This summer, animal care professionals at the McFeetors Heavy Horse Centre noticed some minor sores on Percheron horse Ice’s hock joints. With a domestic horse, a simple solution would be to purchase hock boots to cover the sores as they heal, but due to Ice’s sheer size, a standard hock boot can’t get the job done. This is when Zoo volunteer, Dale Hunt, stepped in to lend a hand.

Dale has been a volunteer with Assiniboine Park Conservancy (APC) for about six years, and beyond her natural ability to speak with visitors and make them feel welcome at the Zoo, she is also a skilled sewer. With this knowledge, when animal care professionals found that Ice’s hock boots were not staying put on his joints, they reached out to Dale for her help.

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Animal care professional, Sarah McEwan, secures Ice's hock boots. 

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Ice's custom fitted hock boot is fitting nice and snug! 

Dale, along with the animal care and veterinary team, has been working to modify standard hock boots to create a custom version that is specially fitted for Ice. The key is to ensure that the boot stays in place and snug, but not too snug, against Ice’s joints overnight. These sorts of hock sores are not unusual in an aging horse, and the typical cause is that the horse’s bony joint is in contact with the ground when he lays down to sleep. The animal care team provides Ice with a deep, soft sleeping space, but the boots provide extra protection while he’s laying down.

To say creating a custom boot for a nearly 2,000 lb. horse is a complex project, would be an understatement. Dale and the team are currently working on their fourth prototype.

“I like a puzzle,” said Dale. “I don’t like jigsaw puzzles but I do like this sort of thing.”

The hock boots are being tweaked and improved frequently, and thanks to this unique collaboration and dedication to animal care, Ice’s hocks are healing nicely.

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Ice, wearing his custom fitted hock boots.

In addition to providing this service to the animal care team, during her time as a volunteer Dale has repaired reflector tape on volunteer vests, created brand new volunteer vests, fabricated vines for the white-handed gibbon habitat, created woolen box covers for our ambassador animals, repaired staff uniforms, and is currently working on creating a cover for our heavy horse wagon. These projects have been done in collaboration with another volunteer, Bev Hicks.

As a not-for-profit organization, the unique skillsets of our volunteers, and commitment to lending a hand whenever needed is invaluable to APC. Dale’s passion for the Zoo and our animals shines through in everything she does, and we thank her for her service to APC!