Hi there, it's Sara here. Everybody has heard the saying ‘Stubborn as a mule’, but having worked with these animals and read the history on them, I really think this saying needs to be re-addressed. It is by far a case of intelligence, meaning mules are able to out-smart people, leading the handler to think they are being ‘stubborn’.
The saying ‘A bad workman blames his tools’ comes to mind! It is just a case of being able to fully understand these clever animals and become more of an ‘intelligent handler’. You must be able to think like a donkey and think like a horse. Once you have done this then you can try to predict which characteristics may appear in the mule in the situation you are putting them in.
A mule works on self-preservation and will not want to put themselves in a situation that may cause harm, so when they are reluctant, maybe we need to train them to trust us and work as a partnership.
Many people have built bonds with mules and have had many happy years of work from them. Which leads me to introducing the stars of this blog - Millie and Paul Muffin.
Millie is a 13 year old mule who is a complete show girl. She used to take part in medieval re-enactments with her previous owner and absolutely loved it. Millie had crowds of adoring fans and would absorb the applause like she was the most famous person in the world. Unfortunately Millie’s owner’s circumstances changed and she has now come to live with us at the Sanctuary... and boy are we lucky to have her!
It was by chance that I came across Millie’s talents whilst I was grooming her one day. I bent over to brush between her front legs and Millie put her leg forward and bowed her head down next to it. I stood up and said to her "Ahh, are you doing a bow Millie" knowing that obviously she wasn’t going to answer back! But she did exactly the same thing again. Each time I said bow and bent down, she would do one too. How clever.
Next I took off my gloves to give her a lovely scratch, to find that she bent down and picked it up in her mouth and started waving it like a flag! She was so funny and the more I laughed, the more she did it. Now each time I get my gloves out, she has to have a wave.
I was intrigued to find out more about Millie and her talents and managed to see some photos of her in her performing days. There were many photos of Millie standing on tables looking very proud of herself, so Kate and I went on a mission to find Millie a podium. Luckily that day we found a half barrel that looked fit for a mule, so rushed it back to see what she thought. Before we barely got it on the ground Millie climbed on and took her stance with her nose in the air. She obviously loved standing on things!
There was one problem however... how did we get her off?! We stood there saying "down, off, back, away", etc but nothing worked in removing the mule from her box! Firmly fixed to the box, Millie looked at us as if to say "Where is my applause?" The more we clapped the higher her head got and she grew quite a few inches with pride. We felt such proud parents that we had given Millie the opportunity to do something she loved so much again. This became part of the daily routine - letting Millie have her ‘show time’ and she started to bond with me even more when we got her doing things to entertain her.
We weren’t the only ones watching Millie every day. Stood behind the gate was Paul Muffin, a 4 year old chestnut roan mule. He looked a little annoyed that Millie was stealing all the limelight, so we thought he had better come in for a cuddle. Millie was due to have a video taken in a few days of her performing (especially for you guys to watch on the website) and we joked that it would be good to get Paul doing it too. "Never say never" I said to Kate and thought we would see what he thought.
Paul walked over the box and had a sniff; I directed him closer and rewarded him when he brushed against it. I lifted his foot and gently placed it on the box without any trouble. After a few minutes he was putting his foot on the box by himself. I left it there for day one of training as short, positive sessions are the way to go and I was so pleased he had got that far.
It was the day before the film shoot and I thought I would give Paul another little play with the box. Bearing in mind I hadn’t been in work for a few days I thought I would start back at square one. But Paul insisted that he didn’t need to go back to the start and walked straight over and placed a foot on the box. After only 10 minutes Paul climbed up with both front feet on the box. Wow, what a clever boy. And if that wasn’t good enough, I took the head collar off Paul and he climbed up just on the command up. So standing on a box... Done!
We have to make sure that we take the box out when we are not supervising as they are both bickering for custody at the moment. The hunt for a second box is now on.
I could talk all day about this gorgeous duo, but I will let you watch the clips of Millie and Paul ‘doing their thing’ and the expressions on their faces say it all. These very clever animals just loved to do things that involve them thinking and working.
So next time you hear somebody say "Stubborn as a mule" remember these two proving to you that mules are not difficult, unreasonable, stuck in their ways or obstinate, but clever, intelligent and totally misunderstood! You have to love them - I am definitely on Team Mule!