Intelligence Test of mules, horses and donkeys. MULES SMARTER!

At Rancho Santiago we have ridden and worked mules for decades.  We already knew they are smarter.  Dr. Jim


Experts discover that mules are more intelligent than horses and donkeys

03 September 2008

Experts have discovered that mules are more intelligent than horses and donkeys.

Dr Britta Osthaus from Canterbury Christ Church University, Leanne Proops from the University of Sussex in Brighton and Dr Faith Burden from the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth tested the learning skills of horses, donkeys and mules in a bid to assess their cognitive abilities.

They found that mules, which are hybrids of male donkeys and female horses, are smarter than either of their parent species.

Dr Osthaus, who works in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University, explained: “The aim of the study was to establish whether mules have different cognitive abilities from donkeys and horses.  Throughout history, mules were bred because they combined the best of the physical abilities of donkeys and horses.  However, up until now, little was known about the cognitive abilities of horses, donkeys and mules.”

The researchers tested six horses, six donkeys and six mules owned by the Donkey Sanctuary in Devon. 

Each animal was shown sets of two food buckets, each marked with a different symbol.  In order to gain access to the food, the animals had to pick the correct bucket.  The mules learned to discriminate between more pairs of symbols than the horses or donkeys, and did so more consistently.

Dr Osthaus, a Lecturer in Psychology, said: “The mules’ performance was significantly better than that of either of the parent species and got faster over a period of time.  Hopefully our findings will ensure that people change their attitudes towards mules, which frequently have a bad reputation because they often are mentally understimulated and therefore might turn against humans or become destructive. This study provides the first empirical evidence that the improved characteristics of mules may be extended from physical attributes to cognitive function.”

Leanne Proops concurred: “The increased intelligence in the mule is a result of hybrid vigour, where the best genes of the parent species ‘mix and match’ to produce hybrids with superior traits.  While this mechanism gives mules the sure-footedness of the donkey, its strength and stamina, combined with the size of a horse, this is the first study to show that hybrid vigour is able to improve cognitive function too.”

Notes to Editor

If you would like to interview Dr Osthaus with regards to this research study, please contact Canterbury Christ Church University’s Media Relations Officer, Claire Draper, on 01227 782391.

Dr Osthaus

Dr Osthaus undertook a Psychology degree at the Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum, Germany.  Following on from this, Dr Osthaus completed a PhD in dog cognition in the School of Psychology at the University of Exeter.  Dr Osthaus also worked at the University of Exeter as a teaching fellow for 10 years before taking up her appointment at Canterbury Christ Church University as Lecturer in Psychology.

Her specialist research areas include: how dogs perceive the world, plus general cognition in cats, horses, mules and donkeys, and research on animal-human interaction. She is also interested in the benefits of animals for the elderly.


Log In | All content is the property of Rancho Santiago. Site designed and maintained by Rim Rock Webs.