Get Ready for April 2016

Get Ready for April 2016Spring is in the air! Are you ready to get outside, grow some plants, and build something new?

  1. Learn how to transplant successfully.
  2. Take advantage of three free planting guides from K-State.
  3. Mix up an easy radish salad.
  4. Download free building plans and construct something new.
  5. Learn how to tell a rattlesnake from a kingsnake.
  6. Try out three easy ways to use asparagus.
  7. Consider new marketing strategies for your farm-fresh milk and meat.
  8. Learn how to increase the productivity of your home acre.
  9. Decide if heritage livestock breeds are right for you.
  10. Invest in the ultimate encyclopedia of organic gardening.

Paint

PaintThe American Paint Horse is often confused with the pinto—after all, they both share a distinctive flashy color pattern.  Unlike the pinto, however, the Paint is truly a breed, developed from a subset of horses with pinto coloring.

The pinto horse was once popular throughout the world, but it was perhaps most common and favored in Spain throughout the Middle Ages.  The color was cultivated among wealthy horse owners as a status symbol.  Not surprisingly, a few pinto horses landed in the Caribbean with Spanish explorers in the 1500s as breeding animals.

Two pinto horses accompanied Hernán Cortés to Mexico in 1519, and it was the descendants of these and other painted horses brought by the conquistadors that became the foundation of the Paint breed.  The earliest history of the Paint parallels that of the Spanish mustang.  Paint horses roamed in wild herds and were bred and traded by Native Americans.  The flashy color won the admiration of Plains Indians and was eventually considered magical.

Paints met with mixed responses among North Americans, however.  While many New Englanders in colonial days respected Indian ponies, the Paint was considered too gaudy for a Puritan culture.  However, French-Canadian trappers, American mountain men, Mexican vaqueros, and Southwestern cowpunchers came to appreciate the Paint horse.  It possessed all the toughness of any other good mustang or Indian horse—with a touch of show!

But the Paint horse suffered the same fate as the mustang after the Civil War.  The government directed its energies at wiping out the Indian’s horse in hope of breaking the Indian’s power to resist Westward Expansion.  At the same time, prejudice arose against both the mustang and the Paint.  Few whites wanted anything to do with Indian culture, including Indian horses, and the feeling persisted for decades.  When ranch horses were first organized and registered in 1940 as Quarter Horses, horses with pinto coloring were excluded.

Only a handful of ranchers preserved the Paint horses over the years, refusing to give up an animal that had proven itself time and time again.  Their efforts began to pay off in the 1950s, as pleasure riding became a popular pastime across America.  By that time, the old prejudice had lost its sharp edge, and the Paint horse was received with interest and enthusiasm.  And not simply for its color, either—breeders had been careful to preserve the working stock type, making the Paint equally useful on the trail and on the ranch.

Today, a Paint horse is defined by its ancestry, rather than its color.  A registered Paint may come from two purebred Paint parents, or it might have one Paint parent and one Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse parent.  Not all Paint horses have loud patches of color.  Solid-colored Paints are registered as breeding stock.

The Paint has overcome its perilous past and is rising to new heights of popularity, not just in America, but worldwide.  There are about 460,000 Paints in the United States alone, and over a million across the globe.

 

PaintUses

Paint horses excel in every discipline—pleasure, work, and competition alike.  They can participate in English-style sports, and can perform well in everything from hunting to eventing.

However, the Paint horse really shines in ranching and Western events.  It lends itself well to all aspects of this style of riding, including reining, cutting, roping, barrel racing, and Western pleasure.

For those who enjoy the slower pace of trail riding, the Paint horse is an excellent choice.  Its stable personality makes it safe both as a children’s mount and in group riding situations.

Finally, the Paint horse can also be used as a packhorse.

 

Temperament

Overall, the Paint is an extremely well-mannered breed.  It loves people and is willing to please, making it very trainable.  It can keep its head in most circumstances.

There are slight variations throughout the breed, as it is raised and trained for many different purposes.  Paints bred for pleasure tend to be the most laid-back, even bordering on lazy.  The working stock type is more alert and energetic, although still sensible and good-natured.  Paints with Thoroughbred ancestry, typically preferred for English sports, have more of the fire and spirit that their disciplines demand.

 

PaintHealth

Paints are generally sturdy and suffer from few health problems aside from genetic defects.

