I vaguely recall riding a donkey some 30 or so years ago. We were on holiday at the Welsh seaside resort of Llandudno, where donkey rides have been popular among tourists for, well, donkeys’ years!
Riding donkeys can be a pleasant, educational experience if you pick the right breed. Unfortunately, I had the wrong breed.
What kind of donkey can you ride? Taller, agile donkey breeds are best for riding. Any donkey that stands over 36″ (9 hands) is suitable for pleasure or trail riding.
As rule, donkeys can safely carry 25% of their weight. If they are traveling for shorter periods of time, they can carry up to 35% of their body weight. Over difficult terrain for longer periods of time about 20% of a donkey’s body weight is a good rule. But, as we cover, there are a few breeds that can carry more per pound than other breeds.
The best donkey breeds for riding include the Standard Donkey, American Mammoth, Asino Amiatina, and Andalusian. The Miniature donkey is a great donkey for children to ride.
Saddle Up One of These Donkey Breeds for Riding
#1 The U.S. Standard Donkey is Great for Kids
Standing between 36″ and 48″ at the shoulder, the standard donkey, is too small for a large adult to ride. It’s ideal for children and small to medium-sized women. Capable of carrying a load of up to 125 lb, the standard donkey is calm, reliable, and stoic. If trained well, they make reliable children’s mounts and a offer unique riding experience.
Standard donkeys participate in various events around the USA. These include pleasure driving and riding competitions, barrel races, pole bending, and trail rides.
The standard donkey is the quintessential donkey of the US and is versatile enough to perform a range of duties. In addition to being ridden, the standard donkey is used to guard livestock, carry packs. It’s also popular as a companion for other animals, including alpacas, goats, horses, and llamas.
Pros of the Standard US Donkey
- Ideal for kids and smaller adults to ride
- Calm and reliable
- Good as a livestock guardian
Cons of Standard US Donkey
- Not great riding for most adults
- Has a small weight limit (125 lbs)
#2 The American Mammoth Donkey is Big Enough for Adults to Ride
Also known as the American Mammoth Jackstock, this is the largest donkey breed in the world. The average American Mammoth stands between 54″ and 56″ tall, although the largest, a donkey called Romulus, stands an impressive 68″ or 17hh.
Riding mammoth donkeys is a popular pastime. They’re less skittish than horses and therefore less likely to bolt or spook. This makes American Mammoths a safe and pleasurable ride. Mammoth donkeys are ideal for those wanting to relax and enjoy the scenery while out on the trail. They’re not as fast as horses, but they’re comfortable, sure-footed, and have superior strength and stamina.
Thanks to their calm, affectionate demeanors, mammoth donkeys excel in equine-assisted therapy programs. Some also use them for pleasure and trail riding, and some even compete in showjumping and gaming shows.
Pros of the American Mammoth Donkey
- Very calm disposition
- Can carry heavier adults
- Riding is exceptionally smooth
- Ideal for use in breeding draft mules
Cons of the American Mammoth Donkey
- Not ideal for smaller spaces
- Requires more feed than most donkeys
- Harder to find
#3 Asino Amiatina Donkey is Striking and Sure-Footed
The zebra-leg stripes characterize the Amiatina donkey set it apart from other donkey breeds. Many also have other primitive markings, including shoulder and dorsal stripes.
This rare donkey breed originated in the mountainous region of Monte Amiata in Tuscany. Amiatinas are sure-footed and agile donkeys known for their disease resistance and ability to survive harsh conditions.
Measuring between 49″ and 55″ at the withers, the Asino Amiatina is a comparatively small breed. It’s better suited to working as a pack or draught animal than riding. However, their agility and endurance make them good donkeys for pleasure riding.
As the Amiatina weighs between 330 and 550 lb, only people who weigh less than 165 lb should ride them.
