|George Washington – Father
of our Country – but father of the American Mule as well? Yes, George
Washington is often given credit as the first mule breeder in the
Americas, although a few sources will cite otherwise. It is a fact that
General George was given two fine Spanish Jacks, one dubbed “Royal Gift”.
This animal, so eagerly awaited for the production of mules, had not,
apparently, been trained to serve mares. Modern breeders with jennet jacks
or mule jacks will understand quite well that Royal Gift’s mares were
covered the first year by an Arabian horse stallion who was more than
willing to take his place.
following season, Royal Gift was helped to his duty with the use of a few
jennets, and the American Mule was on its way. This jack was much in
demand, and eventually toured the southern states, siring mule foals all
the way. But of course, one jack could not sire all the mules in the
country, and no one breed of donkey is used today in the production of
mules. Today’s Mammoth Jackstock is a blend of a number of different
breeds, some with strikingly different characteristics.
A breed is defined as a specific type of equine with similar
characteristics. If two members of the same breed are mated, the result is
another is another purebred with the same body type, coloration, etc.
There are no longer any real populations of true donkey breeds in the
United States. The registries are bound by size, not breed type. A few
small populations of endangered or “rebred” breeds survive worldwide, but
their blood can be found blended in the donkeys classified as Miniature,
Standard, Large Standard, and Mammoth in the U.S.
The distinct body types and characteristics of some of the now-lost breeds
can be easily seen in the Mammoth jackstock of today. The fine-boned,
black Majorcan type, or the heavy-boned, dappled Andalusian can be seen
side by side in the show ring. Depending on the preference of the owner,
both of these types of jackstock can sire excellent mules for a number of
All known former breeds of donkeys have made a contribution to the Mammoth
at one time or another. Although the Mammoth is still determined by size,
breeding for characteristic and type can be achieved by breeding like
animals to attain a certain look. Many breeders are no longer
familiar with the types used to produce the gentle giant, but occasionally
an advertisement will state “Catalonian Jack” or “Andalusian Jack”. These
should be carefully examined for pedigree, for with a solid recorded
background, these animals are merely of Catalonian or Andalusian type, and
should not claim that bloodline. In a noted example, the long
shaggy coat of the Poitou is so dominant a trait that a 1/10th Poitou
animal may have as heavy a coat as a purebred, although lacking in bone.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Mammoth jack breeders had combined
the breeds available to produce a type of jack specifically for the
production of mules. Today, the types are being used once again for
different purposes, instead of continuing the blend into the perfect
specimen. The tall, slender black jack may be used for saddle mules, and
the heavy-boned, drafty dappled red roan used for draft mules.
To be listed as Mammoth Jackstock, the jack should stand 56” and taller,
the jennet 54” and taller. The tallest known Mammoth stood 17 hands,
although this animal only lived to the age of three. Color is not an
issue, although black or sorrel (or dappled red roan) jacks are favored in
draft mule production. The gray-dun (slate) color prevalent in the smaller
donkey types is not favored, although it can be seen. Even large spotted
Mammoths are being used to produce spotted saddle mules. No matter the
height or color, the Mammoth breeding jack should be a superb specimen,
with good proportion and sufficient bone to be in balance.
A frequent fault found in Mammoths is long back, with small hips and weak
loins. The hip of the donkey is already smaller in proportion to that of a
horse, and this fault seems to go with other body types in some cases.
Jacks used for jackstock production should be the absolute best specimens
available. Those used exclusively for mule production may be forgiven some
flaws, but conformation can affect performance, especially in the working
of the “power train,” the hind end.
There are five main breeds that were incorporated into the development of
the Mammoth jack of today: the Andalusian, Catalonian, Majorcan, Maltese,
and Poitou. The gray-dun and spotted influence most likely came from
Standard breeding, since the original breeds did not include these colors.