Color-related problems are a risk, however.  Horses with blue eyes and extensive areas of white, especially on the face, are prone to deafness.  Also, Paints that carry the frame overo gene should not be bred to each other to avoid producing a foal with lethal white syndrome.  This is a genetic defect that causes incomplete development of the gastrointestinal tract.

Paints with Thoroughbred ancestry may display health problems common in purebred Thoroughbreds.  Wobbler syndrome, incoordination caused by compression of the spine, is one of the more common issues.

Also, crossbreeding with popular Quarter Horse bloodlines has introduced many other disorders.  Paints descended from the Quarter Horse Impressive may suffer from hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, which is displayed as twitching, weakness, and sometimes death.  Influence from the stallion Poco Bueno has also introduced hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia, a painful condition in which the horse’s skin peels away.  Other Quarter Horse health issues present in the Paint include malignant hyperthermia, equine polysaccharide storage myopathy, and glycogen branching enzyme deficiency.

 

Pros

Paint

  • Affordability of pleasure-quality horses.
  • Suitability for beginners.
  • Ease of training and handling.
  • Fairly low maintenance requirements.
  • Versatility.
  • Athleticism.
  • Strength.
  • Cow sense.

 

Cons

  • Expense of top bloodlines and trained horses.
  • Large number of genetic defects.

 

Complete Series

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds

 

Anderson Creek Fire Nearly Contained

Anderson Creek Fire Nearly Contained
Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Forestry Services

The largest fire in Kansas history, known as the Anderson Creek fire, has been burning for a week now.

At the present time, the fire is reported at 95% total containment. The fire is 81% contained in Barber County, 90% contained in Comanche County, and 98% contained in Woods County, Oklahoma.

A total of 367,620 acres have been involved, most of which are in Kansas. Officials report that nine homes, numerous livestock, and countless miles of fencing have been devastated by the conflagration. No people have been killed or seriously injured.

So far the cause of the fire has not been officially reported.

Management of the fire will be transitioned from the state to the involved counties this week. A burn ban went into effect in Barber County on March 28 and will continue for a week from that date.

Barber County officials acknowledge that hot spots will have to be monitored for days, or even weeks to come.

Anderson Creek Fire Nearly Contained
Map courtesy of Oklahoma Forestry Services

Recap

The record-breaking wildfire started northwest of Alva, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, March 22, at around 5:30 PM. By the following morning, it had already crossed the state line into Kansas, consuming almost 48,000 acres along the way. The combination of heat, low humidity, and extremely gusty winds throughout the day provided the ideal conditions for rapid growth.

By the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23, the fire was dangerously close to Medicine Lodge. The hospital and the prison were evacuated, while the town residents were requested to voluntarily evacuate the town. Several buildings on the edge of Medicine Lodge were destroyed. Clouds of smoke rolled across much of the state with the help of extremely strong winds. The wall of smoke was reported as far as southern Nebraska. Governor Sam Brownback declared a state of emergency.

By 11:00 AM on March 24, the fire had burned over 350,000 acres across Kansas and Oklahoma. A lull in the wind enabled firefighters to bring the fire under partial control that afternoon, prompting Governor Brownback to tell the Associated Press, “Things really appear to be going pretty well so far today.”

Containment efforts continued on Friday the 25th, with firefighters patrolling the boundaries of the fire to prevent further spread.

On Saturday, four Black Hawk helicopters were brought to the scene to pour water onto the fire. Together, the helicopters dropped over 44,000 gallons onto hot spots and active flames. A fifth Black Hawk carried Governor Brownback over the scene of the disaster for an inspection.

Easter morning dawned with about three inches of snow on the ground in Barber County. The welcome weather event, known as the Easter Miracle, was received with heartfelt thanksgiving across the state, and beyond. However, Oklahoma Forestry Services cautioned those following the fire’s progress that the danger was not over—persistent hot spots in the brushy canyons of the Red Hills had the potential to flare up over the next few days due to dry, breezy weather. The Black Hawks returned to continue their work. Although temporarily hindered by the unauthorized presence of a drone, the helicopters, aided by crews on the ground, managed to bring the fire into 90% containment overall by evening.

Conditions remained largely the same on Monday the 28th. Damage assessments began, and more accurate mapping proved that the total acreage involved was less than previously believed. Reports will continue to trickle in from the counties involved.

