares produce mules with even wilder colors than their horse cousins.

Above: 19 hands, 1,900 pounds of mule

Professor Melvin Bradley, an enthusiast who has researched the mule's legacy says, "They farmed our land, hauled our lumber, drained our swamps, took us to church and war. Now we're having fun with them."


Mules have been a favorite of our nation's leaders as well. George Washington was an excellent horseman, but felt horses "ate too much, worked too little, and died too young". In order to obtain an animal that better suited his needs, Washington imported jack stock from Spain and France and began breeding mules.


And Missouri native, President Harry S. Truman, often bragged about the superior qualities of the Missouri Mules. Proud to be the son of a horse and mule dealer, Truman invited a four-mule hitch from his hometown of Lamar to drive in his 1948 inaugural parade up Pennsylvania Avenue.



Draft Mule = mule offspring from a draft horse mare
Gelding = castrated stallion/jack
Hinny = hybrid of a stallion and a jenny
Horse Mule = proper term for a male mule
Jack = intact male donkey
Jenny = female donkey
John = informal term for a male mule
Mammoth Jack = jack at least 56" tall at the withers
Mare = female horse
Mare Mule = proper term for a female mule
Molly = informal term for a female mule
Mule = hybrid of jack and a mare
Muleskinner = driver of a hitch of mules
Stallion = intact multiplemale horse





  1. I never knew there was so much to find out about mules, or that they could be so large, or so colourful! Thank you.

  2. You're welcome, C.A. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Tracy,

    While we had horses when I was growing up, at a livestock sale when I was 13 yrs old or so, my dad bought a Shetland pony mare bred to a donkey. She birthed the cutest, coal black hinny. We named her Jelly. Her mother's name was... Wait for it... Peanut Butter. hahaha

  4. I always wondered why breeders went to the trouble of producing mules. After reading this article of yours, I now see the advantages they bring to farmers and those whose work requires a dependable and sturdy animal that "doesn't eat too much" and doesn't die too soon."
    Thank you, Tracy for a most informative post.

  5. I know very little about mules other than they made great pack animals and pulling a plough. I also never realized there are so many colors and sizes. A very interesting and informative post, Tracy. Thanks for this valuable research.