Family purchases mini mule to train as a therapy animal

Thursday, April 18, 2019
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Jon Decker photo

Sarah Tennant invites two children to pet Buddy, an eight-month-old miniature mule she intends to raise as an emotional support animal. Buddy is the product of a donkey father and a miniature horse mother.

Mule in Training

Meet Buddy, the future medicinal mini mule. At eight months old, Buddy’s head comes up just below waist height next to most human adults, and he’s not going to get much bigger.

But this is fine, according to his owner Sarah Tennant, who recently purchased Buddy with the goal of training him to work as a therapy animal.

“He’s eight months old, he won’t be able to be an official therapy animal until he’s a year old,” Tennant said.

Tennant has lived around horses since age five. She’s 28 now with kids of her own, and, of course, horses. It was her equine background that inspired Tennant to pursue the field of therapy animals.

“For me, (horses) have always been a therapy in my life,” Tennant said. “Horses make me feel good.”

A few months ago, Tennant decided to pursue the idea of training a therapy horse so others could benefit from interacting with equines.

Things changed when Tennant started thinking about the logistics of transporting such a large animal to provide therapy.

“It’s hard to get a horse into a facility,” Tennant said, highlighting the need for transporting them via trailer. “A miniature version would be way easier.”

After this realization, Tennant started hunting for a miniature horse that she could easily transport in her minivan. That’s when she came across a woman in Mandan, N.D who sells the miniatures. Although she was fresh out of miniature horses, she had a seven-month-old mini mule and Tennant was thrilled.

“I’ve always a wanted a mule,” Tennant said. “I drove all the way out there in my minivan.”

After picking up Buddy, Tennant transported him all the way back from Mandan. It turned out that Buddy preferred riding shotgun.

“He brayed a lot, but he was okay,” Tennant said. “We spent three hours in a car together.”

It’s been one month now since Tennant whisked Buddy away and started teaching him. So far, she’s been rather impressed.

“I’ve heard donkeys are a lot smarter than horses,” Tennant said. “He’s really showing that.”

For those that don’t know, a mule and a donkey are not the same animal. Buddy, like all mules, is half donkey, half horse or in his case, half donkey, half miniature horse. That donkey heritage, according to Tennant, has been very beneficial to his training.

“He just learns really fast,” Tennant said, who also highlighted his positive temperament. “He doesn’t get spooked very easily.”

As for Buddy’s specific therapeutic uses, he will mainly operate as an emotional support animal.

“We’d like to take him into nursing homes and hospitals, classrooms and schools,” Tennant said.

In order to get to that stage, Buddy has to go through a few loops.

“There are a bunch of desensitizing things for him to do, potty training and they have to be ok with loud noises,” Tennant said.

In order to help Buddy get acclimated to stimuli, Tennant takes him out around children and public spaces and encourages people to pet and interact with him.

During Tennant’s interview, she let one of her young daughters take Buddy for a run in Whipkey Park. Buddy frolicked with the Tennants and other children among the play structures and grass as Tennant answered more questions.

The work isn’t all on Buddy’s end, however.

“I have to do course work to be officially certified once I’m certified with this company,” She said.

As for Buddy’s day to day life, it involves a lot of training, getting used to new stimuli, and hanging out with Tennant’s horses. Tennant noted a clump of fur that one of her geldings had taken from Buddy a few days before, but she mentioned that the female horses get along with the little guy just fine.

“The mares like him,” Tennant said. “They tolerate him.”

Buddy will soon move to Tennant’s home in Forest Park, where she has recently received approval from the Dawson County Commissioners to keep him in her back yard.

Going forward, Tennant believes that Buddy will make a fantastic therapy animal.

“He brings smiles to people. I’d like to bring some more joy into the world and if he could be way to do that, that would be great.”

Follow Buddy’s adventure on his Facebook page “Buddy Mini Mule.”

Reach Jon Decker at

“I’ve heard donkeys are a lot smarter than horses. He’s really showing that,”
Sarah Tennant, mini mule owner