Handling Your Horse’s Hooves Safely

Starting out

Just because a horse refuses to lift its feet for you it does not always mean that it is being disobedient. For a horse to lift its feet, it must be taught how. The best time to train your horse is when it is still a foal, but if you are handling an adult horse do not assume that it knows how to lift its feet, as this training may have been missed. As cleaning hooves is an essential part of horse care, you need to teach your horse how to willingly lift its feet when asked.

Make It Rewarding!

Positive reinforcement, as well as consistent practise, is the most effective method in teaching any new behaviours or developing existing ones. Learning the right timingis essential if you want to teach your horse to pick up their feet easily when asked.

Initially, make sure to give the reward after a few seconds of picking up their feet for the horse to understand the process. After the horse is responding easily, you can make it longer between positive reinforcement actions.

You can choose any sound you want to prompt the foot being picked up as long as that sound does not startle the horse. However, it is best to just pick one sound and then stick with it. For example, you can choose to say “pick it up”, you can snap your fingers, whistle or cluck your tongue. Choose a sound that you can easily create and remember. Make the sound immediately before touching to pick up the foot. The sound draws your horse’s attention as well as allows it to associate the sound to whatever it is doing.

The rewards or positive reinforcement can be anything that your horse likes or enjoys. You can provide food such as horse cookies, carrot chunks, mints, bits of grain, or wisp of hay, though these may cause your horse to fidget if you don’t have the treats with you at some time in the future. You can also scratch its withers, a definite winner with most horses,or pat its neck and praise them.

Safety without Stress

You need to consider your safety and your horse’s happiness when caring for your horse’s feet. Below are some steps so you can care for your horse’s feet effectively, safely as well as stress free for both you and your horse.

1. No surprises – Make sure your horse is aware of your presence. Walk towards your horse in its line of sight and talk to your horse while approaching. Do not position yourself behind your horse since you put yourself at risk of being kicked. Position yourself beside your horse’s shoulder about two feet out. While talking, pet your horse’s neck and slide your hand down from its shoulder to its leg. This allows you to check the tendon area for any issues.

2. Just above your horse’s ankle, with your thumb close to your hand, grasp your horse’s leg at the back and tell it to “pick it up” or use the signal you decided on above. The horse will immediately comply if it’s used to lifting its feet upon your command.

3. If it doesn’t; you can lean into the shoulder with your hip to take the weight off the foot, while squeezing in your thumb and forefinger and asking it to lift its foot until it complies. Always state what you want and reward it when it complies. In time, your horse will lift its foot up himself when you tell it.

4. Move a bit closer and be careful not to move your feet under your horse’s feet. Move your hand gently down to grasp the foot and then flex the ankle slowly. This will allow you to view the sole as well as have complete control over your horse’s leg.

5. As you’re holding the foot of your horse with your one hand, use your other hand to use the hoof pick. A cheap hoof pick is normally just as effective as an expensive one. Make sure the hoof pick is fairly blunt as this reduces the risk of wounding your horse.

6. Insert the point of the pick inside the heel bulb next to the frog and run it down from one side of the frog to the other, from heel to toe in order to remove the caked debris. Gently clean the cleft in the frog’s centre, where a horse with a chronic thrush may be tender and sore. Pull off any loose pieces of frog skin that will come off by hand, but make sure not to tear anything that’s not already loose.

7. Lastly, arc the hoof pick around the shoe’s interior rim to remove anything that is clinging. Put your horse’s foot down and transfer the hoof pick in your pocket or somewhere easily accessible.

8. Next would be to work on your horse’s hind legs. Let your horse know that you are approaching its hind leg by patting its shoulder and running your hand along its side. Talk to your horse while moving and stay close while you position yourself beside its hindquarter.

9. Just like what you did in the earlier steps, lean into your horse as you bend down while keeping your feet out from under its feet. Using your elbow and forearm is not only for establishing contact, they allow you to easily push away if ever you sense your horse preparing to kick.

10. Lifting the hind foot is where you need to have the most control as this is where you are at the highest risk of being kicked. To be out of harm’s way, you need to position yourself in a way that your shoulders are roughly parallel to the horse’s hip bone with your head out of the line of fire. Move your hand down until you are slightly above the top of the ankle. Tell your horse to “pick it up” or use your chosen signal while giving a slight squeeze. If your horse does not respond right away, reinforce your message by pulling the ankle forward and up toward the front of the horse.

11. If your horse threatens to lift their leg before you ask, or appears to be threatening to kick you, hold the tail in one hand while you are reaching down to lift the leg. You can gently pull on the tail to over balance them and get them to think twice about lifting feet when not asked to.

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