I have received quite a few questions lately regarding difficulties with picking up and cleaning out horses hooves. In my experience teaching new riders, this is an unnerving chore for many people, as well as a skill that requires trust and training on the part of the horse. So don’t worry if you are having some issues here too! In the paragraphs ahead, I will go over some common problems and the best ways to fix them.
First we will start with the proper technique for the handler. When picking up your horse’s hoof, stand facing back towards his tail. Keep your feet pointed back and standing beside the horse, not underneath him. Keep your head up and be aware, so that if he makes a sudden move during the process you do not get hurt. Run the hand closest to the horse down his leg and squeeze right above the pastern joint. The cue to lift a foot is different for some horses, so you can also try squeezing the chestnut, pulling the feathers, or tapping the leg. If your horse still will not lift his foot, lean into his shoulder or haunch to push his weight onto the opposite leg, and get a little more demanding with your squeezing. When your horse does pick up his leg immediately grasp his hoof – do not try to hand onto his leg or his pastern, horses hate this. Holding the foot lower is more comfortable for the horse, however if he starts trying to pull it away, lift the leg straight up, it is much more difficult for the horse to pull his foot away in this lifted position.
So next, how to train your horse to pick up his feet. Young horses do not like having their legs lifted and hooves picked because one- you are a predator hanging onto their leg, and two-it is not comfortable for them to stand on three legs. Older horses may have been accustomed to hoof picking but then had a bad experience with a farrier and are now scared of the process. Either way, the technique to train them to pick up their feet quietly is almost the same. Start by making sure that the horse is calm to start off – spend some time grooming so that he is relaxed and has developed some trust for you. Next, see if you can run your hands down his legs without him getting nervous or moving around. If he does get nervous at this first step, stop here and spend time just petting his legs until he stands quietly. When you are ready to pick up the leg start with a squeeze or a tap above the fetlock. As soon as he picks up his foot, grasp the hoof, hold it only a few seconds, then release it and praise him profusely. Next time hold it a little longer, still trying to release before he starts fighting. If he does try to pull it away, lift the leg and hang on as best you can, but don’t get hurt. If he gets it away from you just start again. With a difficult horse, I don’t even bother trying to clean the foot. Just work on lifting and holding, then clean it when you are both more comfortable. The key here is slow and steady, increase the time the leg is in the air and use lots of praise.
One other note on horses that have had bad farrier experiences – I have found that many of these horses only react when you put the hoof between your legs, like a farrier does when he is working so that both hands are available to work on the hoof and the shoe. The best way to desensitize for this is to hold your horse’s feet in this way each time you clean them. However, this position puts you under the horse and in harm’s way, be very careful and aware anytime that you hold the hoof in this way.
If you have a hoof issue that I didn’t cover, or need further explanation on anything in this post, just leave a comment!