Eeebray - anything and everything donkey

Donkey Breed Standard


 Table of Contents:

General Conformation

 Donkeys, zebras and mules all differ somewhat from horses in conformation. The most noticeable difference is, of course, the ears. Donkeys' ears are MUCH longer in proportion to their size than a horse's. The necks are characteristically straighter in the longears, and most donkeys and all zebras lack a true wither. The croup and rump are also a different shape in the donkey and its hybrids, lacking the double-curve muscled haunch. The back is straighter due to the lack of withers. Dipped loins or severely swayed backs are a conformation fault, unless in old animals or brood jennies who have produced many foals, and not due to genetic factors.


Donkey Breed Standard - horse and donkey exhibiting differences in conformation 


Donkey lifespans will often depend on care and management, but with a quality lifestyle, they can be expected to live from 30 to 50 years.

Mane and Tail 

The mane and tail in the donkey are coarse. The mane is stiff and upright, rarely laying over and the tail is more like a cow's, covered with short body hair for most of the length, and ending in a tasseled switch. Donkeys do not have a true forelock, although sometimes the mane grows long enough to comb down between the ears toward the eyes. Because the mane is stiff and sometimes flyaway, many donkeys, especially show stock, wear their manes clipped short or shaved close to the neck.


Hoof shape varies as well.  Donkey hooves are smaller and rounder than a horse's, with more upright pasterns. The legs should have good bone, but many donkeys of common breeding may appear to have long thin legs with tiny feet. Larger Asses such as the Poitou or Andalusian types may appear opposite, with huge, heavy shaggy legs and large round feet. Good legs and feet are essential for breeding Mules, as a large boned leg with a good sized foot is much preferable to a large bodied animal on light bones and small feet.


Donkey Breed Standard - large standard showing typical donkey conformation


The vocal qualities are the frequently remembered differences between donkeys and horses. The donkey's voice is a raspy, brassy Bray, the characteristic Aw-EE, Aw-EE sound. While a general form of communication by all donkeys, jacks especially seem to enjoy braying, and will "sound off" at any opportunity. 


Although many donkeys are the familiar gray-dun color, there are many other coat shades. Most donkeys, regardless of coat color, will have dorsal stripes and shoulder crosses, dark ear marks, as well as the "light points" - white muzzle and eye rings, and  white belly and inner leg. Leg barring ("garters" or "zebra stripes") may be present as well. Small dark spots right at the throatlatch, called "collar buttons" are a good identifying marking and occur occasionally. These typical donkey markings may be passed on in part or whole to Mule or Hinny offspring.


Colors in the donkey range from the gray shades of gray-dun to brown, a rare bay (though not as red-toned as in horses) , black, light-faced roan (both red and gray), variants of sorrel (Registry term - RED), the blue-eyed Ivory (also called cream or white-phase), Frosted/spotted White, and a unique Spotted pattern.  True horse pinto, horse aging gray, horse appaloosa, palomino and buckskin do not occur in the donkey.


Donkey Breed Standard - Mammoth jackstock exhibiting a diverse range of colors found in all donkeys


The more unusual colors are the dappled roan, where the face and legs are light and the body is marked with "reverse" dapples (dark spots on a light background, as opposed to the horse dapple where the dapples themselves are light on dark), frosted gray (with light faces and legs and some white hairs in the coat) the pink-skinned, blue-eyed ivory white, and the frosted spotted white. The frosted spotted is an apparent combination of a graying or roan with the spotted pattern,  and can throw either more Frosted spotted white (FSW), spotted, or frosty roan colts. The animals are best defined as a spotted animal where the skin is spotted but the color does not necessarily show through on the coat (it has roaned or "grayed" out - become lighter with age). Frosted spotted white (FSW) can be identified from Ivory white by checking the skin around the eyes and muzzle. Ivory (creams) will have blue eyes and true pink skin, while FSW will have dark eyes, dark "eyeliner" and dark spotting on the skin.


 Another unusual variant of the spotting line is the "tyger spot" pattern. These donkeys vary from the typical large spots over the ears, eyes, and topline. The body will be covered with small round spots resembling the appaloosa type.

