Sunday, April 14, 2013


As one would expect the names given above to the little beast of burden are synonymous and used interchangeably in reference to the animal under the Latin title of Equus Asinus.

Webster defines a donkey as a domesticated ass but is often used to describe a stupid or foolish person.

Webster defines an ass as a horse like animal with long ears and a short mane. It also is used to describe a stupid or silly person. The ancient name of ass or donkey is referred to in the Bible in both the Old Testament and the New Testament many times.

Webster defines a burro as a small horse or a donkey.
In Spain the animal was given the name of “el burrito.” By the time “el burrito” came to South America and Mexico, its name was shortened to simply “burro.” The name burro stuck when it migrated north to America though ass and donkey are also used.

Some clarification:The burro is not a mule. According to Webster a mule is the hybrid off-spring from the liaison between a male donkey, (jack), ass or burro,whichever name you chose, and a female horse (mare). The resulting offspring is called a mule and is generally sterile. Webster also gives reference to mule as a stubborn person. Could this be where mule-headed got its roots?

Wikipedia describes the “hinny” as the domesticated equine off-spring of a horse (stallion) and a female ass, burro, donkey and it is also considered sterile. The hinny is often smaller in stature than a mule and its head resembles a horse more so than a mule and its ears are a little shorter. Tail and mane also favor more of a horse look than a mule. The hinny is often called a Jenny or Jennet.

The sterility of both the mule and hinny are attributed to their chromosomes. A Horse has 64 while the donkey, ass, burro has 62. The mating results in an offspring with 63. The odd number is the reason for virtual but not impossible reproduction. Some rare cases of mating mules with donkeys have produced a foal.

Now back to donkeys, asses and burros.
Webster defines a jack-ass as a male donkey.
The unhyphenated word jackass is often used to denote a fool or stupid person or his doltish antics as depicted in the 2002 movie “Jackass.”
A Jennet is defined as a female donkey or ass.

The vast desert areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and California are a natural homeland to the donkey. Some say that a donkey is smarter than a horse and able togo without food and water longer (four days) in some documented cases. Most horses would not make it that long in a harsh overheated desert environment.
Traditionally, desert prospectors, when lost, could simple turn their donkey loose to roamthen follow the animal to an oasis of some sort. The crafty little animal, unlike a mule that requires grain, is a forager and wouldmost likely nibble cacti or sagebrush along the way. Sooner or later he’d go where there is water.

Personally, I have owned but two donkeys. One male (jack) gelded and one female (jenny.) My friend and I wanted to take our sons into the Marble Mountain Wilderness area of Northern California and do some real back to nature camping; none of that RV camping for us. We figured we might need a little help in transporting the camp goods. If you’ve ever hoisted and carried a forty to fifty pound backpack for a few hours, you’ll know what I mean. I wanted eggs for breakfast and potatoes at night. None of that freeze dried or powdered stuff for us. The goodswe wanted to take along began to add up both in weight and bulk. We planned to take food for five days, cooking utensils, first aid kit, extra clothes, fishing gear, sleeping gear, some animal feed, a tarp and a bottle of hooch.

We bought the male donkey, that we named “Bucky,” on a whim and borrowed another older male along with lead ropes, wooden Sawbuck pack saddles and canvas panniers. We didn’t have any horses to ride and figured to hike and lead the donkeys along just like the early day prospectors did.

When we arrived at the trailhead, we saddled both animals then loaded the panniers, distributing the weight equally on either side. With lead ropes in hand we started out. We were a couple of greenhorns then, (I still am)and soon learned a few valuable lessons.

Donkeys do not like to cross over wooden bridges without a little or a lot of coaxing. Thinking back, perhaps a little,unimportant at the time, pre-training would have helped. There are lots of wooden bridges, many only three feet wide, along the national forest trails. I think the noise of their hooves on the planking is what gets them to balk as if stepping on ice. Otherwise our adventuresome trip to a pristine mountain lake was going along fine.

By afternoon of the second day we were sweaty and trail weary and had all stopped to have a rest alongside the trail.

