Saving Minnie

“Is she joking?” I wondered, but her stern voice let me know she was serious. The mini’s coat color and her strange ears reminded me of an oversized mouse. She was running wild on 70 plus acres, with a band of large horses left on their own for the winter and doing fairly well.

A small dark-brown pony-like thing kept a weary eye on us as she grazed. I was warned not to go near the mini-mule. “She’s dangerous!” We kept our distance as we walked around her.

I followed the farm’s resident care-taker through the pasture so I could look at one of the geldings I had found posted for sale. That’s when I first saw Minnie. Little did she know, her life was about to change.

“That’s a mule?” I asked. Her ears didn’t seem long enough to belong to a mule, yet they did seem too long for a pony. Then I thought, “How dangerous could that cute little thing be. Still we kept our distance as we walked.

A mule’s over-grown front hooves.
Mini’s over-grown front hooves
A mule’s over-grown rear hooves.

Mini’s over-grown rear hooves


While we looked the big gelding over and I listened to his many attributes, the mule was all but forgotten. Then, just as we turned to leave the horses, the giant mouse skittered across our path again at a choppy mini-trot. Her matted tail bounced to either side, like a pendulum, and as a hoof care practitioner, the sight of her hooves was gut-wrenching. She was wearing elf slippers! Instantly, I knew I had to fix those feet!

On the spot, I made an offer on her, checking myself briefly regarding the - my husband will shoot me - factor. My offer was turned down. “Oh well.” I thought, “I tried to do the right thing and now I won’t get shot.”

Then, as I was getting into my car, I should have seen it coming – wouldn’t you know, the mule could be had for one hundred additional dollars over my offer, in cash, of course. So it was a quick trip to the bank and then home to trade the Jeep for the truck, trailer and husband, before returning for Minnie Mouse the mule.

Minnie mule comes home.

Minnie comes home.


We got her into the trailer, but I’m not sure how. The little mule was clothes-lined as she tried to slip past us. Minnie struggled to get free, as we shoved a rope-halter onto her head. She whipped around and a tiny overgrown hoof grazed my cheek, so no one volunteered to go into the trailer with her.

We got her loaded and as soon as the door was slammed shut, she erupted inside my horse trailer. The receipt for this Tasmanian Devil was handed to me, while I stood looking at the noisy trailer. A little brown head with longish ears and frightened eyes popped up every few seconds in front of the window. “What the heck did I just get myself into?”

That’s when I inquired about any information that might be known about her. The care-taker shrugged and suggested that the mini was around 10 years old and thought the previous owner’s kids rode her. Well, okay, but they must not have liked their kids very much.

After the short ride home, we parked the trailer, which had become eerily quiet. I opened the door just enough to see two big brown frightened mouse-eyes peering back at me. I gingerly slid the lead rope through the narrow opening and up to her halter, which was all askew on her head.

Later in her paddock, I could get a better look at her. Her tail was one solid mat from the end of her tail bone to the ground where it had been dragged for awhile. I would later learn to read that tail. A quick wag meant she was about to launch one of her double-shot mule kicks with painful accuracy.

As she explored her new surroundings, I made up a story for Minnie Mouse. She had rarely felt human touch that held any compassion for her well-being and she had probably charged dangerously through a few smoke-filled auction arenas as the afternoon’s entertainment. Also, she likely passed from one owner to another, many times, for right around $50.

Trimming mini mules hooves.

Trimming Minnie's hooves from the safety
of the other side of the fence.


I wondered how I would get to that tail and to those horribly overgrown hooves to trim them. I set about trying to come up with a plan…and several back up plans.

As the weeks passed, I tried to make friends with Miss Minnie. In return, I was shoved, kicked, knocked to my knees in gravel, and made to feel as inept a horseperson as I’d ever felt before. I realized that I would have to come up with some new strategies for this little mule.

Several plans were considered. One was to put a harness on her and pick her up off the ground using an engine hoist. By suspending her a few inches off the ground we’d remove her ability to kick. And we could have a little fun with her in the process. Just kidding.

