Difference Between a Mule and a Hinny: What You Should Know

Difference between a mule and hinny

Difference Between a Mule and a Hinny

Equestrians and horse lovers around the world have been experimenting for centuries, combining horse breeds in an attempt to create the perfect animal. Whether breeding for appearance, characteristics, or temperament, the world of equine hybrids seems to be never-ending. One of the animals that have resulted from this experimentation is the mule. Sometimes referred to as a hinny, this breed can be quite confusing!

So, what’s the difference between a hinny and a mule? Although “mule” can be used to describe any combination of a horse with a donkey, there are a few subtle differences that separate mules from hinnies. A mule is created by breeding a female horse with a male donkey. A hinny, on the other hand, is created when a female donkey is bred with a male horse.

Although both mules and hinnies are bred from one horse and one donkey, their characteristics, appearance, and behavior separate the two. In this post, we will cover the defining characteristics of both mules and hinnies. We will also share a few tips on how to identify their differences.

Understanding Equine Hybrids: Mules & Hinnies

Equine hybrids are generally created in an attempt to optimize the characteristics, appearance, and temperament of certain breeds. Mules, for example, tend to thrive in climates where a horse may struggle such as the hot, arid desert. Although maintaining some of the characteristics of horses, mules are much slower, making them safer to ride. 

Mules often live longer than horses, and require less food, making them a more cost-effective option for certain situations. By breeding a horse with a donkey, we are able to experience the best qualities of both animals.

There are a few problems when it comes to equine hybrids. The primary issue is the fertility of mules. Horses are born with 64 chromosomes. Donkeys, on the other hand, only have 62 chromosomes. 

When these animals are bred, the resulting mule or hinny is born with 63 chromosomes. Because of this, their reproductive system is not considered complete. Almost all hinnies are sterile and unable to reproduce. Although breeding a mule is a challenge, there are some instances where a mule was able to reproduce. 

Characteristics of a Mule

Mules are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Most mules look similar in appearance to a horse, although they have long ears. Their muscle structure, however, is much different from that of a horse. The muscles of a mule are much more smooth than those of a horse. Because of this, mules have greater endurance and more physical strength for their size. 

Temperament of Mules

Most mules exhibit a temperament that is between that of a horse and a donkey. They are best known for their strength and agility. With the athletic ability of a horse and the intelligence of a donkey, mules are strong, sensible creatures. Contrary to common belief, mules are actually kind, friendly creatures when they are treated well. Mules are beautiful, patient creatures with incredible endurance and strength.

Mules thrive in conditions where they are treated with respect. Because they are more intelligent than horses, they refuse to comply in situations that may not have their best interest in mind.

Characteristics of a Hinny

A hinny is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey. Hinnies tend to be smaller in stature than mules. Known mostly for their thoughtfulness and surefootedness, a hinny can be a great companion. They often exhibit stronger legs, shorter ears, and a thicker mane as well. The hooves of a hinny are much more similar to those of a donkey, unlike a mule who favors the hooves of a horse.

Temperament of Hinnies

Hinnies tend to be more meticulous than mules, often making causing them to be much slower as well. However, this is not necessarily a disadvantage. Hinnies are incredibly adept at navigating steep, rocky terrain. They display greater endurance in this situation than mules. Hinnies are also less particular about what they eat. This quality makes them much more suited to remote areas with limited vegetation. 

Hinnies tend to be more like donkeys in their behavioral tendencies. However, they are often less adventurous than mules which makes them more compliant. Mules are much more common and in many cases, more desirable than hinnies.

Many hinnies are simply conceived by accident. Although this is the case, hinnies still possess many desirable characteristics that keep them in high-demand for certain groups of horse lovers.

How to Identify Mules & Hinnies

How to tell a mule from a hinny

Although there are several differences between a mule and a hinny, they can be challenging to identify. There are, however, a few things to consider while attempting to decipher between the two. Beyond the size of the animal, the shape of the head can also be a tell-tale descriptor.

Hinnies often have heads that more closely resemble that of a horse. They typically have shorter ears and thicker manes. Mules, on the other hand, have a physical appearance that more closely reflects a donkey, with longer ears and more sparse manes and tails.

The differences in physical appearance, however, can be quite difficult to spot in some animals. Because of this, appearance is not the most effective means of determining whether your animal is a mule or a hinny.

The chosen companionship of the mule or hinny can also provide valuable insight. Releasing the mule or hinny into a group of equines including both horses and donkeys is a very reliable method. Mules will typically gravitate towards the horses because they were raised by a horse mother. Hinnies, on the other hand, will gravitate towards the donkeys as they were raised by a donkey mother. 

Mules are much more common than hinnies. Because of this, if there is any doubt as to their specific breed, it is safe to assume they are a mule. The only way to come to a concrete answer is by looking at the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that they inherit from their mother. However, in many situations, this is unnecessary.

Mules & Hinnies: Training Differences

Many equestrians struggle when it comes to training mules and hinnies. However, both mules and hinnies are highly intelligent. With the proper techniques, training these animals is not only achievable but also quite simple. 

The first thing to consider when you are attempting to train a mule or hinny is to realize that all of the techniques you use to train your horse may not be of assistance. Mules have a much greater sense of self-preservation than horses do. This means that they will not simply blindly follow your commands if they believe it is not in their best interest. Because of this, they are often viewed as “stubborn”.

When training a mule or hinny, it is important to take a logical and kind approach. It is important to build trust with your mule. With consistency and respect, training a mule can be a rewarding accomplishment.

Common Uses for Mules and Hinnies

Mules and hinnies have been used as pack animals for centuries. Although they excel at this type of work, they also can serve other purposes. Because of their smaller size, hinnies are commonly bred with miniature horses, creating an adorable pet for horse lovers. 

Contrary to popular belief, both mules and hinnies regularly compete in a variety of riding events including dressage riding! The one exception is that they are restricted from competing in higher level hunter and jumper events.

Final Thoughts on Mules and Hinnies

As an equestrian and long-time horse lover, I believe it is every rider’s responsibility to educate themselves on various breeds and hybrids. Proper education on the origin of a hybrid can provide the rider with valuable insight into why their animal is behaving and reacting in a certain way. 

Although many people view mules and hinnies in a negative light, they are fascinating creatures with many favorable qualities. Their endurance, strength, longevity, and patience are characteristics that have proven to be valuable in many settings. Whether to train, to ride or simply as a pet, mules and hinnies have been proven to be excellent lifelong companions.

Related Questions

Can you ride mules? Yes! Many mules are bred and trained to be ridden. They are especially valuable in rough, rocky terrain. In fact, mules are responsible for carrying riders to the bottom of the Grand Canyon! 

Are mules all of a similar size? Mules and hinnies both vary greatly in their size and stature. Limited greatly by the size of their mother, mules can be as large as a horse. Hinnies, on the other hand, are limited to the size of a donkey when they are full-grown. Mules can range in size from miniature mules less than 50” to draft mules the size of large horses.

What is the average lifespan for a mule? As a general rule, mules have a much longer lifespan than that of a horse. Mules live on average for anywhere between 35 to 40 years. However, they have been known to live up to 50 years.

Thanks for reading! You can find all of my latest equine-related articles here!

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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.

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