Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No Foot, No Mule

by Marlene Quiring

Ponoka, Alberta, Canada

Daisy, who is now sound, giving family members a ride, including a two-year-old grandson who cried when he had to get off to give someone else a turn

Ignorance is not always bliss! As a child I was always ‘’horse crazy’’ but never had the opportunity to even be around them. Once I left home, the first thing I did was to go out and buy a horse and I was very lucky as that mare turned out to be a gem. Now, having raised mules for a good part of my married life, I find I still have a lot more learning to do. In this case, it was a long overdue lesson in the importance of a properly trimmed and balanced foot.

Out of the many mules I have raised over the years, one I kept is Daisy, now a 16-year-old sweet natured molly that allowed me to train her to ride and drive with the help of several friends. However, her “working career’’ has been rather short lived. She got very ill when she was young and our vet was never able to determine what was wrong with her but she did recover. Then, a few years later I had to take her for surgery as she had become a “roarer’’ which meant she was easily winded if asked to do too much of anything. That surgery was almost a disaster, but with about 75 percent recovery from that she was useful again.

After that Daisy spent most of her adult life being off and on lame. Her soundness seemed to come and go. I’ve spent my share of money on x-rays, examinations, massage therapists, chiropractors etc., trying to find out the problem and treat symptoms. Nothing ever really showed up except stiff and sore shoulders and with what I know now, that only makes sense.

Last spring, while Jerry Tindell, horse and mule trainer, from Oak Hills, California was in Alberta teaching at the clinics sponsored by our Alberta Donkey and Mule Club, I had him take a look at my 28-year-old saddle mule Smokin’ Joe. Jerry has also been a horse and mule shoer most of his life so I figured he might know why Joe was not moving like he use to. Smokin’ Joe had been totally sound until last year when he became ouchy on his left front. Other friends, experts and farriers had checked him out with only limited success as to why he favored that foot.

Necessity being the mother of invention: Put one welder, one farm tractor, and one farrier together and you can modify a shoe
Jerry checked his feet and showed me that Joe’s heels were under slung and were contracting, especially on his left front. He had too much toe and his heels were unbalanced and had been allowed to get lower and lower. Without the aid of proper farrier tools, Jerry and my husband Roy (a welder) managed to modify a pair of shoes that would help Joe. Jerry trimmed Joe’s toes shorter, made sure he was balanced side to side and put shoes on him that gave him more heel support and would allow for his foot to spread out and stop the contraction of his heels. He also put pads on his feet for added protection. Joe was sound immediately and has stayed that way.

Now when a farrier comes to do feet, I insist that Joe be trimmed and shod as close to what Jerry did as possible. What a lesson for me this has been. Just because someone is a farrier, and even if they have been one for many years, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they always do a good job of trimming mules or donkeys and may even do poor jobs on horses too. It’s up to us as owners to ask questions, give our input and work together with our farrier and vet. If neither is open to our input, it might be time to find another.

After seeing the help that Smokin’ Joe received from Jerry’s trimming and shoeing, I had him take a look at Daisy too. Guess what? Daisy had much of the same thing going on, also the left front being the worst. So we built more shoes and did more proper trimming. Daisy had been lame this last session for most of the year. It was painful to watch her move some days and when she got up from a rest, she moved like she was riddled with arthritis. Jerry said this may not be the complete fix to her problem, but it should help and only time would tell. She too had under slung heels and unbalanced feet. The next day, Daisy was moving easier and by the time she was due to be reset, she was moving 80 percent better.

Having my current farrier follow Jerry’s work on her feet, she was reset to the same degree and in another few weeks, I couldn’t see that she was unsound at all. Roy got out his saddle and we went for a ride and Daisy moved out 100 percent. What a change from a mule that suffered daily just to get around to one that floated over the ground. You can’t imagine how awful I felt that Daisy had suffered all these years because no one recognized what was going on with her feet.

Now, because of one person’s knowledge and care, Daisy has been given a new lease on life. Never would I have thought that it was actually such a simple basic thing as improper and out of balance trimming. I always felt that Daisy’s feet especially did not look “right’’ after a trim job…I should have listened to that instinct years ago! My mules and I owe Jerry Tindell a great deal of gratitude for the work he did on them and his willingness to help when no one else had been able to help.

Jerry says that it’s safe to say that in most cases, mules and donkeys may require a steeper hoof angle than a horse. If proper angle and toe length according to the angle of shoulder is not correct, the animal will develop movement problems and could contribute to lameness. Improper trimming over time can cause a scenario similar to my problems above with my mules.

Jerry suggests that owners communicate and get more involved with the work their farriers do on their animals. It may also be necessary to consult with your vet and make sure that both professionals are “on the same page.’’ A good farrier will take into consideration your concerns, and should be open to working on something that doesn’t seem quite right to you. Your vet may also need to be consulted to make sure that there is not some other reason for the lameness.

Jerry’s solution was to shorten up her toes giving her a steeper angle, which she needed to give her an easier "break-over" point. She also got shoes with trailers, also wide enough to leave room for expansion all around. Notice the big gap at the back of her heel, now given support with the longer shoe. Many farriers are leery to do this as they feel it is too easy to then pull a shoe, but in these cases, the support must be there and we had good luck with keeping the shoes on until the next reset. She didn’t require pads, as we would not use her until she was sound.

If you have questions or concerns about your own stock and their soundness you are welcome to contact Jerry by phone at 760 403-3922 or email him at his website at Jerry would be glad to answer any questions anyone has regarding their stock.

Marlene is a long time mule fancier and resides with her husband Roy, 5 mules and 4 retired brood mares at their home in Ponoka, AB. She has been a member of the Alberta Donkey and Mule Club for many years and has been their newsletter writer for almost as long. You can contact her at

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Marlene, very useful for a first time mule owner whose wild mule was taken off the New Forest because of her very long feet. It looks likely that she will have to have her sedated to have them done at least in the first instance because although I can touch her face and neck now, there is no way she is going to let me touch her feet.