Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The relationships between the donkeys and the other animals on the farm are fascinating and endlessly interesting to watch.  The relationship between them and Tessa is generally one of friendship.  Tessa LOVES her donkeys, but is sometimes befuddled by them.  She acts both motherly and slightly possessive and she occasionally tries to gently boss them around.  They accept her mothering, are disdainful of her possessiveness and they just flow away from her bossiness like water, completely ignoring it.  They welcome her company and attentions, but don't mind going off on their own either.  Their independence is a foreign concept to a horse and generally confounds her, leaving her figuratively scratching her head.

Tanner and the donkeys have a wary respect for one another.  They get along fine as long as each party respects the firmly established treaty line, otherwise known as the fence.  If a donkey puts a nose under the fence, Tanner will snap at it.  If he crosses into their territory, they push him out.  Both snapping and pushing are done with no actual violence but a great deal of intent.  Border Collies and donkeys have a great deal in common.  They will never be friends, but they are not enemies.

And then there is the relationship between them and the cat, Moss.  This is perhaps, the most complicated relationship.  Donkeys have a reputation for chasing and stomping cats and I can see that.  I do not think it is an inherent dislike of cats, but rather an extension of their territorial and protective natures.  I also think it is a manifestation of how they perceive things.

Donkeys and horses have very different eye site then we humans do and it isn't just because their vision is primarily monocular.  While their vision is acute, especially their distance vision, their ability to focus between near and far is very slow and is more a factor of where their head is rather than changes in the eye itself, as it is for us.   A horse who is trying to focus on something will often raise and lower its head very quickly, trying to find the right height that will bring the object into focus.  Their close-up vision is poorer and it is more difficult to bring small, close objects into focus, especially if their head is up and the object is on the ground.  This seems to be even more of an issue for donkeys and they rely far more on scent and sound than on vision to recognize things close up.

If you take all of that into account and think about cats and dogs from a donkey's point of view....is it any wonder that they so often object to having small carnivores darting about under their feet?  However, donkeys are also highly adaptable, sociable creatures.  Given time and familiarity, even cats can become friends.

There is also Moss herself to consider.  She has been here for 3-4 years now, but she came out of a situation of real neglect and poor care.  She was once run over by a truck and at another time, stepped on by a draft horse.  She does seem to have some genuine neurological issues and she was quite feral when she first came here.  Her neurological issues have improved some with good care and plentiful food, but she is....uhmmm, odd, to say the least.  She craves company, but is afraid of it.  I can pick her up and pet her now for short periods, but she doesn't know quite how to deal with it.  Regardless, she has formed a genuine attachment to the donkeys.  She always likes to sleep near them and, whenever Ramsey is laying down, she rubs up against his nose and tries to cuddles with him - something he tolerates with amazing gentleness.  Emma does not like her doing this to herself, but will often pet her as you saw in the video.

That doesn't mean that there aren't frequent misunderstandings between cat and donkeys, they do not speak each others language.  She once tried to use Emma's leg as a scratching post, a memorable occasion which resulted in ME getting a fractured nose.  There are also times when the donkeys will chase her out of their space.  This used to puzzle me because I couldn't figure out why they would go from being the best of friends one day to the cat being enemy-number-one the next.  I finally noticed that this always occurs whenever a stray cat (always un-neutered toms of course) stops by for a visit.  Moss hangs out with the strays and then donkeys don't recognize her because she smells different.  Once the toms move on and moss smells like herself again, they accept her back into the fold.

I find it all endlessly fascinating and I never cease to marvel at how much all of these animals have to teach us.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Mutual Grooming

They say petting the cat is good for one's health....

But dang, it's such a nuisance when you get cat hair stuck to your tongue...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

First of the Year

Treasure Hunting

"What do ya think Kid, seeing as how Ma totally, completely neglected to get us Easter goodies, do you suppose she might have hidden some treasures for us?"


"hmmmm, it's a thought kiddo, it's a thought.  This thing certainly looks pretty dry and tasteless, whatever it is." 

"Ah well, I guess we'll just have to find our own goodies, it's the way of the world."

