14 Points to Consider when Mule Shopping
by Betsy Hutchins
After you decide what kind of mule you want, consider the following
points while mule shopping:
- How much money can you spend? Buy a mule within your budget. Falling in
love is not a good excuse to buy a mule priced beyond your budget. Instead, put
that animal on your #2 list but look, look, look for an animal that fits
your requirements and your budget before you go to the #2 list.
- If an animal has been shown, ask for a record of its accomplishments. Don't
take "has been shown" as a recommendation. An animal that has won only
in halter classes may have no idea what to do in harness or under saddle. Find
out what classes the mule entered, how the mule did, who drove or rode it, how
many shows, and how long ago.
- Allow the mule to sell itself. Its personality, performance, manners, and
behavior when driven or ridden are important in making your decision. Sellers
rarely guarantee an animal's disposition and behavior. Most complaints following
the purchase of a mule are about bad training, bad habits, and bad disposition
usually resulting in bad injuries.
- Ask questions. Make a list before you leave home and don't be shy about
asking them. Include questions about health history, foot history (mules can
founder), habits, disposition, odd quirks, bad habits, and training history.
Make clear which bad habits you can deal with and which are beyond your
capability. If a professional trained the mule, try to find out about the
trainer. Some horse trainers should never be allowed near a mule, while others
are fine mule trainers. Even an honest seller may not know everything, but
that's okay. Try to find the answers some other way. If you're worried about
soundness and hoofs, for instance, rely on a vet check.
- Ask why the mule is for sale and think about the answer. It may not be
true. If you have any doubts, pay attention to your instincts. Don't show your
doubt, but double check anything that seems doubtful. Careful is better than
gullible, but don't be so cautious you never buy a mule. Try to hit a happy
medium when deciding whether to believe a seller you don't know. The seller's
experiences, thoughts, concerns, and priorities are bound to be different from
- Whether or not you are experienced in buying equines, take a knowledgeable
person with you. That person may be a big help in noticing points you miss and
may have knowledge that varies from yours.
- Let the seller demonstrate. Be sure you see the animal from the time it is
caught to the time it is harnessed or saddled and ready to use. If an animal is
tied up and waiting when you get there, perhaps it is difficult to catch or has
bad stable manners the seller doesn't want you to see.
Never buy a mule you haven't seen caught in an open field or in an
environment similar to yours. If the mule is young, a judicious amount of treats
may help you catch it. An older animal that is hard to catch can be a terrible
After you see the animal caught and tacked up, have the seller drive or ride
it so you can estimate whether the animal is suitable to your experience level.
I know a 200-pound woman who bought a small mule after seeing it ridden bareback
by a 10-year-old boy, only to discover that the kid was a fledgling jockey and
the mule hated weight and a saddle girth. Make sure you see the animal worked
the same way you will be using it.
- If you plan to keep your mule with other animals, find out how it behaves
with that kind of animal. Some mules, for instance, are untrustworthy with
calves or colts.
- Vets are expensive; you wouldn't want to have a vet check every mule you
look at. Instead learn the basic things a vet checks for, including how to look
for lameness or other health problems. You might get an equine vet to show you
what to check, or consult one of the many available horse books.
- When you find a serious prospect have the animal vet checked for
soundness and general health. Do not neglect this step.
- Drive or ride the mule as much as possible in surroundings similar to
yours. An animal that behaves perfectly in an arena may spook at every tree on a
trail drive. Drive or ride the mule alone. Many animals will be perfect when
taken out with another but will break for the barn when being worked alone.
I once bought an animal you could ride exactly two miles away from home no
matter what direction it was going. He would spin in his tracks and run toward
home as fast as he could. I didn't discover this habit before buying him because
I did not get far enough away from his stable. I corrected the problem with
firmness, but the seller may have laughed had I wanted to return the animal.
Buying an equine always has pitfalls, but careful trial driving or riding
will help you weed out the worst habits before you buy. Many mules probably have
the same complaint, but unfortunately they have no recourse.
- Don't buy a mule because the seller likes it, but because you like it.
- If the mule is registered, make sure the registration papers are in order
before the final sale. Do not take anyone's word that "the papers will be
sent." Get registration papers when the money changes hands. Insist on full
registration paperwork, including a transfer form, and make copies of the
transfer and registration paperwork before you send them to the breed
|The buyer suffers if the seller does not do the
- As with any other business transaction, make sure both you and the seller
understand and agree on the terms of the sale. Many problems, from disagreements
to lawsuits, may be avoided by clearly defining all points of the sale.
Don't assume the seller will guarantee soundness. Although the seller should
at least guarantee that the animal would pass a veterinary soundness exam
performed within a specified time after sale, it's better to have a vet check
before you buy. Don't expect the seller to give you your money back if the
animal goes lame or has some other unsoundness after the vet exam. A new Coggins
test should be taken right before the sale or as part of the soundness exam
after the sale, and the seller must guarantee a negative Coggins. If a trial
period is in the sale agreement, clearly spell out who is responsible in the
event the animal is injured, becomes ill, or dies. Talk to people who have
bought equines and find out what problems they had.
Make a reasonable written and dated list of both the buyer's and seller's
responsibilities. Sign it, ask the seller to sign it, and both keep a copy.
Whatever the ultimate legal value of a sales guarantee, the detailing of
intentions will lessen the chance of an eventual disagreement because everything
is clearly outlined.
To tell you everything about buying a mule would be impossible. The main
points boil down to: think ahead and use self control and common sense.
Hutchins is co-founder of the
Donkey and Mule Society from which you may obtain a list of mule breeders in
your state for 50 cents. This article appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of