Types and Sizes 

Donkeys come in a variety of sizes from the Miniature Mediterranean (under 36 inches) to the elegant Mammoth Jackstock  (14 hands and up ). The rare French Poitou donkey, characterized by it's huge head and ears, and very thick, shaggy, curled black coat, can stand up to 16 hands high or taller hand high.


 The types of donkeys are labeled by their sizes as follows:
  • Miniature Mediterraneann: 36" and under
  • Standard: 36.01" to 48"
  • Large Standard: jacks 48.01" to 56", jennets 48.01" to 54"
  • Mammoth:
  • American Mammoth Jackstock Society - 56" jennets, 58" jacks
  • American Mule & Donkey Society - 54" jennets, 56" jacks

Aside from the Poitou, there are no real populations of actual BREEDS of donkeys left, such as the Catalonian, Majorcan, or Andalusian.  Modern donkeys can strongly resemble these ancestral breeds in TYPE, but are not classified as those breeds unless they have traceable purebred pedigrees to those lines.


Donkey Breed Standard - miniature donkeys make excellent pets, even for young children


Donkeys are generally more laid back and self-preserving in nature than horses. They prefer to do what is good for the donkey, which is not always what the human thinks is best (especially when it comes to getting their feet wet!). Most donkeys are very friendly by nature and make excellent pets, even for children.


Donkeys have a notorious reputation for stubbornness, but this must be attributed to a much stronger sense of "self preservation" than exhibited by horses. Likely based on a stronger prey instinct and a weaker connection with man, it is considerably more difficult to force or frighten a donkey into doing something it perceives to be dangerous.


However, once a person has earned a donkey's confidence and trust, they can be willing and companionable partners and very dependable in work.  Donkeys who have been well handled from an early age are most often intelligent, friendly, playful and eager to learn.

Gaits and Movement 

 Donkeys can perform all the gaits horses or mules do, and some donkeys are even "gaited", exhibiting a single-foot gait.  However, galloping is usually not on the program unless dinner is being served.

Jobs and Uses 

Draft & Packing: Donkeys can be used just like horses under pack saddle and in harness.  Traditional uses of larger donkeys are for farming, logging, and transportation of people and freight.  Smaller donkeys are also used for packing small loads and the transport of goods.


Driving and Riding: Modern donkeys are commonly used for recreational driving and riding under saddle.  Donkey clubs are widespread and often offrer group activities such as club meets and trail rides for donkey enthusiasts.  Donkey shows are gaining in popularity as well, and often offer a wide host of driving and riding classes similar to those offered at horse shows. 


Showing: Donkey shows and competitions have recently become quite popular and are growing every year.  Classes for all sizes of donkeys range from halter to in-hand performance and driving.  Shows for larger donkeys also offer under saddle classes and even trail and endurance competitions and costume classes.


Guardian Animals: Donkeys make wonderful guardian animals.  Their natural aversion to predators will inspire the  donkey to severely discourage any canine attacks on the herd. A single gelding or jennet is capable of taking care of large herds of cattle, sheep or goats Note: Dogs and donkeys usually don't mix, but if handled correctly from an early age, donkeys can be trained to live harmoniously with dogs and other pets.


Pets: Donkeys are wonderful pets and companion animals in a variety of situations.  Smaller donkeys are especially great for children and all donkeys can make terrific stablemates to other equids.


Donkey Breed Standard - enjoying a Sunday drive behind a miniature donkey

Wild Donkey Habitat  

Donkeys are historically adapted to living in vast, marginal desert and range lands, and have many traits that are unique to the species as a result. Wild donkeys often live separately from each other, unlike most other equids that prefer to range in herds.


Donkeys' unique volcalization, a loud bray, can sometimes be heard from 3 miles away, and this ability to communicate over vast distances may lend toward their independence.  Their large ears act as a sort of radiator and can help cool their blood in extreme heat.  Wild donkeys can adequately defend themselves with a powerful kick of their hind legs, or by biting and striking with their front hooves.   Donkeys are very hardy and require little to thrive in seemingly difficult conditions.


Donkey Breed Standard - wild asses in India

 see credits page for sources