2016 Wildfires to Date

Anderson Creek Fire Nearly Contained
Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Forestry Services

The Anderson Creek fire was not the only wildfire that had to be faced over the course of the week. On March 23, another large grass fire started east of Hutchinson and quickly spread into western Harvey County, burning about 14,000 acres and causing evacuations across the area before being brought under control Thursday night. A smaller fire involving 1,000 acres straddled the Meade-Clark county line on March 25.

Conditions have been right for wildfires across portions of Kansas since the beginning of the year. The Kansas Forest Service has reported 15 wildfires between January 1 and March 17:

  • February 15: 300 acres in Cowley County; reignited from a controlled burn the previous day.
  • February 16: 20 acres and 2 homes in Cowley County; caused by a barbecue accident.
  • February 17: 300 acres in Pottawatomie County; sparked by arcing power lines.
  • February 17: 1,000 acres in Montgomery County; escaped from a burning wood pile during a red flag warning.
  • February 17: 1,000 acres in Linn County; cause unknown.
  • February 18: 1,000 acres in Hamilton County; escaped from a controlled burn.
  • February 26: 200 acres in Marion County; lit by a passing train.
  • February 26: 400 acres in Leavenworth County; escaped from a burning brush pile during a red flag warning.
  • February 26: 1,000 acres in Lyon County; possible arson.
  • February 26: 2,000 acres in Butler County; cause unknown.
  • March 5: 25,000 acres in Cowley County; lit by a passing train.
  • March 6: 1,200 acres in Marion County; cause unknown.
  • March 11: 600 acres in Marion County; escaped from a controlled burn.
  • March 17: 1,000 acres in McPherson County; cause unknown.
  • March 17: 5,000 acres in Allen County; cause unknown.

Wildfires in Kansas

Anderson Creek Fire Nearly Contained
Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Forestry Services

According to K-State, grassland fires start readily in Kansas when heavy rains are followed by a dry pattern. The rains promote the growth of lush vegetation, which then combines with dry heat and winds to provide a tinderbox situation. The smallest spark can become a raging inferno. Incidentally, however, the majority of Kansas wildfires do not occur during red flag conditions.

An estimated 110,000 acres burn yearly in Kansas on average, less than a third of the land involved in the Anderson Creek Fire. Many accidental grassland fires start in March, coinciding with the annual practice of controlled burning of pastures. However, trash fires and cigarette butts are frequently involved in the start of grassland fires.

In 2015, there were 6,954 fires reported across the state. Of these, the following ignition factors were the most common:

  1. Null or undetermined: 3,706.
  2. None: 970.
  3. Controlled burns: 338.
  4. High wind: 337.
  5. Open fire for debris/waste disposal: 331.

The top five heat sources for grassland fires in 2015 were:

  1. Undetermined: 2,378.
  2. Hot ember or ash: 901.
  3. Flying brands, embers, or sparks: 565.
  4. Heat spread from another fire: 380.
  5. Matches: 296.

Hats Off

But these facts do not begin to tell anything like the whole story of the Anderson Creek fire—the story of the faith, courage, endurance, generosity, and gratitude of the people involved.

Volunteer firefighters dropped everything to come to the rescue. Residents stood watch through the night over downed power lines to guard against accidents. People from across the country channeled prayers, words of encouragement, and fervent thanksgiving through social media. Anonymous truckers dropped off bales of hay for cattle. Ranchers offered greener pastures to those less fortunate. Plucky locals vowed to rebuild.

Our hats are off to the people affected by the Anderson Creek fire, and to those who helped to see them through. We share in your thanksgiving.

Helpful Resources

March 22nd–23rd Large Grass Fires
Satellite images and more photos from NOAA.

Early Morning Easter Snowfall in Kansas
Satellite images and photos of the Easter Miracle.

Maps
Find out more about wildfires in Kansas.

K-State Horticulture Newsletter

K-State Horticulture NewsletterGardening in Kansas can be a very unique experience. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find information tailored to our somewhat unpredictable climate and growing conditions.

Fortunately, K-State has filled the gap with a weekly newsletter packed with useful and timely information that gardeners of all stripes will appreciate. Whether you have a kitchen garden, a large orchard, or just a few flowers in pots, you will find a wealth of tips to keep your plants thriving.

