We just talked yesterday about the same thing. We have bought some packsaddles, and thought mules would be good,maybe also for the farm as well.
We have horses, but have never had mules.
apparently mules area cross between horse and donkey, and are very resiliant,they also dont need shoeing we have read.
the alternatives to car,tractor ,truck etc were all used by my father in law, but he is not around now.we have a picture on our mantle of him standing next to an enormous clydesdale ,which is sitting on its hindquarters . they were all used on the farm.
I have not personally used mules but I have a friend who's family still uses mules and draft horses.
As to your mention of not needing shoeing etc.. most horses if trimmed correctly ( unless there is a problem-club foot, founder etc) can be used fairly hard without shoes.
I have shown eventing, dressage and hunters-jumpers witih barefoot horses or only shod in the front.
Anyone can learn how to trim their own stock. It takes a little patience, a llittle investment into some decent tools and some time with the farrier-blacksmith
and with that said, i have had two severely foundered mares ( foundered out of my care) that eventually returned to either servicable use or full competition use - without shoes or with nothing more than a keg shoe..
Mules are hardy, durable etc.. the problem is that there are very few what we call down here -cane mules- big mules are needed for doing more than a small area..
what most horse people have forgotten is that horse care doesnt have to be high tech.,. i went from training in high dollar-fancy every convienance trick etc available barn to eventually field keeping all of my horses, including those that i was showing... i ended up with healthier horses, less expense and happier horses..
If you want good all around stock for work and riding.. condider these mixes
registered welsh pony ( there is a huge diff between what people call welsh and reg stock) sec b or c can carry an adult, are stout, small, generally have exceptional hooves ( they are born and bred to live in the mountains of wales so they tended to be very hardy)
or a mix of arab- welsh cross, qh welsh cross or qh( old line qh)- arab crosses
these are all very hardy, strong short backs, lots of power, very sure footed, short cannon bones and very touch hooves..
they are hardy, do not require as much if any grain.. can live off decent pasture and be kept in smaller areas ...
just some thoughts
I've used mules quite a bit to pack into Wilderness areas, but I've never used them for farm work. I like working with them more than horses in the mountains- they seem more sure footed, and they are much less tempermental. A good mule in my mind is worth a lot!
I actually lied.. i was looking through pictures and realized i had a rescue mule that had been a competitive heavy weight pulling mule.. and i used her after storms to drag logs and such or repair fence.. but she was a llittle thing and elderly.. the best place in the world to really get to know mules and their temperments and what they can do is the national mule show held yearly in houston texas.. they show and exhibit mules doing everything including dragging, harrowing, plowing etc.. hauling logs, being ridden, etc