Bucky decided that it was time for a good ole roll in the inviting dusty trail. I mean we were relaxing, why couldn’t he? Of course Bucky didn’t see fit to have the saddle and panniers removed, so consequently what loafed bread he carried in the packsproved to be a little squashed. I believe that I had a few choice epitaphs for Bucky’s earswhen this old photo was taken. To further our chagrin,Buckywanted to have his rolled oats at the crack of dawn and blasted us from our sleeping bags, with his braying, every morning until he got them!

Either I or my partner used Bucky several more times on like trips but we learned to strip Bucky of the packs before he got it into his head to take a roll. I like donkeys very much, despite their sometime cussedness. There is a lot of documented history exhibited in books and movies (Treasure of the Sierra Madre)containing the use of donkeys, asses, burros and a lot of fiction to go with it.The animals in my care exhibited a gentle nature and never balked at taking a trip. I’ve often said that I would have a herd of them if I had the facilities. I salute the hardy beast.

For an in depth study and some fine reading about donkeys I recommend William G. Long’s book “Asses Vs. Jackasses” published in 1969(currently out of print) later reprinted and renamed “Donkeys of the West in 1974.”


  1. Yes, donkeys and burros generally are more hardy than horses, although you would get an argument about that from anyone who has ever owned a true mustang, which are just about as hardy as any donkey. But donkeys smarter than horses? Not a chance. I'd trust my horse on a narrow, winding mountain trail over a stubborn jackass anytime. Horses have an undeserved reputation for not being very smart for those who don't know them. For those of us who do, and who entrust our lives to them when we are on the trail, we can attest to the horse's extreme intelligence.

    Jim Griffin

  2. Even when the wild horses in Nevada look a mite peaked, the burros that run with them always seem to be fat and sassy. Maybe this explains why.

    The only donkey I've ever known was an ornery little cuss. He wasn't mean, but he lived to pull sneaky tricks on people and other animals -- much like his owner, a dear friend who would have been right at home prospecting in the 19th century. Both Shorty and Wayne are gone now (and probably raising havoc in the Great Beyond), bless them. Your post brought some hilarious memories to mind, Jerry, and I couldn't ask for a better start to the day. Thank you. :-)

  3. Quite enjoyable and informative. Kudos to you for taking the trip through the 'wilderness' and sharing your experience. It allows me to live vicariously through your adventures. Don't do much of the camping, but love to hike.

  4. I enjoyed your post. Just recently blogged on donkeys myself and came to donkey ownership through my fiction writing. My blog: where I blogged about one of my favorite "burro" references. I enjoyed your post.

  5. Very interesting and useful post, Jerry. And your adventure sounds to have been fun.


  6. Jerry, I’ll bet that first camping trip with the burros had enough material to provide you with a half dozen stories.
    One of my favorite books is Robert Louis Stevenson’s TRAVELS WITH A DONKEY.
    The note to his friend at the front of the book is one of the finest dedications in literature. RLS called his donkey Modestine—which I have also named my motorcycle—because of our travels together and her similar personality.

    Put a mule person and a horse person together and you’re bound to get some vehement—even vociferous exchange.

    I like mules, but I love horses. And I would pick a horse to ride most of the time—but I freely admit it’s only because I choose form over function.
    I always wanted the cowboy-look when I was riding mounted patrol with the PD—not General Crook.

    In my experience…

    — Gaited horses aside, I’ve generally had a smoother ride on a mule.
    —Since mules are more evenly slung and smoother, I always liked packing with one more than I did a horse, especially whey I was first learning to use a Decker packsaddle and didn’t always get the loads tied/distributed correctly.
    —If I was in really steep terrain, I’d have to say I rather be on a good, well-trained mule. They are, from my experience packing in the Salmon River country, more surefooted. Not that horses fall over ever cliff or anything. Mules just seem to be more self aware. The Forest Service and BLM used mules when I was doing my riding in Idaho and Montana 15 years ago. Not sure about now
    —Generally, a horse will lash out if it’s kicking you, where a mule or a donkey will pick a particular target on your body and nail you right there 99 times out of a hundred if you aren’t paying attention
    —The mules and donkey’s we’ve had would (generally) stand more quietly than horses when they got in a bind, waiting for help. My bride has a map of scars on her left hand from trying to cut a young horse out of a barbed wire fence. We were newlyweds and she was still learning about stock.
    —Over the years, we’ve had a Kiger mustang (with feet like pie pans) and two runty little things off a BLM range in Nevada. They did seem hardier than our horses from from domesticated lines. But, compared to the burros we kept in Texas to fend off coyotes during calving season, not so much. I think those little guys could thrive on the weeds that grow in the cracks of an abandoned K-mart parking lot.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say horses, mules or burros are dumb—or particularly smart. ( I know, fighting words...) One of my horseshoeing mentors once told me that a horse is like a three-year-old human child and a mule has matured to the ripe old intellect of four.