Just to give you a very small sampling of previous topics:

  • Conservation trees from the Kansas Forest Service.
  • Bird feeding.
  • Plants recommended for Kansas.
  • Pruning fruit trees.
  • Fertilizing perennial flowers.
  • Managing turf in shade.
  • Organic sources of nitrogen fertilizers.
  • Butterfly gardening.
  • Helps for new vegetable gardeners.
  • Field bindweed control.
  • Rabbits in the garden.
  • Strawberry bed renewal.
  • Harvesting potatoes.
  • Inexpensive method of watering trees.
  • Storing apples.
  • Harvesting and roasting sunflower seeds.
  • Tucking in your lawnmower for the winter.
  • Dormant seeding of turfgrass.
  • Poinsettia care.
  • Firewood.

Not only will you read a diverse array of useful information, but you will learn what you need to know right on time, with a bit of wiggle room for planning. A new issue is archived online every week. You can also subscribe electronically—check the latest issue for instructions.

What a useful resource! A must for every Kansas gardener.

Mustang

MustangFew types of horses have become as iconic as the mustang, the symbol of the American West. Its name comes from the Spanish word mestengo, “stray animal.”

That word precisely indicates the mustang’s origin. Whenever Spaniards traveled to the New World, they brought horses with them. These horses were of a wide range of types:

  • The finest Andalusian war and riding horses of Spain.
  • Spanish Jennets, with their unique gaits.
  • Barbs captured from the Moors.
  • Cheap Sorraia packhorses from Portugal.
  • Nondescript work horses of mixed lineage.

Many of these horses were kept and bred in the Caribbean islands, where their offspring provided a source of mounts for the Conquistadors on their further explorations. One of the advantages of using Caribbean-bred horses was that they were already adapted to the climate of the New World. They fit readily into the way of life in Mexico, first assisting in conquests and later becoming valuable assets at missions and cattle ranches.

As the Spaniards traveled through North America, their horses became loose in many ways. Some escaped of their own free will and multiplied in a feral state. Others were taken by Indian slaves making a dash for freedom.

These escaped natives found that they had a valuable possession in the Spanish horses. Not only did a horse symbolize liberty, but it represented wealth and an easy life. Most Native American tribes had previously relied on dogs to pull their belongings when moving from place to place. Now, with the horse, they could travel rapidly—rapidly enough to pursue herds of bison across the plains.

A nomadic life of hunting became the norm for the Plains tribes by the beginning of the 18th century. Some Indians, however, became wealthy horse brokers, acting as middlemen between their tribe and other tribes, as well as between Indians and Spanish, French, and English settlers. Through the native horse traders, the Spanish horse not only spread across most of the country, but it intermingled with nearly every type of horse in Canada, America, and Mexico, although Spanish blood predominated.

Throughout the early and mid-1800s, Americans came to value the horses of the West, whether wild or kept by Indians. They had a wisdom and hardiness that no domestic horse breed could equal. Mustangs were purchased from Indians or caught and tamed to carry trappers through the mountains, to pull stagecoaches, to transport important news on the Pony Express, to herd cattle to market, and even to serve in the cavalry.

However, as settlement moved westward, the mustang came to be viewed as a menace. It was the pride and strength of the Native American tribes that were resisting Westward Expansion with violence. The horse was derided as a “scrub” or a “broomtail” mainly because it was a threat to American civilization in the West. By the 1850s, the government had come to realize that eliminating the mustang was essential to eliminating the Indian. After the Civil War, the policy was pursued aggressively. Horses were confiscated from tribes, feral stallions were shot on sight, and Friesian and heavy-breed stallions were introduced into the herds to produce slow, cumbersome offspring that would prove useless to native warriors.

By the turn of the century, the mustang was a very different type of horse from the original Spanish escapee. The pure type survived on a few ranches and in isolated pockets in the mountains, but most mustangs showed strong influence from breeds familiar to Americans, especially since their herds frequently absorbed abandoned domestic horses. However, this did not improve the mustang’s reputation.  Hatred for the horse persisted even after the Indian threat dwindled away. The mustang still caused problems for the settlement of the West, since it competed for grazing land and the stallions tore down fences to capture domestic mares.

MustangThe mustang, which had once numbered around 5 million (depending on the estimate), could claim a population of 1 to 2 million feral horses at the beginning of the 20th century. About a million of these horses were captured and pressed into service during World War I. After World War II, widespread hunting of mustangs began in an effort to free up the range for grazing. Entire herds were rounded up by aircraft to supply meat to the poultry and pet feed industries, while others were merely disposed of through poisoning.

