Horse, Donkey, Mule? – Spot the differences

Horse, Donkey, Mule? – Spot the differences

At first glance, horses, donkeys, and mules appear very similar, because in reality they are closely related and share common characteristics. However, they are also different in many ways, each having its own uniqueness that is suited to its livelihood and survival. Nonetheless, their close resemblance necessitates the need  for us to obtain a better understanding by looking at the many specific differences.

Horses (Equus caballus)

  • Stallion – Male horse; Mare – Female horse
  • Horses tend to have shorter ears and longer faces than donkeys and mules and its tail and mane grows soft and flowing long hair from a short stub. Also, horse’s hooves are larger than donkey’s hooves
  • Agewise, horses can be expected to live 25 to 30 years.
  • A horse makes whinny sounds
  • Horses are herd animals and tend to spend their time in large groups. Also, they are plain animals by nature and use quick bursts of speed to quickly flee from perceived danger. This behavior is why horses are commonly described as “flighty”.
  • Horses have 64 chromosomes.
  • A mare’s gestation period is an expected 11-month time period, shorter than Jenny’s (female donkey)
  • Horses do fairly well when left to their own devices. However, they do need a steady water and food supply and tend to stay in herds where they can protect each other.
  • Historically, horses were primarily used as transportation for humans, racing in sports, or labor. On farms, horses could be used to pull plows and perform other tasks.

Donkeys (Equus asinu)

  • Donkey – worldwide common name for the Ass family

Jack, Jack Ass, or Jackass – an intact male of the ass family or male donkey

Jennet or Jenny – the female of the ass family or female donkey

Donkey Gelding or Gelded Jack – castrated male of the ass family or castrated donkey

  • Donkeys have visibly longer ears than horses and mules, and the hair that makes up their manes is stiff, bristly and noticeably rougher than others. Their hooves are smaller as well and they have a flat back which can often not hold a saddle. A donkey tail is long with short, coarse hair along the length of it that ends in a furry tuft. Donkeys lack a protective undercoat that horses have, so they are more susceptible to extreme weather conditions such as heavy, wet snow and rain when compared to horses. They make up for this by having air pockets between their hairs that protects them against the extreme cold or hot weather.
  • Donkeys live much longer than horses, with an average life span of 30 to 50 years.
  • Donkeys make braying sounds.
  • Donkeys are less social and tend to form bonds with only one other of their kind. They are also more sedate creatures, difficult to scare.
  • Donkeys have 62 chromosomes, fewer than horses.
  • Donkey’s pregnancy times are longer. and a Jennys’ pregnancy can range between 11 and 14 months.
  • The donkey is adapted to desert lands or mountainous hardy areas and have lower water needs which helps them thrive in these environments. They also tend to spread out over large areas and can defend themselves by biting or striking other animals.
  • Historically, donkeys have been used primarily as working animals. Donkeys are also known to be intelligent, cautious, and playful, making them perfect for both companions and workers. As fairly strong animals, they were used by people around the world to help with carrying and other tasks of labor primarily in areas where there was a lack of water.



  • A mule is the result or offspring of a horse that has been bred with a donkey.
  • Mules are sterile, meaning that they cannot reproduce and cannot be bred with each other. Spermatozoa are not produced in the testes of male mules as a result of incompatibility between paternal and maternal chromosomes (horse and donkey)
  • In appearance, mules look very similar to donkeys. They also have stiff hair, are strong animals and tend to have calmer personalities. Due to their hardiness and vigor, mules may be often used as pack animals.
  • They have 63 chromosomes.
  • Although mules can survive in a similar environment as donkeys, they do not have a natural environment since they are the offspring of a donkey mating with a horse.
  • Historically, mules were traditionally used as farm or pack animals, especially useful on mountain trails. Their strong stamina made them a practical animal for a variety of tasks. Mules also eat about a third less per day than a horse of the same size and have decreased water needs too. This means that they can work longer without needing as much water or food. They also work well on basic forages like grass hays, which is an asset when food is scarce.
Sources – Ponder Weasel, Second Opinion