    Anyhow, Jerry, thanks for the post.

  7. In our state mounted horse patrol, of which Yankee and I are charter members since its founding in 2003, we have one member who joined last year who rides a mule. Howard's a great guy, and Emma's a pretty cool mule. But I'll still take a horse any day of the week. People are always asking my riding partner Debbie if her mustang is a mule, much to Debbie's chagrin. That's because Joya is a true mustang, not a feral horse, and has the lighter muzzle which characterizes most mules. It's also a characteristic of man true mustangs.

    Jim Griffin

  8. Marc, Horses vs. mules on narrow trails... could go either way. But I'll take the horse.

    True story: On one of our first patrols, over ten years ago now, we took a trail in a state park which was marked as multi-use. Trail started climbing, and climbing, and climbing... and getting narrower and narrower. By now there was a cliff with a drop of about 75 feet on the right and a bank too steep to climb for humans, let alone a horse or mule, on the left. We came to a washout. Deep washout. Talked about turning around, but the trail wasn't wide enough, plus Yankee (who was in the lead) looked at that gully, thought about it for a moment, then calmly stepped over it and kept going. So far, so good. Kept on going, until we came to a sheer 20 foot high rock wall which the trail went almost straight up, using gaps in the rocks. No way past it on horses. At this point the drop was now about a hundred feet, and the trail barely wide enough for the horses to plant all four feet. Told Debbie, who was behind me in a slightly wider spot, she had to turn around so I could back Yankee up. She said the trail was still too narrow. So, we had to try and back both horses out of there. Somehow I managed to dismount to make things easier for Yank. Debbie started to back Joya up, I started to back Yank, then when Joya reached a spot where the bank to the left wasn't quite as steep she headed up it, crashing through the brush. I was convinced Yank would panic, thinking the noise was a predator. Luckily, he didn't. Got him backed to where I could turn him, Debbie got Joya turned around at the top of the bank and we headed back down. When we got back to the bottom, we both started shaking at what might have happened. Later that day, Debbie told me that Yankee's right hind hoof was actually half off the edge of the cliff, that's how narrow the trail was. Still gives me chills thinking about that close call. And I'm sure glad horses have trail sense. In the ten years since then, we've covered a lot of miles over some pretty tough terrain. (Yes, I know New England ain't the Rockies or Alaska, but spend some nights on top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire and you'll find out right quick how rugged it is here).

    Needless to say, we got in touch with the state DEP and got the trail maps changed so that trail is marked hiking only.

    Jim Griffin

  9. Thanks to all who commented. While on my pack trips I witnessed folks using donkeys, mules and horses as pack animals from time to time. One man had a couple of Shetland ponies, loaded down, in a string with the donkeys. Some people rode horses and others, like my group, trudged along on foot. I thoroughly enjoyed the trips and the memories. I have a photo of my donkey "Bucky" lying on the ground squashing the packs while on that trip. The photo didn't come out good enough for the computer so was unable to add that to the blog. Again, thanks everyone for the positive comments.

  10. Thanks for the post. Really enjoyed it!

  11. I'm always interested in articles about mules. I've had horses but never mules, and it's a mystery why mules nearly always find their way in my stories other than they're so fascinating. Also, their ability to jump is handy at times.

  12. What do I know about either horses or burros -- but I know a good story when I read it. LOL, Jerry! Great fun in the outdoors. I prefer a B&B. ;-)

  13. Loved your story, especially about Bucky wanting his oats at the crack of dawn. Cute! I can almost hear him braying! :)

  14. For those tasks, plus the riding, give me a good mule anytime.