Give Me Your Foot
by Steve Edwards
Years ago when I did a lot of shoeing for others, I worked with every problem animal there was. The biggest problem I had shoeing was the owners. Whoops did I say that! The problem was they would not pick up the hoof, clean and inspect it on a daily basis or at least every time they rode. There is an old saying: "No hoof, no mule". The reason I know this is, I would work with a mule and get him started in the right direction then show the owner and say, " Now I want you to do this at least 4 times a week fifteen minutes a day." Fifteen minutes a day is not asking much. Now 6 to 8 weeks later I would come out to shoe and the mule and I would have to spend time training again. Folks would be upset when I would tack on an extra $30.00 to train the mule to pick up the foot or not to lean. Training and shoeing are two different jobs. Your farrier should walk up, ask for the foot, and go to shoeing.
I’ve stepped on lots of toes about now so let me explain. Think about how you pick up your mule’s hoof. Do you reach down and pick up the hoof by “pulling on it” rather than asking the mule to give it to you? Have you allowed the mule to shift his weight so he can prepare to work with you? When you are done do you drop the foot? Does your mule lean on you when you pick up the hoof? Let’s learn to do it right!
Now before I get started I want you to understand, any time you work with animals you have a chance of getting hurt or your animal getting hurt. It is very important that you think things through before you start working with Mr. mule. When you have fright you can have flight and fight. When you start getting mad or Mr. mule gets mad you need to find a good place to quit. Either start rubbing Mr. mule to calm him down or leave him to stand and think about things. Standing is a great training tool; don’t shy away from using it.
Communicating From the Beginning
Let’s start at the beginning and see if we can make picking up the feet a pleasant experience. To start you need an attainable goal. Our final goal would be to have a mule that picks up all four feet and holds each up indefinitely without leaning. The immediate goal would be to achieve any kind of movement upon touching the shoulder or hip button. If your mule is young this will be a fast process, if your mule is older he has probably found lots of ways to get around this picking up the foot process. Remember to always reward by rubbing the mule and use a quiet tone in your voice. Say some thing nice and rub the mule at the same time. Something like, good for you, good mule, keeps a positive attitude for you and Mr. mule. Sorry words develop a sorry attitude.
This is how I start young mules that no one has spoiled. Keep the lessons short, always stop on a good note, this is true any time you’re training or working with your mule. At first Mr. Mule may do something you don’t like, for instance kick at you. If you make it a big problem it will become exactly that. Never kick him in the belly or hit him with a whip. At first he may kick at the quirt. This is not the time to kick him in the belly either. You just stay consistent, keep taping, and as soon as Mr. mule moves, stop tapping and rub and love on your mule. Remember; never make a big deal out of him kicking at you, just keep tapping.
I start at the left front leg, looking from the tail of the mule. It’s also called the “near” front. I ask the mule to pick up the hoof by pushing on the shoulder blade. You can feel the sharpness of the bone at the middle of the shoulder. (See photo on right.)
Watch the hoof carefully as you push on the shoulder blade. Look for the hoof to get loose on the ground. As soon as it does, take the pressure off his shoulder. Do this 3 times in a row.
Things To Do
- Three times of any training starts your foundation.
- Do this with each hoof you work with.
- Be sure to do lots of rubbing.
- Make a big deal out of the smallest thing you see Mr. Mule do right.
As you touch the shoulder blade say, "give it to me." Mr. Mule will learn that when you touch the button (shoulder blade, hipbone), that’s the cue to pick up the foot .
Now that you have asked each foot to ‘think about giving’ now use a four-foot long quirt. Rub the shoulder blade with your thumb and as you see the foot move tap the hoof with the quirt. Look for the smallest attempt to work with you. As soon as you see it, take the pressure off the shoulder and stop tapping the hoof.
Things To Look For: At first the hoof will move a little. As you work on it every day, Mr. Mule will start working with you.
Training Tip: A good training tip here is to keep feeling the esophagus. Before you start your training rub and shake the esophagus. See how it feels like a bowl of Jell-O? This will tell you Mr. Mule is calm and has an understanding of what you are teaching. Throughout the training if the esophagus tightens up, stop and rub and speak quietly to the mule. When he softens up go back to work.
Use the quirt the same way as you did with the front feet. Light taps increasing until he picks up the foot. The back foot is usually more difficult than the front.
Things To Look for: On the back foot he may just take the weight off the foot. That’s OK — this is a great place to stop. When you are able to pick up the rear hoof, as he gives you the hoof bring the hoof to the front first then take it back. This will get the back leg to relax and uncheck the hip. Then take the leg back again and get your work done to the hoof or leg. Everybody wants to hurry up and go riding.
Training Tip: Groundwork is more important than riding.
Another problem is that folks drop the hoof after they are done. You are teaching the mule to pull a way from you by first teaching the mule to get in a hurry by dropping the hoof. When you are done cleaning the hoof put your left hand on the hip and the right hand on the canon bone and set the foot down. This training will be good when you need to care for the health of your mule.