Hoof care is very important for donkeys’ welfare! Most people think that they never need to be trimmed, or maybe only once a year. The truth is that donkeys hooves are the foundation of their soundness, and keeping them in shape helps tendons and bones align the correct way. An unbalanced or long hoof stretches tendons and ligaments and puts undue strain on bones. This causes pain, and sometimes deterioration of the bones in the leg and hoof as well that is not correctable.
Donkeys hooves are very different from horse hooves. They are more upright, more concave underneath, have thicker walls, shorter frogs, and generally wider heels in proportion to the rest of the hoof. They are also shaped more like a U than the round shape of a horse’s hoof. I think of donkeys hooves much like little suction cups that grip rocks more tightly than a horse. They generally do not need to be shod unless they are wearing their hooves thin on hard or abrasive surfaces.
There are two main problems I see people run in to with donkey hooves. First, their donkey eats too rich of feed and founders. High starch and protein feeds like alfalfa and sweet feed are a big NONO for donkeys. Founder (laminitis) occurs when the blood chemistry of the donkey no longer allows for the hoof wall and the coffin bone found within the hoof to connect. The bone then starts to basically unzip (the laminae, which are like blood-filled interlocking fingers holding everything in place, unzip) from the hoof wall and descend down through the bottom of the hoof. It is extremely painful and often deadly. The other reasons a donkey might founder would be concussion on their feet from running down on a hard or too hot surface (road founder/heat founder), or their feet not being trimmed for too long (neglect). Tilly, when she came to us, had foundered and her feet were very long. It took us a lot of time and effort to get her well again. Wolf even made her little hoof boots out of cut up children’s sandals to use on her tender feet! We managed her condition with low dosages of pain/inflammation medications and very carefully watched what she ate. Corrective farrier work had to be done slowly to correct her angles so that she wouldn’t hurt from them being changed too quickly.
The second problem is that people have a hard time getting their donkeys to lift their feet for trimming. Donkeys use their hooves, especially the back ones, for defense, and you asking them to lift them is a bit like asking a soldier for his weapon, then bringing out all sorts of scary metal stuff (rasp, nippers etc) and expecting him to stay there and do nothing. No wonder they kick! Generally, donkeys will simply kick backwards to rid themselves of you. They are not kicking at you, simply “shaking you off”. Holding on generally doesn’t accomplish much. I have found that doing groundwork with our donkeys and with client donkeys (asking for lunging, hind end over, front end over, back up etc) really helps get them in the mind set to be calm while lifting their legs. If they are scared, a second person at the donkey’s head to give them treats for when they are still and relaxed helps solidify in their minds that holding up their legs is a good thing. Don’t expect too much at once. Gradually increase the time they spend with each leg lifted.
Farriers generally are OK with donkeys, but unless they understand that the anatomy of a donkey hoof is NOT the same as a horse, and therefore must be trimmed to different, more upright angles, your donkey will most likely suffer. Also, lots of farriers like to yell or hit an animal that is “misbehaving”. If your farrier does this, fire them. A donkey, unlike a horse, will not be intimidated into submission but will simply become less and less likely to allow anyone to touch their feet, and may become defensive with their hind end. Finding a good donkey farrier is HARD! And once you find one, hold on to them!
Here I am holding Darlin’s back hoof with no halter or leadrope on her. Tilly is watching just in case I might give her attention too! ALL of our donkeys are trained to stand and lift their feet with no halter on. We do halter and tie them or hold them for the farrier for safety. All donkeys can learn to do this!
Here is Wolf lifting Raymond’s feet. This donkey was pretty frightened of being touched near his legs and feet and would kick with his hind legs if you picked them up. Now he stands with no halter, in a relaxed manner, and lets Wolf pick out his feet.