Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Bridge Under Troubled Hooves

In editing my first post, written last November, it occured to me that I should introduce the animals on our little farm.  Max, the Tennessee Walker, is not yet here.  He is being boarded until the ground thaws and we are able to fix our run-down fencing.  Here on the premises, left by the previous owners since they were unable to take them when they moved, are a donkey and some chickens.  There were four chickens, but before we moved in they escaped from the coop and two were lost.  The donkey's name is Whopper, so we thought it would be fun to name the chickens after fries so we'd have Whopper and the fries.  Food names turned out to be prophetic for Yam Fry and Stir Fry.  The two remaining birds are French Fry (the mother hen of the group) and Smilie Fry (the more adventurous and fun-loving bird). 

And now, with due warning that I am not known for brevity, on to the story of our first visit from the country vet...


Wanting to be sure that our donkey was healthy before bringing in our healthy horse, I called the vet to make an appointment for a check-up & immunizations.  The appointment was made for Thursday morning, somewhere between 11 and 11:30, with the promise of a phone call half an hour before the vet was to arrive, which is the exact time it would take to drive from the office to our acreage.

The morning arrived…and left…and no vet came and no phone call was received.  After lunch I phoned the clinic.  “We were just discussing you!” the receptionist informed me.  “We were trying to figure out if we’d be able to make it there today.”  Evidently some emergencies had arisen and they were sorting out their afternoon before calling to inform me.

In the end the appointment was re-booked for the following afternoon, again with the promise of a call half an hour prior to the vet’s arrival.  We were eating supper when a phone call came.  The vet would be here in about 10 minutes. 

Since it was cold I quickly found my warmest sweater, put on my boots, and grabbed a flashlight.  I realized that I had not yet surveyed the barn to see if the previous owners had left a halter or lead for Whopper.  So my 11 yr-old and I headed out to the barn to see what we could find.  Upon entering the dark barn I found a halter hanging from a nail in one of the posts.  Covered in cob webs, this had clearly not been used in some time.  I looked desperately around for something less offensive to my city senses, something I would not have to dig out of its nest of web, and was relieved to see another halter, dusty but more useable than the first.  I reached for that halter, reasoning that although it looked a little big, it was obviously the one that had been used most recently, so it must be the better of the two.  Near the halters I found a lead.  We were all set.  Now to find Whopper…

How does one find a black donkey in the dark?  A flashlight can be helpful, but evidently even more helpful is an 11-year old girl who knows the habits of the donkey you’re looking for.  Kathleen found him in no time, lying down among the trees.  I handed her the flashlight while I held the halter near Whopper’s face.  He was a somewhat resistant, but succumbed to the gear with very little convincing.  Great!  I thought.  This donkey is so easy-going, this should be a breeze!  The halter is a little big, but he’s not resisting so it should be fine.

As we got him to stand I heard a voice on the other side of the fence.  It was the vet and his 4 yr-old son who had climbed through the bush to where they thought we were, only to discover the fence that still separated us.  “I’ll bring him to the gate,” I told the vet.  Whopper placidly followed us to the gate, and through the gate.  The idea was to take him across the creek to the garage where there were lights that would make the exam easier for the vet to carry out.  We reached the edge of the bridge and a childhood story was brought to my mind…

“...stick wouldn’t beat dog, dog wouldn’t bite pig, and the pig would not go.”

In this case the pig was Whopper.  He had reached the edge of the bridge and he would not cross.  He did not kick.  He did not fight.  He did not make a sound.  He simply stood his ground, refusing to be coerced, coaxed or even pushed across.  Eventually he decided he’d had enough of that, and he turned to head back into his safe and comfortable pasture.  I pulled on the lead.  I pulled HARDER on the lead.  I dug in my heels, pulling with all my weight on the lead.  The donkey would not stop.  He did not run.  He did not kick.  He did not fight.  He simply walked with obvious brute strength in exactly the direction he wanted to go.

By then my husband had emerged from the house.  Having about 100 pounds over me, and whole lot more strength, I called for help.  At this point the donkey’s nose had come completely out of the halter, and the head strap had pulled down and was hanging around his neck.  My husband came and asked me to hold the halter while he unclasped the lead to make a rope halter.  This custom halter would fit perfectly on Whopper’s small face, and would, in theory, make it easier to lead him.

Whopper had stopped because I was in front of him at this point.  He stopped nicely and nuzzled his nose into my belly.  As Victor formed the nose part of the lead halter I stepped aside to make Whopper’s nose accessible to him.  Whopper began to walk forward.  I stepped in front of his face.  I had learned that this was the only way to stop him.  But then we couldn’t get the lead on his nose.  So I stepped aside, and Whopper began to walk.  This went on a few more times until we finally managed the gymnastics necessary to get the lead around his nose. 

