Donkeys have a long history in the development of human societies. Typically referred to as a beast of burden, traditional uses for donkeys have included the transportation of goods and people, use in agricultural and forestry activities, to access water, and provide citizens in low- and middle-income countries a means of making an income for communities. However, the rise of mechanization, the development of modern farming techniques, and the increasing availability of motorized vehicles have led to donkeys and mules becoming redundant from traditional roles in many parts of the world. We provide examples of where donkeys have successfully transitioned from traditional roles to new, non-traditional roles in Europe and North America, and demonstrate that, although the roles and use of donkeys and mules are changing in a rapidly developing world, we can learn lessons from the past and apply them to current challenges. As the need for working equids declines in transport and agriculture, they still hold great value for recreational, therapeutic, and environmentally friendly methods of animal traction.