Differences Between Donkeys, Mules, and Horses
You may think you know what is different between a donkey and a horse, but there are probably a few differences you may not have considered. What is a horse, a mule, or a donkey?
- Differences in Appearance of Donkeys, Mules, and Horses
- Other Differences Between Donkeys, Mules, and Horses
- Further Reading on Horses and Donkeys
Differences in Appearance of Donkeys, Mules, and Horses
Horses have hooves that are more round in shape at the bottom, a donkey's hoof is more elongated from front to back, and more upright when viewed from the side. Mules are somewhere in between.
Horses have the ability to grow long manes and forelocks (certain breeds such as the Appaloosa have thinner manes), however a donkey will typically have a thin mane that seldom gets long enough to hang down the neck and will remain standing up. They do not have forelocks – hair that falls forward on their face from in front of their ears.
Horses who eat too much get fat, they get fat all over. In donkeys the fat tends to accumulate on the sides of the neck along the crest. In some cases this can be so thick that the weight of it causes the top of the neck to lean to one side or the other.
Donkeys have large ears. These ears are designed to cool the donkey in hot desert conditions. Mules have smaller ears, and horse's ears are even smaller.
Horses have chestnuts on all four legs, however donkeys generally only have them on the front legs. Mules may be either way.
The tail of a horse is generally thick from the top down (with the exception of the Appaloosa who often have thin tails). Donkeys have tails that are more cow like, having longer coarse hair only at the bottom. A mule has slightly more hair but it is coarse like a donkey's.
Donkeys and Mules have heads that are larger in proportion to their bodies, than do horses.
In terms of color a gray donkey looks gray, it is born gray and stays gray all its life. The color gray as it appears in a donkey does not occur in horses. A gray horse is born a different color and over the years it gets more white hairs, eventually making it look white (although it is not a white horse).
The coat of a donkey is longer and coarser than that of a horse. They lack an undercoat making them more at risk in wet, weather, however the coat of a donkey is designed for protection from heat. Mules tend to have hair like a horse in the summer, and get thicker, more donkey-like, coats in the winter.
Horses neigh, donkeys bray. The bray of a donkey is much louder than the sound a horse makes. Mules make an odd sound similar to both the neigh and the bray.
photo source for mule picture
Other Differences Between Donkeys, Mules, and Horses
Donkeys have a higher, narrower, pelvis than horses, this makes their croup less round. They lack the fifth lumbar vertebrae that horses have. Mules often have the fifth vertebrae and some have a pelvis more like a donkey, while others have one more like a horse.
The gestation period of a horse is pretty close to 11 months, however donkeys gestation period can vary between 11 and 14 months.
Horses have 64 chromosomes, donkeys have 62 chromosomes. The mule has 63 chromosomes, leaving 99.9% of them sterile.
In terms of behavior, the donkey is considered more intelligent. They like to think things through before doing things, and can be trickier to train. This is what gives the donkey is reputation for being stubborn. Mules are somewhat in between.
In terms of gait, a donkey is pretty happy to walk everywhere and needs more motivation to trot or canter. Horses freely move out at the other gaits, mules fall in between.
When horse's kick they tend to give a warning and kick straight back. When donkey's and mules kick, it is often without warning and the kick is more to the side (cow kick).
Donkeys have a general dislike of dogs, they are often used to guard livestock against coyotes and feral dogs. Mules have this trait as well, but in horses it is less common. Only a few stallions have a dislike for canines.
There are many different breeds of horses, a few different breeds of donkey, but as mules cannot procreate, they do not have “breeds”.
Donkeys and mules have longer lifespans, on average, than a horse. Donkeys and mules often live into their 30's or 40's, while it is unusual for a horse to live into its 30's.
Donkeys are not as strong as horses in terms of weight they can carry, however they have better endurance. Mules tend to fall between, being stronger than a donkey, and having more endurance than a horse.
Further Reading on Horses and Donkeys
*A mule is the result of a cross between a male donkey (Jack) and a female horse (Mare).
The scientific name for a donkey is Equus asinus, for a horse it is Equus caballus, for a mule it is Equus aninus x Equus caballus.
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