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March 23, 2009

Belled Tails

Sometimes you will see mules with their tails trimmed in a distinctive "belled" pattern. Here's a little history on where that practice originated.

Back in the early days, the US Army used horses and mules as their main form of transportation in the military service. When they brought in a new mule with no training, its tail was shaved. This type of mule was known as a "shave-tail", and had no training.

Obviously mules in the army had a job to do, and these "shave-tails" had a lot to learn. By the time this mule had learned to find its saddle and carry a pack, its tail hair had grown back. Once it was a competent pack mule, its tail was trimmed in a tassel or bell shape at the bottom of the tailbone.

Later on when the mule had also learned to drive in harness and pull a wagon or other equipment, a second bell was trimmed below the first.

And when the mule had learned to ride, a third bell was trimmed below the second. So a "three-bell" mule was a dependable, well-trained mule that could be used for packing, driving or riding.

In this way any cavalryman could easily tell which mules to pick from the corral for the job at hand. If the mule had a shaved tail, you didn't want to take it out for the job. If the mule had one bell, it could pack. If it had two bells, it could pack and drive, and three bells could do any of the three jobs you needed.

Here is a webpage with several good photos of belled tails.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at March 23, 2009 10:50 PM