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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.
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 LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
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What’s New with Roll? A Great Massage and a New Friend!
Roll had a good massage today! He seems to really enjoy the new Equisport massager. You can always tell when your equine enjoys his massage because he will “talk” to you along the way. Notice how Roll is pushing his hip into the massager in the first photo? That means, “Feels so good… go deeper!”
His left hind is often a bit sore from his twisting in the right hind, so he isn’t too sure about it at first, but the right hip is a different story and he relaxes. He even slid his hind leg slightly forward to allow Joanne to massage deeper.
It seemed that the left shoulder is a bit sore and he gives her a stern look of “Be careful now.”
Joanne spoke back to Roll with “I hear you! So we’ll go to the other side and move on to something else.” Roll responded with, “Oh, yes, this is a better spot!” as he relaxed his hind foot and leaned into the massager again.
Roll rounded his neck to look back to her and said, “Are you wearing a fanny pack full of oats today?”
Joanne responded with, “Nope, sorry! How about an eyeball massage?”
Roll leaned into the massager and went to town pushing his eye into the massager while Joanne just held it steady. He was in seventh heaven!
When it came to his ears, Roll went into a trance and enjoyed every minute of his full face massage!
Then she went across his back and over his rear end to finish. Roll looked at her as if to say, “Thanks for a GREAT massage…feels soooo good!”
After Rock’s death in 2011, Roll spent the last 7 years in turnout alone with only his two mini donkey friends, Spuds and Augie, across the fence from him.
The best part of the weekend following his massage was that 26-year-old Roll finally got a friend in turnout! Billy Bad Ass (age 25) came to us a month ago. We thought the two gelding boys would enjoy each other as they are pretty close in age and it proved to be true!
Roll was truly happy to have a brand new buddy!
What’s New with Roll? Ground Driving the Pasture
Roll needed another core tune-up today, but every time we take him out, we need to document everything in photos and video. Normally we would work in the hourglass pattern, but we wanted better pictures than just the arena sand and fences so we decided to do some ground driving today in the 5-acre pasture instead.
I had to tighten the reins that were tied up to the surcingle because he thought it might be nice to just lower his head and graze…that was not in the program!
He was light in the bridle and easily maneuverable. I was glad to be able to walk behind and see how his rear end was moving. It was VERY wobbly from both hips and could not walk a straight line.
He will most definitely need more chiropractic work and massage going forward. I think regular core exercises are in order, once a week in order to build up his rear end bulk muscle again. We did a serpentine through the trees …
… and then left the field along the fence line to help him to stay straight. That should help to stabilize the rear, but he IS a 26 year-old with a very bad start to his life for the first 18 years, so I need to keep expectations realistic.
He lacked impulsion for the first part of the ground driving, but was beginning to engage the hind quarters a bit more and that added enough impulsion for him to go forward in a straighter line than he did at first as he traveled along the fence line.
Although I had tightened the reins coming from the bridle, Roll still managed to lower his head sideways and grab a few blades of the taller grass on the way out!!! He cracks me up!
He did remarkably better on the gravel road back to the Tack Barn. I did have to keep reminding him to keep his body straight, which he did very easily.
When we got back to the Tack Barn he drove right in and parked himself, squaring up upon my request through the lines. What a good boy!!!
What’s New with Roll? Roll’s Insights into Massage Therapy
Massage for equinesis now used more often as an alternative or complementary healing process toward health and fitness.
Simple massage can prevent various injuries throughout your animal’s lifetime. Don’t wait for obvious injury to occur—preventive massage increases the length of the muscle fibers, taking pressure off the joints.
When the muscles are allowed to contract and expand to their full length, they are able to absorb important nutrients that reduce fatigue. Massage also increases blood flow, which helps the body flush harmful toxins, such as lactic acid, that build up from normal use.
Massage aids in reprogramming the nervous system to break patterns that can cause atrophy or knotted tissue. If you are unsure as to the severity of an injury, consult your vet!
At Lucky Three Ranch, I have found that therapeutic equine massage promotes relaxation and reduces stress. It also stimulates healing after an injury and provides significant relief from pain as it did when Roll had White Line Disease in 2016-17.
Massage can reduce muscle spasms, and greater joint flexibility and range of motion can be achieved through massage and stretching—resulting in increased ease and efficiency of movement.
Always be aware of your animal’s reaction to pressure and respond accordingly. Watch his eyes and ears. As you work look for signs of sensitivity toward the affected area such as biting, raising and lowering the head, moving into or away from pressure, contraction of muscles from your pressure, tossing his head, swishing his tail, picking up his feet, changes in his breathing or wrinkles around his mouth.
If your animal is heavy in the bridle, if he tips his head to one side, or if he has difficulty bending through the neck, he is exhibiting stiffness in this area.
If he moves away, he is telling you that you are exerting more pressure than he can comfortably endure, and you should go back to using your fingertips.
A raised head and perked ears may indicate sensitivity. He is asking for lighter pressure, so learn to pay attention to the things your animal tells you about his body.
