Cooksie had a gaited hinny named Dan that was easy to catch and unusually cooperative. That animal would do anything asked of him if he knew it would not hurt him or his rider. When neighbor Cooksie said I could ride him, I don’t think he knew just how much and how often I would do so. I liked him and I had the sense that he liked me. He showed it by acting glad to see me and readily accepting the bit. I would catch him in the pasture and ride him bareback up to the tack shed for saddling. It seemed to me he was careful with me when I was mounted bareback.
I was not an easily offended lad, but I have to confess I was offended when, on one our jaunts, an older bully-type boy said, “Where did you get that broken down mule.” Since I was mounted, I was bold enough to respond, “He ain’t a mule, he’s a hinny, and he ain’t broken down.” I think the other Dan knew he was being derided, for I saw his floppy ears stiffen and go back to his neck. When bully boy started towards us, Dan took a step in his direction and the dude stopped still. There was a look in Dan’s eye that told him to back off, which he eventually did. We trotted away, both feeling triumphant.
As you probably know, a mule is the offspring of a male donkey, known as a jack and a mare horse. They can be of either gender, but are sterile because the chromosomes do not line up for reproduction. In appearance, a mule is the perfect blend of both parents. A hinny is the offspring of a stallion horse, known as a stud, and a female donkey, known as a jenny. They can be of either gender, but are sterile for the same reason a mule is sterile. A hinny is seldom a blend of both parents, but looks very much like a large donkey or sometimes like a long-eared horse, as Dan did. Both the mule and the hinny inherit the cautious nature of the donkey and the strength of the horse. That is not to say donkeys are not strong. They definitely are. Those old mining donkeys could carry half their weight all day long like it was nothing.
The donkey probably got that cautious nature from having developed in the mountains of northern Africa, where they could not flee if predators approached. Instead, they had to figure out a strategy of escape or a strategy for fighting. When we think a donkey is balking, he is simply pausing to figure out what to do to get out of a situation that seems threatening. Horses, on the other hoof, developed in the plains. Their only strategy for dealing with danger was to run away.
Old Dan had enough donkey in him to figure things out and enough horse to be able to split the wind. And he did so comfortably. It is a rare thing to have a gaited hinny, but if you do, it is a treasure. I mean, you could hold a full cup of coffee without spilling a drop when Dan got into that fast four-footed walk. He bounced his head just like a Tennessee walker and went forward at a slight angle, favoring his right front. The only thing that kept him from looking downright elegant was floppy ears. And boy did they flop! Cooksie did not know what a wonderful gift he gave to my childhood. If he were still alive, I would call him to say thanks.