Q: Sometimes when I’m picking out my horse’s hooves, she pulls it down onto the floor. If I hold it tightly, she tries to jerk it away. How can I make picking out feet easier?
A: Picking a horse’s feet up is not the hard part. Training him to hold his feet up as long as you want him to is a much bigger challenge. Many people focus so much on the picking up that they don’t notice they are inadvertently training the horse to jerk his foot out of your hands whenever he feels like it. Handling a horse’s feet properly takes skill and experience and it is easy to make mistakes.
Start by making sure your horse is standing square and will shift his weight off whichever foot you intend to pick up with a light cue to the shoulder or hip. Then run your hand down to the fetlock, breaking it forward as you lift the foot. Then, make sure you point the hoof toe-up– this is the mistake many people make. If the tow is pointed toward the ground as you are holding the foot up, it is very easy for him to pile-drive his foot to the ground. You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t stomp on your foot at the same time.
Always keep the toe of the hoof curled up toward the sky as you hold the leg. Make sure you are stabilizing his balance with your whole body, but do not let him lean on you. Picking the foot up too high can cause great discomfort to the horse if he has any arthritic changes to his joints– it’s not a natural position for him. So try to keep the foot closer to the ground (toe-up) if your horse seems uncomfortable.
When training a horse to have his feet handled, it’s critically important from the very first time you ask him to pick up his feet (even with foals) that you teach him to hold his foot up in a relaxed manner, letting you have complete control of the leg until you gently place it back to the ground. Every time he succeeds in jerking his foot away, he is instantly rewarded and has learned the wrong thing. Mature horses that have not had good handling can be very challenging to retrain, not to mention the physical risk, and may require someone with the skill and experience to tackle the job safely.