Teaching A Horse To Pick Up Feet

Teaching a horse to pick up their feet is not as difficult as people think. In fact, it’s surprisingly simple. In this guide, you will learn how to get your horse to pick up their feet quickly and easily. A good barefoot horse should be picking up their feet at all times during the day without being taught, but there are times when a horse will forget to pick up their feet like when they first wake up or after they’ve been turned out. There are also times that it’s necessary to pick up a horse’s foot whether it be for health reasons or for trimming. But just as with everything else, once a skill is learned, it is much easier to have it repeated. Therefore, teaching a horse to pick up its feet is something that should be done daily. By doing this, when you need your horse to lift his foot or the barefoot specialist is trimming the feet, he will already have the skills needed for the job.

There’s an awful lot of horse owners and new horse owners out there who have a hard time teaching their horses to pick up their feet. Sometimes, they just naturally don’t know how to respond. Or they learn one way, but fail when something isn’t done in that precise order. Or the person yelling “pick it up” or “lift it” has never really demonstrated what they want, so the horse doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Teaching a horse to pick up feet is a task that should be undertaken with care. You can do this by putting the horse on cross-ties and letting it stand for about ten minutes. Then, reach into the horse’s mouth with a sponge or rag and rub the underside of its upper lip. This will help to relax the horse’s jaw muscles and make it easier for you to pick up its feet.

When you’re ready to start picking up the horse’s feet, hold one foot in your hand and gently apply pressure until it’s flat on the ground. Then, move on to the other foot, continuing until all four are flat on the ground. Once you’ve done this with all four feet, keep repeating this process until the horse has picked up each foot several times in succession.

Once you think your horse has gotten the hang of picking up its feet when prompted, try putting it back into its stall or pen so that it can practice on its own time!

Teaching a horse to pick up its feet can be a time-consuming process, but it is not impossible. The first thing you need to do is decide if the horse will be trained from the ground or in the saddle. If you are going to train him from the ground, then you will want a helper on hand to hold his head and keep him still while you work with one foot at a time.

If you plan on training your horse while mounted, then your job will be easier because you can use pressure and movement of your body as leverage to get him to pick up his feet. You may have to start off with just one foot at a time before moving on to all fours, but this should not take long if you are consistent in your approach. When he picks up one foot correctly, reward him immediately with praise or treats so he knows what behavior is expected of him.

When he picks up both feet correctly, reward him again with praise or treats so he associates picking up his feet with something pleasant happening for him!

Teaching A Horse To Pick Up Feet

If your horse isn’t picking up his feet, the first thing to figure out is why. The most common reasons I see when working with horses are lack of, or improper training, fear, pain or discomfort.

It’s important to remember that as prey/flight animals, horses are naturally worried about having their feet restrained in any way. So, all training requires patience and empathy that builds trust and allows the horse feel safe.

If your horse used to willingly pick up his hind feet and not lifting them up easily is a change in behaviour, it’s possible that he recently had a negative or painful experience. Or picking up his feet has become uncomfortable or painful due to joint, muscle or foot pain. If this is the case, eliminate any possible sources of pain or discomfort before beginning to re-train your horse to pick up his feet.

In all training, patience and consistency are key for long-term success and building a positive partnership with your horse. Avoid looking for quick fixes or using aversive methods. Instead, establish these foundations:

1. Safety and comfort. Both you and your horse need to feel calm. Work with him in a place where he is relaxed, so that he can stand quietly and you won’t be distracted.

If you tie your horse, use a quick release clip or knot and allow him to stand (poll level with withers).

2. Balance. In order to lift a foot easily, your horse must be standing balanced with his weight evenly distributed on all four feet, his shoulders and hips aligned with each other. Practice this posture every time you groom him. Calmly re-establish this level, balanced frame whenever he changes it. Encourage him to lower his neck without force (no pulling or pushing) by gently rocking his head side to side (to loosen his poll) with a slight downward pressure on the cross-ties, lead rope or directly on the check pieces of his halter.

If your horse is very anxious or excited, he may not be able to maintain this posture for longer than a few seconds.

3. Comfort with touch. Pay attention for signs of tension as you gently stroke your horse all over his body. Big signs include ear pinning, air biting, clamped or swishing tail, high head, head bobbing quickly up and down, threatening to kick. Subtler signs include holding his breath, not blinking, tight mouth, tense muscles and moving away from you. As soon as you notice any of these signs, stop touching him, encourage him back into a calm frame, then start gently stroking him again where he was most comfortable with being touched going more slowly into a new area. Always return to where he is most comfortable at any sign of tension.

Handling The Foot

Rather than thinking of “picking up” your horse’s foot, think of asking him to lift it so that you can then support it. He gives you the foot rather than you taking it.

Stand beside your horse (facing toward his tail) at a slight angle to him so that you’re neither facing directly toward him nor perpendicular to him. Place your nearest hand at the top of his leg then gently slide it down the back of his leg and around to the inside until your hand is at his pastern. Keep a consistent, light pressure. No gripping.

As your hand moves down his leg, bend your knees and keep balanced over both feet with slightly more weight on your back foot. This stance protects your back from strain, allows you to move quickly out of the way if necessary, and avoids pulling on the leg.

If, once your hand is at his pastern, your horse does not shift his weight off his foot, use the fingernails of the same hand to gently scrape upwards along the inside of the cannon bone.

Do not try to lift his foot. Wait for him to lift his foot on his own. You may only get a weight shift at first. Reward this effort by releasing his leg and offering a scratch or treat.

Repeat several times if necessary. If your horse still does not shift his weight or pick up his foot, gently rock your shoulder into his upper leg – rocking on and off.

When your horse lifts his foot, hold and support the fetlock and hoof with both hands. Do not attempt to lift his leg up. Simply support it an inch or so off the ground, keeping the natural alignment of the leg so the joints are not stressed.

After a second or two, lower the foot and gently place it on the ground. Do not drop it. Reward your horse.

Gradually increase the height and the length of time you hold the foot up, paying attention to your horse’s comfort level.

Short and frequent training sessions are the most effective (e.g. two or three five-minute sessions spread out over a day). Don’t rush the process or leave out any steps. Remember patience, empathy and consistency are key to creating long-term behavioural change and building a positive partnership with your horse.

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