Advice Page 6

Differences Between Donkeys and Horses

Some notable differences between donkeys and horses or ponies are listed below:

Physical Features Conformation

  • Ears: The long ears of the donkey, which are well supplied with blood vessels, are a desert adaptation for cooling the body.
  • Eyes: The larger eyes of the donkey provide a wider field of vision than those of the horse.
  • Tail: The unusual tail resembles that of a cow because it is covered with short body hair except for the tuft on the end.
  • Chestnuts: Ergots or chestnuts are practically nonexistent on the hind legs of donkeys.
  • Vertebral column: The donkey, like the Arabian horse, lacks the fifth lumbar vertebra in the spinal column normally found in other equine skeletons.
  • Hoof: Donkeys have hooves that are more upright, smaller, tougher and more elastic than those of horses. Consequently donkey hooves rarely need to be shod.
  • Coat: Donkeys have coats that tends to be longer and coarser than that of the horse, although texture can vary among North American donkeys. It is important to note that donkeys do not have the protective undercoat that horses do; therefore, they are more susceptible to climatic conditions such as rain, wet snow and wind. Insulation from heat or cold is largely created by air pockets between the longer hairs.
  • Voice: The distinctive bray.

Longevity  intelligence

Donkeys have a life span of 30 to 50 years, which is greater than that of the horse.

Larger brain capacity is evidenced by the fact that donkeys require bridles with a larger browband than that needed for a comparable size of horse or pony. Donkeys are reported to have developed an intelligence superior to that of the horses, but its instincts give rise of different behavior, in certain circumstances, which many misconstrue as stubbornness. For example, it is not the nature of the donkey to run in panic when frightened as the horse instinctively does. Under the same conditions donkeys are more likely to stop, stand still and study the situation carefully to determine the best course of action.


The donkey is reportedly more prepotent but less fertile than the horse. Whereas the conception rate of the horse is reported at approximately 60 to 65 per cent, the conception rate of the donkey is considered to be lower than that of the horse. Donkeys have an average gestation period of 12 months compared to 11 months in horses. Gestation in the donkey can vary from 1 to 14 months. Production of twins, though rare, is more frequent among donkeys than horses.


Donkeys browse as well as graze. Donkeys will eat coarse herbage, marsh grass, young thistles and shrubs in his pasture, feeds that most horses will not eat.