Difference Between Horse And Donkey

Horses and donkeys are two animals that are often confused with each other due to their similar appearances. However, there are several key differences between these two equine species. In this article, we will explore the main characteristics that distinguish horses from donkeys and shed light on why they are separate species.

What is the Difference Between a Horse and a Donkey?

Body Size and Shape

One of the most noticeable differences between horses and donkeys is their body size and shape. Horses are generally larger and more muscular than donkeys. They have a taller stature, longer legs, and a sleeker body shape. Donkeys, on the other hand, are smaller and more compact. They have shorter legs and a rounder body shape.

Head and Ears

The head and ears of horses and donkeys also exhibit distinct differences. Horses typically have a larger and more refined head, with a straight profile and a prominent forehead. Their eyes are located on the sides of their head, giving them a wider field of vision. Donkeys, on the other hand, have a smaller and more angular head, with a convex or concave profile. One of the most recognizable features of donkeys is their long ears, which are much larger in proportion to their head than those of horses.


Horses and donkeys communicate in different ways, including through vocalization. Horses primarily neigh, producing a high-pitched and distinctive sound. Neighing is often associated with excitement, communication with other horses, or as a response to certain stimuli. Donkeys, on the other hand, emit brays, which are loud and distinctive vocalizations that sound like a mixture of a honk and a hee-haw. Braying is believed to serve various purposes, including territorial communication and maintaining contact with other donkeys.

Behavior and Temperament

Horses and donkeys also differ in their behavior and temperament. Horses are known for their strong flight response and are generally more reactive to sudden movements or threats. They are often used for riding, racing, and other activities that require speed and agility. Donkeys, on the other hand, are known for their intelligence and cautious nature. They have a more steadfast and vigilant demeanor, which makes them well-suited for working in challenging terrains or as pack animals.

Reproductive Compatibility

Another significant difference between horses and donkeys is their reproductive compatibility. While horses and donkeys can mate and produce offspring, their offspring, known as mules or hinnies, are typically infertile. This means that mules and hinnies cannot reproduce and create a sustainable population. This difference in reproductive compatibility is one of the reasons horses and donkeys are considered distinct species.


Genetically, horses and donkeys have different chromosome numbers, which further highlights their distinction as separate species. Horses have 64 chromosomes, while donkeys have 62. When horses and donkeys mate, their offspring receive an equal number of chromosomes from each parent, resulting in an uneven number. This uneven chromosome pairing is what leads to the infertility of mules and hinnies.


Horses and donkeys have historically been used for different purposes due to their varying physical attributes and temperaments. Horses have long been domesticated and used for transportation, agriculture, warfare, and recreational activities such as horse racing and show jumping. Donkeys, on the other hand, have traditionally been utilized for agricultural work, pack animals in mountainous terrains, and as guard animals for livestock due to their alert nature.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can horses and donkeys crossbreed?

Yes, horses and donkeys can crossbreed and produce offspring known as mules (from a horse sire and donkey dam) or hinnies (from a donkey sire and horse dam). However, these hybrids are typically infertile and cannot produce offspring of their own.

2. Are horses and donkeys different species?

Yes, horses and donkeys belong to different species. Horses are classified as Equus ferus caballus, while donkeys are classified as Equus africanus asinus. Despite their physical similarities, their genetic and reproductive differences classify them as separate species.

3. Can horses and donkeys interbreed with other equine species?

Horses and donkeys can only interbreed successfully with each other due to their close genetic relationship within the same genus. Interbreeding attempts between horses or donkeys and other equine species, such as zebras, have been largely unsuccessful.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, horses and donkeys may appear similar at first glance, but they are distinct species with several notable differences. From their body size and shape to their head and ears, vocalizations, behavior, temperament, reproductive compatibility, and genetics, these equines showcase unique characteristics that set them apart. Understanding these differences helps us appreciate and value these remarkable animals for the roles they play in various aspects of human life, from work and transportation to companionship and recreation.

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