The Lowdown on Donkeys and Mules

Donkey and mule enthusiasts point to the animals’ intelligence and pleasing personalities as reasons to add an ass to the stable.

  • Mules
    Getting up close and personal, three nosy donkeys seem curious about the process of being photographed. Nardemann

  • Mules

You can be stubborn as one. You can be sure-footed as one. You can play Pin the Tail on one. So sit yours down and read on – then you can say for sure that you know Jack about donkeys and mules!

Remember third-grade Sunday school and snickering over the word “ass” in the Bible? Yes, indeed, there are more than 400 instances of that word in the King James Version and more than 130 references to donkeys, but the long-eared critters were around long before Biblical times: Asses were domesticated some 6,000 years ago, about the same time as the horse.

Mule vs. Donkey

There’s no real difference between a burro, a donkey and an ass, aside from the notion that one of them is not suitable for polite company. (The word “donkey,” in fact, seems to have been created as a substitute for a now-vulgar word that was perfectly acceptable a few hundred years ago.) A mule is a horse of a different color, though, being the offspring of a male donkey and a mare. A hinny comes from a stallion and a female donkey.

Alas, that’s the end of the road: Mules and hinnies are almost always sterile. For more on this topic, check out Why Are Mules Sterile?

Aside from the obvious ear unlikeness (donkey ears are enormous, compared to horse ears), there are other physical ways to tell that you’re sitting on an ass and not on a pony.

Donkeys and Mules

Donkeys and mules lack true withers, their spines are generally straighter, and their rumps are differently shaped than their horsey counterparts. Donkey hooves are smaller and rounder than a horse’s hooves, and their manes are bristly, as if the donkey had a good scare. Their tails are more like cow tails and less like a horse’s showy switch. There also have been instances of donkeys born tailless, which is surely helpful when faced with children and pins.

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