Horses seem to be a much more common sight in so-called "developed" (or rather "heavily mechanized") countries than donkeys are while the latter seem to be still quite popular in many "developing" countries. The accepted reason for this seems to be that donkeys were/are commonly used as beasts of burden/work animals, but of course are likely replaced by mechanization once countries become "developed".

Work/draft horses seem to have followed a similar pattern of decline; However, horses in general are still quite popular in developed countries and even draft horses enjoy some niche roles despite the fact that they don't really do "work" in the way it was meant before: Many are used for ceremonial purposes, animal fancy, sport, etc.

Therefore, if horses can "evolve" into having roles outside of "work", why hasn't the same thing happened with donkeys? — Where are the fancy donkey breeds? Donkey dressage contests? Donkeys dressed up in foofy costumes pulling tourists around?

This is of course a gross generalization, as e.g. China and Mexico could hardly be called "under-developed" yet they both have loads of donkeys.

In fact, there are some e.g. donkey breeding contests, etc. but they are extremely uncommon in comparison to the amount of analogous events for horses.

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    Partially just because donkeys are stubborn and don't like doing dressage... And also donkeys are associated, at least personally, with "plodding", while horses tend, in my experience, to be more light-footed and generally prettier. Although this is only personal and there are definitely exceptions.
    – 米凯乐
    Apr 2, 2017 at 22:05
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    Donkeys cannot run really well therefore donkey riding, donkey based cavalry etc has no glamorous history. On the other hand, Horses for eg military purposed were extensively used by noblemen, and also could cost a lot. Also donkeys are generally short, so they look much less impressive than a horse. Prince on a gray donkey was never a dream for anyone.
    – Greg
    Apr 6, 2017 at 14:28

3 Answers 3


Riding a horse is a hell of a lot more fun than riding a donkey. So from a pure pleasure aspect, moderns are far more likely to want to maintain a horse for amusement than a donkey.

The ceremonial aspects are almost entirely down to the horse being a central animal of warfare for millennia. This produced an air of romance around the horse that does not exist for the donkey. When you think of the horse in history, you think of the medieval knight, or the mongol warrior, or the native american warrior, performing acts of bravery on the field. Look at all that romance!

When you think of the donkey in history, you think of an English monk or a Chinese peasant ambling down the road with their load. The work donkeys do tend to be associated with the poor and the powerless. There's little romance there. So it's no surprise that on ceremonial occasions, people want to look at horses rather than donkeys.

As far as work goes, throughout history, horses were always more expensive than donkeys, and used for "higher class" work. The local baron wasn't going to have a cart pulled along by six donkeys. Imagine five hundred years from now, when cars are purely vehicles for pleasure. Do you think people will own ferraris or hyundais?

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    Seriously, could an adult human actually ride a donkey for any length of time without the poor critter collapsing under the load? I'm not that far from US average male, and I'm reluctant to ride anything under 16 hands.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 3, 2017 at 4:14
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    If people can breed horses for size and temperament, why couldn't the same have been done to make a more rideable donkey?-- or am I overestimating the ability to breed selectively in past eras? Apr 3, 2017 at 8:23
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    @jamesqf: Donkeys are surprisingly efficient as beasts of burden. Most online references agree that a donkey can safely carry a life load of up to 20% of its body weight, and up to 30% in dead weight. You'd need one of the larger breeds to carry an adult, and there's not much weight to spare for baggage (so rather bring a second donkey for that). It might look strange, but the donkey won't mind too much.
    – DevSolar
    Apr 3, 2017 at 13:10
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    @errantlinguist What would be the point? If you already have an animal bred to be the perfect riding animal, why would you bother? Better to breed donkeys for what they already good at.
    – user15620
    Apr 3, 2017 at 15:22
  • @StevenBurnap horses weren't very good at pulling extremely heavy loads compared to e.g. donkeys/mules, but it didn't stop people from breeding draft horses; When in history has the existence of something stopped people from developing alternatives to it? Re-inventing the wheel is basically what humans do by default. (not to mention that donkeys can traverse ridiculously-steep terrain, can eat tons of different stuff horses can't, are extremely strong and don't spook easily, so for many places they could make better mounts than horses) Apr 3, 2017 at 17:22

From ancient times to about the medieval age, horses were mostly used in a military application - they were strong enough to hold an armoured soldier, able to sprint/gallop at an incredible speed, had a massive weight that combined with speed (and numbers) could break through an line of infantry, and had reasonable stamina. Though, they can be temperamental, and require a high level of care - meaning they are expensive to maintain.

Over the same time, most hauling and pulling work was done by donkeys or oxen. Donkeys are low maintenance, but have a reputation for stubbornness - oxen are also low maintenance, and quite docile.

Horses started to be used as sporting animals partly from the training they needed to be used as military animals, and also because of the leisure pursuits of the nobility that owned them.

Eventually, the benefits of a horse became more affordable to the lower classes, and the horse began to displace other animals for work. For example, the large horse breeds that were bred to support the heavily armoured knights of the 14th century become redundant as cavalry began to be lighter and faster, especially after the introduction of firearms. These particular horses began to be used for pulling wagons.

So, it can be said that horses actually were bred from military/sporting animals and into working ones, rather than the other way round.


There is ample market for gambling based on race horses, which by itself maintains the need for horsebreeding, breeding contests, etc. Donkeys seem to be not usable this way.

Mexico and China are underdeveloped countries, according to both the UN and their own governments.

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