Pros of the Asino Amiatina Donkey
- Delightful, fun markings
- Extremely sure-footed in uneven terrain
- Great for pleasure riding
- Very resistant to diseases
- Hardy in harsh climates
Cons of the Asino Amiatina Donkey
- Hard to find
- Not a good draught donkey
- Shouldn’t carry larger adults (over 165 lbs)
#4 The Andalusian Donkey Competes in Traditional Races
The Andalusian is one of the oldest donkey breeds, having been around for nearly 3,000 years. Native to the region of Córdoba in the Spanish region of Andalusia, this breed of donkey stands between 59″ and 63″ high.
Used by the Spanish military and prized by King Charles III, Andalusian donkeys were rarely allowed to leave the country. In 1784, however, the king gave George Washington a valuable gift in the form of a large Andalusian donkey called Royal Gift.
With Royal Gift was a letter describing him as “a fine Creature, just fifty-eight Inches high, & the largest that I believe ever came into this country.”
In addition to making eye-catching riding donkeys, Andalusians have also been used extensively in animal assisted-therapy work and the Spanish tourist industry. They also compete in traditional donkey races, like those held in La Rioja each year.
Pros of the Andalusian Donkey Breed
- Great as pets because of their reliable nature
- Larger donkey breed that can carry adults
- Can carry light adults up to 125 lbs
Cons of the Andalusian Donkey Breed
- Rarer and harder to find
- Usually more costly to purchase
#4 Miniature Donkeys Often Compete In-hand
Standing just 36″ high, the miniature donkey can only be ridden by small children and toddlers, but that doesn’t stop them from competing. Miniature donkey events, like the Heart of Oklahoma Miniature Donkey Show, see these diminutive donkeys competing in in-hand showmanship and showjumping classes, as well as pleasure driving competitions.
The miniature donkey hasn’t been bred down from a larger breed as the miniature horse was. Its small stature is so natural that it isn’t even considered miniature in its country of origin.
Native to the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Sicily, the miniature donkey is neither big nor scary enough to act as livestock guardians or draft animals. Their docile and affectionate natures, however, make them excellent pets.
According to Mr. Robert Green, who imported the first miniature donkeys into the States back in 1929, they “possess the affectionate nature of a Newfoundland, the resignation of a cow, the durability of a mule, the courage of a tiger, and an intellectual capability only slightly inferior to man’s.”
Pros of Miniature Donkeys
- Make excellent pets
- An affectionate disposition that can bond to children well
- Used for milk
- Easy to find
Cons of Miniature Donkeys
- Can only be ridden by small children
- Not good for farm work or guardian animals
#5 Grand Noir du Berry Donkey Excels on Trail
These tall, black donkeys were once an integral part of agricultural life in the former province of Berry in central France.
During the early 20th century, Grand Noir du Berry donkeys pulled barges along the now disused Canal de Berry and worked in the vineyards. These days, the Grand Noir du Berry is more commonly used as a pack animal on treks and hikes, although some consider it the ultimate donkey for pleasure riding and driving.
The Grand Noir du Berry is now an endangered species. It has a similar build and appearance to the Poitou but lacks that distinctive shaggy coat. Standing up to 55″ tall and weighing around 900 lb, these large donkeys make excellent donkeys for trail riding and trekking.
Pros of the Grand Noir du Berry
- Their strong physique makes trail riding and packing easy
- A docile personality that is great for a pet
- Still used for formwork around the world today
- Can carry up to 225 lbs
Cons of the Grand Noir du Berry
- Endangered and difficult to find
- Expensive to purchase
#7 The Irish Donkey Provides Rural Transportation
The donkey plays an essential role in the traditional, rural life of the Irish. But, it’s not indigenous to the country. It’s believed donkeys arrived in Ireland with the Romans, who used them to carry packs and equipment.
By the 1500s, England’s numerous wars had diminished the horse population to such an extent that the donkey came into prominence, working on farms and providing a form of public transport.
In 1897, there were early 250,000 donkeys in Ireland, but their numbers have dropped considerably over the past century. In 2017, there were less than 5,000 donkeys in Ireland and even fewer working.
Donkey racing was very popular for a brief period in the 1960s and continues today with events like the Castletown and Galway Donkey Derbys. The sport’s not as popular as it once was but continues to attract a crowd and the occasional Irish National hunt jockey.
