The Pilot - Southern Pines, NC, Local News Paper - Weekly HoofBeats Article by Patrica Smith
PATRICIA SMITH: An Odd Place To Meet a Mule SkinnerI went over to the Pinehurst Harness Track Jan. 4 expecting to cover the Dressage show only to find out it was cancelled due to the storm earlier that morning (which produced just enough lightning to take out my electric fence, phone line and Internet connection.)
A few competitors showed up who didn't get the message that the show was cancelled and decided to take the opportunity to school their horses.
But wait a minute. Is that equine with the big ears I see schooling in the field a horse?
No, it was a Belgian mule owned by Shannon Hoffman of Zebulon. If her name sounds familiar, it is because Shannon is the Administrative Support Person for the Equine Health Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State University.
Shannon brought her 12-year old john (gelding) mule to compete in the show. (Female mules are called molly mules.) Lucky Number Seven (Shannon purchased him when he was 7 years old for $700, hence the name) already has one win under his belt. He won an Intro B class at the Raleigh Schooling Show Dec. 20.
Come to find out, Dressage is one of three United States Equestrian Federation recognized disciplines that allows mules to compete. The other two disciplines are driving and endurance competitions. (Mules may compete in Dressage with the exception of USEF Championships, qualifying and selection trials, and international classes.)
Seven also ground drives. Shannon uses him to drag her pastures. Now there is a saving in gas for your tractor.
And apparently mules are cost-saving in other areas as well. Mules could very well be the answer for the current economic downturn.
Shannon says she feeds her four mules for what it costs to feed one horse. Mules eat 1/3 to 1/2 less hay than horses. They have very hard feet, though she does put shoes on them if trail riding over rocks and rough ground.
Shannon shared some other interesting facts about mules.
"They live 5-10 years longer than horses. Mules are 2-3 times stronger than horses. They do spook like horses but tend not to turn and run like horses. They have a keen sense of self-preservation so if they see a hole in the ground they will avoid it."
So exactly what is a mule like Lucky Number Seven's family of origin?
His father was a donkey and his mother was a (Belgian) horse.
Mules are sterile because they are a hybrid between two species. (For you biology majors, a donkey has 62 chromosomes and a horse has 64 chromosomes. A mule ends up with 63 chromosomes.)
You can design your own mule by picking any breed of horse and mating it with any breed of donkey. (Donkeys come in any size, color and shape and can even be gaited, according to Shannon.) The mule hybrid can grow bigger than both of its parents.
Just think, a 17-hand spotted Warmblood mule could be in your future if you're really serious about catching the Dressage judge's eye.
What do horses think about mules? Some like 'em, some don't -- mainly because mules smell different.
"I am very happy to work with people who need to expose their horses to mules so that when they get to the big shows a mule will not be a new thing to them. This is what these schooling shows are all about," says our newfound mule skinner friend.
The story is reprinted by permission of The Pilot, a newspaper in Southern Pines, N.C