“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
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.
over-grown front 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
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.
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
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
|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.
|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.
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
|Day Seven: Minnie is making quick
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.
|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
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
Contact Heel First Landings
to arrange for an initial consultation and first trim. Your
horse could soon reach new levels of well being and performance,
and you'll be able to enjoy your horse again.
more Success Stories