What's the difference between a horse, a donkey and a mule?

Last updated at 10:07
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The question you've always wanted to know the answer to! And no, we're not horsing around!

It's a question for the ages - what is the difference between a horse, a mule and a donkey? And what is a pony, really?

We're here to give you a helping hoof!

Below are some of the mane differences you can spot between these four animals.

You'll neigh find a better explanation.

So what are the differences?

All you need to know is that animals like horses, donkeys and mules are entirely separate species.

However, they have all evolved from the same family called equidae.

These species all belong to a sub-family of animals called equus.

Here are some clues to how you can tell the difference between horses, donkeys, mules and ponies!


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Horses are taller than ponies
  • Horses have thin coats and short ears
  • Horses are taller than mules, donkeys and ponies
  • A horse's speed and how easy they are to train is largely determined by their breed
  • They're known for having long manes and tails, but again, this is determined by their breed
  • Horses are herd animals, which means they prefer to travel in groups


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Ponies are in fact horses but just a shorter variety
  • Ponies are typically very strong and can be gentle - this is why many are used to help children learn to ride
  • The only difference between ponies and horses is that ponies are shorter!
  • A fully grown pony will be below 14.2 hands (1.44 metres) at the highest part of a horse's back - known as the withers
  • There are exceptions to this rule, but this height is often used as a guide
  • Ponies are also herd animals, so like horses they prefer being in groups


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Donkeys tend to be intelligent, strong and more cautious than horses
  • Donkeys are a completely separate species to horses and ponies as they have a different number of chromosomes
  • The have longer ears compared to horses, their coats are less waterproof and their manes and tails are thinner. This is largely because donkeys originate from Africa and are designed to cope with a warmer climate
  • Donkeys' hooves are smaller and more upright compared to horses and ponies
  • They are less likely to run away when faced with danger compared to horses and ponies


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Mules have a donkey father and a horse mother
  • Mules are actually a very special mix - they have a donkey father and horse mother, and they often inherit the best qualities of both
  • They are typically very strong for their size compared to horses and are able to cope with bad weather better than donkeys
  • Mules are very intelligent and they rarely become ill
  • Mules born from a donkey mother and horse father are known as hinnys and tend not to be as strong as mules
  • Two mules aren't able to reproduce because they have an odd number of chromosomes

Spotting the difference between horses, ponies, donkeys and mules can be a little tricky, but there are some things you can look out for to hep you tell the animals apart.

Vet Nicky Jarvis who is the head of sanctuary care at Redwings Horse Sanctuary told Newsround:

"A top tip for spotting a horse, donkey or mule is to take a close look at their features, like their ears, hooves and tails.

"They can differ greatly between the three and will be your first clues in detecting which wonderful creature you are meeting.

"A good idea is to visit an equine sanctuary where you'll be able to see horses, donkeys and mules side by side and you'll quickly spot the differences!"

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