Problems with picking up the feet

A reluctance to pick up the feet when asked, either for routing hoof picking or for the farrier, is a very common problem and potentially a dangerous one. A horse that kicks or snatchs, or suddenly slams its hoof on the ground when you handle its feet can easily cause injuries.

Fortunately, this issue is usually not difficult to deal with providing you are consistent and patient.

Understanding the problem from the horse’s viewpoint:

– The feet are the horse’s means of escape. When we lift a hoof and hold it up, we compromise the horse’s ability to flee.

– From the horse’s point of view, anything that endangers its feet also endangers its life.

– The horse’s eyes are out on the sides of its head, but when we bend over to pick up a hoof, we generally block the horse’s view of its own hoof.

– When a horse refuses to pick up its feet, it is not being “stubborn”, it is feeling insecure. Trying to force it or frighten it will make things worse, so don’t shout at it or prod it around as this will probably make it even less likely to cooperate.

– If there is just one hoof the horse won’t lift, it’s probably the right hind. The right hind is usually the one the horse is most insecure about.

Overcoming the problem from the human viewpoint:

– Start with the left foreleg (unless your horse seems to prefer to have you on the right), standing at the horse’s shoulder. Stroke all the way down the leg, slowly and rhythmically. This prepares the horse and reassures it. Never grab straight for the hoof or fetlock. Then loop the rope aound the top of the foreleg and wiggle it around, letting it gradually to fetlock level. If the horse become unsettled at any point, go back to the top of the leg and start again, moving more slowly.

– When the horse is calm and relaxed about the rope looped just under the fetlock, draw the rope to the side to ask the foot to lift.  Give the horse time to adjust its weight over the other 3 legs, and at first, release the pressure for the weight shift. The next time, keep the pressure on until the horse lifts the foot. Just lifting off the ground is fine at first. Build it up slowly until it can hold it for longer and longer.

Using the rope has several advantages. 1) Your head is not down there with a hoof that might kick. 2) You can be a little further away from the horse, so it can see what is happening. 3) It is much easier to keep the request on with the rope, even if it takes a while, as you are standing rather than bending. 4) If the horse tries to kick the rope out of the way, you can just set it up again and the risk of getting hurt is minimised.

– Take time to get the horse used to giving to pressure on the rope until you can move the foot in any direction. Very soon it will start shifting its weight as soon as it feels the pressure on the rope.

– If the right hind is stuck, build confidence on the other legs first, even if they seem not to have a problem. Left fore is usually the easiest, so that’s normally the best one to start with. Work on the other legs until the lift is light and willing, then try the more difficult one.

– When you first take the hoof in your hand, hold the tip of the toe. From this position it is much harder for the horse to kick.

– Stroke the leg gently and generously all the time the foot is held up. Make giving that foot a comfortable and relaxing thing to do.

There are full explanations and detailed video of how to teach picking up the feet on the Thinking Horse DVD.