Donkeys have a reputation as slow-moving, stubborn creatures. This isn't exactly the case, however, since many standard-size donkeys can move as swiftly as a horse if they're convinced such speed is necessary. Like horses, donkeys have three basic gaits, or ways of moving, each at a different speed.
The fastest donkey is the Asiatic wild ass, also known as an onager. The onager can reach up to 43 miles per hour at top speed. This is equivalent to the speed of a thoroughbred racing horse. Other domestic donkeys can also reach speeds equivalent to some horses and are capable of competing against horses in certain timed events, such as pole-bending. Unlike most horses, however, donkeys are generally not inclined to run at top speed and prefer to move at a slower pace.
A gallop is the donkey's fastest gait. It's the equivalent of running and can be done in a controlled manner, such as a canter or lope, which is similar to a runner pacing himself, or at full-out speed. While some donkeys reach faster speeds at the top of their limit, most donkeys gallop between 20 and 30 mph if they're running flat out and not pacing themselves.
The trot is a slow run, like a jog. In donkeys and horses alike, the feet move in a different pattern or beat than in the gallop. A donkey can cover a lot of ground and travel a long distance at a trot, averaging a speed of 8 to 9 mph. This pace is more comfortable for a donkey than a gallop or canter, and he can maintain it for a much longer period of time without tiring.
Walking is the preferred pace of the donkey. This is due in large part to the fact that, unlike a horse, whose first instinct is to immediately flee from danger, the donkey prefers to move slowly and safely, thinking the situation through before reacting. Donkeys walk at a slow, steady pace, which is almost the same as a human at around 3.5 mph. This even pace, along with the ability to carry heavy loads, makes the donkey an ideal packing and hiking companion.
A gaited donkey is one that has a special way of moving to cover a lot of ground without expending a lot of energy. This special gait is often faster than a trot, but looks more like a walk. It is very smooth for a rider and doesn't produce the bouncing motion of a trot. Gaited horses -- such as the Tennessee walker, Rocky Mountain horse and Missouri foxtrotter -- are fairly common, but gaited donkeys are not as prevalent. The traveling speed of a gaited donkey varies by its size and style of gait, but is close to a trot, at around 8 mph.
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