Following one’s passion for equines can mean many things. Some of us choose to compete in the show ring, others are content to trail ride. But for two Saskatchewan sisters, Rhonda and Laura Stock, their passion led them to open the only sanctuary in their province for mini horses and donkeys of all sizes.
Happy Little Hooves sits on 160 acres, and their 43 equine residents includes four donkeys, four mules, and 35 ponies and miniature horses. “We fell in love with donkeys first and shortly thereafter also fell in love with minis,” says Laura. “We saw a huge need as there were rescues for large animals but none specifically for minis, donkeys and mules in our area, and especially none for those with special needs.”
The ‘special needs’ aspect to their care is part of what drove the sisters to create a sanctuary, where the animals have a home for life, instead of a rescue, which often seeks to rehome animals. “The animals we take in have ongoing special needs, so a sanctuary was a better fit,” says Laura. “Also, we take in animals whose medical issues are more than their owners can care for, so being a sanctuary gives the owners peace of mind that their animals won’t be passed around or end up at auction.”
One of the biggest challenges to these small animals is diet. According to the Stock sisters, minis, donkeys and mules don’t need feed as rich as large animals and many are fed incorrectly and end up obese. In fact, overly-rich feed can be dangerous for these animals as they’re very prone to founder and obesity issues. For example, Laura says that donkeys can live very healthy lives on barley straw because of their ‘desert browser’ digestive systems.
The Stocks also want to clear up misconceptions and myths about the small animals in their care. First, donkeys and mules aren’t stubborn and pigheaded. “Behaviorally, many people don’t understand the differences between large animals and minis, donkeys and mules, so they are often mistreated and are assumed to be stubborn, bratty or mean when they’re just very misunderstood,” says Laura. “Mules are a special challenge since they have such long memories and are often abused. This makes rehabilitation long and difficult.”
Second, the sisters point out that minis have amazing personalities if you allow them to show them. “They are not inherently mean or stupid and they should not be manhandled just because they’re small,” Laura explains. Finally, these animals need hoof care just as often, if not more often. than a full-sized horse.
To that end, Rhonda gave up her career as an engineer to fulfill another passion, working in natural hoof care using special trimming techniques. Her clientele is exclusively minis and donkeys. Like the feed, there are also unique issues to caring for the feet of these creatures.
“There are a lot of challenges involved, especially with the sanctuary littles as founder and laminitis are one of the most common issues,” says Laura. “Rhonda’s specialized trimming techniques have saved the lives of many minis that would have otherwise been put down.”
Their pursuit of their dream has paid off. “One of the most rewarding aspects [of the sanctuary] is when an animal comes to us that is completely shut down by either pain or mistreatment and opens up and blossoms with proper care and understanding,” explains Laura. “It often takes a lot of time, patience and effort, but getting to witness them finding their personalities is amazing.”
The sanctuary is run by the Stocks and volunteers from their family, including Rhonda’s daughter, and others that come out to help with day-to-day chores and major projects. Happy Little Hooves operates solely on donations and money they raise from selling crafts at local markets. The sanctuary is a registered non-profit organization, with all donations going to cover the cost of feed, vet bills and general maintenance. Before COVID, the sisters organized open house events as part of their fundraising strategy, but to mark the sanctuary’s fifth anniversary, an open house is planned again for 2024.
If you’re interested in making a donation to Happy Little Hooves, click here.