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Horse Sense: 7. Horse, Donkey, Mule: What's the Difference?

A Donkey is a member of the ass family, that stocky little grey or brown, long-eared fellow you see being led around by prospectors in the old movies. A Burro is simply the Spanish word for the donkey, and is very commonly used in the American West. They often don't move terribly fast, and cannot carry large loads, but they are extremely hardy and resilient, able to survive on surprisingly poor feed and in very rough climates. They can be any shade of grey through brown to nearly black, with whitish around the eyes, muzzle, legs and underbelly, and sometimes are blotched in a fuzzy paint pattern.

A Mule is the hybrid offspring of a male Donkey and a female Horse. 99.9% of the time, a mule is born sterile, but the males do have to be castrated, to prevent stud-like behaviors. Once in a very great while, a female mule HAS been known to conceive and bear a foal, when bred by a stud horse. There is no recorded instance of a male mule being fertile. Mules can come in virtually any size and color known to the equine kingdom, dependent upon the mare and jack chosen for breeding.

The selling point of mules is that they inherit the size, strength, and speed of the horse, with the toughness, adaptability, and stamina of the donkey father. They stay fat on poorer feed than horses, can travel farther and longer with much less loss of condition, and generally do not take lame as easily as horses. Mules also identify with a mare, or any boss horse, as their mother figure, and thus willingly follow and stay with a herd on the trail. A good, bossy bell mare is of great value, in acting as "den mother" to a pack string or freight team, as her presence holds the group together. The mule's reputation for stubbornness comes not from brute refusal to work, but rather from the fact that mules are highly intelligent and very independent. A man can bully a horse into almost anything, but a mule will question and resist something that does not strike him as an entirely bright idea.

Donkey/Mule Gender;

This gets confusing, so pay attention!

  • A female donkey is a jenny.
  • A male donkey is a jack.
  • A female mule is a molly. She may also be called a mare mule.
  • A male mule is a john. He may also be called a horse mule.

You've got to wonder who those people were, that they named these critters after.... ;-)

If you reverse the cross, and breed a stud horse to a female donkey, you get something called a Hinny. It looks pretty much like a mule, although a little more horse-like in the face, and is sometimes, though not always, smaller than a mule. However, hinnies are not desirable, on account of they identify the donkey as their mother figure and leader. That means that a hinny will not want to stick around with and follow a herd of horses or other mules, or even a bell mare, when in pasture or on the trail. He will thus most likely become a stray problem. A mule, however, will identify with any boss horse, whether horse or mare, and tend to stick with the herd contentedly.

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Last Update: 30 Dec 09
Stories: 4
Type: Reader List
Created By: Elena Tiriel

Non-fiction works about topics useful to writers.

Why This Story?

Helpful information about horses and ponies.


Story Information

Author: ErinRua

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Other

Genre: Research Article

Rating: General

Last Updated: 12/17/02

Original Post: 09/24/02

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