Breed evolution: A mule is the result of crossing two species, the horse and the donkey. Top gaited-mule breeder Bill Moore of Shelbyville, Tennessee, has a photograph of his mother on a gaited mule that his grandfather bred in the 1940s, using a Tennessee Walking Horse crossed on a jack (donkey stallion) of Old Grey John stock.
For scores of years, farmers have been breeding gaited horses to jacks in the hopes of producing a gaited mule that would be strong and reliable working in the fields, as well as provide a smooth ride under saddle.
Since 1990, Moore and his wife, Jane, have been breeding gaited mules at their Stepping Out Farms, where they welcome more than 10,000 visitors annually. Today, the majority of Moore's gaited-mule clients are avid trail riders. There's a high probability that a gaited mule will result when one of his two gaited jacks is bred to a gaited mare.
"We use Tennessee Walking Horse mares, because I like a big reach with the back feet," Moore says. "But many of our clients use Fox Trotters or Paso Finos or other gaited mares with great success. Baby boomers are ringing my phone off the wall - there are just not enough gaited mules to go around!"
In 1993, Moore was elected the first president of the American Gaited Mule Association. The following year, the North American Saddle Mule Association added a section on gaited mules to its rulebook; in 1995, the first gaited-mule classes were held. With an increasing interest in gaited mules, the AGMA looks forward to a bright future.
According to Marie Lanier, owner of R&M Gaited Mules located in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, a gaited mule is any mule that has a smooth gait (other than a walk) that's distinct from a trot. Examples include the single-foot, fox-trot, rack, running walk, stepping pace, and paso fino. The gaited mule's size and color will depend on that of its parents.
Owners tell us: Lanier stands a gaited jack named Lonesome. "Before we had a gaited jack, breeding for a gaited mule was hit-and-miss," she says. "But now, when we breed a gaited mare to the gaited jack, we have virtually a 100 percent chance the [resulting] mule will gait."
Moore says a good mule's personality "is like your puppy. Mules have a tendency to bond with people better than horses."
One client of Moore's is The Trail Rider contributor Dan Aadland, who recently bought a gaited jack. "We've been raising mountain-oriented horses since 1980," says Aadland, owner of Absaroka Tennessee Walking Horses in Absarokee, Montana. "We have an outstanding market, and a gaited jack adds another dimension. Several customers expressed an interest in gaited mules, and it'll be fun to raise gaited mules to pack into mountain camps and to pull our wagon."
On the trail: "Riding a gaited mule is like having a Jeep in the mountains and a Cadillac on the straightaway," Lanier says. "The Bitterroot Valley has lots of trails. A well-trained gaited mule can tackle the most challenging. One trail involves a climb over slate rock, frequently with water running over it. There's a dizzying drop on one side, but at the top, your reward is a pristine mountain lake and bountiful grass for grazing.
"I'm so proud of my gaited mules! Sometimes, happiness just overtakes me. Without warning, it strikes - and I marvel at how lucky I am to be in such a beautiful place with my animals."