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Donkey vs Horse: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)

Oliver Jones

To many people, donkeys and horses are very similar, with the obvious exception of their size. However, you may be interested to know that there are quite a few other differences between the two. If you are considering buying one for your farm, you might be confused about which one is best. Keep reading while we look at all of the differences between these two animals and discuss what they are best used for so you can make an informed decision.horse shoe divider

Visual Differences

donkey vs horse visual
Left: Donkey, Right: Horse

At a Glance

Donkey
  • Average height (adult): 36 – 54 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 200 – 1,000 pounds
  • Lifespan: 15 – 50 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Social: Yes
  • Trainability: Hardworking but stubborn
Horse
  • Average height (adult): 14 – 17 hands (56 – 68 inches)
  • Average weight (adult): 1,000 – 1,500 pounds
  • Lifespan: 25 – 30 years
  • Exercise: 2+ hours a day
  • Social: Yes
  • Trainability: Intelligent, friendly, easy to train

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Donkey Overview

donkey-pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Personality/Character

The donkey is a smaller animal, a little bigger than half the size of a horse. It has a strong bite, forward-facing ears, a mane like a horse does, and the same overall body shape. Its mane is different from horses in that it’s bushier and shorter, more like a zebra’s.

It’s a hardworking animal that gets along well with humans and has been a beast of burden since ancient times. If packed correctly, it can carry up to twice its weight, and it can go for several days without water in hot weather.

Riding

While you can ride a donkey, it moves slowly and takes a lot longer to cover a distance than a horse. It also has a smaller arch in its back for carrying a person, and when you concentrate the weight in a single spot like this, it can only carry 20% of its weight, which is often less than a human. The withers will not hold a saddle in place, and it’s quite stubborn, so it isn’t easy to ride. It’s better used to carry the weight of other objects rather than people.

Suitable for:

The donkey is suitable for people that need to carry heavy loads over long distances. It also makes a great companion for long hikes because they can carry all of your supplies and even carry you through shallow water. On the farm, they can help pull small carts. It can be stubborn, and you will often need to coax them into doing work. This stubbornness will usually result in a refusal to move, which is why you often see illustrations of them with a carrot hanging in front of their face so that they will move toward it.

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Horse Overview

horse-pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

Personality/Character

Horses are quite a bit larger than donkeys and can often weigh considerably more. The horse is a fast animal with many of the same physical characteristics as the donkey. Their ears aren’t as large, but they are forward-facing, and unlike the donkey, the horse mane is long and flowing. The horse is much less stubborn than the donkey, so you can train them to do many tricks, even though most experts believe they are not as intelligent as the donkey. Horses also like to run in packs and look for a leader, unlike the donkey that prefers an independent life.

Riding

Even though a horse does not have the frame to carry twice its weight in goods, it’s more than capable of carrying a person, and horses have been invaluable throughout history for transportation. The arch in their back is perfectly sized, and the withers hold the saddle firmly in place. Some horses can run up to 55 miles per hour. Plus, they are willing to let you be in command, so you get to show them how to jump fences and tackle obstacle courses.

Suitable for:

The horse is suitable for most people looking for an animal they can ride. It’s capable of doing almost everything a donkey can do, including pulling carts and hauling supplies, and it’s quite friendly. It may not live as long as a donkey, but it will be a great companion for up to 30 years if properly maintained. It will also require more food and a larger shelter area than a donkey and cannot go as long without water.

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Which Breed is Right for You?

The animal you decide on will be based mostly on your needs. Donkeys are great for doing work that you might otherwise need a tractor for, and they cost much less than a horse both upfront and overtime. However, the horse is quite popular as a work animal and as a means of transportation. However, horses are expensive and require a lot of care to stay happy and healthy. You will need to spend a few hours with them each day, and they require a lot of food and space.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over this comparison of two similar but very different animals and found the answers you needed. If we have helped you decide which one to purchase, please share this guide to the difference between a donkey and a horse on Facebook and Twitter.


Featured image credit: Pixabay

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.