Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guest Blogger #2: "Donkeys, Mules and Horses: a quick overview"

Laura, the kind mistress of, kindly prepared this essay on the different between horses, donkeys, and mules in order to entertain and educate my readers during this guest-fest! Thanks, Laura!  

Ears, Fen

After owning a horse for many years and having had almost no interaction with donkeys or mules I recently went to the Derbyshire Donkey Sanctuary Open Day. I found it really interesting and I learnt a lot about the donkeys they kept there. They were also very cute, especially the foal! But then I started wondering, how different are donkeys, mules and horses from each other? Was a baby donkey even called a foal? So I decided to find out!

Life Expectancy- I had learnt at the donkey sanctuary that donkeys lived until an older age than horses. The lifespan of the horse is said to be 20-30 years, whereas donkeys can live 30- 50 years. In general, mules have a lifespan of somewhere in between donkeys and horses.
Trooper, Laura's 22 year old horse
I currently own a horse that is 22 years old, the oldest horse I have ever known was a 45 year old Shetland. Whilst visiting the donkey sanctuary and seeing a large number of donkeys over the age of 30, it showed me there really is a big difference between the life expectancies of these animals.
Fertility- Donkeys are less fertile than horses. Mules are a hybrid between the two so are often not fertile, although occasionally there are fertile mule mares.

Genetics- The donkey has 62 chromosomes and the horse has 64, the mule therefore has 63. This is why most mules are infertile as they have an odd number of chromosomes which cannot pair up correctly in the offspring.

Behaviour- The donkey is thought to be more intelligent than the horse, the mule is also thought to be intelligent. So this puts to rest the common phrases “dumb ass” or “stubborn as a mule”!

Coat- Another difference I noticed whilst visiting the donkeys was that they had a much softer fluffier coat than horses. Mules will have a combination of different hair. Donkeys are more at risk of wet weather as they have not evolved to cope with this as horses have. However, a donkeys coat is better adapted to colder weather as long as it is not wet. Mules tend to have hair like the horse in the summer and thicker hair like the donkey in the winter.

So, was it a foal?- Yes! It was called a foal, they are called Donkey Foals! The names of the male and females in each animal can be seen on the table below. Another thing that surprised me was that when a stallion and jennet breed the foal is called a hinny, and when a jack and mare breed the foal is called a mule. I had never even heard of a hinny and certainly never met one! A mule is easier to obtain than a hinny. A hinny is said to have the body of a donkey and the extremities of a horse whereas the mule is said to have the opposite.

Male Name
Female Name
Jennet/ Jenny
Horse Mules/ Jack/ John
Mare Mules/ Molly

I found all this research very interesting, coming from a horsewomen’s background I just assumed that donkeys, mules and horses were all very similar but I have now learnt how different they are! I would definitely like to take the time to get to know donkeys and mules a bit better and I am going to do a 2 week placement at the donkey sanctuary! I am sure a lot of you already knew this information but there will be people like me who were unaware, and for those of you who already knew, I hope it was a nice summary!

Love Laura


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