For this plan of attack, I enlisted my husband and my friend Kim. Okay, so now you’re asking yourself, “If you can’t get close to her, how the heck are you going to put a harness on her?” Good question and one I should have asked myself. The short answer is we couldn’t – at least not without incurring serious injuries.

Minnie had more moves than Mohammad Ali and we had the bruises to prove it. She managed to send my 6 foot 5 inch husband onto his butt, she nearly took off Kim’s left earlobe with a lightening fast strike from a hind hoof, and my farrier apron shielded me somewhat from a good whack to my knee. We abandoned that plan before someone really got hurt.

Size doesn’t matter! I realized I’d never seen anything quite like Minnie. She could stand nearly straight up on her front feet and kick my hat off! If all her other tactics for getting me to leave her alone failed she would threaten me with her big mule teeth. Fortunately, it seemed she was offended by the taste of human flesh.

My final answer. My continued attempts at gaining Minnie’s trust were always met with violent responses. So before she broke my spirit, the realization set in that I had to tame this little shifty mule before I could do anything to else for her. But she would need her feet fixed before I could start working with her. It finally hit me! In order to trim Minnie’s feet, one of us was going to need drugs!

An appointment was made for our friends and horse care professionals, Richard Vetter DVM and his wife Kathy, of Performance Equine Dentistry to come to my rescue. My new plan was for Minnie to be sedated for a dental exam, and then I could trim her hooves while she was still asleep.

We rocked her world! When Dick and Kathy and my brave friend, Kim, arrived for the big day, we didn’t actually have a plan worked out, but Dick knew what he needed to do. “Be careful,” I warned him, “she kicks like a…well, you know.”

It was apparent this wasn’t going to be the ordinary course of action Dick would take to sedate a horse for routine dental work. We needed to knock the bitty little mule out cold!

Extreme mule makeover - dental work and hoof trimming.

Extreme mule makeover.


Extreme Mule Makeover. Dick really went above and beyond what I would expect from veterinarian in this case. He actually got right down on his belly to work in Minnie’s mouth. Kathy held her steady and Kim cut off her matted tail, while I trimmed her hooves as best I could in a sideways position. There wasn’t time to waste! We worked as efficiently as a NASCAR pit-crew. Vroom!

Once the important work was done, we discussed trying a hobble on Minnie. An Australian hobble, which Dick was familiar with being used on horses with anger management issues. It was clear to me that hobbles would remove most of the risk involved in working with her, and her feet. I was excited!

Hobbles attached to Minnie’s legs. When we let her up she was not a happy hinny.

Hobbles attached to Minnie’s legs. When we
let her up she was not a happy hinny.


Dick had the sleeping mule’s legs all tied up with cotton ropes just as she began to come around. For fear that Minnie would hurt herself, we women continually expressed our doubts as the process went along, but Dick was passively persistent and didn’t listen to us.

Don’t try this at home. Hobbling a horse, or mule, in this manner is not something anyone except a qualified professional should try. Having a veterinarian/horseman applying this type of hobble was the only way it could be successful. By that I mean, Dick could patch up any injuries we inflicted on her. You know…stuff happens!

As the anesthesia wore off and Minnie started coming back to life with the hobbles in place, she needed to learn to walk in them. We anticipated a learning curve, but when she realized something was amiss with her feet, she began to struggle, sending her body in every direction, bouncing off her nose several times. She was confused, upset, scared, and… well, one hacked-off little mule. That was hard to watch, but I admit to a wee bit of satisfaction at the same time.

Dick and I helped her get her balance by holding her up by her head and tail. Every time she tried to take me out for having the audacity to be holding something that was attached to her butt, she’d yank her front feet out from under herself and down she’d go. I hated that this poor critter had to go through this confusion and pain, but it was the only way we could find to help her.
Dr. Vetter and Minnie. Although she was upset about not being able to kick her way out of situations, Minnie soon adjusted.
Dr. Vetter and Minnie. Although she was upset
about not being able to kick her way out of
situations, Minnie soon adjusted.

