written by Cindy Benson
Well, maybe. The reputation is earned but those of us who love our long ear friends, donkeys and mules alike, might see it differently. So I am offering a brief look into the psyche of the Ass – just for fun.
Mules are a hybrid, which means they cannot reproduce, and are a result of breeding a male donkey to a female horse. If you breed a female donkey to a stallion you get a hinny which is a different creature. It is said that a mule is the best of both donkey and horse while a hinny is the worst of both. That seems a bit harsh to me as I knew a hinny in my childhood that was a lovely animal but one way or the other you just don’t see many hinnys out there. Anyway, the “stubborn” side of things comes from the donkey.
Donkeys just don’t think the same way horses do. There are more similarities than differences but those differences are important. Donkeys have lots of self -preservation. They look after themselves. They are much less reactionary than horses and will consider and reason a situation that might cause a horse to panic and get into trouble. For instance, my husband, who is an equine veterinarian and long time lover of mules, has told me that you seldom see a mule with a wire cut and if you do this is a mule to avoid if you are considering purchase because he should have know better. Donkeys and mules seldom get themselves tangled in a fence because they are too smart for that but if they do find themselves caught in wire, etc., they will test the situation rather than panic. You will see them cautiously lift a leg at a time and feel out the mess they are in. If they can work themselves out of it alone they will, slowly and surely, but if not they will stand patiently and wait for their human friends to rescue them. This kind of thinking is one of the reasons mules are so popular as pack animals. If your mule is carrying everything you need out in the wilderness you don’t want him getting silly and falling off the cliff!
The relationship between human and donkey or mule is earned, much more so than with horses, and I enjoy this aspect of their personality. If you take the time to teach your donkey or mule that you will never ask them to do something dangerous they will trust you and do the craziest things just because you have asked. I have had my donkeys in kindergarten classrooms, up stairs and on stages, and in nursing homes. The list goes on and it must make no sense at all to my donkey but he will do these things for me with style just because he likes and trusts me. Donkeys are cautious creatures, which is where their self-preservation comes in, and will not be bullied into a situation they think might harm them. They have a high pain tolerance and are stoic, so you can cuss, whip, and jerk on a donkey or mule and if they think there is a problem with what you are asking them to do they will NOT move. Some people think this is stubborn thinking but if you look at it from the animal’s point of view it makes sense. There are mules that will walk through fire, figuratively, for their owners and refuse to even lead for a stranger. The appropriate way to handle this situation is to let the donkey or mule take his time to look over the situation and consider it. Most of them really want to please their human friends and will try to do what you ask if you partner with them and are mindful of how they see things. Sometimes he just needs time to consider who is asking.
We have many visitors to our ranch and I share my donkeys willingly. If a stranger takes hold of a lead rope and marches off dragging the donkey that is exactly what he must do, every step of the way, even though this donkey knows how to lead well. If this same person were to ask the donkey move forward and wait just a second or two for the donkey to consider what has been asked this same animal will follow gently. It’s all in the approach. I cannot even estimate how many people have tried to “help” me get a donkey into a trailer. I will approach the back of the trailer and stop to let the donkey look it over and the helpful person will begin to push the donkey from behind. From the donkey’s perspective he is now convinced that there is something to fear, even if that person is two feet or even six feet behind and not touching him. The donkey believes you are prepared to force him. It just won’t work. I seldom have a problem loading my donkeys but it may take a few minutes more than it might for a horse, who will often allow a human to intimidate him.
It takes a certain kind of personality to get along with a donkey or mule. Many folks “love them or hate them”. If you are a person who expects his equine to do what you ask without question and because you said so donkeys or mules are probably not for you. Everything you ask of them is likely to be a battle. If you are the kind of person who wants an equine partner and friend a donkey or mule will reward you endlessly with his devotion. I enjoy the way they think and find the donkeys and mules in my life delightful!