In today’s post I am going to cover some basic similarities and differences between common domestic equines; horses and ponies, donkey’s, and mule’s and hinny’s. All of these animals belong to the family Euqidae, and the genus Equus.
Horses and Ponies
Most people know what horses and ponies are, but often are unsure what the difference is. A surprising (to me) number of people have asked me if ponies are baby horses – the answer to that is no; a baby horse or a baby pony (of either gender, under the age of 1 year) is known as a foal. An adult female is known as a Mare, and a juvenile female (under 4 years old) is known as a Filly. An adult male that has been neutered is known as a Gelding, and entire (not neutered) adult male is known as a Stallion, and a juvenile male (under 4 years old) is known as a Colt. The gestation period for horses and ponies is 11-12 months.
There are many different breeds of horses and ponies; from thoroughbred horses to draughts and Shire’s, from cobs to Shetland ponies; within the different types, there are a myriad of colours and patterns – some specific to the breed (e.g. Appaloosa – spotted horse (see below)), others being quite commonplace across many breeds.
Horses are larger than ponies; ponies reach up to 14.2 hh (hands high), and horses are 14.3 hh and taller. The tallest recorded horse to date is a a Belgian Gelding called Big Jake, who was measured in 2010 at just over 20.2 hh.
Horses and ponies have small ears and long faces, long tails and manes, deep chests, and long legs with rounded hooves. They are intelligent creatures, with brilliant speed, agility and strength. Horses have long manes and tails; which need to be kept neat and clean, and are often trimmed, clipped or plaited. Their coats are thin, compared to a donkey’s.
The noises horses and ponies make range from neighing and whinnying to snorting and sighing; these noises can vary a lot in and of themselves, depending on the animal’s mood – body language and posture both help to identify the mood, alongside noises.
Donkey’s are smaller than horses, and smaller than a good number of pony breeds. An entire male donkey is a known as a Jack (hence the term “Jack-Ass”), a male donkey that has been castrated (or gelded) is known as a John or a gelded-Jack, and a female is known as a Jenny or a Jennet. As with horses and ponies, donkey foals are donkey’s (of either gender) up to one year old, a filly is a female donkey under 4 years of age, and a colt is a male donkey under four yeas old.
The African Wild Ass (which are a critically endangered species according to the IUCN Red List), with a decreasing population, are the wild relatives of the domestic donkey.
There are a fair few different breeds of donkey; from the American Mammoth to the Miniature Mediterranean to the (long-haired) Poitou. The most common colour for a donkey is grey, but they also come in brown, black, roan, white, and a mixture of all of the aforementioned colours; in speckles or patches or other patterns, or just as broken colours. Donkey’s are usually white underneath, but can be solid colours too. Some colours and/or patterns being breed specific.
Donkey’s range from around 7.3 hh to 15.3 hh, with the average height of a donkey being approximately 11-13 hh. Donkey’s are very strong, they have long ears, and hooves rounded the same as a horse/pony. Donkey’s have short brush-like manes, and short tails with fur covering the tail, and a collection of hair at the end. Donkey’s have thicker coats than horse and ponies.
Donkey’s are known to make a braying sound, which most of us would recognise as the classic “hee-haw” donkey noise; this noise is unique to donkey’s, as they can vocalise whilst breathing in and out, unlike horses and zebras. Donkey’s are also known to squeal and snort, amongst producing other sounds.
Mule’s and Hinny’s
A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, whereas a hinny is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey. A female mule is called a Mare-mule or a Molly-mule, and a male mule is called a Horse-mule or a John-mule.
Genetically, horses have 32 pairs of chromosomes, and donkeys have 31 pairs; due to this, their offspring (when horses and donkeys are bred together) cannot themselves reproduce – they have 63 chromosomes, so one is left without a pair, resulting in mule’s and hinny’s being infertile.
Being part-horse and part-donkey, mule’s and hinny’s are, more often than not, taller than donkeys – ranging from approximately 12 hh to 17 hh. Some suggest that a mule is stronger than a hinny, but others believe it’s hard to gauge as it is hard to tell mule’s and hinny’s apart by appearance. They often inherit the best qualities of both the horse/ pony and the donkey parents; as with crossbreed dogs mule’s and hinny’s often inherit the good characteristics and physiology of their parents, and can be healthier. Physically they can range from looking quite donkey-like, to looking quite horse-like; more often than not they look like what they are – a mix of the two species.
All other images are open source, Google images, or my own – or photos donated for use by the pet owners.
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