Massage therapy should never be harmful. For the sake of safety and comfort, do not attempt massage therapy for rashes, boils, open wounds, severe pain, high fevers, cancers, blood clots, severe rheumatoid arthritis, swollen glands, broken bones, direct trauma or if there is any chance of spreading a lymph or circulatory disease, such as blood poisoning. Avoid direct pressure on the trachea.
It is easiest to find sore spots and muscles when your animal is warmed up, so after a ride is a good time to do massage therapy and passive range-of-motion exercises.
Each time you ride, take the time to quickly go over your animal and assess his sensitive areas: check his range of motion to detect stiffness in the joints. Paying this kind of attention to his body will enhance his athletic performance and provide him with a wonderfully relaxing reward. Give your equine the preventive care that he deserves to make your way to a mutually satisfying relationship.
What’s New with Roll? Winter Work in the Hourglass Pattern
Roll has been off for quite some time during this crazy winter weather that we have been having and due to the extra office work that I have taken on. Today we had an opportunity with warm temperatures, but avoided the mud from the snow by working indoors. First, I groomed Roll with a curry and then the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner is a great tool to promote circulation to the muscles over the body.
Johnson’s Baby Oil in the mane and tail help to protect the hair from the harsh winter weather, drying mud and prevents other equines from chewing on them.
Today we used my Kieffer dressage saddle that seems to fit most of my mules and Roll included with a girth extender. Then I put on the “Elbow Pull” and adjust it so that it helps him to keep his good posture throughout his lesson.
The “Elbow Pull” only prevents him from raising his head so high that he inverts his neck and hollows his back. Otherwise, it affords him full range of motion upward (to that point), downward to the ground and as far as he can stretch his head and neck to both sides.
We went to the indoor arena and he stood like a soldier while I closed the gate and prepped for our lesson in the hourglass pattern. It is extraordinary how core strength stays with these guys even when they are off work for long periods of time.
This is not true with bulk muscle or an animal that has not had the benefit of core strength postural development. The core strength that we develop in good posture is sustained by the equines themselves in their daily routines even when they do not receive forced exercise as long as they continue to move in good posture and rest four-square. Equines that rest with uneven foot placement, or cock a hind foot and drop a hip are not balanced in good posture with a strong core.
When saddling, we do it from the left side (near side) as done normally, but to keep things balanced, we unsaddle from the right side (off side) and pull the saddle back onto the rear end to loosen the crupper and make it easy to remove. When the equine is routinely handled like this, they learn to relax and stand quietly because they know what to expect.
It is amazing to see how much Roll’s attitude has changed in the eight years he has been with us. When he first arrived, he would snort at everything and hide behind Rock. He is now a happy, confident and affectionate 26 year old, 18 hand draft mule. He enjoys his lessons and never forgets a thing!
Trying new things is now done with much less effort and thus, much less drama! Yes, Roll is a bit obese with atrophied bulk muscle right now, but with routine lessons, he will be back to peak condition in no time. An equine that possesses a good foundation built with core strength in mind will be in a position to excel in all kinds of equine activities…because they are never over-whelmed.
What’s New with Roll? Cyst Removal
Today, Chad brought Roll up to the work station. On October 23, 2017, I had found a nodule on Roll’s lower right jaw line. Our veterinarian, Greg Farrand came out right away to check it to determine what kind of growth it was.
We have had sarcoids in the past, but this did not seem to be a sarcoid, but rather, a small cyst that was not attached to the bone. Since it was not attached, I made the decision to get it removed before it had an opportunity to become attached to the bone.
Lucky Three Sundowner had a similar growth on his jaw that WAS attached to the bone and it finally grew to such a size that it ultimately obstructed his ability to eat and he had to be put down at the age of 35 years.
We were preparing to vaccinate the herd, so we opted to wait on Roll’s surgery until after the vaccinations and hoped for a freeze that would kill all the insects. The exposed wound would have a better chance at healing in the colder weather without insect interference. We had to wait for quite a while since our winter weather proved to be unusually warm until today, December 22, when we finally opted to do the surgery.
Greg gave Roll a sedative to help him to relax. I shaved the area heavily covered with winter hair with my #10 blades and then Greg stepped in and shaved it closer with his veterinary-gauged blades.
He then injected the site with a numbing agent and prepped it for the surgery.
The cyst was neatly contained and unattached below the surface of the skin. He carefully cut it away from the skin and was left with a perfectly round cyst that fell out easily.
When cut in half, the cyst revealed granular tissue in the center that is indicative of some foreign agent in the body that was surrounded by tissue that just never abscessed. We will send off the cyst to be tested to make sure there are no further issues to treat.
Greg carefully and neatly sutured the skin along his jaw line back together.
Greg gave me instructions about the care of the wound. Basically, we did not have to do anything, but let it heal. I will remove the sutures in 10-14 days.
Roll was still a bit drowsy when I took him back to his pen. He will not get food for at least two hours after the surgery to keep him from choking. He should heal nicely.
I took a sleepy Roll back to his pen. By tomorrow, he probably won’t even know what happened and he was such a trooper through it all! I am so glad my mules are trained the way they are…not a bit of trouble!
