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The Mule Reviews
I used to live and work with horses, and have also worked with mules. Lately I have been missing these beasties, which explains my reading this book at this time. Written in 1990, some of the statistics about mule population may be out of date by now, but most information about mules is timeless, and Travis fills her book with wonderful stories and pictures of mules of all types doing all kinds of work- and play-related activities.We learn exactly what a mule is; we have a review of the mule in history (supposedly Queen Isabella of Spain called into service a pack train of 15,000 mules, but Travis does not say what this train may have carried or where they went). There is a long but interesting section about mules in the military; a more scientific section discussing the fertility of mules (yes, mules have been known to have foals!); and another sectionwith tips for the mule owners about management and training. Imagine you have been assigned to fly into Burma during WWII and advance behind the Japanese lines to do secret military work there. You are the pilot of a glider that is towed behind a big cargo plane, and at the proper time you are cut loose with your co-pilot and your cargo, and are expected to land safely in the jungle and carry out your assignment. Your cargo? Three mules: two facing the rear of the plane, with theirhind legs right behind your head, and the third mule facing forward, keeping an eye on your piloting skills. Definitely an incentive to make a soft landing!I enjoyed this book and the insights Travis shared about the mule's unique personality. Since I have worked with mules in my day, I did not have to be convinced that they are not stubborn, they are intelligent. They get bored easily, never forget any wrong done to them, and will get even...sooner or later. They also have a sense of humor and are loyal, hard-working companions when treated properly. In her final chapter, Travissays "Remember, every man gets the mule he deserves." This is SO true!
I love this detailed and fascinating history of the mule from the Ancient World where it was found to grow taller than the small horses and donkeys available, to modern times, via many, many military campaigns, farms and travellers.The mule is produced by a jack donkey and a mare, while a hinny is the offspring of a jenny donkey and a horse stallion. Hinnies are smaller because donkey mothers are small, so they are not bred as often. The male mules and hinnies are always sterile but cases are on record of female mules producing live foals and British author Lorraine Travis takes a good look. At the time she was writing it was known that the donkey has sixty-two chromosomes, or thirty-one pairs, and the horse sixty-four chromosomes, while donkeys and hinnies each had sixty-three chromosomes. The cases of mules which, after bearing foals, were bought for science or studied while with their owners are fascinating, with lovely photos of the mules and their offspring, and in some cases the mules had further foals by a different cross of donkey or horse. They were in China, America and Brazil. A Chinese hinny also had a foal. There are not many books about mules, fact or fiction; other than as pack animals or draught animals, which work relentlessly but don't carry glamour appeal, they seldom made history. But some mules did carry riders as extremely surefooted intelligent mounts on difficult terrain. One such mule was derided by General Custer at the start of a trek; by the end of it Custer was asking to buy the mule instead of his worn-out horse, but the owner refused. Soldiers and pack train owners came to respect and love the sagacious animals. A few nice stories are sprinkled in, like a mule stepping carefully out of a coil of barbed wire or a troop of mules turned out to graze overnight and returning within a few minutes of the 'feed' bugle notes being played. The amount of mules purpose bred or bought by armies is absolutely staggering. 30,000 mules were involved in the WW2 Italian campaign by the Allied Forces alone. Most of these mules, if taken overseas, were not shipped home, though some were shipped to other fields of conflict, like Burma. Seems like heartless treatment for the gallant creatures which had helped to win the war. Accounts of forced marches with pack trains and carrying large artillery gun parts abound. As the mule took six or seven years to mature, it was considered more valuable than an easily replaced gun. (No mention of Francis, The Talking Mule of the film.)To happier times, and the future of the mule. The Poitou jack donkey, a highly unusual shaggy donkey photographed here, was put to cart mares in France to breed large mules but with mechanisation the lot were in danger of dying out. Now the few stock remaining have been saved by a breeding programme, incorporating a few Portuguese jennies as the bloodlines were in danger of inbreeding. The American Mammoth Jack donkey is still in use for mule production. Ireland is just mentioned to say that the smaller donkeys here were not often used to produce mules, and were kept by poorer people. The author doesn't add that the British Army took the farmers' horses for the Napoleonic Wars, and had to give the farmers donkeys imported from Spain as compensation. Fans are introducing sports for mules, such as carriage driving, jumping, dressage, rodeo, mounted games of many sorts. I have never heard of a mule being registered with the official Show Jumping Associations, so they might have to create a separate category, or a Mule Society hold its own shows. The author shows us her own lovely mules at home and gives advice on buying, keeping and training, concentrating on how they differ from horse or donkeys. We owe working breeds of horse, donkey, mule and hinny a great deal. Let's not forget them. An interesting bibliography is at the end for those wanting further reading. I read this book from the Royal Dublin Society Library. This is an unbiased review.