Stubborn as a Mule?

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Understand How Mules Think

by Ty Evans


October 2017
Photo courtesy Ty Evans

Have you ever heard the term stubborn as a mule? As a clinician who specializes in mules, I hear people talk about how stubborn mules can be and how difficult they are to work with. Usually these stories are told by someone who has only ridden a mule or two, and more often than not they’ve never ridden a mule at all.

Just for fun, I usually ask these folks what they mean by “stubborn” or in what way they think mules are stubborn. Most of the time they can’t really answer the question, which tells me they are just repeating an old myth about mules. I thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss this perception, and perhaps come to the defense of the mule.

Before we jump to conclusions about mules and attach titles like stubborn to them, we ought to discuss how a mule ponders and processes. Mules are natural thinkers. They have a high degree of self-preservation and they absolutely look out for their own safety. These instincts cause mules to be very logical and analytical. They might question their trainer who puts them in to a position they perceive as dangerous.

For example, you might be riding down the trail and come upon a puddle of water and decide you want to ride through it; your mule might feel the need to balk at it, and may just want to go around the puddle. It might end up being a challenge to get the mule to go across the puddle. It’s important to patiently persist until you accomplish this obstacle. In the process you might think, “Gee whiz, this mule is sure stubborn.”

Well, your mule is thinking, “Gee whiz, my human sure isn’t thinking this through. Don’t they know we can just go around?” It helps to try and see it from the mule’s point of view.

Sometimes we get frustrated when our mule won’t do what we want him to do and we call him stubborn. When he hesitates to go through an obstacle, you can compare it to a young child continually asking “why.” This can be an annoying question to a parent. But if we take some time and consider how great it is that our child is analyzing the situation, calculating, and measuring what is taking place, we can come to appreciate it and we won’t be so annoyed when they ask why.

It’s the same way with mules—many times they are just asking why. “Why do I need to go through that mud puddle when I can simply walk around?”

Of course we say, “Because I said so.” Mules don’t understand this and we have to help them figure these things out. One thing is sure, calling them stubborn won’t help you get them to do things your way.

Most humans are in a hurry. We want things right now, and don’t want to wait around. That’s one thing I really appreciate about mules—they keep things in perspective and will keep you humble. When a mule doesn’t want to go through that puddle, and we are in a hurry to get somewhere, this analytically thinking mule might help you learn some patience. Sure enough, if you only have 15 minutes to work on something with the mule it will take you an hour, but if you go about it like you have an hour to work on it, it’ll probably only take you 15 minutes.

Most of the time it isn’t that our mules don’t want to do what we are asking of them, it’s just that they don’t understand what we are looking for and don’t know how to accomplish the task when it interferes with their natural instincts. Once you get your mule confident in you as a rider, he will work better and will question you less.

Mules aren’t stubborn, they just out-think most humans. If we understand how logical they are we will get along much better with them. It’s all about making our idea the mule’s idea.

I sure enjoy my mules and I am blessed to be able to crisscross this great country helping people with their mule problems and mules with their people problems. I hope this discussion brings you some clarification on the mule’s way of thinking. Next time you hear someone talking about the stubborn mule you can add your two cents.


Originally Published October 2017 Issue

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