"And there's nothing like a well rotted maple tree after all.  Yum!"

Monday, April 21, 2014

Poor, poor, pitiful donkeys

"Yo Ma!"

"Yes donkeys?"

"We heard that this whole Easter thing is supposed to involve baskets full of goodies."

"So, we all want to know...."

"Where's OURS?!"

"Wellllll, um, sorry.  No baskets.  Actually, I was just kinda thinking you guys look like something that would be IN an Easter basket."

"Sheesh, no respect.  That' what it is, no respect.  What a bummer."

Happy Easter.
 (even if you are a poor, poor, pitiful donkey who didn't get any goodies)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Forward, backward, onward

For those interested in feet, it's about time we had a recap and an update on Lakota.  It's been just about a year since I started working on him and it has certainly been an interesting journey thus far.  We started out with a whole laundry list of problems despite a lifetime of excellent, conscientious care:
  • Distal descent of P3 (otherwise known as a sunken coffin bone).
  • Badly flared and poorly connected hoof walls.
  • Severely under-run heels.
  • Runaway toes.
  • Contracted heels.
  • Six degrees of coffin bone rotation.
  • A poorly developed, weak and diseased frog.
  • A deep and persistent central sulcus infection.
  • A severe mineral imbalance and life-long deficiencies of key nutrients.
  • A coffin bone showing damage and remodeling caused by constant pressure and bruising.
  • And, only 2 mm of sole protecting the bottom of that coffin bone from the outside world.

I took over care of Lakota's feet out of desperation.  Every farrier who had worked on him to that point had generally made things worse for him.  They did not mean to, but I don't believe they recognized all the different, yet intertwined, problems going on with this horse.  Each one focused on just one aspect of his feet and assumed the rest would take care of itself.  Riding Buddy and I have taken a very holistic approach to all of the foot problems we had been struggling with and made changes in diet, management, environment....everything.  I worked on his feet all summer, trimming them every two weeks and, by Fall, we had made significant progress.

10/27/13 Still troubled, but sounder than he ever had been....

Unfortunately, not long after the above picture was taken, Lakota broke through a fence and gorged himself on windfall apples causing an episode of laminitis.  About a month later, he got out on a pasture that still had a significant amount of grass under the snow cover and had another episode (don't ever assume that winter grass is safe for a highly sensitive horse or donkey).  Last month, Lakota came up severely lame with a bad sub-solar abscess that set us back even further.  He was finally sound enough (barely) for me to work on his feet again about three weeks ago.

On a much more positive note, he had a new set of x-rays taken about the same time and, despite all the setbacks, Lakota now has 10 mm of sole depth.  That may not sound like much, and it is still terribly thin, but it is 5 times what he had last year.

3/30/14 before trim.  You can see that the front of the hoof wall, which had nearly become straight in the Fall, once again has a slight dish to it, caused by his back to back bouts of laminitis.

3/30/14 after trim.  It's not all bad.  Despite the setbacks, this is still a MUCH stronger hoof now than it was one year ago.  The heels are dramatically improved, much less under-run and de-contracted.  He has a relatively healthy frog, it is still somewhat weak, but all signs of disease and infection are gone.  The bars are no longer folded over on themselves and, he has 10 mm of sole.

One of the most difficult aspects of correcting all these issues is that the hoof gets stuck in a kind of endless negative feedback loop.  The walls need to be trimmed way back, especially at the toe, in order to get healthy connection and sole growth.  However, with such thin soles, those overgrown walls are all that he has to support him.  The soles won't grow because all the energy of the foot is going into growing excess wall, the walls can't be controlled because they are all that is protecting the soles.  Round and round it goes.  Unless something can be done to break out of this loop, it will never end.  That is where Lakota has been stuck for the past 15 years.

This is where the casts and dental impression material come in.  The dental mold provides support, cushion and stimulation that the sole needs...

The casts (hot pink was on sale - 1/2 off!) provide even more support and protection as well as stabilizing the entire hoof capsule while still allowing for expansion and contraction.  These are what gained us that hard won sole depth.  We're hopping for more.

