Pretty Toes

As we are on the subject of mules, here’s a bit of the mule maintenance schedule.

As equines go, a mule is pretty easy keeping. He has good sense, believe it or not, and isn’t so prone to the ills associated with over-consumption as a horse is. For instance, a thirsty mule coming to water will drink: enough. Not more. He doesn’t tank himself so full he’s ready to erupt. He doesn’t indulge in rich foods to the point of distress. He’s smarter than some of us in that regard. He is wary on the ground and sure-footed so can be let to inhabit the Fourteen Acre Wood on his own. He reports in at the barn forecourt morning and evening (for feed treats to be sure, but it’s a schedule he keeps to reliably).

A few regular things need to be done to keep a mule healthy and happy. He needs West Nile shots a couple of times a year, worm medicine now and then, occasional currying to de-dust his coat… The latter is almost hopeless. Given a nice brushing, William will go at once to his dust wallow and repair the damage. His only pampering consists of provisional shelter in the worst of weather, shelter which he usually ignores in favor of standing outside to admire the landscape.

And his feet: a mule’s feet need tending every now and then. For this job, we engage a professional. Some folks do trim hooves on their own, but the possibility of doing real damage to him is greater than we want to risk. Like anybody, a mule wants his feet not to hurt him at the end of a long day. So today William had a pedicure.

Here we see his delicate digit before trimming:

He’s chipped on the edges, and a little overgrown. While long nails are fashionable among primate women and guitar players, they’re not considered good for equines.

The farrier comes with a tidy kit of tools for the job. They’re like nail and cuticle tools for us, but a little larger.

The treatment has its indulgent moments. What could be more like an afternoon at the parlor than this?

It also has its less dignified aspects. Sometimes you just have to make a mule give it up:

Notice that, though he looks like he’s manhandling the client, the farrier’s hands are relaxed. He really isn’t forcing much, even with a fairly stubborn critter in his grasp. That’s a confident embrace he has there.  You can’t hear him from here, but he keeps a constant, low-level conversation going: “Hey, mister. Let me in there. Whoa, buddy. Move over, big boy. Pick it up. Foot, mister. Give it to me. There we go. Thank you, mister.”

Here’s a look at a just-trimmed hoof, ready for filing. A nail job on William is much like one on yourself: you trim, then you make the edges nice.

It doesn’t take that long, at least between these two. Within half an hour William was standing on fine feet again. Here’s one, freshly done. It’s almost pretty enough to want enamel.

The farrier’s tools consisted of his leather apron, hoof nippers, a hoof pick, and rasps. William goes barefoot so all he required was a trimming. If he’d needed shoeing, the farrier would have had his iron-working kit, making up the scene you imagine with anvil and nails and hammers. Here are some of the farrier’s tools (the source of this illustration is

1. Shoe puller or pincers                   5. Clincher

2. Hoof trimmers or nippers           6. Clinch cutter or buffer

3. Rasp                                                      7. Hoof knife or draw knife

4. Farrier’s Hammer                           8. Pritchel

The only really mysterious item here is  a Pritchel which, I find, is a punch. I love specialized tool names. The pritchel makes the holes in horse shoes, so of course I wouldn’t have seen it in use.

From the same source, here is a diagram of the bottom of a horse’s foot.

1. Heels                5. Sole

2. Cleft                 6. Wall

3. Bar                    7. Frog

4. White Line    8. Commissure

A mule’s foot is similar, though smaller overall, not as round, a little taller in proportion, and denser. The farrier needs to know the differences and take care to treat the mule as the individual he is.

As in all matters of personal grooming, a farrier and his client develop a certain intimate familiarity.

Published in: on August 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I didn’t expect that I would find myself enjoying a post about mule toe clipping. But there you are, I have been.

    • So pleased to have entertained you! Thanks for visiting.


  2. Well, as usual, I have learned new things and been entertained by your account of a day in the life of… I, too, collect weird tool names and was already memorizing ‘pritchel’ as I was reading you love ’em. I do so enjoy your writing, and the great accompanying photos. Keep up the hard work!
    P.s.-so what’s #8 on the horse’s foot illustration? Let’s make up a good word for it!
    take care, y’all

    • Oh! Sorry. No. 8 is the Commissure. It’s the place where two things come together, in this case the frog and the sole. Thanks for pointing that out. I made the correction in the post.

      So pleased to hear you enjoy the posts. We thrive on praise.


  3. Everything you never knew you wanted to know about mule pedicures but now don’t know how you managed to get this far in life without knowing. What a great post and I love the last picture.

    • It’s a little hard to imagine how most folks might need this information. But I’m happy to have provided it for you, just in case.


  4. Loved that good and detailed account of the pedicure. I must say William’s hooves didn’t look at all bad. Donkeys can sometimes get into a dreadful state if they aren’t looked after regularly.

    Enjoyed your account of enriching the soil too. Lovely to think of that dry brickdust turning into dark gold. May your crops be good ones.

    • William has the advantage of inhabiting our woods at will. His feet get some natural paring not enjoyed by his brethren (and sistern) who live in paddocks. I have seen donkeys with feet that look like skis they are so overgrown. Shudder!

      Glad to note someone out there appreciates the soil-building aspect of that post. Bathroom humor always risks losing the point!


  5. Looking back over my comment, I realise it might look as though I thought William was a donkey rather than a mule. Perish the thought! If there is one thing we do know in West Cork, it’s how to tell our mules from our donkeys. Or our jennets for that matter.

    • Never misunderstood you for a moment. He is, after all, a tasteful blend of donkey and horse.

      Congratulations on the release of the book (West Cork A Place Apart)


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