I think by this time Whopper had forgotten all about the bridge because as Victor led him to turn around, he did so with gentle compliance.  It has been said that if you do the same thing you should expect the same results.  Evidently this applies to donkeys.  He stopped short at the bridge’s edge and refused to move another inch.  This time there were three of us trying to urge, coerce and push forward.  He would not go.  “Turn him around,” suggested the vet.  “We’ll push him backwards.”  That sounded reasonable to us, so we tried it.  Whopper did not agree.  Evidently the “out of sight” bridge was not quite out of his mind.  He would then not move forward or backward!

The vet decided to simply do his check by flashlight.  So I held the flashlight while Victor held Whopper, and the vet did his job.  The most obvious problem was Whopper’s hooves.  They had been neglected for some time, to the point that they were going to cause pain and damage to Whopper’s feet.  So the first order of business was to clip them.

I know very little, but this I know:  A well-trained horse will stand perfectly still and allow a ferrier to trim his hooves.  An apparently passive donkey will not.  He did not kick.  He did not fight.  He simply put his foot down – literally – and pushed against the resistance of my husband to inch away from the vet’s clippers.  Very little progress was made before Victor was half way down the creek bank.  “He’s pushing me into the creek!” he warned.  It was at this point that the vet decided a sedative would be in order.

He returned from his truck with needle in hand and proceeded to try to give the donkey a sedative.  “His skin is like leather,” the vet commented.  And after a few tried, “I think he’s dulled the needle.”

This all became too much for Whopper and he decided to make a break for it.  Pushing past my husband, the stubborn donkey fled from the source of his angst…across the bridge!  So with the garage light flooding that small part of the land, the vet was able to administer the sedative, and finish clipping the elf-like hooves, making Whopper look like a normal donkey once again.  Throughout the procedure he leaned drunkenly against Victor’s legs, but no longer did he try to push away.

The vet managed to get the hooves clipped to a good, healthy length, then gave him the required immunizations.  He left us with dewormer to administer the next day.  He then suggested we take Whopper back across the bridge to the pasture before the sedative completely wore off.  We agreed.

In the process of this adventure we learned a number of things about donkeys, and a few things about country vets.  I believe they have to be a special breed, country vets, that is.  They require a deep love of animals, a desire to keep them healthy, a willingness to travel for this purpose, and an extra large portion of patience!  This vet’s little boy accompanies him on most calls, and had a good time regaling my girls with stories of what happens to a person if a horse steps on them… 

What I learned about donkeys is that we should not be fooled by their calm and gentle exterior.  Whopper is the sweetest animal I know, but try to get him to do something he doesn’t want to do and you will learn from which parent mules get their stubbornness!  Fortunately they don’t fight…at least ours doesn’t.  But they are strong in their diminutive bodies to the point where they can push a man twice their size against his will, and digging your heels into the dirt, you will not stop them.  We had heard that donkeys make good “watchdogs” because they scare away predators.  What we learned from the vet was that not only will they scare them away, they will make sure the predator does not escape alive.  Vicious is not a word I would ever associate with Whopper, but evidently my chickens are more than safe in his pasture.  Small but strong, these sweet little guys are not to be trifled with.  I suppose he is like the proverbial gentle giant – sweet tempered, but a force to be reckoned with when danger is present.

Now we have a much happier Whopper, a sprightlier Whopper, a Whopper who is capable of chasing down those predators and “taking care of them” with his snazzy new dogs, fit for running, playing and, if necessary, kicking.  Hopefully we won’t need to see too much of the vet, but it is good to know he’s there if we need him.  And he knows how to handle a stubborn donkey.


  1. Mum... You mixed up the chickens... Smiley Fry is the mother hen.
    French Fry is the cocky adventerous chicken... Not the other way around!

    1. Well, when I see them, it is French Fry who seems to think she is in charge of the coop, and Smilie who tends to be a little more affectionate and quick to go after the food etc...

    2. Smiley Fry is the tender cautious one. French Fry walks around all Cocky and "I'm the queen", and was the first one to walk right up to me and take bread straight from my hand. Smiley took a while before she would take beyond what I dropped at least a few feet in front of me.

  2. Heather, these are well written stories. I sure enjoyed them. Where did you get such talent,certainly not from Dad or I.

  3. All of your other posts (except for By Way of Introduction -but I'll get to that one later-) have exactly 5 comments. But this one only had four so I figure that I'd fix that. ;)