Thursday, April 8, 2010

Donkey vs Horse

I have quite a menagerie of equines here. I have mentioned I have minis to draft horses and a couple donkeys thrown in for good measure. Oh and one token quarter horse. I have been asked in real life as well as on line about the difference between donkeys and horses. I am by no means an expert but I can tell you that there are some pretty major differences between the two species when it comes to handling and training them.

I remember reading some time ago, and I really wish I could find it again, a great article on the differences between horses and donkeys. That really helped me to understand these guys. After all horses and donkeys are pretty different in some major ways. Keeping in mind that donkeys are not just horses with long ears has helped me to be much more patient with the donkeys when they refuse to move or don't respond as quickly as I expect them too.

Horses are reactors where as donkeys are thinkers. Horse are easily startled and a lot of our training rely on startling a horse into action. Normally we call this pressure. Horse will move away from pressure. Donkeys move in to pressure. So a lot of training methods that work with horses don't work with donkeys. Tap a horse with a whip and he will run the other way. Tap a donkey with a whip and he stands there frozen to the spot.

When I first got Sophie home I had to move her around the house and into the barn. Sounds easy right? Except Sophie didn't know me, she didn't know her new environment, and she was not going to just take my word for it that she was safe. We walk around the house one step at a time, sometime we got luck and got two or three steps. Sophie had to stop often to reevaluate, look for danger, and assess if this was an okay place to be. When I brought Kinsey home, by contrast, she was on high alert and very easy to move. When she saw the goats, she stopped only briefly and I was able to move her along.

After I had Sophie here a few days, she was not quite accepted into the herd. It started to rain, and donkeys are not water proof like horses. No really their coat is not like the coat of a horse which wicks water away. So I had to bring her in the barn. Again, Sophie was still not sure about me. She was getting the hang of leading, but just barely. It was pouring down rain and I was trying to be very patient with Sophie. Really I was, but it was raining and it was cold. Sophie was doing well until we got to the door to go into the barn. She would not budge. Now here is another difference between horses and donkeys. Donkey's feet seems to be made of a very magnetic substance that sticks to the earth like a mouse's feet stick to a sticky trap. A donkey is much stronger than a similarly sized horse. You can push, pull, and even jump up and down and scream in the middle of the pouring rain, a stuck donkey is stuck!

Horses need motivation to do something, donkeys need a reason. The fact that you want them to move is not enough of a reason. Pouring down rain is not always enough of a reason. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what a good enough reason is. But when training a donkey, you need to figure it out. I admit that I ended up half pushing her and half dragging her in to the barn. Not only is that poor sportsmanship, but I then had to regain her trust. Donkeys are not quick to forgive and they have excellent memories, the elephants of the equine world.

Their excellent memory in some ways makes them easier to train. Once a donkey understands what you want, they will remember. I have read stories of donkeys being taught something once, then weeks later being asked for the behavior and they do it. Although teach it to them wrong and again we have a problem.

All in all donkeys are very delightful creatures. Especially if you can think of them as donkeys and not horses with long ears. Now that I have gained Sophie's trust, with lots of praise and treats, she will follow me just about any where. She actually looks for me when I come out to the barn and her son, Dominique is equally endearing. He is very fond of finding toys to play with. Currently he liked to grab lead ropes and heaven help me if I leave something near the fence with in donkey reach. I mean look at those eyes and ears. . . what is not to love!


  1. Very interesting to hear about the differences between horses and donkeys - I didn't know these things.

  2. Lovely insight on the two. Horses however are born wanting to lean into pressure. It is us humans that change that. Take a young foal with little human contact. If you poke the foal in the ribs he is going to lean into the pressure until you give him a reason to be uncomfortable and move, like wiggling your finger. Only once they have learned that pressure is to be moved away from do they become the horses we know.

  3. That is true Sydney, but the instinct to move into pressure is much stronger in the donkey. Horse will move away eventually, a donkey won't. If you slapped that foal, most likely it would move away. You would actually have to push the donkey hard enough to physically move him yourself. Teaching a donkey to give to pressure is a much more difficult process. They can learn, but it takes some thinking outside the box. Think of that difficult horse that really is resistant to moving a way from pressure in multiply it ten fold and you have a donkey.
    Pressure from the crack of a whip or quick movement is not going to give you the same response, the horse will rush off. If the donkey will move it will only be for a short distance and then he will turn a look to see if it really is a dangerous situation.

  4. I figured out quit that donkeys aren't waterproof this past winter lol! Poor Zep was miserable before we got the barn. He's happy now. I just wish he would let me touch him so I could groom him. That winter coat looks so ugly. :) Great post!


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