Can you ride a donkey?
A great question that you might not think of first when you see these amazing animals.
While donkeys are in the Equidae family, which the horse also belongs to, they are quite different, even when it comes to riding.
So let’s take a closer look at training a donkey to ride and how much can a donkey carry.
Table of Contents
Do Donkeys Like to Be Ridden?
While you can ride a donkey it is not their main purpose and whether they like to be ridden will come down to the individual animal.
Donkeys are much better at helping on a farm, as a pack animal, and pulling small loads. They are also particularly good at guarding.
They are also wonderful pets and have great, playful personalities.  However, they are less spooky and quiet than horses. So if they are happy to carry a rider, don’t expect them to want to do more than a peaceful walk.
Donkeys don’t express themselves the same way horses do, and are not as expressive as horses if they are unhappy being ridden.
How Old Do Donkeys Have To Be To Ride Them?
It is best to wait until the donkey is four years old to start riding it. During their three-year-old year the joints in their legs begin to close.
Some people even like to wait until they are five and pretty much an adult donkey.
While this is fairly similar to horses, a study found that some leg growth plates in donkeys are slower to close. 
So by waiting until the donkey is four is much safer for their future soundness. It also gives them time to mature mentally.
What Donkey Breeds Can You Ride?
Can you ride donkeys? Yes! But only certain types. There are several different donkey breeds. Some are suitable for riding while others aren’t. This mainly has to do with their size.
Let’s take a quick look at some breeds that you can ride.
1. Mammoth Donkey
The Mammoth Donkey or officially the American Mammoth Jackstock is the largest breed of donkey. It is the most suitable breed for taller children or average-sized adults to ride.
In 18th century America particularly large donkeys were selectively bred to create animals suitable for breeding strong mules. This breeding process resulted in the Mammoth.
They can range in height from 13.2 to 17 hands tall. A large Mammoth Donkey, of at least 16 hands can carry just over 200 pounds.
Check out these cool and obviously adorable Mammoth Donkeys.
2. North American Donkey
These are the donkeys that you will be most familiar with. The US Standard Donkey is very similar to its cousins in Europe.
It is the perfect size for children to ride a donkey. They stand between 36 to 56 inches tall (9 – 14 hands). Jacks, or male donkeys, are taller than Jennies (female donkey).
Once trained correctly, they make excellent, quiet, and safe mounts for younger children. Some small adults will also be able to ride the bigger standard donkeys, so long as they don’t weigh over 125 pounds.
3. Grand Noir du Berry Donkey
The Grand Noir du Berry Donkey is one of the larger donkey breeds and is also one of the strongest. They can reach a height of just under 14 hands.
These donkeys can carry the average adult and have a weight limit of around 225 pounds. They are sure footed and great for trail riding.
See how beautiful the Grand Noir du Berry Donkey is in this video.
4. Provence Donkey
The Provence Donkey is French donkey breed that can take some light riding. They stand from 11 to 13.2 hands tall and are usually very quiet.
Keep in mind that this donkey breed can’t be ridden by tall or heavy adults.
5. The Pêga
The Pêga is a particularly athletic and good looking donkey breed from Brazil. They can stand up to 15.2 hands tall, making them a good riding choice. However, they are hard to find.
6 Things to Consider Before Riding Donkey
Before riding a donkey there are a number of things to consider. They are not the same as horses, so it is good to understand them beforehand.
The donkey should be a minimum of four years old before you start riding it.
Before even considering getting on a donkey, you need to ensure it is correctly trained to do so. If you have an unbroke donkey but are unsure of how to do this part of the training I recommend seeking the help of a professional.
Donkeys, with a few exceptions, are much smaller than horses. They cannot carry as much weight as certain horse breeds or riders that are very tall.
Make sure you ask the question “how much weight can a donkey carry?” Choose a riding donkey that can carry the rider it is intended for.
Stick to the same weight ratio rule that equestrians use for horses. This is that the donkey should only carry up to 20% of its body weight. 
|Average Donkey Weight
|Average Donkey Height
|Maximum Weight It Can Carry (Range)
|950 to 1300 lbs
|13.2 to 17 hands
|180 to 260 lbs
|400 to 700
|9 to 14 hands
|80 to 140 lbs
|200 to 450 lbs
|6 to 9 hands
|40 to 90 lbs
To learn more, check our list of the smallest horse breed.
While you can use the same style of tack horses wear on donkeys, you must ensure it fits correctly. This might involve getting a saddle fitter familiar with donkeys out to give you a hand.
The usual size of saddles is often not suitable for donkeys as they have wider, flatter, and shorter backs.
Also, some riders don’t use a saddle at all but instead strap special blankets and cushions onto the donkey.