However, the mustang found a champion in Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnston of Nevada. After following a livestock truck packed with mustangs to the rendering plant, she took action to awaken the public to the diminishing numbers of the wild horses and to the cruel practices of the roundups. The result was a 1959 law that prohibited the poisoning of waterholes and the use of aircraft and motorized vehicles to capture wild horses. Still, other methods of hunting mustangs continued until a law was passed in 1971 to grant them federal protection.

With the mustang protected by law, a more humane way to remove it from grazing land was sought. A few years later, the Bureau of Land Management launched the Adopt-a-Horse program. Since then, controversy has surrounded both the program and the horses without cease. In 1976, the roundup laws were amended to again permit the use of aircraft to capture mustangs. Furthermore, keeping mustangs on BLM land has come under attack from several directions. Ranchers who lease BLM land to graze cattle protest the loss of grazing land, while environmentalists fear that mustangs damage the ecosystem and thus harm native wildlife. Meanwhile, well-meaning but inexperienced people often adopt pet mustangs with unfortunate results, while in 2004 killing mustangs for the horsemeat export market was legalized. As a result, many adoptions end in slaughter.

Today, the number of feral mustangs in America is somewhat in doubt. The BLM places the figure at 58,000, while the Humane Society suggests the number is far less.

A tiny percentage of the mustang population displays characteristics of the original pure Spanish breed and are designated Colonial Spanish Horses. These include several distinct populations, including:

  • The Cerbat from northwestern Arizona.
  • The Kiger Mustang from eastern Oregon.
  • The Pryor Mountain Mustang from the border of Montana and Wyoming.
  • The Sulphur Horse from southwestern Utah.

Uses

Many mustangs are simply enjoyed for pleasure riding. However, the mustang is the epitome of a good trail horse, and it can excel at competitive endurance, as well.

Mustangs have proven their worth on the ranch time and time again. Western competitions are not beyond their capability, either.

Less common uses for mustangs including jumping and driving.

Mustang

Temperament

Although mustangs are considered feral, meaning that they are simply domestic animals running free, in temperament they are truly wild animals. Owners agree that a mustang has far more personality and intelligence than a domestic horse. It observes everything around it and displays an uncanny wisdom in taking care of itself. When it is unused to working with humans, it can be feisty and downright rebellious.

A younger mustang is easier to train than an older one, but all mustangs are fast learners. Their trust must be carefully earned, but a clear pecking order must be established, as well. The observant nature of a mustang makes it quick to realize whether or not any given person is a suitable leader.

But a kind, firm person can form a very deep and special bond with a mustang that can be experienced with few other types of horses. A mustang can be extremely loyal.  In the wild, mustangs typically look after their herdmates, and a mustang will gladly do the same for a person that earns its trust and respect.

Health

Overall, the mustang has been built to last. It suffers from no breed-specific genetic defects, and it is structurally sound, as well. Most mustangs do not need shoes, depending on the type of work they are required to do.

Unfortunately, most people who adopt mustangs fail to appreciate that their needs are different from those of most domestic horses. Mustangs fatten readily, and when overfed and provided with a sedentary existence will develop metabolic syndrome. Their weight must be managed carefully, and they must be provided with ample exercise.

The frame overo color found in some mustangs is associated with lethal white syndrome, a genetic defect. Frame overo horses should always be bred to horses of some other color to avoid producing a foal that will die of complications from an incomplete colon a few days after birth.

MustangPros

  • Availability.
  • Low purchase cost.
  • Strong survival instinct
  • Ability to withstand extreme heat and cold.
  • Low maintenance requirements.
  • Extreme hardiness.
  • Longevity.
  • Speed.
  • Endurance.
  • Agility.
  • Surefootedness.
  • Smooth gait, depending on the individual horse’s ancestry.
  • Good cow sense.

Cons

  • Need for experienced training.
  • Need for large amounts of exercise.
Helpful Resource

“North American Colonial Spanish Horse Update”
Detailed information on the history and genetics of the true Spanish mustang. Describes significant and rare feral, rancher, and Native American bloodlines.

Complete Series

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds

 

Pawnee Indian Museum

Pawnee Indian MuseumThe site of the present-day Pawnee Indian Museum near Republic, Kansas, was accepted by the state in 1901, making it the oldest State Historic Site. The site was dedicated and opened to the public that same year. Thousands came to witness the ceremony and to see a granite monument—to an event that never happened in Kansas.

