At the northern end of the Bay of Biscay lies the Poitou region of France, which has long been famous as the home of the Poitou mule, the offspring of crossing an ordinary donkey with a Poitevin, a massive mare from Poitou. The Baudet de Poitou (also known as the Poitou Ass, the Poitou Donkey, the Poitevin Donkey, and the Mammoth Donkey) is one of the most distinctive donkey breeds, it is also among the rarest and least-known. The friendly, affectionate and docile Poitou Donkey is the oldest breed approved in France. The Baudet de Poitou is instantly recognizable for a number of unusual characteristics that distinguish it from other asses. Its shaggy coat, called a "cadanette", hangs in long cords or shaggy hanks when ungroomed because the hair is longer and softer than that of other breeds of donkey.

[Photo of Poitou Donkey]

Although it probably existed long before that, the Poitevin horse seems to have descended from the breed of Flamand (Flemish) horses which were imported at the very end of the 16th century, at the request of Henry IV and Sully, to help in the draining of the marshes of Poitou and Vendée. Local mares crossed with these horses from the North thus founded the line and gave rise to the breed called "Mulassiere du Poitou". The price for a horselike mighty beast was higher than for any other mule on the continent.

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In France, the Mulassière is now called the Poitevin horse, Mulassière de Poitou, or Cheval Mulassier. The Poitevin has a heavy head, thick mane and tail, and abundant coarse feather. He is rather slow-moving which makes him less popular than other heavy draft breeds. In the United States, the Poitou was nicknamed "The Mule That Made America Possible." Some historians go so far as to say that the southern delta might never have been reclaimed from the sea without the hard-hoofed, strong-hearted mule. That mule has been known as "American Standard" or the famous fourty-acres-and-a mule variety, which, in fact, could be any draft mule at all. But mainly, it was the Poitou.

[Photo of Poitevin horse]

Up until the years following World War II, the Poitou played an important role in supplying quality mules to France and the rest of Europe. It is said that the mule resulting from the union of a Poitou and a Mulassière is the finest working mule in the world. In the 1960, the Poitevin was close to extinct, but efforts are being made to revive the breed thanks to a considerable demand from other countries.


  1. Encyclopedia of the horse. Elwin Hartley Edwards
  2. The encyclopedia of historic and endangered livestock and poultry breeds. Janet Vorwald Dohner
  3. The mythology of horses: horse legend and lore throughout the ages. Gerald Hausman, Loretta Hausman

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