Can You Ride A Donkey? How To Train Them For Riding

Donkeys have a reputation for being grumpy and bad tempered, but this isn’t actually the case. Donkeys are friendly, gentle and have wonderful personalities.

It can take a while for a donkey to feel comfortable with you, sometimes months, but once you have formed a bond with them they will be affectionate and will make a lovely pet or working animal. 

Donkeys are very sociable creatures, and they form strong emotional attachments to other animals. They should not be kept alone, but they are ideal for keeping with other donkeys or other kinds of animals in a mixed environment. 

Donkey’s aren’t usually used for riding. They are traditionally used for pulling carts, carrying items, and plowing fields. They are also used as pets and livestock. They can be territorial, which means that they can be used to guard herds of other animals.

But is it possible to ride a donkey? And how do you train them for riding? Keep reading to find out more. 

What Is The Difference Between A Donkey And A Mule?

A mule is the result of cross-breeding between female horses and male donkeys. Donkeys and mules are very strong and sturdy but are not as fast as horses.

Another common use for donkeys is siring mules. Horses are better for riding than donkeys and mules, but if you can get hold of a mule then it will be more suited to riding than a donkey. They are large, hardy and can move faster, and will give you a comfortable ride. 

Do Donkeys Like Being Ridden?

Donkeys are affectionate and tactile and tend to enjoy human interaction.They are used to carrying heavy loads, so if the weight of the person is suitable then donkeys can quite enjoy being ridden. If the person is too heavy then it will be uncomfortable and they won’t enjoy it.

Children are able to ride pretty much any size donkey with no issue, as you may have seen with the donkey rides you can get on some beaches. Donkeys may even be a better choice than horses to introduce children to riding, as they are very gentle and steady.

They are also more stoic and startle less easily. Donkeys won’t want to run or canter, they prefer walking when carrying a load or a person. 

How Much Weight Can A Donkey Carry? 

Donkeys can pull up to twice of their body weight, but they cannot carry this much weight on their backs. The general rule is that a donkey can carry up to 20 to 30 percent of their body weight, whereas horses can easily carry more than 35 percent of their body weight.

You need to keep in mind that a horse can carry that load for a long period of time, whereas a donkey may not be able to last that long, especially when they first start to carry riders. 

If you can’t weigh your donkey, then there is another way you can figure it out. Start by measuring their height and then multiply it by their girth circumference. Once you have this number, multiply it by their torso length.

Finally, divide this number by 300, and you will have the approximate weight of your donkey. As this is not an exact figure, it is best to stick to 20 percent of this figure for their maximum load capacity.   

Donkeys come in three sizes- miniature, standard and mammoth. Mammoth donkeys are more suitable for being ridden by adults. 

How Old Should Your Donkey Be Before You Ride It?

Just like horses, donkeys need to mature before they can be ridden, or it could cause issues with their health and bone development. Horses mature within 3 to 4 years, but donkeys take 5 to 6 years to reach the point where they are able to be ridden. 

You should also consider the general health and condition of your donkey before you ride them, and their history. If they have not done any load carrying or pulling before then they will not have been able to develop the muscles needed to carry the weight of a person. 

How To Train Your Donkey To Be Ridden?

Before riding your donkey, it will need some training. This does not necessarily need to be done by a professional, you can do it yourself with the right knowledge and patience.

Donkeys are slow learners, so you will need to take it slow and be gentle with them. However, once they have learned something, they will retain it, and won’t need to keep practising. It will take a few weeks to get them ready to carry a rider, and it will be more successful if the donkey has a strong bond with their rider. 

It is recommended to do a full year of lead training with your donkey before you start their riding training. Teach them to walk on a lead, and to come to you when they are off the lead. You can also teach them how to respond to the lead to change direction, stop, start, 

Start by checking how your donkey responds to carrying a load. Build the weight of the load up gradually, until you have reached the equivalent weight of the rider. Make sure your donkey is happy walking with this load. Spend plenty of time with them, encouraging them and building up your bond. 