The obelisk still stands proudly outside the museum, proclaiming to all visitors:

Erected by the
State of Kansas
1901
to mark the site of the
Pawnee Republic
where Lieut Zebulon M Pike
caused the Spanish flag to
be lowered and the flag of
the United States to be raised
September 29, 1806

This event was heralded as the first raising of the American flag west of the Mississippi. However, later historical research revealed that Pike’s American flag was actually raised about 40 miles up the Republican River in present-day Nebraska.

Fortunately, the site had value for something other than its supposed connection with Zebulon Pike. The Pawnee village in Nebraska where Pike had raised the American flag was occupied by a group of Indians that had moved there not too many years before. Their former home was the site of the erroneous granite monument.

During the late 1700s, and possibly again in the 1820s, the Republican band of the Pawnee tribe occupied a village of earth lodges on the historic site. They abandoned the village around 1830, and it later burned down.

Some preliminary excavations of the village were carried out in the 1940s, but the real work of examining the remains did not begin until 1965. Depressions from 22 earth lodges were found, and eight of these were excavated. One of the largest was enclosed by the Pawnee Indian Museum in 1967.

 

Pawnee Indian MuseumWhat You’ll See

The creators of the Pawnee Indian Museum planned a rare opportunity for visitors. Not only is the round building located over the top of a former earth lodge, but the artifacts discovered in that lodge have been left precisely where they were found by archaeologists. Holes mark the location of the poles that supported the lodge. Tools dot the floor. Even the storage pit is open to view. It’s not difficult for the visitor to believe that the Pawnee were really there, and not too long ago, either.

Other artifacts and interpretive aids were placed inside the museum to enrich the experience:

  • Audio recordings spoken in Pawnee.
  • Paintings of Pawnee people.
  • Two authentic sacred bundles.

Outside, a brief nature trail takes visitors around the village.

 

Directions

  1. Take U.S. Highway 36 west out of Belleville for about 11-1/2 miles.
  2. Turn right on Kansas Highway 266 and continue for about 7-1/2 miles.
  3. Continue straight at the bend in the road to enter the parking lot.

 

Helpful Resource

Pawnee Indian Museum
More information to help you plan your trip.

How We Crossed the West

How We Crossed the WestLewis and Clark reached Kansas on June 26, 1804, and departed only two weeks later.  However, their brief stay had a significant impact on the future state:

  • They named some of the geographical features of interest.
  • They imparted new knowledge of the area to the rest of America.
  • They wrote a favorable account of the northeastern corner of the state, inducing the first settlers to view it as distinct from the “Great American Desert” further west.

How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis & Clark by Rosalyn Schanzer does an excellent job of presenting the story of the two explorers to children—while relying on the firsthand accounts of those involved.

The narrative is supplied almost entirely by carefully chosen excerpts from the diaries of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and other members of the expedition.  Through their words we learn of the highs and lows of exploration, the animals of the West, and the habits of the Indians.

The book is supplemented with lavish illustrations, adding to its appeal.

Excellent introduction to Lewis and Clark, relying almost exclusively on primary sources!

Mule

MuleA mule has a jack (male donkey) for a father and a mare (female horse) for a mother. The result is an intriguing blend of equine characteristics that rarely occurs in the wild, but that has occupied a special place in human life since ancient times.

Mules were first bred in the Middle East, where they were commonly used as mounts for royalty. A respect for mules spread further east into Europe as civilization advanced. Mules participated in the chariot races of the Greek Olympics before the time of Christ and became the chosen steed of the clergy afterward.

In fact, mules became so popular in Europe that King Ferdinand of Spain had cause to fear the virtual extinction of horses in his country. In 1494, he decreed that no able-bodied man could ride a mule; the hybrid’s use was to be restricted to the clergy and to women. This did not stop the Spaniards from bringing jacks to the New World. Mule breeding became commonplace in all Spanish territories, fostered by the missions.

But the person who played the greatest rules in making mules popular in America was George Washington. Seeing a largely undeveloped country before him, he realized that a sturdy animal would become the basis of agriculture and transportation for years to come. Washington concluded that a large type of mule was needed. He had the necessary mares already, but the big jack he envisioned was of a Spanish type. By that time, the Spanish government had adopted and was jealously guarding the mule business. Exporting Spanish jacks was illegal.

