Hellfire and Redemption
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A DONKEY, A BURRO, AND A MULE?
A Donkey is a member of the ass family, that stocky little grey or brown, long-eared fellow you see being led around by prospectors, in the old movies. A Burro is simply the Spanish word for the donkey, and is very commonly used in the West. They often don’t move terribly fast, and cannot carry large loads, but they are extremely hardy and resilient, able to survive on surprisingly poor feed and in very rough climates. They can be any shade of grey through brown to nearly black, with whitish around the eyes, muzzle, legs and underbelly, and sometimes are blotched in a fuzzy paint pattern.
A Mule is the hybrid offspring of a male Donkey and a female Horse. 99.9% of the time, a mule is born sterile, but the males do have to be castrated, to prevent stud-like behaviors. Once in a very great while, a female mule HAS been known to conceive and bear a foal, when bred by a stud horse. There is no recorded instance of a male mule being fertile. Mules can come in virtually any size and color known to the equine kingdom, dependent upon the mare and jack chosen for breeding.
The selling point of mules is that they inherit the size, strength, and speed of the horse, with the toughness, adaptability, and stamina of the donkey father. They stay fat on poorer feed than horses, can travel farther and longer with much less loss of condition, and generally do not take lame as easily as horses. Mules also identify with a mare, or any boss horse, as their mother figure, and thus willingly follow and stay with a herd on the trail. A good, bossy bell mare is of great value, in acting as “den mother” to a pack string or freight team, as her presence holds the group together. The mule’s reputation for stubbornness comes not from brute refusal to work, but rather from the fact that mules are highly intelligent and very independent. A man can bully a horse into almost anything, but a mule will question and resist something that does not strike him as an entirely bright idea.
This gets confusing, so pay attention!
A female donkey is a jenny.
A male donkey is a jack.
A female mule is a molly. She may also be called a mare mule.
A male mule is a john. He may also be called a horse mule.
You’ve got to wonder who those people were, that they named these critters after…. ;-)
If you reverse the cross, and breed a stud horse to a female donkey, you get something called a Hinny. It looks pretty much like a mule, although a little more horse-like in the face, and is sometimes, though not always, smaller than a mule. However, hinnies are not desirable, on account of they identify the donkey as their mother figure and leader. That means that a hinny will not want to stick around with or follow a herd of horses or other mules, or even a bell mare, when in pasture or on the trail. He will thus most likely become a stray problem. A mule, however, will identify with any boss horse, whether horse or mare, and tend to stick with the herd contentedly.
A PONY IS JUST A SMALL HORSE, RIGHT?
Not exactly. They are separate breeds of the equine species, who are smaller than a horse, generally under 13 or 14 hands tall. Ponies come in many breeds and from many countries. They are usually the product of harsh environments, such as the Shetland islands, where economy of size was of benefit to the breed’s long-term survival. They can be used to pull carts or as children’s mounts, but they can be very stubborn and hard-headed.
Just to confuse the issue, however, references such as “cow pony” or “Indian pony” were commonly used in the Old West, as a casual slang term for a horse. That did NOT, however, mean somebody was riding around out there on an itty-bitty horse.
WHAT IS THAT ‘COLIC’ THING, THAT SO MANY WESTERNS MENTION?
Colic in horses is essentially a belly ache, and can come from several causes. Gas caused from rich feed or abrupt changes in feed is one possibility. Getting into very poor or moldy feed is another common cause. Water or feed given after a heavy workout, before the horse has cooled down, can also precipitate intestinal upset. Lack of activity can further contribute, as the horse was designed to eat while in motion, grazing, rather than standing in a stall all day. Obstructions in the intestines are another cause, which can happen when a horse has gone hungry and eats too much too fast, or does not get enough water to keep his system moving properly. Sand colic is similar, and occurs when a horse is fed on sandy ground, and consumes enough dusty feed to cause an obstruction. Parasites can be another culprit, which must be addressed by a veterinarian.
Symptoms of colic may include restlessness, visible discomfort, pawing at the ground, frequently looking at or kicking at his flanks and belly, and sweating on the neck and flanks. An ear placed to the horse’s belly may note an absence of normal gurgling gut sounds. Also, a male horse may extend his penis as if to urinate, but will be able to do so. Finally, if the condition is severe, the horse may repeatedly try to lie down and roll. If a horse will lay quietly, he may be allowed to do so, but if he tries to roll, he must be returned to his feet. The risk here is that he will roll so violently as to twist his gut, which can be fatal. When colic symptoms are observed, a horse should be taken out and walked on a lead rope, and kept moving and on his feet, until such time as he evacuates his bowels normally, perhaps urinates, and becomes willing to stand and move quietly. This may take from twenty minutes to an hour or so, and can be helped along with an application of mineral oil, administered down the horse’s throat. Nowadays there are also relaxing drugs such as Banamine, but back in the Old West, folks had to make do with more common remedies. A vet should be consulted in all cases, as the severity of a colic case is not always apparent to the eye.