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Test Suggests Donkeys and Mules Are Smarter than HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 26, 2013

Mules should be seen as smart instead of stubborn, according to Kristin Hayday, a research assistant at the Donkey Sanctuary in the UK.

When Hayday devised a test to look at reasoning and problem-solving, she set up a situation in which a mule, donkey, or horse was led into an arena with a fence dividing the animal from a food reward. An open gate in the fence allowed the animal to reach the other end of the arena and get the reward. The trial was repeated a number of times, but the location of the gate was moved several times and each animal’s time was recorded from the moment it was released until it found the gate, went through it, and reached the other end of the arena.

Results showed that the mules were the fastest in figuring out how to find the gate and get to the food. In fact, they performed as well as dogs that were asked to solve the same question, showing that predators are no better than prey animals at solving this type of spatial problem.

The donkeys and horses were about equal in their ability to figure out the question, though both were slower than mules. The mules and donkeys were more flexible in their approach to the question, showing they may be less stubborn and habit-bound than horses and dogs.