Jack mini - can't touch his feet

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Aug 23, 2019
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We rescued two mini donkeys from two elderly ladies who had to sell their rural property. The ladies had rescued these donkeys as newborns from a frozen farm field - about 15 years ago. The ladies are sweet, caring pet owners - who were overly sensitive to anything that they thought would 'trouble' the donkeys.

As a result, they were never tied. They were never handled except to get horse treats. The only way they got foot care was every other year or so the Vet would tranq the donkeys and a farrier would literally saw off their hoof curl.

The ladies fed good grass hay and the donks had a little acre playpen with a shelter. The donkeys were obese but otherwise healthy.

The ladies property was about two miles from our farm - they knew about our barn and pastures and fences - and that we used to raise Quarter horses. Desperate, they asked us to please take the donkeys so they wouldn't be put down.

2 years have passed.

I now have both donkeys wearing halters, standing tied without a wreck for extended periods, being brushed, wormed, fly sprayed - and I have the Fiona, the jennet, so I can trim and work on her feet - even using a little hoof jack that I made in the shop.

The jack however is a nightmare when attempting to handle his feet. I've had my Farrier here regularly. He's a quiet guy who is sensitive to 'Willie's' problem. For the first year, I paid our Vet to come and tranq the donk so he could be worked on - this wasn't a 'cool-and-calm' tranq - it was a 'knock-him-out', on-the-ground procedure. Between the Vet and the Farrier the bill was $225 each time.

Without full tranquilization, handling his feet was a danger to us and the donkey. Rearing, double foot kicking, weight shifting, squalling - just plain nightmare.

Fearing for the safety of the Farrier, I built a solid little 'stocks' that I pull 'Willie' into with openings in the sides and back to pull a foot through - it kind of works - so far no one has been hurt - but, it takes a whole tube of Dormosedan gel to get the job done.

I try to handle his front feet (can't even touch the back feet) every day when he's being brushed - fine, as long as I don't try to lift them. I often use a soft cotton rope along with the command 'lift' and I can get him to release for a moment or two - longer than a few seconds and he hits the anxiety button.

I've raised and trained horses my entire life. I've never experienced this level of fear/ discomfort from a critter over feet. The cost is starting to be troublesome. And the danger / frustration is a consideration.

There has to be a better way than I'm using. Dormosedan and a shoeing stocks can't be the 'new normal'.

I would be grateful for any advice you all may have.

Is there a technique I should be trying? Is there a safe way to restrain him so he can be worked on? Over the years I've had to tie up many a horse colt's feet so they can be worked on - horses always eventually give up and stand. Not this donkey. He'll fight to the death with no give up.


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I should note that little shoeing stocks photo is the first version. We have modified it a number of times to make it easier to use, but the basic enclosure is the same.
I am at a loss as everything I would suggest you have tried. Especially the rope around the foot trick. Have you tried bribery? Stuffing him with treats as soon as the foot is up?
Maybe he will realize that fighting the stocks will get him nowhere and he will settle into the routine after a few times (and a lot of dorm)
It was nice of you to take these guys on. The ladies were lucky to have you do so. The donks, too!
I feel for you Michael! You have tried everything and I applaud you for your care for this challenging Jack. I have a mini that was a terror with the feet too, but eventually we were able to overcome it. It took a while but what I did is similar to the rope trick. I used my training stick with the attached rope and tapped the back of her foot until she lifted it and then when she set her foot down I had it between the end of the stick and the rope (whip.) This way she was having to cooperate by lifting her own foot. When she put it down I had it trapped just like with a regular rope. I then repeated lifting and lowering her foot just a couple inches off the ground, not even asking for her to hold it up at all, just like tap tap. Did this with all feet, gave her a treat when it was all over. Did this for many sessions and then worked our way up from lift-lower to then just a second hold up. Up-down, up-down-Hold. I had to break it down to the smallest incremental changes gradually increasing the hold. Always starting with tapping the back of the foot with the stick and saying "foot" when she lifted it. In my case I also started working on her fitness, because I think she wasn't even fit enough or confident enough to stand on 3 feet. I sure wish they could tell us what their problems are so we can help them through it easier!
Stay safe & I wish you success!
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Hi Michael, whilst I dont have direct answer that relates to overcoming the issue with his hooves, the only thing I can suggest is to take a few steps back and begin desensitizing the legs again. This was the only thing that worked for a mare I currently have. Plastic bags, feed bags, tree branches etc. Start on the rump and slowly work up and down the legs. I did this for a few weeks before I even tried to pick up her feet and there was a major improvement in her trust. Good luck hope this helps :)
My Shetland mare did the same thing. What worked for me is to SLOWLY brush your hand down the leg, then kind of pinch or rub the fetlock/ankle area. Be very careful with this (mainly not to get bucked;)). Don't try to pick up the foot, let him do it for you. as soon as he picks it up stop and give him a treat. It may take time.
Do you have the ability to make a trimming table? Something that you can walk him up to, strap him onto and then it will lift him up and lay him over so the farrier can work on him? They do this with wild horses, draft horses, cows, etc and surprisingly they don't mind it as much as you would think. They are fully restrained as it's often the act of the fighting that gets the anxiety to rocket up.