The next step is to get your donkey used to wearing a saddle. The saddle should be specifically designed for donkeys, not horses, as their back shapes are different. Make sure they are comfortable with the saddle. 

You will need to help your donkey become familiar with the basic walk and stop commands. These can be verbal or non-verbal commands.

Remember it will take a bit of time for your donkey to learn this, so be patient, consistent, and keep repeating it. You can use treats to reward your donkey, but keep in mind their dietary requirements and don’t overfeed them. 

When you think your donkey is ready for a rider, climb up onto the saddle. Mount and dismount a few times from each side, making sure your donkey is comfortable.

Stay stationary for a few moments to make sure your donkey is happy, then begin with a short distance for no more than a few minutes.

Choose a nice flat area with no obstacles. Check how they respond to the commands whilst you are riding on them. When you dismount, give them plenty of praise to reinforce that it was a positive experience for you both. 

Ride your donkey for a few minutes for a day to get them used to it. Make sure your donkey isn’t getting too tired. 

The most important thing to remember when it comes to training your donkey is to take it slow, and give them plenty of praise and encouragement. 

General Tips For Keeping Your Donkey Happy And Healthy

Now that you know more about riding donkeys, here is some more information about how to look after your donkey and keep them happy.

Donkeys are natural grazers and will seek out their own diet of high fibre plant based material. If they are free to graze on grass, you will only need to supplement their diet with straw. If they are not eating grass throughout the day, then can feed them on a diet of barley straw.

Be careful not to overfeed your donkey- they do not require as much food as horses as they are very efficient at metabolizing their food. Donkeys originate from regions with sparse, dry vegetation. Make sure you provide your donkey with access to clean water. 

Keep your donkey up to date with their vaccinations and regular worming treatments to keep them healthy. It can be difficult to stop signs of disease in donkeys as they are very stoic and hide their pain well, so it is vital that you keep up with their regular vet checks. 

As mentioned earlier, donkeys are sociable animals who form strong emotional attachments to their field mates. Your donkey will be happier with some company.

Once they have made a friend, it is important that you don’t separate them, as this could lead to emotional distress. If the worst happens and one of your donkey’s friends passes away, give your donkey about half an hour with the body to make sure that they understand what has happened, and process their loss. 

Donkeys are prone to hoof problems if you do not take the necessary precautions. You should pick and clean their hooves regularly, and get them trimmed periodically by a farrier.

Donkeys should be kept in well drained fields, and make sure their bedding is clean and dry. Their natural habitat is very dry, so if their hooves are too wet for prolonged periods it can quickly lead to problems. 

Dental health is very important, but it can be overlooked in donkeys. Horses are ridden commonly, and as you fit and remove the bridle it gives their owners a great opportunity to have a quick look at their teeth.

It is just as important to keep an eye on your donkey’s teeth and keep an eye out for any issues. You should also get their teeth and general dental health checked over by a vet regularly. 


As you can see, donkeys can be used for riding, but only under certain conditions. You must have a good bond with the donkey. The donkey must be mature enough to carry that amount of weight without hurting itself.

You must carefully check how much weight the donkey will be able to carry, and if in doubt then go a little lighter to avoid injury.

You should make sure your donkey is well lead trained before attempting to begin their riding training. Take the training slowly, approach it with patience, and give the donkey plenty of praise. When you do start riding your donkey, build up the distance gradually over time. 

It is also important to consider the general health and condition of your donkey before riding them, to ensure they are well enough and strong enough. You should keep your donkey well looked after, providing them with the right diet and living conditions to keep them happy and healthy.

Make sure you maintain their hooves, and get regular check ups with the vet to look over their teeth and check for any other health problems. 

Do not leave your donkeys alone, as they will get lonely and sad. Make sure they have other animals for company. 

If you follow all of these steps, then not only will you have a happy donkey, you will also be able to ride it successfully. 

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