Can You Ride A Donkey? Weight Limit, Safety, & More

Can donkeys be ridden?

Can You Ride A Donkey? Essential Guide

Horses are not the only equines that have been living alongside humans for thousands of years – both horses and donkeys were domesticated approximately 6,000 years ago. But while these two animals share many traits, their typical roles within society are somewhat different. You know that donkeys can serve as pack animals, but you may have wondered whether or not they can be broke to ride.

Can you ride a donkey? Yes, donkeys can be ridden safely so long as they have been trained to do so. Being stronger than horses, they can carry 20-30% of their weight, and most standard donkeys weigh between 400 and 900 pounds. 

It seems no question that donkeys can be ridden – after all, Jesus himself rode a donkey into Bethlehem during his time on Earth.

But there are considerations that must be made before deciding if your donkey is ready to be ridden – including how much weight your donkey can safely carry and what kind of tack you can use. Keep reading for answers to these questions and more information on riding donkeys.

How Much Weight Can A Donkey Carry?

Pound for pound, donkeys have long been known to be stronger than horses. Their bones are dense, and they are known as “beasts of burden”, used especially for transporting goods since the time they were first domesticated.

While a horse can safely carry 10-20% of its own weight on its back, donkeys can carry 20-30% of their weight. Of course, this doesn’t mean that just because you can safely ride a horse means that you can safely ride a donkey – donkeys are much smaller than the average horse.

Donkeys come in three different sizes – the miniature, the standard, and the mammoth. To give you an idea of how much each of these animals can carry, let’s look at the size ranges of each type of donkey.

  • Miniature donkey: The miniature donkey is a popular companion animal and livestock guardian. Miniature donkeys weigh around 200-400 pounds at maturity and stand between 6.1 and 9 hh. This means that a miniature donkey can safely carry 40-120 pounds. These estimates will of course include both rider and tack.
  • Standard donkey: Standard donkeys weigh between 400 and 900 pounds and stand around 9-14 hh. Standard donkeys can therefore be expected to safely carry between 80 and 270 pounds. A standard donkey that is on the larger end of the range can, therefore, be expected to carry an average adult.
  • Mammoth donkey: Mammoth donkeys are just as they sound – extra-large. Most mammoth donkeys weigh between 900 and 1300 pounds. They stand anywhere over 14.2 hh – though the largest mammoth donkey in recent history currently lives in Michigan and measures in at 17 hh. Because of their size and strength, mammoth donkeys can carry quite a bit of weight. They can be expected to carry on their backs 180-390 pounds.

Not sure how much your donkey weighs? You don’t need a large scale to find out. A popular, and fairly accurate, weigh of estimating a donkey’s weight is by measuring his height at the shoulder, the circumference of his girth (where the saddle girth would sit – approximately 4” behind his elbow), and the his body length from his chest to his hindquarters.

Multiply his height by his girth. Then multiply his body length to that total. If you divide this new total by 300, you will have the approximate weight of your donkey in pounds. This is similar to a formula used for horses, with some slight adjustments. 

Finding Tack To Fit Your Donkey

You may have a donkey who is heavy enough to carry you and doesn’t mind being ridden. Nevertheless, you will find yourself riding bareback if you can’t find a proper saddle. Unless you purchase a saddle specifically made for a donkey (likely online), you may have trouble finding one that will fit your animal.

Donkeys have backs that are significantly wider than those of horses. When looking for a saddle, you will not use the typical sizes that you would for a horse – you will want to take measurements of both your animal and the saddle that you are looking into.

You may, therefore, find it easier to look for a saddle in person so that you can take the time to measure every part of the saddle. If you use a saddle that is ill-fitting, both your donkey and your rider will be uncomfortable (at best).

Riding Donkeys vs. Riding Horses

Aside from the size contrast, there are other differences between riding donkeys and riding horses. It is worth mentioning that these differences are taking into consideration a broke and well-trained donkey vs. a broke and well-trained horse. Because most donkeys are not broke to ride, you should never assume that you can place a saddle (and yourself) on a typical donkey and expect a smooth ride.

The first difference between the two animals is in temperament – donkeys are notoriously easy-going, while horses tend to spook easily. If you encounter an unknown or “scary” object on the trail, a horse may overreact or even bolt.

A donkey, on the other hand, is more likely to come to a halt and assess the situation. Donkeys are not as easily spooked as horses (one of the reasons they make excellent livestock guardians). This, coupled with their typical gentle dispositions, might make a rider feel more at ease on the back of a donkey.

Where the donkey has an advantage over the horse in how he handles potential “threats,” the horse certainly has an advantage over the donkey in terms of speed. If you, like me, enjoy a canter/lope or even an energetic trot, you will appreciate the horse for its athleticism.

Even an older (or lazy) horse will out-pace a donkey just about every time. Donkeys, with their relaxed, laid-back attitudes, enjoy taking on life at a walking-pace (and not necessarily a fast walk). This is no problem if you’re heading out on the trail with friends, but you won’t be feeling the wind in your face the way you will on the back of a horse.

What Are Donkeys Used For?

While donkeys can be ridden, it is not what they are most commonly used for. Donkeys serve in a few different roles on the farm:

  • Livestock guardian: donkeys make excellent livestock guardians. As we’ve established, they are not spooky – meaning they are more likely to stand firm when threatened as opposed to running. And despite their gentle nature, they can also be quite aggressive around dogs. This makes them effective coyote control – just watch your family dog when in the pasture. 
  • Packing: donkeys are popularly used as beasts of burden, transporting goods through rural mountainsides, and camping gear for the weekend backpackers. They are sure-footed, strong, and generally easy to lead. 
  • Companions: donkeys make good companions both for humans and for other animals. Most livestock are herd animals, and everyone needs a friend. A donkey can be a good companion to a lonely horse, llama, goat, or even cow. They are good-natured and can generally get along with everyone on the farm. 

Are Donkeys And Mules The Same?

Mules are the product of breeding a donkey to a horse. Physically, they share many of the donkey characteristics, including the long ears and the large, expressive eyes. They share anatomical similarities with the horse, including the taller height. 

Mules are often considered to have the best of both species. They have the intelligence and calm nature of the donkey, but the strength and the size of a horse. They also have the advantage of hybrid vigor.

Hybrid vigor, or heterosis, is the phenomenon of increased favorable traits in the offspring of two different breeds of animal. Crossbreeding is popular in many livestock operations for this reason, as it generally improves the fertility rate, growth rate, size, and even disease resistance over that of either parents. 

Riding Donkeys: Proceed With Caution

If you have a donkey large enough to carry a person and with an easy-going temperament, you may decide that you would like to train the animal to accept a saddle, a bridle, and a rider. If this is the case, proceed slowly and with patience.

Donkeys are very intelligent, but if never ridden, it will take some time and training to get there. You may decide to take your donkey to a professional trainer, or you may decide to attempt the feat yourself.

Start slow and in a round pen. Place a saddle pad on the horse before a saddle, and make sure your donkey is comfortable with both before you attempt to hop on. Breaking a donkey to ride is similar to breaking a horse, but because of the behavioral and temperament differences between the two animals, it will look a little different.

If you are successful, you may not be winning any races, but you will certainly have a trusty and strong steed to partner with you on the trails.

Having Trouble With Your Training?

Learn how to gain and maintain your horse’s respect in my latest course!

Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

Legal Information

This site is owned and operated by Wild Wire Media LLC. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.