Won’t Pick Up Front Feet
We asked horse training expert Rhett Russell.
Hi my name is Dorie. I have a five-year-old mare and she will not pick up her front feet for me to clean or to check them. I have tried everything. When I pick one up, she will throw her foot forward making me drop it. I don’t have the same problem with the back ones. She allows me to clean them anytime. Any suggestions?
You “own” our horse’s feet. We mean this in the context that when you ask our horse’s to do something with their feet, you should expect them to comply. When the horse is out on their own or in the herd, the feet are theirs. While you are sitting on your horse, if you were to ask your horse to pick up any foot and move it – could you? Can you pick up your horse’s feet on the ground and set them down without getting into a struggle? How does your horse behave with the farrier? These are all extremely important things. The movement of the horse’s feet are directly related to how the horse thinks about any given situation. If your horse is not comfortable in his mind, he’ll be braced/resistant or the flight response is likely to take over and you won’t be working with the horse, you’ll be working against him.
On the ground, we start by picking up each foot with a lead rope and placing it somewhere else — it really doesn’t matter where. You could also have someone hold your horse with a halter/lead and use any soft rope for this exercise. You can even just pick it up and set it back down in the same spot. Notice from this picture that I am standing about 3 feet off the horse’s shoulder — out of harms way if something were to go wrong you aren’t going to be underneath the horse. We want to the horse to understand that we can move “their” feet. Remember, these feet belong to us and we can do what we want with them, the horse just may not believe this yet. We work on each foot with this technique until we can easily (softly) move them. It doesn’t matter which feet you start with, but the end result should be that you can pick up the foot and move it with about an ounce of pressure (pull in this case) on the rope.
We then move on to picking up each foot by hand. You’re probably thinking “big deal, I pick up my horses feet all the time!” When asking for a foot you don’t want to the horse to anticipate and give you it’s foot until you ask. There are numerous ways to do this; we like to start by asking for the front foot and slightly pushing the horse off balance (at the shoulder with our body or shoulder) a bit to adjust their weight to the other three feet at the same time. This gets them used to the idea that they need to adjust themselves to you. Make sure you reward the horse for doing what you asked. Even something this simple justifies a reward, how else is the horse going to know that it did what you asked? After we get the horse to adjust its weight when we ask for a foot, we start working on a cue for the horse to release the weight off it’s foot and let you pick it up. Again, don’t let the horse anticipate you and lift their foot prematurely. We like to hold the hoof and ask for the foot with a little upward pressure (following a feel). There are other cues that you can use, we just like this one.
CAUTION: There is some risk involved in horse training for both you and the horse. Horses can cause serious injury. Be sensible and donÕt attempt anything that is outside your comfort level. This information is intended to illustrate how we apply our training techniques, you are responsible for using this information wisely. If you donÕt feel comfortable with your abilities or an exercise, donÕt do it! Seek advice or assistance from a professional horse trainer.
Good Luck — Rhett Russell