The Irish donkey is also used to carry packs for visiting hikers but is rarely ridden.
Pros of the Irish Donkey
- Strong and Sturdy as a smaller donkey
- Excellent for children riding
- Willing and active temperament
Cons of the Irish Donkey
- Not great for larger adults to ride
#9 The Provence Donkey is Calm Yet Agile
As its name suggests, this breed of donkey comes from the famous Provence region in France. Used as a pack animal and for light driving and riding, the Provence or Provençal donkey is known for its calm and quiet demeanor.
Sure-footed yet agile, Provence donkeys stand between 46″ and 53″ tall. They are big enough to ride. They started life as pack animals, carrying shepherd’s supplies as they moved their herds between Basse Provence and various mountain pastures.
The Provence sometimes gives children donkey rides, but it is more widely known for its milk. Donkey milk has many health benefits, relieving the symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, Provence donkey milk is also an active ingredient in cosmetics, including soap and moisturizer.
Pros of the Provence Donkey
- Great as a pack animal
- Calm and quieter donkey
- Used as a milk donkey
Cons of the Provence Donkey
- Not meant for draft work or heavy work
#10 The Burro is Hardy and Sure-footed Donkey
Burro is the Spanish word for donkey and is not a distinct breed. In the US, a burro is a wild ass, while a donkey is a domesticated animal. Despite that, there are some differences between the donkey and the burro.
Burros tend to be slightly smaller than the Standard US Donkey. Standing closer to 36″ than 48″, the burro is characterized by a longer, shaggier coat and dorsal stripe.
Despite their small size, burros are often ridden by fully grown men and take part in America’s second-oldest marathon. Pack burro racing originated in Colorado, where burros had long been used to haul water and supplies to mining camps.
Burro races are annual events where athletes can “push, pull, drag or carry” but never ride their donkey teammates.
According to burro breeder Curtis Erie, “It’s a combination of wrestling, dancing, and distance running.”
Burros are hardy, sure-footed animals capable of surviving harsh conditions in hot and arid regions.
Pros of Burros
- Smaller-sized standard donkey
- Can carry adults even with the smaller frame
- Can carry up to 200 lbs of weight
Cons of Burros
- Isn’t usually defined as a breed (which can make it harder to find)
- The term “burro” may denote a more wild donkey in parts of the U.S.
#11 The Pêga Was Bred for Athleticism and Endurance
This eye-catching donkey breed originated in Brazil and has distinctive spear-shaped ears and a Roman nose. They can reach heights of around 61″, making them one of the larger donkey breeds in the world.
Created by a Catholic priest, Father Manoel Maria Torquato de Almeida, the Pêga is one of the few donkeys explicitly bred for riding. The Pêga subsequently became the most popular breed in Brazil and other South American countries.
Known for their athleticism, endurance, and stamina, Pêga donkeys are renowned for breeding high-quality mules for riding and traction work. They have become increasingly popular as the demand for dressage-type mules has risen.
The Pêga bloodlines give these mules a smooth, gaited stride that makes them ideal for competition as well as trekking.
Pros of the Pêga Donkey
- Very beautiful and distinguished-looking
- Bred specifically for riding
- Excellent stamina and endurance
- Highly intelligent
- Can carry up to 250 lbs
Cons of the Pêga Donkey
- High intelligence requires consistency from owners
- Can be hard to find, depending on your location
#12 The Catalan Donkey is Intelligent but Rare
The much-revered Catalan donkey is one of the oldest and largest donkey breeds. The average Catalan stands between 54″ and 56,” but some individuals have measured as tall as 65″.
Originating in Catalonia and the Pyrenees, the Catalan donkey, was used extensively for agriculture. Sadly, the increased reliance on machinery saw its numbers drop dramatically at the beginning of the century. By 2004, the Catalan was almost extinct.
The population of Catalan donkeys has since recovered, thanks to the efforts of the Associació per al Foment de la Raça Asinina Catalana (AFRAC) and the Rucs del Corredor Association.
