To be a miniature donkey, the animal must be under 38 inches when measured from the top of the withers to the ground. Many of the donkeys endemic to Sicily and Sardinia are small and it is from these animals that the Miniature Mediterranean donkey has evolved. Donkeys are classified according to their size. There is a Small Standard, a Large Standard and the American Mammoth Jackstock. There are several different breeds of donkey as well including the Poitou and Andalusian.
Today's miniature donkeys are either American Miniature Mediterranean donkeys or English/Irish Miniature donkeys. If you wish to buy an American Miniature Mediterranean donkey, check that there are at least three generations in his pedigree that have heights recorded as 36 inches or under.Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sardinian_Miniature_Donkey,_Kew_Gardens.jpg
The miniature donkey may be naturally small and not necessarily 'made' small by genetic selection or manipulation. However with the fashion for smaller and smaller animals from dogs to sheep and cows, modern breeders select breeding animals with an eye for size.
Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn and have been abused and mistreated for thousands of years. The donkey is incredibly strong for his size but has a different approach to life than a horse. Confronted with something unusual or potentially threatening, the donkey is more apt to stand and consider the situation before deciding to act whereas a horse has a fight or flight outlook.
Donkeys (Equus asinus) have quite a few differences to horses (Equus caballus). Donkeys have long ears and the tail is covered in short hairs with only a switch at the bottom. Their height/length ratio is different with donkeys being relatively longer. The hooves are more upright and very elastic, they bray rather than neigh, they don't have a forelock and their coat is more coarse and lacking an undercoat. Like the Arabian horse, the donkey has one less vertebra than the majority of horses.
Donkeys have been domesticated for some 5,000 years and were primarily beasts of burden. Being smaller than most horses, they were easy to load and unload and easily managed by women and children. Donkeys come in all colours including broken colours and spots. Brown of various shades is common and such donkeys often have a dorsal stripe down the back and across the shoulders. The muzzle is often lighter in colour and the underparts may be lighter too. Some have lighter coloured eye-rings and zebra markings on the legs.
Miniature donkeys, like their bigger cousins, are sure-footed and economical to keep. They enjoy companionship and bond easily with their family. They thrive on attention but should be kept in pairs if possible. They need less feed than horses and rarely need supplementary feeding. The hooves are tough and elastic and will need trimming regularly but generally don't need to be shod. They should not be allowed unlimited access to lush pasture as it can cause laminitis (founder) and obesity.Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burrito_de_p%C3%A1ramo_%28P%C3%A1ramo_baby_donkey%29.jpg
They were originally desert animals and while they will cope with cold conditions, they need shelter from heavy rain as they don't have an insulated coat like a horse.
Well-conformed donkeys are less likely to encounter health problems. The head should be proportionate in size to the body with bright eyes set wide apart. The neck should be strong and meld nicely to the body. The shoulders are more upright than a horse's. The ribs should be well sprung and the girth deep. The chest should be wide. The days of narrow-chested donkeys with the front legs close together and the hind legs cow-hocked are hopefully gone. The legs should be straight and strong.
Miniature donkeys can pull small carts or carry small children. They make adorable pets and the foals are exquisite. If you have a little acreage to spare consider a miniature donkey. You will never regret it.