Monty Roberts Equus Online University
Horse Training Video Instruction Program

Learn all about Equus • Dually Halter • Shy Boy Mustang • Jumping Horses
• Story of a Horse Whisperer • Riding Horsemanship • Dressage Horses • Willing Partners
• Horse Training • Round Pen Lessons • Performance Horses • Join-Up

← back

Horse Behavior and Training

My Horse is TERRIFIED of Mules


My horse is an old but very hot thoroughbred. We have been trail riding for two years and doing trail trials competitions. Together through hard work and trust building we have gotten over a lot of fears and are doing things that once seemed completely impossible; however, there is one thing that makes all of this work go out the window entirely... MULES!

While my horse ordinarily looks to me for reassurance and guidance, with the presence of a mule he completely loses sight of me and everything in the world besides where that mule is. Everything I ordinarily use to communicate with him, calm him and guide him is useless if there is a mule around. If I am on him, I can feel his heart racing and if I am off him I can see it pounding out of his chest. He'll run into things, he'll try to "hide" behind me if I'm on the ground and he'll nearly run me down trying to do so. I should mention that he is ordinarily extremely careful with me (my mother often comments on how he treats me like I'm his favorite porcelain doll), so for him to completely disregard my presence to the point of endangering me is... Something that only happens when he can no longer think. He is hot and can be spooky, but usually he can still think.

I'd like some suggestions on what else I can do to try to calm him in these situations at least enough to where he is aware of his surroundings (ordinarily this happens in the trailer parking area at competitions, with people, horses and cars all over). Long-term, I'd love some suggestions on how to really get him over this mule fear or at least get him confident enough to be in the general vicinity of a mule without having a complete psychotic break. As I've indicated, we've gotten over a LOT of challenges together and so I'm no stranger overcoming anxiety. This is beyond anxiety. The people who have witnessed it have also described it as psychotic. As my horse isn't ordinarily "stupid" about his fears, I'm assuming that he's had a bad run-in with mules at some point. I'm wary of purposely exposing him to mules unless it's in a very controlled way, as I'm concerned that he may actually drop dead from a heart attack (he is an old man, as I mentioned).

I'm really proud of our progress and, overall, I'm amazed at what we've accomplished in just a short time in a new discipline for both of us. But mules often compete in trail trails, and if there's a mule then there is trouble for us. At a muleless trail trials we could come in 2nd place... At a trail trials with a couple of mules, we could be disqualified from every single obstacle.

If you don't have suggestions, do any of you at least know any other bizarre mule stories? I've heard it's kind of common for horses to at least be suspicious of mules, but I've never heard of any other horses specifically who are terrified of mules.

Kathryn in NZ
Hello! 100 lessons completed 150 lessons completed 200 lessons completed

Do you think it's the smell or the sight or both? I'm no expert but if it was me, I'd try getting something that a mule's been wearing, like a blanket, that has the smell on it, and introduce the horse to that first, in a manner that keeps horse and humans safe. Once the horse has no problems being near the smell, I'd see if I could graze him at a safe distance from a mule. Then as the horse is showing acceptance I'd decrease the distance a little each time. Even if it takes a week or two to achieve acceptance at close range, it would be worth the time in the long run. :)


It's the sight I'm guessing, because he's been close to mules and not noticed until he saw them. I've tried rubs/sprays near the nose to help lessen whatever smell I've been told mules exude, but it seems to not really be the smell. There actually is a mule boarded at a nearby ranch where he likes to snoop around, only it's kind of hard to see from where we usually are. He only ever noticed it when I started bringing him to it as a sort of "exercise" one day, and once he saw it he flipped out and I wasn't able to get him off the property of our ranch again for about a week. But the mule-smelling blanket is a good idea! I often hear that the smell of mules is what scares certain horses, but for my guy I think it's the sight of them. He's even scared (or suspicious of) horses with very long ears or horses wearing fly masks or bonnets that make their ears look abnormally long.

I've been trying to think of good ways of exposing him to mules (suddenly showing him that there was one in his favorite place to walk, only a while after getting him to the point of comfortably leaving the property at all, did not really work out well!). Getting a closed field and a mule might be a problem. Maybe I'll post on craigslist to see if anyone with a mule and some land would want to help me out. Having him in an open space for this is kind of my main concern, because I think he could run away/around a few times and he wouldn't have that extra added fear of me trying to contain him so he doesn't trample people. Containment can be worked up to.

Thanks for the tips!