Training your horse to get over problems with having his foot picked can be a little quirky sometimes, especially if you are not sure of what to do. So, how do you handle it?
Typically, your horse will have one of two evasions to allowing you to handle his hoof. Either he will pretend to have a stone leg that is impossible to lift or he will jerk the foot up quickly and then smash it back down immediately and maybe even lurch forward forcefully.
The first step in preventing this behavior involves outfitting the horse in a halter and lead. For better control, use either a knotted rope-halter or a chain shank that is appropriately attached to a leading leather halter. You will probably also need a capable pair of extra hands to hold the horse in a very wide aisle for you. It is also important that the friend holds the horse facing in his stall’s corner in case he happens to try bolting forward.
PRECAUTION: Both of you need to also be wearing either paddock boots or sturdy shoes for protection against any inadvertent hoof misstep.
Now, ask the horse to pick up one of his legs, more so the one that is noticeably easy for him. Often, your horse will have a foot that he is accustomed to pick up quite easily, most likely a front leg, as opposed to the other foot that he does not allow to be lifted easily. Take time to practice picking up the easy foot for a while before moving on to the more difficult leg. Keep your horse motivated by rewarding him whenever he accomplishes this well.
As you help your horse learn to lift his legs, there is one reliable trick I would like to teach you. Try pinching together both sides of the chestnut on the leg that you are helping him to lift. He will most probably respond to your pinching by lifting the foot.
TRIVIA: No vet was able to give any conclusive physiological explanation for this horse behavior but it sure works perfectly!
Another way you can help your horse pick up his leg is by slightly leaning against his shoulder. This helps shift his weight away from the leg that you are trying to lift. Once you feel him leaning away from your body, pick up his leg. You could also enhance this further by softly pinching the lower tendon running along the back of the leg. Once the horse has lifted up his foot, ask your helper to praise him effusively by, for instance, using pats on the back, a soothing voice or a treat. Then release the lifted foot to gently touch the ground and repeat. At first, do not require your horse to hold his foot up for long until he has learned to do it well.
In case he tries to stomp the foot back down, do not let it go however hard he will tries to pull it away from your grip. Your helper comes in handy here because if the horse is unable to move forward, he will have very little chance of pulling his leg away from your hand. Do not be too hard on him; you just need to hold the leg for a short while before releasing it. This way, your horse will also learn that he just cannot jerk the foot away from you whenever. Once this is done, you can then reward him for good behavior and allow him to put the foot down.
Sometimes during this process, your horse may visibly become upset or even try kicking at you. If this happens, you will first need to calm him down and bring him back to a more relaxed state of mind. Once again, it is good -- and safer -- to be honest about your ability. In case you find it difficult to hang on to his foot when he tries pulling it away from your grip, it is advisable to seek the help of a more experienced helper or professional trainer.
Another way that your horse can resist you is by trying to move back away from you when you are picking up his leg. You can minimize this by positioning him in his stall such that his rear end faces its corner, or by shutting the back doors of your barn and asking your helper to hold the horse in the aisle with his back end facing the door so that he is not able to escape.
In order for your horse to get used to picking up his legs and adopting it in his daily life, repeat the training sessions regularly. With time, you can start to gradually lengthen the time that you ask him to hold his foot up.
Soon, you will realize that your horse will be truly relaxed about the entire leg-lifting idea. Then, you can start to lightly tap on the lower part of his hoof so as to make him ready for the farrier. For the tapping, initially you can use your knuckles before subsequently moving to using a small hammer. Even if you do not have any plans to shoe him, eventually you will still need to trim his feet, therefore gradually introduce him to the touching of his hoof with a rasp until he gets used to this.
TRIVIA: For this task, you can request your farrier for an old, dull rasp to use for this last step of training or you can even try to ask him to work with you on this one!
Problems such as your horse refusing to pick up his hoof during training are easily avoidable if you handle your foals properly from a very tender age. You can start picking up your foal’s leg as early as when he is a day or two old. As you grasp the fetlock, gently put some pressure on the back of his knee using your elbow. This way, the baby should be able to instantly lift his foot from the ground. Due to the fact that a young foal has, obviously, a tenuous sense of balance, do not require him to hold his leg too high or too long for his comfort. Be sure to work with both the front and back legs of a youngster.
Your horse will easily learn to pick up his foot and make it a tireless routine if only you are patient enough and you take time to train him appropriately.
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