This donkey was the drafty, heavy-boned, dappled animal. Most of the
original animals imported into the U.S. (even up into the 1900’s) were
dappled gray-roan (sometimes called blue roan) or red roan. The average
height of the Andalusian was 14.2-15hh. Many of the heavy sorrel jacks
used in draft mule breeding resemble the purebred Andalusian quite
closely. The head should be in proportion, but this is the breed most
likely to have a thick jaw, and Roman-type nose. The bone was heavy
especially through the leg, and breeders wishing for a heavier type of
jack should look to this type to add substance in both jackstock and
mules. Most jacks today that exhibit the Andalusian characteristics are
sorrel or dappled red roan, with little or no visible cross being
This was one of the most popular breeds for use in creating American
jackstock. The purebred Catalonian was always black, no grays or roans
were ever allowed. The haircoat was fine, short and glossy. The Catalonian
was finer-boned and used exclusively in Spain for the production of mules.
This breed became the one of choice when creating the Mammoth, even though
the average height was only 15 hands and the bone was finer and lighter
than that of other jackstock breeds. Today a very tiny population of
Spanish Catalonians still exists in Spain, and another small Mexican
Catalonian population as well.
The Majorcan jack, also of Spain, was often crossed with the smaller
Catalonian to produce a superb breeding jack. Black in color, although not
quite with the fine-textured haircoat of the Catalonian, these jacks
contributed size and bone to the Mammoth. They were often described as
“sluggish” in disposition, but there is also the possibility that they
were some of the largest jackstock in existence. The demand for these huge
animals quickly depleted the supply and there are no known populations of
this breed today.
From the Island of Malta, early jackstock breeders purchased every
animal with any hope of breeding quality, including those whom it was
hoped would grow taller. Most did not, and the animals as a breed were
less than 14 hands tall. They were often a clean black, and their manner
described as having extreme vigor and vitality.
Probably the most striking of the jackstock breeds, the Poitou
survives today as an endangered breed. It is felt by some jackstock
historians that the Poitou was used far less in the production of today’s
Mammoth than it should have been. The Poitou is found in France (although
evidence supports they were bred from Spanish stock many centuries ago),
and was used almost exclusively for the production of mules. Bred to an
incredibly heavy draft horse breed called the Mulassier, mules believed to
be some of the finest work and draft animals in the world were produced.
The Poitou is noted for the heavy bone, and memorably, for the long
tangled coat, forming dreadlocks to the ground. The coat color is
exclusively black or dark brown (termed bai-brun by the French) and should
never bear a cross or stripe. This horrific coat, matted with filth and
years’ worth of shed hair caught year after year, was prized (!) and said
to be a symbol of purity in the breed.
A few Poitous were exported for breeding, and early engravings of these
noted animals show them with shaggy, yet neat, coats. It is suggested that
these jacks lacked the matted coat and were penalized in France. Those
that were used in jackstock production contributed bone to the Mammoth,
not only in leg, but in the length of the back and distinctive shape to
Cost of transporting jacks to the United States, as well as the high cost
of the animals themselves, may have contributed to the fact that these
jacks did not play as large a role as they could have in Mammoth
production. If greater numbers had been available, or transportation
easier, the Poitou might have further shaped American Mammoths. There are
less than 200 purebred Poitous left in the world, and the Poitou Mule has
become almost extinct.
Although today’s Mammoth is a blend of these breeds, and certainly of
even Standard donkeys of unknown origin (the spotted and dominant gray-dun
influence), he is a far cry from the first mule sire, which was probably a
Syrian Wild Ass. Mules in Biblical times were vastly different from the
wide range of types and sizes enjoyed by the longear fancier of today.
The modern mule breeder can take a jack of any color from black to sorrel
to dappled to spotted and breed to quality mares of any imaginable breed,
and produce a mule suited for any type of work or use. Draft mule breeders
may prefer the matched blonde sorrel in their mule, but the saddle mule
owner can selectively try for spotted, dun, white, dapple gray, bay,
palomino, or even colors and patterns unique to that marvelous mule.
Choose jackstock wisely, regardless of color, and the mules of tomorrow
can be assured of a place in the public eye as animals more worthy of
praise than of “old wives’ tales”. With support and care, the mule and
the mule jack are outgrowing old stereotypes and taking their place
alongside developed horse breeds as the Equine of Choice!