Guest Post: Donkey Mayhem

by Mandi Shuffield

All of you who are following the woes of Fiona the mini donk already know that she has been dealing with a list of ailments (one, I really wonder about as far as accuracy in diagnosis goes) for a couple of weeks now. I’m going to recap just a bit, and explain why I’m involved at all in this.

I worked on a horse farm with many horses all at once, from the time I was 14 until I was 28. Before that, I grew up in the saddle with my Pa. When you deal with that many horses at a time, someone is always injured. Sometimes it isn’t bad, other times, it can be severe. I’ve seen simple scrapes, bone breaks, one stallion who put a T post through his chest and had to have wound care for months, colic, mares struggling with birth, abscesses on all parts of the body, mild and severe hoof problems, etc. I sure haven’t seen it all, but I have seen a lot!

Here’s my horse, Ricci, who I nursed back from a long illness.

I learned how to make first aid items from scratch in the field to save a life and stop bleeding. I’m fairly confident in what I can do. I also know when I need more help, a second opinion, or I do not have the tools/gear/equipment to handle a situation. 

How I helped Fiona

I originally felt like Fiona’s foot was trimmed too short. With the gap that developed in the way that white line disease (hoof wall separation, seedy toe) does, I felt like she may have developed that.

There is no conclusive evidence as to what exactly causes white line disease. Theories go from poor diet, wet/humid climate, soft feet, trimming the toe too short, injury/abscesses, and the list goes on. What the veterinary world has seen is that there will be horses and donkeys that develop this disease that do not fall into one category, or it seems to come out of nowhere. It develops on healthy feet in dry climates as well, although it is not as common.

Fiona’s foot

It is characterized by the gap in the hoof wall that was shown in the picture, and the gray, crumbling of the soft tissue behind the outer wall. Fiona had that, but she also had a bulge under the foot that seemed like she couldn’t stand flat on it. The cold water treatment probably helped by relieving the inflammation. Horses and donkeys typically do not become lame from white line until it becomes severe and the cannon bone begins to shift down. 

Anyway, so as you know, the vet came yesterday and said the problem is that the hoof was cut too short and she has injured the leg by not being able to stand properly, and the bottom of the hoof is sensitive and not meant to hold weight like that. She needs pain meds and time for the hoof wall to grow out. We can’t just trim the long part inside down to even it out,
unfortunately, because the outside is so short. I asked about the possibility of white line, and the vet said he didn’t think it had set in yet, but did agree to treat it as though it had to try some prevention.

I talked to Sue Ann, and we have a plan to treat the gap very aggressively to make the gap inhospitable to the fungus and bacteria that cause white line. This includes a dose of penicillin. Penicillin shots are awful because the needle has to be so big because the liquid is so thick. I’d rather give any kind of shot than penicillin. The needle hurts going in, and the medicine does too. It has to be administered very slowly, and my preference is to shake underneath the site to help it move as it is going in. I prefer administering in the rump where there is more muscle than the neck, although it can be done there too. 

Getting that medicine in

So, this morning I stopped at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch to draw up the penicillin from the refrigerator. The administer dosage I have always used is 1 ML per 100 lbs. I estimate Fiona to be between 250 and 300. I went with 275 since she has lost a small amount of weight as she is not able to travel to graze well. I then went to see Fiona. I laid out all of my tools, and started talking to her and telling her what I was doing. She was really way more interested in her little food bowl having treats put into it with a handful of grain than what I was saying.

The scary medicine

I gave her the little bowl and a couple of hand-fed treats, then put her halter and lead on her. It’s insanely hard to find a well fitting halter for such a tiny head, but I pulled it up as tight as I could get it (without hurting her), and tied her to the pole just in front of where her food was. I gave her the pain medication first and gave it a little while to work. I picked the injection site and got the syringe ready. I like to scratch and pat the area first in a sort of rhythm so that when the needle goes in, it isn’t quite so shocking.

I’m looking slim and sassy, but that’s because of the pain meds from yesterday.

The syringe went in, and Fiona tried to sit down. I would have too! I got her calmed back down and waited until she would take a bite again. I then screwed the plunger onto the syringe, and the rodeo began!

Not a happy donkey

She was no longer eating, and her ears were pinned back with her nostrils flared. This is a signal to me that she is about to defend herself. I just kept talking to her, and was slowly administering the medicine.

After about 1 ML had gone in, she’d had enough. She slipped her nose out of her halter, and tried to run. The halter was tangled around her neck. I grabbed her chest with my left arm to keep her from choking and going into panic mode, still talking to her. I had my right arm around her back end to try and hold her in place using my right hip and thigh. Then she started kicking out on the side with the shot (which was on the opposite side that I was on for just this reason).

Pro tip! You NEVER want to get kicked by a donkey! EVER!! A horse is bad enough. Even a mini donk can hurt you bad. They just have all kinds of force back there.


Then she went into full defense mode and started swinging her back end to me. Not really aiming at me, but trying to make the shot stop. She was still tangled in the halter and could have easily hurt herself and me if I let her go. So, in some kind of auto pilot mode, I rearranged my body, and suddenly she wasn’t swinging or pulling anymore. Awesome! I had her in a good hold. I finished the shot, looked down, and her feet were off the ground.

Great. Now what? I couldn’t just drop her even though it was only about 4 inches off the ground. So I set her back end down first. Then realizing I was up against the gate and had nowhere to go if she swung to kick, I set her front end down gently, I put my right arm around her shoulders and chest where my left had been, used my left hand to open the gate, and started backing out.

When I repositioned myself, I had actually lifted her up! I felt a pop, and almost like a tear in my left arm. I have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder, and from my shoulder to my elbow felt like it was on fire! I pulled the shot out, and as best I could, tossed it as far as I could without letting her go of her.

This is what an angry donkey looks like

Sure enough when I let go, she swung her back end. She didn’t kick, but she was BIG MAD! Both of us were out of breath, I put a couple more treats in her bowl, and she wouldn’t even acknowledge them. I felt so bad. I had planned on treating the foot this morning too, but I think it is best left until this evening when I can have someone out there with me, and she’s had some time to calm down.

This adventure is just one of many that explains why I have a torn rotator cuff, bad ankles, bad knees, and a bad back. She isn’t the first equine that I have picked up, but she is the first one that I didn’t mean to pick up. I carried an injured 4 day old baby to the barn years ago, picked one up that was stuck in a bucket (another long story), and picked a few up to save us and them from injury similar to this morning.

We used to be friends, really!

I really didn’t think I had it in me anymore, and my doctor will not be happy that I violated my weight restriction. I would do it again in a heartbeat though. I’m sore now, but no worse than I’ve ever been.

It’s amazing how things have come back to me like they have. I haven’t actually done this kind of thing in almost 10 years. But when I was dong it, it was quite often. I guess it’s just burned in now.

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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