#5 Understand Donkeys
Even if you have lots of experience with horses, you still need to learn about Donkeys as they express themselves differently. Donkeys do best with calm, kind treatment.
You want to form a good relationship with a donkey. Donkeys bond very strongly with each other and their owners. Much more than horses.
It is also important to understand the communication signals a donkey is giving you for stress, pain, unhappiness, and joy. These signs can differ from horses.
One example is how donkeys react to something they see as potentially scary. Horses will spook, spin and even run away. While a donkey will usually stop, and freeze in place while they access the situation.
#6 Farrier Care
Donkeys need particular care paid to their feet. While they don’t need shoes, they need regular, correct trimming. Make sure your donkey’s feet are kept in good condition by a farrier familiar with their particular needs before riding.
Learn some very valuable information about donkey hoof care in this video from an expert.
What Size Donkey Can I Ride?
The size donkey you can ride will depend on your height and weight, and the size of the animal. Keep in mind that even the largest donkeys are smaller than horses, so they aren’t suitable for all riders.
The chart I created above will give you an idea of what size donkey might suit you. Even the biggest donkeys can only carry 260 pounds at the most, so very tall or heavier riders would not be able to ride them.
Are Donkeys Easier to Ride Than Horses?
While I don’t have a lot of experience personally in riding donkeys, many riders tell me they find them easier than horses.
Donkeys move much slower and are more relaxed and less spooky. This makes them great for nervous or less experienced riders. It is unlikely that a donkey will ever buck or take off, so you don’t have to worry about that.
The key to riding donkeys is to build a bond and lots of trust with them. They also have excellent memories and can go back to riding without any freshers after a long break.
However, don’t choose a donkey to ride if you want to canter or even trot. They much prefer, casual, relaxed walking adventures.
How Much Weight a Donkey Can Carry?
A donkey can carry up to 260 pounds. That weight limit applies to the biggest donkeys. Miniature donkeys can only carry small children, while standard donkeys can carry older children or small adults up to 140 pounds
These weights also apply to carrying materials, which must be balanced over their backs, so there isn’t too much weight on one side.
When it comes to pulling, so long as the wagon or cart has wheels, the maximum weight increases twice its body weight. Though it is best to stay below that so they don’t struggle.
CHECK: Can a Horse Carry Two Riders?
Do You Need a Saddle To Ride a Donkey?
You don’t need a saddle to ride a donkey but it is advisable to use some kind of padding. A bareback back is good option.
If you do use a saddle, make sure it is the right fit for a donkey. A standard horse saddle won’t fit properly. It is possible to get saddles specifically for donkeys or you might need a fitter to adjust and a regular saddle.
For donkey saddling fitting tips, check out this video.
How Do You Train a Donkey To Ride?
To train a donkey to ride, you must start with the same basics as a horse plus include extra trust building exercises.
First, your donkey needs to be comfortable with a halter, leading, grooming, and wearing tack. The more trust your donkey has in you the quicker they will learn. This is important as they can sometimes be slow learners.
Once your donkey is leading teach them to walk and stop commands with consistent signals. Be careful not to push your donkey too far and take your time. Scaring them or too much negative reinforcement will make training harder.
Next, teach them to be comfortable with a saddle and slowly build up the weight. You can add weight by strapping something on the saddle.
Try leaning over their back and rubbing the opposite side with your arm and hand. When they are happy with that, have someone give you a partial leg up so you are laying across their back.
After doing that several times, you can attempt to swing your leg over and gradually work up to someone leading the donkey a few steps.
Eventually, you will be able to walk them on their own when they understand the signals.
How long do donkeys live?
Donkeys live from 27 to 50 years. They have an average lifespan longer than a horse.
Are donkeys safer than horses?
Donkeys tend to be safer than horses to ride but to achieve this you must understand them and train them correctly.
How much can a donkey pull is it more than it can carry?
Yes, a donkey can pull more than it can carry. It can pull up to twice its body weight.
Can you ride a donkey? Yes, absolutely. However, they can carry less weight than some horses as they are smaller and not as strong.
They also need a different approach when it comes to training. If you are within the size limits and understand their training needs then donkeys make excellent mounts for trail riding and casual rides.
1. Donkey Fact Sheet [Internet]. Available from: https://www.ed.ac.uk/files/imports/fileManager/donkey%20fact%20sheet.pdf
2. Van Thielen B, Willekens I, Van der Schicht A, Pestieau P, Verhelle F, Goossens P, et al. Radiography of the distal extremity of the manus in the donkey foal: Normal images and quantitative characterization from birth to 2 years of age: A pilot study. Anatomia, Histologia, Embryologia. 2017;47:71–83.
3. Miniature donkey [Internet]. Smithsonian’s National Zoo. 2018. Available from: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/miniature-donkey
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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