These solid and resilient animals are now used in the tourism industry, giving rides to children, and in vegetation management. Catalan donkeys roam in the forests of Catalan, clearing out underbrush and reducing the risk of fire.
The people of Catalonia have a strong affinity with the animal and believe its intelligent, hard-working, and resilient nature reflects their national identity.
Pros of the Catalan Donkey
- Thought to be the most intelligent of all donkey breeds
- Very sturdy and resilient
- Very hard working
- Up to 200 lbs of carrying weight
Cons of the Catalan Donkey
- Can be insanely stubborn
- Endangered and harder to find
#12 The Baudet du Poitou is the Hairiest Donkey Breed
Originally from France, the Baudet du Poitou is a large and distinctly hairy breed of donkey. It’s an extremely difficult donkey to find as it is very rare. You will have a hard time finding one in the U.S., but once you have one, the babies sell for quite a bit more.
Baudet du Poitou was was one of the early imports used in the development of the American Mammoth breed and has been used throughout Europe for the production of mules.
Also known as the Poitevin or Poitou donkey, this breed stands at least 53″ tall and has a long back and short croup. This rare breed was nearly extinct in 1977, but American breeding programs have helped it come back from the brink.
References to the Poitou date back to 1717, when an advisor to the French king described them as “almost completely covered in hair a half-foot long with legs and joints as large as those of a carriage horse.”
Traditionally, Poitou donkeys weren’t groomed but allowed to develop into dreadlocks, known as “cadenettes.” Back then, donkeys with long, tangled coats were highly valued. These days, many owners prefer to clip their donkey’s coat to make it more manageable and hygienic.
Although bred primarily to produce large mules, the Baudet du Poitou can be ridden or driven and used for agricultural work.
Pros of the Baudet du Poitou Donkey
- Larger breed that’s great as a draft donkey
- Adorable shaggy fur
- Often bred as part of a conservation effort
- Can carry up to 300 lbs
Cons of the Baudet du Poitou Donkey
- Vulnerable to colder regions
- Extremely Rare (Difficult to find)
- Not as great for riding
#13 Asino di Martina Franca is an Excellent Draught Donkey
The largest donkey breed in Italy, the Martina Franca, was intrinsic to the production of mules. Crossed with the Murgese horse, it produced the so-called “mule of Martina Franca,” which was used extensively during the First World War.
Although more commonly used as a light draught donkey, the Martina Franca is tall enough to make it a viable option as a riding donkey.
The breed was almost extinct by the Eighties and declared an endangered species in 2007.
The Martina Franca is rarely used for riding. It remains a popular livestock animal, however, thanks to the increasing demand for donkey milk and meat.
Pros of the Asino di Martina Franca
- Larger breed that works very hard
- Used for milk
- Carry up to 250 lbs
Cons of the Asino di Martina Franca
- Rarer breed
- Not often used for riding
Donkey Breeds for Riding Ratings
|Donkey Breed||Riding Rating||Carrying Weight Limit|
|U.S Standard Donkey||✮✮✮✮||125 lbs|
|American Mammoth Donkey||✮✮✮✮✮||325 lbs|
|Asino Amiatina Donkey||✮✮✮✮||165 lbs|
|Andalusian Donkey||✮✮✮✮||125 lbs|
|Miniature Donkey||✮✮✮||80 lbs|
|Grand Noir du Berry Donkey||✮✮✮✮✮||225 lbs|
|Irish Donkey||✮✮✮||80 lbs|
|Provence Donkey||✮✮✮||100 lbs|
|Pega Donkey||✮✮✮✮✮||250 lbs|
|Catalan Donkey||✮✮✮✮✮||200 lbs|
|Baudet Donkey||✮✮✮✮✮||300 lbs|
|Asino di Martina||✮✮✮✮||250 lbs|
Some donkey breeds, like the miniature and the standard US, are too small to be ridden by adults. The larger varieties, however, provide a steadier, more laidback trail experience to horses. Their sure-footedness, agility, and stamina make them excellent riding animals. Donkeys also compete in various events, from in-hand showing to donkey Derbys and carriage racing.
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