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What is the Difference Between a Horse and Donkey?

What is the Difference Between a Horse and Donkey?

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Large ears, sturdy bodies, and coarse hair are just a few of the signature features that make donkeys adorable. Though they may look similar to horses, there are some key characteristics that set them apart.

Horse Vs Donkey Differences

Although they are similar, a donkey is a different species from a horse. However, they are both types of Equus (genus) in the Equinade family and evolved from a common ancestor 4 million to 4.5 million years ago.

To most people, the similarities between donkeys and horses are easy to spot. However, there are many differences between a horse and a donkey.

Here are some easy to spot horse vs donkey differences:

  • Donkeys’ backs are flatter than horses.
  • Horses have bigger hooves than donkeys
  • Donkeys have bigger ears than horses.
  • Horses have a longer face than donkeys.
  • Horses have a longer tail than donkeys.

Donkeys are also referred to as asses or burros. Since horses and donkeys are both part of the genus Equus, they can produce offspring together.

The most common cross is a female horse bred to a male donkey to create a mule. When a male horse is bred to a female donkey, its offspring is referred to as a hinny.

People will carefully breed horses and donkeys together to create unique mules. Mules tend to be less stubborn than donkeys and are known to be intelligent and sturdy. They can make great riding mounts and can even be gaited if they are sired by a gaited horse.

Horse and Donkey Terminology Differences

A female horse is referred to as a mare. An uncastrated male horse is called a stallion and a castrated male horse is called a gelding. Though these gender terms can also be used for donkeys, there are special terms that are used just for donkeys.

A female donkey is called a jenny or jennet. A male donkey is called a jack, and castrated males are still most commonly called geldings.

Horse and donkey standing in a field

Horse vs Donkey Size Comparison

Most of the time, horses are bigger than donkeys. Most horses stand between 15 -17 hands high, whereas most donkeys are only 9 -14 hands high.

Donkeys can generally be broken up into three categories: miniature, standard and mammoth. The standard category is often split into two sections: small and large. A miniature is nine hands and under and a small standard is 9 -12 hands.

A large standard is 9 -13.2 hands for jennies and 9 -14 hands for jacks. A mammoth is 13.2 hands and over for jennies and 14 hands and over for jacks.

See our interesting handy of the average height and weight chart for each horse breed.

Horse vs Donkey Physical Appearance

One of the first things people notice about donkeys is their large, adorable ears. Though this is the feature that allows people to easily distinguish them from horses, there are many other physical differences between the two.

Donkeys tend to have coarser hair on their bodies, as well as their mane and tails. Their manes and tails are also much shorter than horses. Unlike horses that have several different coat colors, donkeys only have a few. Most of them are gray, brown, or pinto, though coat colors can vary by breed.

Donkeys also tend to have smaller hooves, longer faces, and shorter backs. Since they have shorter backs, they are not often used for riding. A saddle used for a horse will be too large and will not fit properly, so a custom saddle is often needed for those who do ride them.

Also read our guide on can horses and donkeys can live together.


Both horses and donkeys are social animals. Horses prefer to live in herds, whereas donkeys tend to form close bonds with other individuals.

Unlike horses that have a strong sense of flight when they face a perceived threat, donkeys tend to handle things different.

When they see a potentially dangerous thing, they will take a moment to assess the situation before deciding to run or not. This behavior is why people often view them as stubborn.


Another behavior difference is that you will hear different distinct vocalizations from the two. Horses are known for neighing or nickering, whereas donkeys make a much different noise called braying.

The bray is produced by the intake of air that follows with the loud outtake, which produces the well known “hee-haw” noise. If you have ever heard a bray, you will know that it is unique sounding and is often quite loud.

Difference in Chromosomes

One of the other unique features between these two equines is the number of chromosomes they have. A horse has 64 chromosomes and a donkey has 62 chromosomes.

When bred together their offspring, both mules and hinnies, will have 63 chromosomes. This makes it virtually impossible for mules and hinnies to reproduce on their own, since they are almost always sterile.

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Thursday 8th of April 2021

id like to see comparisons of uses to - how humans use them and why the differences in use