Friday, December 01, 2006

December 1, 2006
Just got back from shooting mules. No, not the drug smuggling kind, or the illegal helper kind, but the actual thing, like, "stubborn as a mule," you know, like Jenny Mules and Jack Mules. I needed photo reference of mules for a character in the Top Secret Project and I didn't want to just draw a horse with bigger ears, so I had Russell Garrett find me someone who had 'em. And I'll confess, I had no idea how much different and dynamic mules are.

I got to Denny and Marie Haywood's spread, over on the westside of the Beast at about 8:45 this morning and met "Rabbit" a tall (15 hands high) White mule. I brought along my Mexican saddle with great tapaderos, my '73 Winchester, a poncho and a Sugarloaf style hat. While Denny saddled up Rabbit, I got the skinny on mules. First of all, horses lunge and run from their rear legs, which is why they have big butts, while mules pull from their front legs, or as my friend Bill Welch, of Cowboy Legacy puts it, "mules are front wheel drive." Consequently, they have narrow hips and thick withers and a typical horse saddle won't fit right on a mule. In fact, to be safe, most mule riders add a "britchin" (also, spelled Breeching) strip that connects the saddle to the rear end of the mule. Otherwise, if you're going downhill, a regular saddle will end up on the mule's neck, and the rider somewhere north of Parachute City.

Mules have light-colored eyes (the area around the eyes) and the nose, and the inside of their ears are lighter (see Denny pointing below). Mules also are more cow-hocked than a horse. Note how their legs almost touch at the hocks (below right). They also have a stripe that runs off of their withers towards their front legs (Amazing! I knew none of this!).

I asked Denny how he got interested in mules and he said he was on a trailride for The Fish & Game Department and was on a horse with a mule in front of him. They were on a very steep trail and at one point, the mule slipped on some loose rock and slid perilously toward a cliff, but the mule had the presence of mind to flatten out with his hooves straight out, sliding on his stomach until he stopped. Then he reached out with his front hooves and grabbed ahold of rocks (just like a human would) and pulled himself back to safety. "I knew right then, that I wanted a mule," Denny said, laughing. A horse would have panicked and probably flipped around and gone right off the cliff.

That was some 25 years ago and he and his wife have been collecting and riding mules like crazy ever since. They go to Montana every summer and pack into the mountains and stay for a couple weeks up on the great Divide. I learned all about a Jenny and a Jack and a Molly mule and then there's the John Mule, which is a stud mule, that has to be castrated almost immediately because if they're allowed to get to puberty, they make a stallion "look like a cupcake," according to Marie.

Here's how the basic equation goes: if a male donkey mates with a female horse and out comes a male, that's called a "Horse Mule" or a "John Mule" (see above). If the foal is a female, it's called a "Molly" or "Mare Mule." Both offspring have sexual parts but the horse has an extra chromosome, so the females get pregnant but rarely conceive. Not too long ago a mule gave actually gave birth and they named it, of course "Blue Moon," as in "Once in a blue moon." Now, if a male horse impregnates a female donkey, that offspring is called a "Hinny." Complicated, no? But fascinating to me.

Great stuff. Here's a peek at one of my reference photos with Denny decked out in my hardware. Many sketches and paintings to follow:

"A mule is just like a horse, but even more so."
—Pat Parelli

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