If you can't do this or find a trimming table then I would suggest restraining him even further for trimming. This is not ideal in any way, but since he now associates foot handling with struggle, fight and fear it will be nearly impossible to change his mind. Donkeys just do not let things go. It's totally possible if you just take the fight completely out of the equation he will learn to just allow himself to be helpless during this time... ie learned helplessness. Again not what anyone would want, but at his age and because of all you've tried this may be the safest option for him and you.

And bless you for taking these two on and taking so much time to try to help them! The jenny sounds lovely.
Donkeys are tenacious and smart. This naughty behavior has been ingrained for over 15 years. I don't think a war of wills is what you want. I agree with Ryan and Lilly. Spend allot of time touching the legs and feet. Reward the good behavior, and take it slow. My farrier owns mules, and I have heard many a tale about the unwilling streak. Rescued animals are so different from a well bred standard. They can fool the expert because they are a little nutty. Good luck!
Thank you everyone...we used to chuckle in the Cutting Horse pen when donkeys and mules were brought up:

"A donkey or mule never forgets. If he's ever wronged he'll patiently wait 20 years for the chance to kick your head off."

Somewhere in Willie Nelson's (the donkey) past, somebody did something to his feet that scared him silly. The ladies had no ability to resolve the problem and let it go. Every time the Farrier showed up, the memory started fresh again. You'll note from the photo, that the tips of his ears are gone - they were frozen off at the point where he was pulled from the winter field right after birth. My wife and I are pretty sure that starting with the ear freeze he's been pissed off ever since. On the plus side, he's the one with the personality and the one that makes us laugh at something every day. We'll get this done sooner or later...22 - Copy.jpg
I love that quote about donkeys, and mules. I'm sure you are spot on with the cause of it all as well. The picture you posted speaks volumes about the superior care they are receiving. Their digs are fancy, and clean! Despite their rough start in life, they are good looking. I see the missing ear you spoke of. I'm so glad they were rescued twice, by two loving homes. Do the ladies ever visit them,as it's just up the road?
...the ladies sold their little acreage and moved into a city. That's how we ended up with the donkeys. As to the accommodations, the donkeys have a full sized stall in our horse barn. They have their own 5 acre pasture and donkey sized feeders. They pretty much hate the horses and go out of their way to avoid them.

We did notice that they were pretty antsy in their stall when the big stall door was closed and they couldn't see the activity in the barn. I solved the problem with the donkey stall door shown here.

Some might be interested in the way we solved another problem - trimming hooves while in a really tough physical position. In our shop I built a mini donkey hoof jack out of scrap metal helps hold their (her feet right now) feet at a more comfortable angle for trimming. Everything we have on the farm is for full sized Quarter horses...interesting challenge to figure out how to down-size everything by 2/3s.


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I love the barn door modification. I have the tractor supply painted metal, and I prefer your setup. My mini sticks his head between the bars, and doesn't seem to mind, but I think a short stall is optimum. Also it contains the pine better. My mini has half of a two car garage,and he can gallop around when the mood strikes him. He watches the goings on in the house through a plexi-glass doggie door. He has air conditioning, and heat. I would like to talk my brother-in-law into helping me build a proper stall, this is a work in progress. I didn't realize that the two ladies moved. I thought they were just unable to do the work due to age. I'm so glad you were able to take both donkeys, You have gone above, and beyond for them. Nice hoof jack setup{pun intended}.
...there's been a little progress with 'Willie Nelson'. And I think it's due to 'frequency'. I started tying both donkeys to tie rings in the barn while I do chores. Every time I walk by Willie I mess with his front feet...nothing dramatic, just rubbing and telling him 'lift'. In the course of an hour I might end up doing this 3 - 5 times.

At first, it really irritated him. Tail like an airplane propeller, ears back, dancing a two-step... but, as the days went by, he started to figure out that 'this idiot is gonna keep doing this and all it does is make me sweat.'

Yesterday, after weeks of this nonsense, I got each front foot on the hoof jack. Cleaned the feet and actually rasped the heels - front feet only at this point.

Even small progress is worth noting...
Glad to hear it! I just read where Carson James said he put a cotton glove on the end of a training stick to use to start getting a terrified horse used to getting those back legs handled. Thinking that would be a good saftey measure.

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