Mule VS Horse: How Are They Different?

Written by Peralee Knight
Updated: February 13, 2022
Image Credit Kwadrat/Shutterstock.com
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Mule vs Horse

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Mules are genetic hybrids that are created by mating a male donkey with a female horse. While they share some characteristics with horses, they are quite different in many ways. When taking those differences between mules vs horses into account, both animals shine in their distinct way. But how are mules different from horses, considering that they are half horses themselves? What is the purpose behind breeding this hybrid, and what unique purpose do mules have that their donkey and horse parents do not?

Why Did We Breed Mules?

Pack mules descending from the mountains. Aconcagua National Park
Mules were bred to be the best of both donkeys and horses.

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Mules were bred specifically to combine the best qualities of both donkeys and horses. Donkeys are known to be difficult to manage but are much stockier than horses. This allows donkeys to be particularly useful pack animals that can handle heavier loads without the risk of injury. However, male donkeys are quite territorial and will become aggressive if they feel threatened.

Horses are much larger animals on average, but stallions and colts are high-strung at times and spook easily. Their larger size and greater speed can become a disadvantage when used as pack animals or on narrow trails. Horses may be larger than donkeys, but they are more prone to injury when carrying heavy loads for extended periods.

By breeding a male donkey with a female horse, the genetic hybrid produced combines the sturdy build and hardiness of a donkey with the calm and even temperament associated with many working horse breeds. Mules are dependable, calm, and even-tempered animals that combine the best traits of both sides of their parentage.

Key Physical Differences Between Mules And Horses

Animals Elected to Office: Committeeman Boston Curtis the Mule
Mules are smaller and stockier than horses, but tend to be much stronger!

The most distinctive difference between mules and horses is the mule’s status as a genetic hybrid. Like most hybridized animals, mules are sterile. This is because mules have sixty-three chromosomes, and animals with odd numbers of chromosomes often cannot reliably reproduce.

Mules are also smaller than most horses, with the stocky build and shorter legs inherent in donkeys. Both donkeys and horses come in miniature breeds, but a standard donkey weighs up to 1,500 pounds and stands between 55-70 inches in height.

Horses vary widely in height but are often taller than mules, though they may weigh less as they have a leaner build and long legs. Horses can weigh up to 1,200 pounds on average, though larger breeds of draft horses such as the Clydesdale may easily weigh twice that!

Another key difference between a mule and a horse is that the mule has a short and thick head compared to a horse. Mules also have longer ears and their overall appearance is closer to a donkey than a horse.

Mules require significantly less food than the average horse as well and consume a fraction of what a young colt needs to stay healthy.

Mule VS Horse: When Is One A Better Pick Than The Other?

Tallest Horses - Clydesdale
Draft horses are built for strength, but can’t match the stockier mule when it comes to carrying heavy loads long distance.

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Since mules and horses are both working animals with distinct advantages, it is important to take each animal’s strengths into account when you are handing out their job duties! Both horses and mules work and live alongside us, and often each other. For both efficient work and for the well-being of two animals that are our coworkers and companions, playing to their strengths is best.

When Is A Horse The Better Choice?

Horses come in many different breeds and those breeds correspond to a specific skill or purpose. Draft horses are built to pull heavy wagons and equipment, while breeds with a lighter build are saddle horses suited for human riders. And of course, thoroughbred horses are built for speed and bred to race!

However, even the largest draft horse has limits to the tasks it can perform. Horses, in general, are prone to skittishness. Horses are also prone to fear on steep inclines, heights, or even large bodies of water. Also, they are ill-suited for prolonged journeys while carrying heavy loads on their backs. This can cause leg or back injury, as well as the risk of extreme exhaustion if adequate food is unavailable.

When Is A Mule The Best Option?

Mules are extremely sturdy and tough and can carry very heavy loads and pull a wagon or cart. Their shorter stature and stocky build are suited to long treks on narrow or uneven ground. Combined with a steady and easygoing temperament, mules can travel up steep inclines, mountain heights, and through the water with little difficulty.

However, while mules are highly efficient working animals, there are instances where a horse may be the better option. Mules are unable to reach the speeds that many horse breeds are capable of. While they are often much stronger than many horse breeds, draft horses are often more suited to pulling larger wagons and equipment.

Best Horses - Friesian
Mules are sturdy and strong, but when it comes to sheer speed, thoroughbred horses are on a whole different level!

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Mule VS Horse: The Takeaway

Mules and horses share many similarities, but they also have just as many differences. When comparing mules vs horses, it is easy to tell them apart. Mules are hybrids and half horses themselves, but they also have many distinct traits inherited from donkeys. Though both species are unique, they are often found working side-by-side!

When selecting a horse or a mule for a task, it is important to keep their differences in mind. Doing so makes sure that the task is done right, but also ensures the safety of the animal as well. Playing to their strengths when debating mule vs horse means knowing the differences between the two!

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