What is the Difference Between Horse and Mule?

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Difference Between Horse and Mule

Horses and mules are domesticated animals and as old as human civilization. Humans use mules as load-bearers, cart-pullers, and sometimes in racing mounts.

Equisters often wonder, “What is the difference between horse and mule.”

In this article, we’ll highlight some of the primary differences between horses and mules. But first, let’s discuss what a mule is.

What is a Mule?

Mule is a hybrid of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare), but they cannot reproduce their offsprings — it’s because they have an odd number of chromosomes, i.e., 63. Mules are sterile and can never sire a foal. Therefore, by breeding two mules, the result is always nothing.

A mule can either be a male mule(John) or a female mule (Mollies). Male mules suffer from a hormonal imbalance that can turn them dangerous and aggressive. Hence, in order to make mules safe and amiable, horse experts recommend gelding the mules.

Types of Mules

Mules can be categorized into three types on the basis of their size.

Miniature Mules

Miniature mules are colloquially known as pony mules. Miniature mules are bred from pony mares, and they stand at 50” or less at the withers. Pony mules are commonly used to pull small wagons.

Hunting Mules

Hunting mules or saddle mules are 50” or taller. They are used for hunting, ranching, and trail riding and are considered safe for family and kids.

Draft Mules

As the name suggests, they are bred from horses of larger breeds (draft mare) and an intact male donkey (jack). The type of mules is carefully raised, keeping the sturdiness and strength of parent donkeys and mares. As a result, the draft mules are large and heavy, standing at 60” or taller.

what is a Mule

Characteristics of Mules

Following are the morphological (physical) characteristics of mules.

They possess a unique bray

The sound of mules is called a bray, and it is different from the usual bray by any means. The mule bray is heavier, screeching, squeaking, and brief.

It is more like a combination of a horse’s whinny and donkey’s bray but more distinctive.

Mules have long ears

Mules have large ears but smaller than donkeys; that’s because they are hardy and can survive extreme temperatures. The large, long ears provide them with ample area to dissipate heat in hot, humid climates.

Distinctive Mane

Mules’ hair is short, upfront, and thin. They also possess thin but long hair on the ends of their tail. Mules usually have their tails belled for decoration.

Color Variety

Mules come in a variety of colors ranging from sorrel, black, brown, white, roans, dun, and grey. The color variety of mules is like that of horses, even more than horses.

Intelligence and Athletic Ability

Hybrids are known to inherit the best qualities from both parents. Hence, mules get their athletic abilities from horses and their intelligence and strength from donkeys. 

Mules are misunderstood as stubborn

We are very much aware of the idiom, as stubborn as a mule.

Sounds like this idiom is highly misunderstood.

Mules are not stubborn; they may seem obstinate as they can sense danger and don’t like themselves being pushed into something precarious.

A stubborn mule is just telling its owner to back off.  

Quick Learners

Mules are quick learners, provided that you are calm, patient, and affectionate. Also, mules have a good memory, so they pick tricks and new skills up very effortlessly.

So What are the Differences between Horse and Mule

Despite sharing loads of qualities, mules slightly differ from horses on so many levels.

Here are some of the major differences between horses and mules.


Feed and Nutrition

Mules are hardy animals as opposed to horses. That being said, they have sensible eating habits and are less prone to diseases such as founder and laminitis. Also, they do just fine on grass hays or timothy. However, horses are high-maintenance and need top-quality hay.

Fun Fact: Working mules need 1 kg of feed besides hay and grazing, while horses need 2 kgs of feed along with usual grazing and hay.

In some cases, horses require 4 kgs of concentrate feed.


Horses respond better to their owners’ command than mules. During a trail ride, it is easier to persuade a horse along the way as compared to mules.

Mules trust their intuitions so much, so they won’t let you move forward, and chances are, you might turn around.


Mules and horses are both intelligent domesticated animals. But the question remains, “who’s smarter?”

Generally, mules are more prudent than horses as they are fast learners and observers. Also, mules have long memories and tend to remember things more vividly than horses.

Horses, on other hand, are fast learners, but they cannot learn on their own. Therefore, it is easier to train horses than mules.

Life Expectancy

Mules are low-maintenance animals, require less food, possess more stamina than horses of the same size and height, and live more than horses.

The average span of mules is around 35 to 40 years. However, in some rare cases, mules can live up to 50 years if taken good care of.

Whereas, the average life expectancy of horses is around 25 to 30 years.


Mules possess strong athletic abilities, but horses are swifter than mules.

Therefore, mules are never a good fit for the racecourse.

Nasal Passages

Mules have smaller nasal passages than horses.

Ability to Reproduce

Unlike horses, mules are sterile. Therefore, they cannot reproduce or sire a foal.

The horse has 64 chromosomes, and mules have 63, and so the odd number of chromosomes is the core reason for mules’ sterility.

Defense Mechanism

The defense system of mules is stronger than horses, enabling them to protect themselves and their owners really well.

When mules suspect threats, they will act as the sole protector of their owner by biting and kicking. A mule’s kick is much tougher than the horses’, which might end the victim up in serious injuries. That’s because mules kick from a variety of angels — with their front feet and hind legs.


Mules, like their fathers, carry more weight than horses. Therefore stronger and sturdier.

Mules are used to locomote and transport things to areas inaccessible by vehicles or other means. Therefore, mules carry 30% of their body weight, which is ten percent more than horses.


Mules’ feet are smaller than horses, making them a perfect fit for rough terrains. Also, mules’ instincts are much stronger than horses; As a result, they can sense potential danger and choose the safest tracks when ascending or descending the mountains.

Different Morphology

Apart from psychological differences, mules and horses are morphologically different from each other.

  1. Mules have larger, longer ears than horses that measure 33” from base to tip.
  2. Mules have more bodyweight on the front than horses.
  3. Horses’ feet are much larger than mules’
  4. Mules have shorter tails and denser coats than horses.
  5. Mules own deep chests and stocky bodies.
  6. Horses are taller than mules and more likely to get skin sensitivities.
  7. Mules have smoother muscles and harder hooves as compared to horses.
  8. The height of the horse is between 56-64” whereas the mule’s height is undefined and depends on one of its parents.
  9. Mules have heavier eye sockets, while horses have round sockets.
  10. Horses have the highest jumps (6.5 blocks).
  11. Mules are more resistant to sun, rain, and storms.

Is Training a Mule different than Training a Horse

There’s only one difference in training a horse vs. a mule and that is you.

However, mules demand much more attention and patience than horses.

Your communication skills should be top-notch while training a mule, as mules trust their natural instincts more than anything. They require logical reasoning to do what you want them to do. Therefore, consistency, patience, and dedication is the key to training a mule.

Furthermore, a mule will always respond to you if you ask questions or give it the cues it can answer. This way mutual trust relationship is born and your mule will always understand and listen to you.

Also, focusing on all positive things make the biggest difference. Mules are highly intelligent animals and can sense human behavior. Therefore, it is imperative that you focus on their positive response rather than the negatives. If your mule does anything wrong by mistake, ask it again instead of getting mad, or you’ll lose its trust. Most importantly, mules are smart equines — for training them, you’ll need a great sense of humor.

One way to determine successful training sessions of the mule is to check out its attitude. Successful training sittings should end up calming the mule more than it was before the session.

Final Thoughts

Horses and mules both make adorable pets. They are social, docile, extremely intelligent, and have so much in common, yet the differences are peculiar and make them an important asset to mankind.

The above mentioned are some of the most obvious differences between horses and mules that set them apart from each other.