Longears: MYTH VS FACT
Longears - Donkeys, mules, hinnies. These
cousins of the horse have long suffered under discrimination and
folklore that has made them out to be second-class citizens. In many
ways, the donkey and mule can outwork, outcarry, and outlast the
horse, but it is hard to overcome stereotypes. It takes much less
effort to fall into the groove of old thought than to see the real
animal behind the old wives tales and legends.
MYTH - Mules are stubborn and vicious. Mules are not really stubborn - they are a hybrid between a horse - with the instinct to flee - and a donkey - with the instinct to freeze. A mule will evaluate a situation carefully before reacting, a combination of both traits. They examine like a donkey, and then may react like a horse, kicking or fleeing the situation as needed.
MYTH - Mules and donkeys are lazy. Mules and donkeys both are better termed “Energy conservationists” than “lazy”. Donkeys will only expend as much energy as needed to get the job done. You walking beside a donkey is no reason for the donkey to gallop - you’re walking, so is he. They CAN and DO gallop - when they feel like it, and especially in play. Mules are more horselike and gallop more readily, but a donkey can be trained to canter or lope under saddle.
MYTH - You can’t get a donkey to lunge. Again, a good trainer and a willing donkey can form a working partnership where lunging is part of the regimen. However, referring to the above where donkeys conserve energy, they dislike boring (to them) repetition. Lunging in the same circle, 30 or 40 circuits, becomes “Been there, done that, won’t do it any more”. Variety, and an understanding of their nature will build a confident working relationship between donkey and owner.
MYTH - Donkeys and mules are stupid. Fact - About the farthest from the truth as you can get. Donkeys are extremely intelligent. A horse will work until he drops, but a donkey or mule will stop before they are incapacitated. They can’t tell you about the danger ahead, but they can wait until you realize there is a problem. They will refuse to go on until they have rest, the pack that has slipped has been adjusted, or the path has been cleared. That’s where the stubborn myth evolved, but it’s just misunderstanding of the donkey’s ability to think for itself, not stubbornness.
MYTH – Zebras a vicious and untrainable. Not true, in fact, many zebras have been trained to harness and even to saddle in the past. Now, not every zebra can be TAMED, but many can be trained. Yes, there is a difference – think about the tigers and lions used in circus and Vegas acts. Several experiments at turn of the century were created to breed a better “zebra mule” – hardy and resistant, like the mule, but immune to certain diseases, like the zebra. The experiments were failures, but in recent times, interest in the Zorse (zebra x horse) and zonkey (zebra x donkey) has grown, and these hybrids are gaining in popularity. Like the mule, zebra hybrids (or “Zebroids”) are sterile, but trained carefully by the patient individual, they can become good using/working animals.
MYTH - Donkeys and mules are just pack and harness animals. Oh, no, Not So! It is true that in times past donkeys were associated as the chief “beast of burden”. They ARE good pack animals - in fact, they can carry more weight pound for pound than any horse. They can pull a plow, and in times past, donkeys were the “farm beasts” while horses were reserved for the rich and upper-class as saddle animals. Donkeys were owned by peasants, horses by the higher classes. But really and truly, the peasants may have had the better end of the deal. They had a more cost-effective, longer-lived, more reliable work animal. Mules were used by the clergy as saddle animals - for someone who didn’t do a lot of riding, a friar was probably better off on a mule! Steadier gaits, a more even pace, usually a little smaller than a horse, the mule would have been a better mount for the infrequent rider in the long run. Mules and donkeys both can excel as saddle animals, and mules are used exclusively in the Grand Canyon and Molokai Mule rides in Colorado and Hawaii. And as for those harness animals - how about mules doing fine harness turnout in combined driving events - and WINNING against imported warmbloods…
MYTH: Donkeys are too small to be ridden by adults. Some donkeys, yes. But donkeys come in all sizes from Miniature - under 36” at the withers (the smallest known being 25”) all the way up to Mammoth stock at over 16 hands. The largest donkey on record was alleged to have been 17.1 hh. The average Mammoth Ass (with the blood of generations of fine Saddle Asses from Andalusia or the big-boned giant Poitous of France) is 15 hands. Quite comfortable for any adult. Even standard donkeys in the 46-48” range that are mature and have good bone can carry an adult rider. Just think about the pack burros of the gold miners, or the working donkeys of many countries today. Their loads are far greater than that which a horse could ever carry. Not to say that overloading a donkey is good practice, but donkeys are better equipped with carrying power than many horses.
FACT: The donkey’s long ears developed out of their desert origin. Heat patterns on the sand make sight difficult - the long ears of the donkey helped with precise hearing as well as extra heat dispersal. The white markings typical on the nose, eyes and belly of the donkey also evolved as a way to help cool the animal.
FACT: Not all Mules are males, not all hinnies female. Mules ( a jack donkey x mare horse) and hinnies (stallion horse x donkey jennet) can be either male or female, depending on whether they inherit the X or Y chromosome from the sire. They are sterile due to an imbalance at the sex chromosomes, but they are physically normal in all parts and organs. Male mules or hinnies are called Horse mules/hinnies, and females are mare mules/hinnies. Male mules should be gelded, not left as stallions, since they don’t know they are sterile and will behave as a breeding stallion. They can be called geldings or “johns”, while female mules are sometimes called Mollies.
