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Mule vs. Horse: What’s the Difference? (with Pictures)

Nicole Cosgrove

May 28, 2021

If you are shopping for a new equine for your stable but do not want a horse, you may want to consider a mule. Mentioning mules and horses inevitably sparks debate among equine lovers, which is the best between a horse and a mule.

Like other equines, mules and horses have advantages over the others. Your choice depends on what characteristics you value in an animal. Even though these two animals are similar in some ways, they differ in many ways, including genetics, history, athletic ability, characteristics, and their uses.

So, what exactly is the difference between a mule and a horse? When you understand these differences, you’ll be able to develop a new appreciation for these giants.

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Visual Differences

Mule-vs-Horse
Left: Horse, Right: Mule | Image Credit: Pixabay

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At a Glance

Mules
  • Average Height (adult): 50–70 inches
  • Average weight (adult):  800–1000 pounds
  • Lifespan: 35–40 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming Needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal, eager to please
Horses
  • Average Height (adult): 55–71 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 450–1800 pounds
  • Lifespan: 25–30 years
  • Exercise: 20+ minutes a day
  • Grooming Needs: High (daily grooming or a minimum of 3 times a week)
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal, eager to please

Mule Overview

mule
Image Credit: Pixabay

Personality/ Character

These equines often present a combination of a horse’s intelligence and a donkey’s mental tolerance and fortitude. Mules are smart, patient, enduring, and desire to take charge and learn things independently.

Besides greater intelligence, mules are also extra cautious in dangerous situations. They have innate self-preservation instincts, a more extended memory, common sense, and a strong-minded will that makes them inclined to resist. This trait usually makes most people confuse it for stubbornness.

They’ll intelligently scope out the safest and most reliable passages and decide their plan of action when descending sloppy terrains. If it doesn’t see the point of doing something, then it won’t.

Exercise

Mules are athletic and active kickers. They are agile and require much activity and exercise, just like other equine animals.

mules in the mountain
Image Credit: Pixabay

Training

One thing that stands out for these animals is that they are more surefooted when trail riding in harsh terrains, thanks to their donkey genetics. Mules have smaller vertical feet, spindly but strong legs, and narrow bodies. This physique allows them to maintain stability in rugged grounds, something that offers satisfaction to trainers.

However, owners should train their mules with utmost care. The reason is, these animals have a fight or flight response to situations, and if you train them too harshly or push them too hard, they’ll question your motive, take off, kick or push.

Health & Care

Owners have an easy time handling and managing a mule’s healthcare needs. This animal is quite hardy and has fair skin that is resistant to parasites and skin irritations. Apart from that, a mule can endure heat much better, which is a significant bonus to owners from arid areas and those who expose their animals to direct sunlight for long.

A mule requires reasonable feeding care because it doesn’t overeat and rarely needs grain as supplements. It can maintain good health and ideal body weight from eating quality hay or grass. Since they don’t overeat, mules rarely suffer from colic or leg issues and require fewer vet appointments.

Breeding

A mule is a crossbreed of a male donkey (jack) with a female horse (mare). Since male donkeys are smaller and have a lighter build than female horses, the pair usually produces a mule offspring that’s generally smaller, meaning that the mares have little hardships when giving birth.

The mule possesses “hybrid vigor” because they take the best from both worlds. For instance, these animals take a donkey’s robust strength, intelligence, resilience, patience, and surefootedness. On the other hand, they demonstrate a horse’s equine beauty, athleticism, and speed.

mules in the meadow
Image Credit: Pixabay

Suitable For

Both experienced and beginner riders can own a mule as long as it is well-trained, gentle, and willing to tolerate mistakes. However, you can only be safe and enjoy a mule if you are patient and respectful to its boundaries.

Though these animals can be a bit stubborn and slow to train, they are intelligent, easy to maintain, feed, and are dependable. It’s no surprise that most hobbyists favor them over other equine animals.

Pros
  • Mules have rigid feet and hooves, fewer leg problems, and agility, making them an incredible trail riding option.
  • These hybrids are tolerant to hot climates and harsh terrains, making them suitable for southern climates and arid areas.
  • Mules can pull and carry heavier loads than horses.
  • They are healthier, disease-resistant, and have firmer skin that requires less grooming, allows for more working days, and fewer vet visits.
  • They are intelligent and remain calm in frustrating situations.
Cons
  • Mules can be stubborn during training or trail riding because they are safety-conscious. They possess wits that allow them to evaluate conditions first before acting and may refuse to progress further if unsure of the footing.
  • These equines can be unforgiving, thanks to their long memories. For this reason, previous offenses and mistreatments can result in future insubordinations, defiance, and rebellious behaviors.
  • They are not the right choice for first-time trainers, especially if you are loud and impatient. Mules are intolerant to bullying and could run away or hurt you in the process.

