Thursday, June 20, 2013

Donkeys and ponies and mules (oh my!)

Recently, I was on the island of Santorini, Greece.  I arrived via cruise ship, which meant I came ashore at the bottom of an EXTREMELY steep cliff

.... with the cities at the TOP of the extremely steep cliff.  

There are three ways to get to the top...  you can take a cable car, you can walk, or you can take a donkey ride.  And while you're deciding, let me point out that the climb is a vertical climb of about 650 feet.  Still undecided?  Do you see that zig-zaggy line going up the middle?  That's the path.. so I have no idea what total distance is, but it's significantly more than 650 feet.  Still not sure?   Then let me point out that - should you choose to walk, the only path is the same one that the donkeys take.... and that path has no outhouses, either for people, or for donkeys.   

Right... that's what we decided...  we would ride a donkey up, and then at the end of the day we would take the cable car down.

Now, I grew up in the city... and while I've seen horses.. not just on tv, but actually in real life... I've never been ON a horse, or any other sort of equine, for that matter.  I'd done my research on the various places we'd be stopping on the cruise, of course, so I knew of the donkey rides... and in case I'd forgotten, as soon as we got off the ship, we were faced with a multitude of signs directing us to the cable car, and to the donkey rides.  

My husband was less convinced that the donkey rides were the choice to make, but he likes to indulge me  (and I like to be indulged!)...  But as soon as he saw the animals, he informed me that the animals we'd be riding were not donkeys, but rather were mules... that mules were much larger than donkeys.  Since he grew up on a farm with crops and livestock and such, I was sure he was right.. but as I pointed out to him  - 'donkey' is a funnier word than 'mule'.

In any event, we rode our faux donkeys to the top.. and not only is 'donkey' a funny word, but the entire experience was very funny.  We weren't allowed to hold the reins of our faux donkeys, just the handle-thingy at the front of the saddle... and while our faux donkeys clearly knew they were supposed to go up... they were just as clearly aware that they were in charge.  

I thanked my f.donkey when it came to a stop, as that gave me a great opportunity to take a few pictures.  

I did NOT thank my f. donkey when it suddenly decided to race to the front of the line, even if that meant squeezing between two other f. donkeys who were walking next to each other.  I laughed heartily when hubby's donkey decided to stop for a bite to eat, and hubby watched forlornly as the rest of the group passed him by... I quit laughing when hubby's donkey decided to catch up, and squished me and my donkey between it and the wall, as it strode by.

Now that I'm home and back at my computer, I'm wondering about the differences between donkeys and mules and even ponies and horses.  Turns out ponies are just little horses.. the major difference is how many hands they have, or how many hands they're tall, or something like that.

A donkey, however, is a different species from a pony or a horse, but for some reason, horses and ponies are able to breed with donkeys.  Since hubby had told me that mules were bigger than donkeys, I initially thought that a donkey and a horse made a .... no, wait...  a donkey and a pony.. hmmm, not sure what I thought, but I'm pretty sure it was wrong!

Turns out that a mule is the result of a male donkey breeding with a female horse.  (They can do it the other way around.. a female donkey and a male horse, but for some reason that's harder to do.)  
And there's actually a reason for doing this cross breeding, other than Mother Nature having a sense of humor...   Mules are larger than donkeys... but more importantly,  mules generally have the patience, even-temperament, and sure-footedness of a donkey, while at the same time having the vigor, strength and stamina of a horse.  

Now that I know all of this, it makes sense to use mules for that path up to the top of Santorini Island... but donkey is still a funnier word.

And that bit about mules being sterile?  While it's generally true, there are some rare exceptions... but that probably doesn't matter to anyone except the mule.   

And now......
Well it's time for tea, of course.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, equine height is measured in hands. One hand = 4 inches. The cutoff between pony and horse is 14.2 hands (14 hands 2 inches), measured at the withers. My daughter's current horse is 17 h (tall); her previous one was 15.3 h (about average).

    Congratulations on your mule ride! I maybe shouldn't admit that your abbreviation of Faux Donkey had me subbing in a different F word ...

    Nice pictures! Was the town worth the f. donkey ride?