FACT : Donkeys and mules CAN founder. It used to be said “you can’t founder a mule”. You may not be able to Work-founder one, since they will quit before they get to that point, but you can certainly cause founder by feeding too hot and rich food. Donkeys require a lower protein content than horses. Grain supplements, where absolutely necessary, should be 12% max, and preferable 10% , in rations about 1/3 of what you would give a horse of similar size. Most donkeys never need any grain unless they are growing youngstock, pregnant or nursing jennets, or working animals. Grain-fed donkeys get fat fast and STAY fat forever.
MYTH – Donkeys and mules don’t need the same injections and worming as a horse. Although not all horse vaccines are 100% effective on longears, some preventative measures for disease and certainly prevention for worm loads is a requirement for equines of any type. Please vaccinate, worm, and provide hoof care for your longears on the same schedule as a horse (consult your vet for the vaccines needed in your area).
MYTH - All donkeys will guard
sheep/goats/livestock.. MOST donkeys will, but not all donkeys
make good livestock guardians. They have a natural aversion to dogs
(although they can be trained to leave the family dog alone). Donkeys
will charge coyotes or feral dogs, ears back, teeth bared, ready for a
stomp-fest. It is this ancestral hatred of dogs that will lead them to
protect their companions. However, youngstock (donkeys under the age
of two) and intact jacks are not suitable as guard donkeys. They often
see the very small newborn kids or lambs as intruders themselves, or
as playthings, and can injury them by rough play. Miniature donkeys
are not recommended as guardians simply because of their size,
especially in feral-dog areas. Two feral dogs could severely injure a
FACT - Donkeys are loving animals. They’ll follow you around like a dog, come into the house if you will let them. They’ll steal the hammer when you aren’t looking, or untie all the horses while you are grooming and run away kicking and hee-hawing with laughter. They love human company and make wonderful pets for children. But, read on…
MYTH - Any donkey is gentle enough for kids since they are sluggish. NO! Please do not choose a jack as a pet - no matter what size he is. A 34” Miniature jack does not see himself as under 3 feet tall - he’s king of the world, and especially when it comes to his territory and females. If you are NOT going to seriously breed animals, please do not keep jacks. Have non-breeding jacks gelded, and they will be better pets, saddle animals, or livestock guardians. Jacks CAN be aggressive - it all depends on his personality, and the surrounding factors. But please don’t risk it by trying to keep a jack as a pet.
FACT - Donkeys and mules are longer-lived than horses. Donkeys have been recorded into their late 40’s and even a few into the 50’s. One mule that was an Army mule was said to be over 50. Good care, correct feed, and lots of love will keep your donkey happy into ages undreamed of by most horses.
FACT - Castration (gelding) of jacks and mules should be done in a slightly different manner than in horses. In some cases, especially in older males, there is excessive bleeding after the cords are cut. This is thought to be due to incomplete crimping by the emasculator tool. It is best to have your vet tie off (ligate) the blood vessels WHILE THEY HAVE THEM IN HAND - right away, don’t wait and have to go back and fish for them. Most vets don’t like to do this, but if you vet has ever had a bleeder, they won’t argue. Save them, yourself, and your donkey worry and request they ligate immediately.
FACT: All males mules should be gelded. (the same applies to zebroids). They are sterile, but they don’t know that. They are aggressive and even dangerous when left intact (entire). They are known for their lustful sex drive, even to the point of destroying fences and savaging people and animals to get to females in heat. Don’t risk it. Don’t fall into the trap of “there’s no need to geld”. It’s for his health and yours.
FACT: Zebra hybrids are NOT for everyone. Neither is the pure zebra. Please, if you have no equine experience, do not try to purchase a very young equine, a mule, a zebra hybrid, or especially a zebra as your first equine. You might (just MAYBE) manage just fine, but more likely, you will find it to be a difficult experience (and that’s where undeserved bad reputations come from…)
Joe, a Grevy's Zedonk (Grevy's Zebra x donkey jennet), under saddle.
FACT - Donkeys and mules have an undeserved bad reputation. We hope this short article will help to dispel some of that bad publicity. Donkeys and mules have helped to build not only the United States, but the entire world. Donkeys or wild asses are depicted in Egyptian tomb paintings. Burros packed the 49-ers across the Nation in the Gold Rush. Mules built roads, trails, pulled Borax wagons, packed artillery during the wars. Donkeys figure prominently in the Bible, and even today in the Middle East are relied on heavily for work and transport. Things would probably be a lot different in today’s world if it weren’t for the longeared equines. So the next time you see a donkey, don’t think of it as stubborn, slow, or worthless. Think back what all they have done for the last several thousand years, and look deep into those dark eyes. The wisdom of the ages, mixed with a little bit of light-hearted nature will gaze back at you, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll get bitten by the longear bug as many others before you have as well. They’re addictive - you can’t own just one. Give a donkey or mule a chance - you might find a new friend and dispel some old myths.
The ADMS was founded in 1967 as a registry and repository for information about all Longeared Equines. ADMS maintains 5 studbooks, countless reference material, a bi-Monthly magazine (The BRAYER), webpages, personal help, reference, and much more as the world’s Largest Single Source of Information and Services for Donkeys, Mules, and Zebra Hybrids. Free information may be obtained from:
Phone 940-382-6845. Fax 940-484-8417