George Washington, however, was a renowned figure by 1785. When King Charles III of Spain learned of Washington’s quest for the right jack, he graciously made an exception and sent two to America. One died at sea, but the other, named Royal Gift, was put to stud along with a Maltese jack given to Washington by his good friend Lafayette.

Washington made the breeding of large draft mules possible in America. Soon afterward came an additional impetus for the production of such a mule. In 1793, the cotton gin was invented. In short order, cotton became king in the South, and the mule became a valued field hand. The birth of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 created still more demand for mules, as did the opening of various parts of the West to settlement.

Mule

Before long, the mule became an American icon, numbering over 5 million on our shores by the 1920s. It had its place on farms from New England to the Deep South, from the East Coast to the Desert Southwest. Many states bred mules, but none became so firmly associated with the animal as Missouri, the nation’s center of mule production.

But the mule suffered with the horse when machines became the norm. By the late 1960s, there were fewer than 10,000 mules in America.

A fascination with sustainable farming and traditional methods of raising crops once again increased the production of mules, however. People with small acreages and an interest in living at a slower pace now frequently choose mules as their preferred work animals, particularly in the South. The mule also thrives in the West, where it remains a favorite for packing and trail riding in rough country.

Uses

The purpose that any given mule can fulfill is largely (although not exclusively) determined by the size and purpose of its mother. Therefore, a mule’s “breed” is determined by the mare’s breed. For example, a Quarter mule is part Quarter Horse, an Appy mule is part Appaloosa, and a Belgian Draft mule is part Belgian.

Larger mules of heavy-breed ancestry are often used for draft purposes, including farming. In fact, some small-scale farmers consider them the superior source of power on hilly terrain.

A more moderate-sized mule of a light breed is suitable for either packing or riding. Depending on its ancestry, this type of mule might excel at jumping, dressage, eventing, hunting, reining, penning, cutting, roping, or barrel racing. A popular sport designed just for mules is the coon jump, in which mules jump fences up to six feet high from a standstill.

Miniature mules, usually bred from a Miniature Donkey and either a Miniature Horse or a Shetland Pony, are mainly kept as pets and companions.

Temperament

Mule

Mules tend to display the personality traits of both donkeys and horses. There is far more to their nature than stubbornness; obstinacy is usually a response to a perceived threat.

A secure, well-trained mule is curious, even playful. It can keep its cool in tough situations, and will actually reward its rider’s attentions with devoted affection. Female (molly) mules are quite stable even when in season, rarely displaying the unpredictable behavior of a mare.

However, mules take time to think things through. They do not blindly obey orders. New tasks and routines must be explained to them patiently but firmly. Likewise, they must be given time to accept strangers. Incautious advances may be received with a deadly kick.

A mule never forgets. Mistreatment or a frightening experience that occurs when the mule is young will color its disposition for the rest of its life. It will hold a grudge and can be a dangerously calculating enemy.

Even though they are sterile, male (john) mules are extremely dangerous and willful. For safe handling, john mules should always be gelded.

Health

A combination of hybrid vigor and instinct for self-preservation protects the mule from many of the injuries and digestive upsets that horses are prone to. Although it is the owner’s responsibility to prevent accidents, a mule generally will not let itself founder on too much food or water, and will typically protect its feet and legs from damage.

Note that a mule’s hoof is very similar to a donkey’s hoof and should be trimmed the same way—upright, unlike a horse’s hoof.

Most mules are sterile due to genetic differences between their donkey and horse parents. However, the occasional molly mule can breed and give birth, a phenomenon which scientists still can’t explain.

Finally, owners must realize that mules are not impervious to all injury and disease. Symptoms of pain or illness can be extremely difficult to detect because most mules are stoic by nature. By the time that a mule displays signs of discomfort, the associated condition has usually caused irreversible damage.

Pros

Mule

  • Hybrid vigor.
  • Survival instinct.
  • Heat tolerance.
  • Parasite resistance.
  • Ability to thrive on nothing but grass.
  • Hardiness.
  • Easy foaling for the mother of the mule.
  • Longevity.
  • Versatility.
  • Surefootedness.
  • Smooth ride.
  • Exceptional strength.
  • Tremendous endurance.

Cons

  • Difficulty of breeding a jack to a mare; they are typically uncooperative unless raised with the other species from the start.
  • Noise.
  • Need for experienced training and handling.
  • Late maturity.
  • Infertility.
  • Slow working pace.
Complete Series

Horse & Donkey BreedsHorse & Donkey Breeds