By Cindy K. (McKinnon) Roberts
Mule feet are typically smaller than that of a horse of equal body weight.
The foot is longer and narrow in shape, as compared to the horse's more rounder hoof. Weight is placed directly on the frog portion of the mule foot. The hoof wall is rounded and thick in the toe area, more pinched in and thinner at the quarter and flared out and thick at the heel. The bars are thick and prominent on the mule. The length of the hoof wall itself is relatively long and upright when compared to the horse's hoof.
Mule hoofs are usually denser and are less subject to quarter cracks. They are not weak and do not flake as a horse's hoof can. The mule's hoof wall, may have an almost vertical slope in the area, where the toe nails are placed in a shoe. The angle on the hoof wall of the mule, may be more than 90 degrees in the area where the heel nails are placed. Mules are easily quicked in this area of the foot by inexperienced shoers.
The shoeing differences in the mule are as follows: 1) higher pastern angle than that of the horse. Excessive trimming of the frog and bars should be avoided. The heels often grow faster than the toe and must be trimmed accordingly. 2) The frog is actually below the heels on a mule, as compared to the horse and the buttress (outer heel portion) of the mule do not protrude back as far - 3) Shoes are fit to the outline of the hoof wall around to the quarter on the mule. And the heels of the shoe are turned out, trailers at the heels to follow the outward curvature of the hoof.
Taken the hoof angle into consideration and the growth factors of the mule's foot, is important, because you don't want to lame your mule due to incorrect angles or excessive trimming of the foot. Hoof growth can be affected by age, season, exercise, nutrition and heart rate to name just a few factors involved. Younger mules, have a faster heart rate and therefore, their feet are growing at a quicker rate as compared to the aged mule. Mules that are lacking in diet, will produce a slower growth rate in their hoof.
My mule wears pony shoes. I do not get the toe clips or heel caulks, because I want her traveling smooth and close to the ground, for Western Pleasure. Your mule may be better off with a different type of shoe, depending on the type of performance you require from him. Your farrier should know your mule's shoeing requirements, in order to compliment his way of traveling.
You, the owner, should possess enough knowledge to know if your mule is being properly shod and trimmed in the truest, correct manner. Just because the mule has a much better hoof than the horse, does not mean that you can neglect checking his hoof needs. Read textbooks on shoeing, watch a video or two, and ask questions. That old saying "no foot, no horse", I expect is true with the mule. However, in my hybrid years, I have never experienced a flat tire or defect due to conformation or genetics of the mule. I had a lame show mule due to a horseshoer's incompetent work, but never a physical foot problem. I have had the same shoer for over 20 years now and I believe, my farrier puts out the best quality work in the area.
Environmental conditions has an affect on the mule's feet. During excessive, hot, dry months, hose down the area around the water trough to create a gooey mud spa. Yes, mules will do the mud spa thing! They will stand to drink while the foot is covered with wet mud. It is therapeutic to the dry hoof. Applying commercial hoof dressings to a dry foot is not as beneficial. Treat the dry hoof with soaking up water first, then apply your commercial hoof dressing. The results are much better.
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Warning! Under Missouri law, an equine professional is not liable for an injury to or the death of a participant in equine activities resulting from the inherent risks of equine activities pursuant to the Revised Statutes of Missouri. Your participation in training your own mule or horse by following the advice given in this column and throughout Every Cowgirl's Dream web site is a risk that may result in permanent disability and even death to you and/or your animal. Advice in this column is given through 20 plus years of professional and private mule training experience. The unique personality of your animal and the individual reader's skill level will vary greatly. This column is not a substitute for a qualified mule trainer in your area. Always utilize a professional and knowledgeable trainer to assist you. The author asks each reader to evaluate his or her skill level, athletic ability and mule sense prior to attempting any training technique.