Well I started out with this vague idea that I would replace my wonderful 10 year old Belgian/Saddlebred cross mare (who developed a breathing disorder) with a mule.
Many years ago I had been a participant at a driving and riding demonstration where a local woman had brought two Belgian cross mules. I was fascinated with the mules and spent a long time talking to her about them and observing them. The possibility of owning a mule was always in the back of my mind.
Well, on January 1, 1996 I decided that I needed to get serious about finding a new replacement equine and I would start looking into a mule. I gathered all the Brayers [published by the American Donkey and Mule Society] I could find and any other mule magazines. I stopped at farms where I saw mules [one near where I live in upstate NY]. I called the woman from all those years ago at the demonstration. I called Reese Brothers Mule Co, MaryLou Bridgeman, here in NY, Lloyd Hawley and Meridith Hodges, and Barbara Hunter/Cindy Powell of Hunter Mt Farm, among many, and picked their brains and asked if they knew of any mules for sale that would fit my needs.
I subscribed to the Brayer,
Mules and More
, Western Mule
and The Saddle Mule News. I had decided that I needed a larger mule because my carriages were all made for my 16 hand mare and I wanted to continue to drive. I also thought that, since I had never owned a mule, I should get a broke mule. I didn't care about color or sex but wanted a mule with a well balanced conformation with a decent sized neck. It isn't fun jumping a horse without a good neck in front of you. I wanted a mule that could do it all, of course! My mare rode, drove, fox hunted, horse showed and did combined driving and I wanted to replace her.
I found that most of the mule people I talked with had a notion that horse people in this area had discarded 15 years ago - that is, that draft cross equines were not riding animals - just work animals. I have owned draft cross horses for the last 19 years and loved their attitude and athletic ability and wonderful laid-back mind.
I think I talked to anyone and everyone and kept a log of all my contacts to no avail! No one had a broke 16 hand mule for sale east of the Mississippi River that I could find! Well, I had to change what I thought I needed to be able to widen the search. It finally dawned on me that I hadn't tapped a great source for large mules right here in the east - the Amish. Since I had trained a half a dozen horses over the last few years, the first thing that went was the need for a broke mule. A blacksmith friend had just returned from a Lancaster County, PA horse sale and gave me a great newspaper. It is called "
Lancaster Farming" and comes out once a week [I think] and looks as big as the Sunday NY Times. I called every classified ad that had mules for sale and came up with one Amish dealer that had 60 mules [30 pairs plus a few singles] and one Amish man with just one mule for sale. I left messages on their answering services and finally was called back. When I asked if they thought their mules would be good riding animals [stupid question to ask any dealer] they, of course, said that "they could be riding animals" when, in fact, they have no riding animals and wouldn't know a good one if they fell over one! I made appointments with both men and arraigned to go the PA [5 hours away] with a friend the next week. I conned my girlfriend, Sue, into going with me by promising to stop and see her 95 year old grandmother in a PA nursing home on the way.
The day dawned clear and nice and we were off very early in the morning. It wasn't early enough because we got snagged for lunch at the nursing home with her grandmother. What a nice nursing home...all mauve carpeting and mahogany furniture. We had a private table for lunch while all the other tables were filled with very interested [in us] senior citizens. It seemed to me like they had one ear on their table mates and one ear on our table. Sue told her grandmother that we were in PA because I wanted to buy a mule. Well, this spare, well dressed, with-it 95 year old woman with blue hair sat straight up and in the voice of a deaf person said at the top of her lungs.. "A MULE, WHAT DO YOU WANT A MULE FOR - MULES WORK IN THE MINES!" I had forgotten that my girlfriend's predecessors worked in the PA mines and that would be the only thing that her grandmother would know about mules! You can imagine all the seniors in that dinning room were leaning forward with their hands cupped around their ear closest to our table waiting for the answer to that question! I couldn't actually answer in 50 words or less so I just told her loud enough for everyone else to hear that I thought a mule would be nice. We spent some time with Granny and finally left later than we had planned and continued on to Lancaster County.
We went to the Amish man with the single mule first...in short it wasn't suitable - it looked like it had been rode hard and put away wet it's whole life. I felt bad for the mule but I wanted a show quality equine. Next we went to Henry's farm where the 60 mules were. I had talked to Henry and he said that he would be off the farm later in the afternoon but would have 3 mules tied separately in the barn for me to look at. Sue and I walked into the barn and saw a dappled gray Percheron cross mule, a blonde Belgian cross mule and a black Percheron cross mule all tied inside the barn but outside of the two free stalls FILLED with mules - all moving in pairs! I had never seen more that two mules together [all those years ago at the demonstration] and this was AWESOME. Some of the mules were REALLY big - 18 hands - unsuitable for my purposes but AWESOME none the less!