What’s New with Roll? Leading the Hourglass Pattern
After being off last week, Roll was more than happy to come with me today. The air was brisk with a bit of a breeze and Roll was even a little snorty walking up to the work station. We spent a good amount of time with the Goody hairbrush getting the undercoat loose and I then went over him with the shedding blade to get the excess on top. He was still shedding hair all over, so I decided to go ahead with the vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner serves a dual purpose: it pulls the remaining loose hairs from his coat while stimulating the capillaries to come to the surface of the skin. This increased circulation makes for an extremely soft and healthy coat. He still has a lot left to shed, but his hair now feels silky to the touch. I then put Roll in his surcingle, Eggbutt Snaffle bridle and “Elbow Pull” for his core muscle, postural leading lessons.
Roll practically pulled me down the alleyway to the dressage arena, but was very well behaved when we stopped to give Augie and Spuds a treat of oats. Roll was okay with sharing as long as I gave him more oats, too!
Roll and I then walked to the gate and he went through beautifully as always.
We marched along the pens and gave treats to all the mules who would be his audience.
Roll launched into the hourglass pattern on the lead rope with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He squared up easily, but was still reluctant to put all the appropriate weight on his right hind foot.
He kept an upright balance through the turns and was markedly better in balance over the ground rails.
He even trotted a bit along side of the pens once I got out in front of him, but when I asked him to trot back to the gate, he was too tired! The chiropractor had come out to see him last week and said that he was locked up in his right hip, so it may be he needs another chiropractic visit this week as well.
At any rate, I was pleased with his progress and even though he missed his lesson last week, he still did better than in prior weeks. The hind feet were no longer twisting after his trim on May 19th.
It may very well be that he can graduate to the round pen soon for bulk muscle building. His core is solid now and after his workout, he was much tighter in the abs and filled in nicely over his topline.
Roll is carrying just a little more weight than I would like to see, but he did look less obese after his lesson and when we begin the bulk muscle building, it should disappear rapidly as the fat evolves into muscle. At twenty-six, Roll is doing so much better than I ever would have expected given his questionable history.
What’s New with Roll? Going for a Walk
Roll missed his exercises last week, so we thought we had better get out there today. Both of us were a bit tired of the arena, so we opted for a walk down the hayfield road. It was a rainy day and Roll had rolled in the mud, so we just did the hairbrush and shedding blade routine without the vacuum cleaner this time. Then we were ready to go.
Although he missed his exercises last week, he was still a bit better on the right hind foot. He did not want to put full weight on it, but I was sure he would do better after his walk in his core muscle building gear: the snaffle bridle with the dropped noseband, his surcingle and the “Elbow Pull” to make sure that the topline and abs would be engaged during the workout.
In the spring, we only turn out in dirt areas while the grass is growing. The equines will get turned out on grass on June 1st. This helps to maintain a nice stand of grass in all the turnout areas that will last all summer and into the fall. We never graze the equines on the hayfield pastures.
Contrary to popular belief, horse manure (or any manure that is not processed) will contain weed seeds and will contaminate the weed-free hayfields that we have managed to grow on 112 of our 127 ½ acres. There is an obvious size difference between us, but Roll is a gentleman and though he REALLY wanted to eat the grass, he still stuck to the routine as best that he could.
He did try to drag me off the road and over to the grass, but I just planted my feet, pulled on the lead rope as his right foot was coming forward and redirected him back down the road.
He was so good that I decided to let him have a bite and we then continued on down the road. We walked about a half mile out and back.
On the way back, Roll was breathing a bit hard, so I know he put his heart and soul into his exercise yet again. What a great guy! When he got back, he was fully weighting the right hind.
What’s New with Roll? Leading the Hourglass Pattern
Roll was a muddy mess when I went to get him today. He had been lying down and decided to roll in the wet dirt and pea gravel. Thank heavens it wasn’t all mud! I did my best to get most of it off of him, but clearly, the vacuum cleaner was not going to work for anything but getting the hair off the floor. I first went over his body with the hairbrush, then the shedding blade and afterwards, the dandy brush. Then I baby-oiled his mane and tail, put on his gear and we were good to go.
Roll seemed happier today than he had been last week. Roll was walking better and appeared to have gained some core strength back.
Instead of being really off behind, he was only slightly off and did not want to bear weight on the right hind in his squaring up…until the last one when he finally weighted the foot entirely.
Roll’s rein back was much better than last week. I had him checked by our resident farrier, LTR Ranch Manager Chad in case he was developing fungus in that foot (after his bout with White Line in his left hind). better to be safe than sorry, but he showed nothing but a packed-up foot, and that very well could have been the culprit since we just had a really good rain and everything was muddy in the arena where we were working.
It is truly amazing how slight, but visible his improvement has been from week to week. His whole body looked much more symmetrical this time. It is awesome to be able to celebrate each of Roll’s “little victories” along the way at 26 years old! However, Roll wasn’t too sure if he wanted to share his rewards with Sir Guy!!!
Roll decided that celebrating with a friend is probably okay and back to the work station we went to untack and then it was time for turnout!
When draft mule, Roll, arrived at Lucky Three Ranch, he needed some special attention and rehabilitation. Watch what happens when Meredith Hodges sets out to help the gentle giant.