MULE CROSSING: Hoof Differences in Horses, Donkeys and Mules


By Meredith Hodges

The old saying, “No foot, no mule” is literally true, as it is in any nomadic animal. If the hooves are not trimmed and balanced properly, it will offset the balance of the equine’s entire body and can compromise longevity in the animal because his entire internal structure will be compromised. Most equines will need to be trimmed or shod every 6-8 weeks whether horse, mule or donkey.

Horse’s hooves in general are proportionately larger, rounder and more angled than that of the donkey or mule. The sole of the foot is flat on the ground promoting good circulation in the foot through the frog.

Regardless of the size of the animal, the hooves of the mule will be smaller and more upright than that of a horse of equal size, and should be well sprung and supported, not contracted. They should have a smooth appearance and look sleek and oily. No ribbing should be apparent and the frog should be well extended, healthy and make adequate contact with the ground for good circulation to the hooves. The shape of the mule or donkey foot is more oval and the bottom of the foot is slightly “cupped” which accounts for the surefootedness in the mule and donkey. When being trimmed, the mule should be left with more heel than the horse to maintain the often more upright position that complements the shoulders and hips. If the mule or donkey has a better slope to the shoulders, he might have an angle that is similar to the horse, but he will still grow more heel than the horse. The shape and condition of the hooves of the jack and the mare are both equally important when considering foot development in the mule.

Because donkey and mule hooves are different from a horse’s hoof in that they are more oblong, cupped in the sole, they need more heel left during a trim than the round, flat sole and low heels on a horse. There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule as there are in most generalizations. Most donkeys are relatively inactive and live on moderate ground, so they do grow out in that time period. Some donkeys, like my own Little Jack Horner, are much more active and will wear their feet down naturally.

Miniature Horse


Miniature Mule


Miniature Donkey


Saddle Horse


Saddle Mule


Saddle Donkey


Draft Horse


Draft Mule


Mammoth Donkey


Of course, those that do not have the benefit of good training and conditioning would still wear unevenly and would still need to be trimmed, however, with the correct training and conditioning, they may wear evenly and may not need to be trimmed more than once a year! The same goes for those who would live in rough terrain. They may wear their feet down, but they would still need to be trimmed for balance. Those who are moving correctly may wear down evenly and would not require trims as often.

Failure to have your mule’s hooves regularly trimmed in order to maintain their balance and shape can result in an imbalance in your mule’s feet, which will then cause an imbalance throughout his entire body, inhibiting his performance. However, if trimming is done consistently, the risk of imbalance, accident or injury will be greatly reduced.

There are a lot of things to consider when trimming and shoeing all equines. If the animal is to have shoes, for instance, then they would need to maintain the flat surface of the sole for the shoes to fit properly. It is important that the equine have relief from shoes when they are not being ridden as much. We usually take any shoes off during the winter which keeps the heels from becoming contracted from wearing shoes and promotes good circulation to the foot as the frog can then make contact with the ground more consistently than it can with shoes. A good understanding of the anatomical differences among horses, mules and donkeys is essential for healthy hoof care.

When your farrier is trimming your equine, he should take into account the angles of the shoulder, the forearm, the knees, the cannon bone, fetlock, pastern and the general angle to the entire body when at rest, not just trimming off the excess. This is an anatomical call and only people who are schooled and skilled in this profession should even attempt it or you could run the risk of injuring your animal.

It is commonly known that, when it comes to horses and mules, light-colored hooves are softer and more likely to break down under stress than are the darker, black hooves. Even though the black hoof is naturally harder than the light-colored hoof, if it does not contain sufficient moisture, it can become brittle and can chip away as destructively as can the lighter hoof. Whichever breed of equine you own and whatever the color of their feet, remember that good hoof care is essential for all domesticated equines.

For better or worse, an equine inherits his hooves through his genes. If your equine has inherited good feet—black, oily-looking, and with good shape—then you are fortunate and hoof care and maintenance should be relatively simple. If he has inherited a softer or misshapen foot, you will need to discuss more specialized care with your farrier. Beware of generalizations as they can often be misleading! Each animal should ultimately be assessed individually.

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

© 2016, 2019, 2021, 2022 Lucky Three Ranch, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  1. Leslie08-12-2019

    Great info bout the hoof. It is not easy to find a farrier that has mule knowledge.

    • Meredith08-19-2019

      Thank you for your kind words of support! It really is hard to find a good farrier for mules, but the American Farrier’s Association can be a big help if you Google them. They can find people in your own area if they are there.

  2. ~Cindy K Roberts (\_/)08-12-2019

    Loved this article; so valuable to mule owners. Thank you Meredith!!

  3. Susan Smith06-24-2021

    New mule owner and having a terrible time getting anyone who will work in a mule.

    Do you have any pros and cons about being barefoot vs shod?

    • Meredith06-30-2021

      Please email me at and I would be happy to send you a whole lot of free information about Longears management and training that is also applicable to horses and ponies. I do believe that all equines bond to the people who training them, so I do not recommend having anyone else work with your mule. The training I do can be done by anyone. It is a simple, logical and sequential way of training that can be done by anyone because it will never over-face you, or your mule, at any given stage. I do recommend keeping you mule or donkey (I never put shoes on my donkeys) barefoot unless they are being used regularly in rough terrain or doing excessive showing in classes that are hard on the feet (like Reining, Cattle work, etc.).

  4. Candy Simons09-29-2021

    interested in information regarding Jerusalem donkey foot care in Spanish

    • Bailey Folker09-29-2021

      Google Peet Ramey and ask about his hoof care video.

      Busca en Google a Peet Ramey y pregunta por su vídeo sobre el cuidado de los cascos.

  5. Nancy Karanda05-21-2022

    I am very interested in your free mule care information please. This article is just what I need for my farrier to help him shoe my boy correctly! I have had films taken as well so the sole depth and bone structures are being studied by his vet who will pass on this information to the farrier.

    Thank you so much

    Nancy K

    • Bailey Folker05-27-2022

      Hello Nancy,

      If you would like more information please email Meredith at She would be happy to answer any questions you have.


      Lucky Three Ranch

  6. Deanna08-17-2022

    would love to see pictures of the bottom of a mule’s properly trimmed foot (for barefoot).

    • Bailey Folker08-19-2022

      Hi Deanna,

      I will email you the image of the best picture we could find.


      Lucky Three Ranch

  7. Abby09-10-2022

    I would love a picture of the underside of a barefoot hoof also so I know how much heel to leave on my hinny.

    • Bailey Folker09-12-2022

      Hi Abby,

      I will email you the image of the best picture we could find.


      Lucky Three Ranch

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