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When Greg and Andrea Niswender acquired their first mule seven years ago, they had no idea how attached they would become.
Now, the Niswenders ride, pack and show their five mules and use the animals extensively at Lady Moon Ranch, their guest ranch near Red Feather Lakes.
Both grew up around horses but quickly learned that mules, though similar in appearance, are quite different. Mules are a cross between a female horse and male donkey, and they’re always sterile.
According to the Niswenders, mules are smarter than horses, which can be good and bad. Mules are easier to train, but it has to be done on their terms. “You can’t make a mule do anything,” Andrea said.
They have a strong sense of self-preservation. Mules rarely get hurt and will absolutely refuse to go near danger, which is why they are often labeled stubborn.
“I could lead any horse off a cliff,” Greg said. “But a mule will tell you to go first.”
An owner can get a mule to do what he or she wants, but first a relationship with the animal must be developed. It is important to maintain trust.
Mules often live longer than horses. A horse is retired around 20, but Greg has found that mules keep working even when they are 25. They can still be ridden at 30.
Riding a mule is also different. Since mules are cautious, they take very deliberate and calculated steps. This makes the ride smoother than one on a horse.
“I have low-back pain,” said Andrea. “After riding a mule, it actually feels better.”
Also, their strong, solid feet mean that the farrier visits less often.
The most notable thing about owning a mule, the Niswenders said, is how affectionate they are. Mules are extremely caring creatures. “They like people, and they will show it,” said Greg. If a person takes the time to train a mule, he’ll enjoy a lifelong relationship.
“For anything you put into a mule, it will pay you back double,” echoed Andrea.