The most interesting thing to come out of Lakota's recent bouts with laminitis can be seen in the photo below, taken mid trim.

We horse people tend to think of laminitis in a rather limited, one-dimensional fashion.  We generally focus on the toe and think in terms of rotation of the coffin bone.  This isn't really accurate though. The coffin bone is the anchor for the entire hoof capsule, it is the planetary core that the crust is attached to.  No matter how severe the laminitis, it is not the coffin bone that moves downward, even when we think of it as puncturing the bottom of the foot.  The coffin bone can't move, it is joined to the bone above it (P2) and that joint does not fail during a bout of laminitis.  Rather, it is the hoof capsule that loses its attachment to its anchor and rotates upwards, affecting every part of the foot - not just at the toe, but the quarters, heels, sole - everywhere.

In this photo, you can see a butterfly-shaped pattern of "bruising" right in the center of the hoof, on either side of the frog.  This is not bruising from an external source, it is the damage that was caused to the lamina of the sole during a minor laminitic episode.  It has taken this long for it to grow out enough to be visible, both front feet look exactly the same.  It is clearly visible here because there is so little pigmentation in the foot...not something you'll see every day (thank God). 

That lack of pigmentation is interesting in itself.  Lakota does have very white feet, however, constant pressure and bruising to the bottom of the coffin bone can cause the sole to lose pigmentation as well, similar to the way a scar will grow in white on dark colored horse. 

Note: I did not trim anything from this sole, only used my knife to scrape away the dirt so that I could really see what was going on.  The line drawn in front of the apex of the frog is approximately where the white line should be (hopefully, will be someday).  The short line just in front of that is where I brought his toe back to in this trim.  This may look scary, but most of that toe is lamellar wedge, the hoof's version of overgrown scar tissue that needs to be removed.

Lakota was sore when I started, but walked off much sounder after his trim and has improved since.  I'm happy to have been able to stick with one of my cardinal rules of hoof trimming - the horse should be at least as sound after the trim as he was before.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


It was an amazingly beautiful day.  We have not had many so we all have to take advantage of what we get.  Riding Buddy and I had plans to do just that and get out for our first ride together this year.  However, we had a wee lapse in communication.  Instead of meeting in the middle as we usually do, we got our signals crossed and bypassed each other.  I'd gotten slowed down a bit as Tessa had to stop twice to allow her nose to be petted by little girls and then had to face down a speeding 4-wheeler; all of which she handled with grace.  I haven't seen so many people out on my road in...well, ever. 

I made it all the way (down hill) to RB's house and realized what must have happened (or what I hoped had happened, the alternative being a loose horse and a lost rider). 

Poor Tessa, she had been looking all over for her handsome beau and thought it was the grossest betrayal to make it all the way to his house only to find that he wasn't there and I wanted her to head back up the hill double time to find RB.  Poor fat, out-of-shape Tessa.  She thought the idea of a gallop through the woods sounded like a grand idea - for the first quarter of the way up the hill that is.  After which point she decided that maybe true love isn't all its cracked up to be after all and moseying up the hill huffing and puffing might be a better idea. 

We did make it back in near record time and found RB just getting to my house, ready to ride.  Tessa was hot and sweaty, still in her winter woolies, and ready for a nice nap.  We went out for a short easy ride in the woods to cool down before RB headed back home though.

By the time we got back to the barn, Tessa was plum wore out. All that running around in the woods is hard work for a fat pony in winter wear.  Good thing she has someone to come home to and tell all her woes.

"Oh donkeys, you wouldn't believe the day I've had."

"And, can you believe it, now Ma is giving me a COLD shower."


Emma: snort! "You better hope Ma doesn't get careless with that hose and get us donkeys.  Here's what I think of cold showers 


Friday, April 11, 2014

It's Official

Tanner says Spring is definitely here...

I wonder how long it will take the ice to go off the pond though....

I threw fair sized rock into the middle, it made a bit of a splash in the slushy top, but didn't get far....
All the ponds in the area are mostly clear except for mine.  Anyone want to hazard a guess as to when we'll see open water?