Mules are interesting creatures. They live up to their notoriety of being stubborn. They somehow complete tasks that should be impossible considering they don’t have opposable thumbs. From a biological standpoint, due to a differing number of chromosomes between horses and donkeys, they are unable to reproduce, which is probably a good thing. Mules are eccentric and between those big ol’ ears, they have a strategic, quick-thinking brain.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that my opinion of mules has been formed solely by my experiences with Dexter, our mule-in-residence. I do not profess to be an expert on mules or their behavior, but I have no shortage of opinions about the one that I happen to share space with.
Dexter showed up in our barnyard one June day with a big red bow around his neck, making a spine-tingling racket that only mules can make. My Other Half had previously been acquainted with Dexter who, at the time, belonged to our neighbor. It turned out Dexter had outlived his usefulness there and made it on the fast-track to our ranch, right in time for my Other Half’s birthday. Over his lifetime Dexter has had several homes before ours, always getting traded for a dog, work, or something or other. Since he has been at our ranch, he has provided us with a constant source of amusement and frustration.Mules can be used to haul feed, pack materials, or pull heavy loads but we ride Dexter as if he were a ranch horse, and he can be surprisingly handy if he’s in the right mood. He can also be slow and cantankerous if he’s not in the right mood. He’s incredibly determined and if you correctly ask him to do something, he’ll complete the task every time, his substantial ears flopping in the breeze. But if you take a short-cut to get him to do what you want, he’ll be sure to punish you for it. Just like any mule, the old fellow has his quirks. When the going gets tough, he gets going….backwards. If he feels nervous or unsure of a situation, he pins his ears back and gets the heck out of Dodge, one giant step backward at a time.
Dexter is a real non-conformist. The horses ignore him, leaving him at the back of the pack when they roam around grazing, yet he gets to have the last laugh as he nimbly leaps over the cattle guard to wander onto my lawn whenever he so chooses. He calmly makes fecal deposits all over my front yard while maintaining eye contact with me, even as I run towards him, pelting rocks and hollering. It’s a funny little game we play. Just as calmly as he hops into my yard, he’ll gracefully jump back across the Texas gate into his rightful home where he belongs, watching closely as I add some additional mule deterrents to the gate.
Sometimes I’ll see him in his pasture when I leave home and he’ll be in the same spot when I return, but large mule-shaped tracks in the fresh snow tell me that he definitely didn’t stay where he belonged the entire time. Blinking innocently, he’ll look my way, and I know that he knows that I know.
Amidst all of his mulish ways, I can’t help but appreciate his character and substance and I definitely don’t underestimate him. We may be at odds from time to time but he has taught me a very valuable lesson — keep your friends close, and your mules closer.