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Horse Overview

chestnut oldenburg horse
Image Credit: Alexia Khruscheva, Shutterstock

Personality/ Character

Horses are easy-going, kind, forgiving, and understanding equines. They have a calm temperament that allows them not to overreact to social cues and handle strange situations well.

Although these animals have shorter attention spans, they are social and demonstrate great confidence in every situation. They are also loyal, hardworking, and people-pleasers-something, which contributes to their excellent work ethic.

Some owners also consider their sensitivity a treasure. However, their irritability tendencies can mean trouble, especially if it picks offense quickly. Unfortunately, a sensitive horse is not suitable for first-time or novice riders as unskilled handling may frustrate them.

Exercise

Horses are grazing athletes and require immense day-to-day work out. Exercise is a part of horse care that helps keep their strength and weight in check. For this reason, it would be best for horse parents to refrain from confining their animals in yards and stable at all times.

You can let your horse out in the field to graze and socialize with other horses, allowing them to walk and exercise themselves.

horse wooden fence
Image Credit: Pixabay

Training

These equines can be fun to train, especially for skillful trainers. It only requires bonding, patience, and safety when handling them.

You can start training your horse with essential skills like ground driving-leading from behind while the rider is on the ground.

It’s also vital to establish boundaries and let the horse understand that you are in control. This part may require you to use gadgets like bits and reins.

However, trainers have to understand when to quit and how much the animals can endure to avoid defiance and irritability. It would be best to consider your animal’s temperament and end the training when it is relaxed, not overwhelmed.

Health & Care

Keeping a horse requires daily care regardless of your schedule, season, or weather. These animals require a commitment, and their routine care comes at a cost.

As a general rule of thumb, keep horses in spacious settings, preferably natural lands and pasture.  Also, provide fresh, clean drinking water, strong fencing, and clean shelter. Thoughtful and programmed horse care will make it happier and keep it free from diseases.

Since horses are prone to parasites and diseases, it would be best to observe proper grooming, frequent vet visits, and adequate feeding.

It’s equally important to provide your horse alternative feeds like hay, orchard grass, and supplements besides pasture and forage to maintain good health. It would be best to avoid overfeeding it as it is more prone to colic disease and weight issues.

Mustang horses
Image Credit: Pixabay

Breeding

When breeding horses, owners should find the right stallion and mare to produce a desirable foal. It would be best to find a professional evaluation for your mare for a neutral summary of its qualities to help when searching for a compatible stallion.

It’s also vital to consider the discipline, color, size, and type of horse you desire in mind before breeding. A stallion’s siring reputation and previous fertility success rates will help choose a suitable male for breeding.

Suitable For

Families and hobbyists can go ahead and buy a horse if they have enough land, patience, and time. You should also confirm if your state laws allow you to keep the animal. It is vital to consider where you will ride your equine and make the property ready and safe for horses.

It’s vital to consider if you have enough funds to maintain a horse because the lack of such vital facilities may outweigh the freedom of owning and keeping a horse in your home.

Pros
  • Horses encourage owners to be physically active as it boosts balance, coordination, and flexibility. Riding this equine also improves a rider’s muscle tone and strength.
  • Horses offer mental, emotional, and social benefits. They are useful for therapeutic purposes, companionship and also offer an outlet for stress removal and mood improvement.
Cons
  • Horses are expensive to own and maintain. They require lots of time, space, feeds, attention, grooming, and accessories—something that can be hard to achieve, especially if you already have a busy lifestyle.
  • These equine creatures are also prone to parasites, hoof rot, and diseases like colic, which are costly to treat. These issues result from horse waste that can turn smelly and hoard flies and parasites that infect the animals if owners fail to maintain the habitats.
  • It takes time, effort, and patience to train a horse. Pushing it too hard or inadequate training can make a horse unruly and rebellious and harm you.

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Which Breed is Right for You?

No doubt, your equine choice depends on your intentions and what you want to achieve. For instance, you can go for a mule if you want help with hauling and carrying heavy items over long distances and harsh conditions. Plus, mules are less-demanding, easy to care for, feed, and maintain.

On the other hand, horses are a great option if you want a loyal and kind-natured equine. Likely, you can use their athleticism to help in your physique and fun adventures like horseback riding.


Image Credit: Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.