Horse and donkey facts

Take Our Donkey Quiz!

Top tip: you might find some of the answers on the page below.

They have frogs on their feet?

One of the oddly-named parts of equine animals happens to be called a frog! A frog is the fleshy triangular-shaped tissue on the bottom of a hoof. When an animal walks on soft ground, the frog makes contact with the surface. It serves 3 functions:

  • Pumps blood: The lower leg has no muscles to assist blood flow, so the frog pumps blood up the leg each time the frog makes contact with the ground. It is an important part of the circulatory system.
  • Traction: Prevents slipping and sliding.
  • Absorbs shock: Acts as a shock absorber for the feet when they make impact with the ground, helping to distribute the animal’s weight. This decreases the force placed on bones and leg joints.

Farriers keep the frog as large and ground-covering as possible when they trim or shoe the feet. Want to know more about farriers? Take a look at our Hoof Care info

Equine Lingo

  • Pony: Generally speaking, a pony is a horse that is less than 14.2 hands high (one hand is equal to 4 inches) or 147 cm in metric. Though there are some breeds of horses that are less than 14.2 hands but are still called horse for traditional reasons. These include miniature horses (not to be confused with miniature Shetland Ponies) and Icelandic horses. It comes down to semantics, as horses and ponies are the same species.  
  • Foal: Horse, donkey or mule under 1 year old
  • Gelding: Male neutered horse, donkey or mule
Horse
  • Stallion: Male horse
  • Mare: Female horse
  • Filly: Female horse under four years old
  • Colt: Male horse under four years old
  • Yearling: Horse between one and two years old

 

Donkey
  • Jack: Male donkey
  • Jenny or jennet: Female donkey

 

Mule
  • Horse mule: Male mule
  • John mule: Neutered male mule
  • Mare mule/molly mule: Female mule
  • Mule colt: Young male mule
  • Mule filly: Young female mule

 

Hinny
  • The offspring of a male horse and female donkey, the reverse combination of a mule's parents. Hinnies are much rarer than mules, and more closely resemble their donkey mothers, with smaller stature, shorter ears, stronger legs, and thicker manes.
  • The name 'hinny' comes from jenny (a female donkey) bred with a h-orse. 
A hinny

A hinny - the offspring of a male horse and female donkey.

10 Top Facts

  1. Horses and donkeys are part of the Equidae family.
  2. They are domesticated animals that have been shaped by centuries of breeding by humans.
  3. There are a number of different breeds of both horse and donkey.
  4. There are feral populations of horses and donkeys but these are descended from domesticated animals.
  5. Mules are a hybrid created by breeding donkeys and horses.
  6. They are all herbivores.
  7. They are adapted for both high-speed movement and long-distance, slow speed travel. 
  8. Their long legs, ending in a single hoof, are unique to the Equidae family.
  9. They give birth very quickly - within 45 minutes if all is well.
  10. They have young who are able to run with their mothers within hours of birth.

The difference between horses, donkeys and mules

Horses, donkeys and mules are entirely separate species, but come from the same equidae family. Here are some of the mane differences between them!

Horses

  • Fastest and easiest to train. Because of this, they have been used throughout history in times of war
  • Prefer to travel in groups.
  • Horses have smaller ears than mules and donkeys.
  • Their heads are generally in proportion with the rest of their bodies.
  • They have long flowing tail hair right from the base of their tail.
  • Their manes generally flop to the side, and their necks are longer than donkeys’ and mules’.
  • The average lifespan of a healthy, domesticated horse is 25-30 years.  Working horses are less likely to live this long.  Find out more about Brooke's aim to improve the welfare of working horses.  
  • Globally there are over 350 breeds of horse and they can range in height from less than 1m tall (miniature Shetlands) to nearly 2m tall (Shire horses).
Horse infographic

Donkeys

  • Shortest, with thicker coats, shorter tails, very short necks and large ears.
  • Their mane often sticks upwards.
  • They often (though not always) have a lighter coloured muzzle area and dark skin around their eyes, like they have applied too much eye liner.
  • Intelligent, strong and cautious.
  • Able to carry up to twice their own body weight, so they are often used for manual labour.
  • More independent than horses and harder to train.
  • They often have a dorsal stripe - a dark stripe of fur along the middle of their back that splits and spreads down towards the tops of the legs.
Donkey infographic

Mules

  • Combine characteristics of horses and donkeys: Large body shapes, smooth coats, long ears, small hooves, short manes, long necks and thick heads. 
  • Faster than donkeys and more intelligent than horses.
  • Live the longest, at around 35-40 years.
Mule infographic
Mule on grass

More mule facts

Mules are the offspring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). They combine characteristics of both parents: large body shapes and smooth coats similar to a horse, with donkey-like long ears, small sturdy hooves, short manes and thick heads. 

Mules benefit from 'hybrid vigor': they are prized for having the size and strength of a horse with the resilience and robustness of a donkey. They also live longer than horses and tend to require less food than a similar-sized horse.

Mules

They can also sense danger better and are more cautious than horses or donkeys, making them safer to ride when crossing difficult terrain.

A mule’s skin is less sensitive than a horse or donkey’s skin, and is more resistant to sun and rain. Mules are strong animals and their hooves and coats are extremely robust.

As a result, mules are one of the world’s most common working animals and are highly dependable for owners who work in harsh conditions. We work with their owners and communities to provide better welfare and understanding of these lesser-known animals.

Mules played an important part in Britain’s history, especially in WW1 where they made up over 200,000 of the one million horses, donkeys and mules sent out to serve in battle.  Read more about mules, underappreciated war heroes

Learn about our Animal Handling approach.  We also have a handy guide to Compassionate Equine Handling available for download