Minnie wasn’t hindered by the hobbles for long. I was impressed by how fast she worked through the logistics of moving both feet on one side at the same time. Within a day or two, she could walk around without tripping herself, and she could lie down and get up without crashing into her face.
Day Two: Minnie modeling her new rain sheet. Her hooves look so much better.

Day Two: Minnie modeling her new rain sheet.
Her hooves look so much better.

Kathy Vetter had suggested that because of Minnie’s size, head-shape and ears, she might actually be a hinny: the product of a donkey dam and a horse sire, rather than a mare and a jack which produces a mule. After that, I no longer considered her a mean mule, but a harmless hinny, which gave me hope for Little Minnie Hinny.

Our work begins. Minnie was not such a harmless hinny after all. She had such an aversion to human touch, that when I stroked her on areas of her body that she was most protective, she’d make foal-mouthing gestures and groan at me - from one end, and from the other end, she would squat and urinate.

Acceptance of my touch was her only recourse with her legs coupled together, and the process was transforming her into a different animal. I was happy to finally find a way to get through to her, yet, sad that this only way we knew to help her. If anyone else had found Minnie as unsafe as she actually was, it’s possible that she would have been put down.

Every day for a week, I talked to her and rubbed her all over getting her more comfortable. I picked up her feet and when she tried to kick me she would nearly send herself careening forward. She soon realized that well-placed kicks were no longer available to her for getting rid of pesky humans.

Minnie resorted to using her teeth and pushing me away with her head. Whenever she did that, I simply rubbed her head a bit more vigorously than she liked. She quickly tired of that technique and stopped using her mouth, without causing her to become head-shy.

She was adept at shoving her body into mine to knock me off balance. It was a good strategy for her to use on me because I’m not as nimble as I once was, but how could she know I’ve watched a few Jackie Chan movies and had a few cagey moves of my own.

Progress! She quickly learned to pick up her front feet and politely offer each one to me at my request. Nice! It will take longer for her to feel okay about bringing her front feet forward. Her hinds are more difficult, but she’s getting better.

After some progress had been made on her left side that I felt comfortable removing her left hobble, I could not wait to get it off of her leg! I knew it was rubbing her pastern and I wanted to apply something to her irritated skin. She was more apprehensive about accepting me on her right side, so that rope was removed a few days later.

I hoped she had learned by now that “Kicking was not okay.” And I was less fearful that she would try to drill me with both hinds at the same time again.

Day Seven: Minnie is making quick progress and is happy to have one hobble removed.
Day Seven: Minnie is making quick progress
and is happy to have one hobble removed.

She and I are playing the Parelli seven games now and although she has gotten me good a few times with well-placed cow kicks, that’s not as painful as mules can kick. Since I’m familiar with the application of Australian hobbles now, kicking to injure for the most part, is a tactic that has been put behind her.
Minnie in safety restraints, ready to have her hooves trimmed.
Minnie in safety restraints,
ready to have her hooves trimmed.

She’s got legs and she knows how to use them! Minnie has a few trims to go to get her hooves in good shape. On her second trim she popped me a good one right in the mouth so it will be a bit longer before I’ll feel safe actually trimming her without restraints.
CUTE! After just two trims she’s gaining weight and starting to look like mini-hinny.
CUTE! After just two trims she’s gaining weight
and starting to look like mini-hinny.

Her disposition will improve with time and handling, and she can actually be pretty sweet when she wants to be. For me, it’s worth the effort to save this little equine from a life of fear and torment, or worse. Being as dangerous as she was could have cost her, her life, but thanks to Dr Vetter and his idea to hobble her, I’m confident she will have a long happy life with people.
Minnie, you’ve come long way!
Minnie, you’ve come long way!

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Patricia Morgan Wagner
Certified Hoof Rehabilitation
Rainier, WA

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