What to do when your horse won’t pick up his feet

 

Horsepeople know a lot about how horses think, and we can sometimes interpret their behaviors and make good deductions about what’s going on in their brains. BUT – every horse’s behavior, or lack of behavior, has multiple reasons. When your horse won’t pick up his feet, it’s time to play detective.  

 

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Is your horse just stubborn?

 

  • I’m unsure if attaching human descriptors to horse behavior is the best way to think about behavior challenges. While horses have personality traits, they function under a “pain or pleasure” mentality. Any stubbornness is a sign that while there may not be any pain, there is certainly no pleasure.  

 

  • When we anthropomorphize horses, we stop communicating with their way of existing. It’s time to back up a step and find a simple way to detective this. Is your horse dealing with a physical issue, or is he missing a reason to get pleasure?  

 

  • Meaning – Does your horse have a pleasant reason to pick up his hooves for you? What’s in it for him to cooperate? Certainly it’s not punishment, harsh words, or letting the hoof drop with a clunk.

 

farrier in cross ties

No hoof lifting, no farrier, no hoof, no horse.  

 

Why are horses hesitant to pick up their feet?

 

  • We can automatically assume that pain is quite a big reason for a horse to resist lifting a hoof. But, there’s also balance to think about. 

 

  • The partner leg carries the additional weight when a horse lifts a leg. Logic tells us that a sore partner leg comes from the hoof or leg itself, but it’s all connected. Horses with sore backs often appear lame behind, and sore necks interfere with shoulders and front limbs. A hesitancy to pick up one foot is part of the family of clues about your horse’s entire body.  

 

  • Balance problems interfere with a horse’s ability to remain safe and comfortable on three legs. Neurological diseases or accidents may also create this situation. String halt is a neuromuscular condition that creates an exaggerated snapping of the hind legs. You may see a horse glued to the ground, then suddenly lifting the leg too high. Sometimes this jerky action is seen upon release of the leg.

Help your horse pick up his feet

 

  • If you suspect your horse is painful, make him comfortable as you work around his hooves. Some things to consider:

 

  • For horses with chronic pain and degenerative conditions, his body needs to be comfortable. If possible, have your horse walk to loosen up. Talk to your vet about daily anti-inflammatory meds, also. You can also ice or warm up the legs beforehand to reduce stiffness and encourage movement. It’s an experiment of what your horse will like – cooling or heating. 

 

  • For sore hooves, keep your horse on a squishy surface. Soft mats and deep bedding are best. For longer farrier sessions, use squishy padded boots during trimming and farrier work to support the standing legs.

 

  • Help your horse balance by moving his body. Can you change the footing from a slippery concrete to something more grippy? Or, move his body so he faces uphill or downhill. Again, experiment here. You can also give your horse a wall to rest on as you pick hooves.  

 

horse-hoof-on-hoof-stand

Hoof stands help support the legs and give your horse some piece of mind.

 

Is it a training issue?

 

  • You may have a training issue if you can rule out pain, imbalance, and neurological issues. If you keep doing the same thing repeatedly, without good results as you train your horse, it’s time for a new approach. 

 

  • I will always advocate for slow and steady positive reinforcement training methods.

 

girl picking the front hoof of a horse with a blue hoof pick

Don’t want your horse to “fight” you?  Then don’t pick a fight.

 

These positive reinforcement training steps are easy, safe, and create trust. 

 

  • Begin with a reward that your horse likes. It could be praise, a treat, or a scratch in his favorite itchy spot.  

 

  • Then it’s up to you to reward every small step. Work on each step for a few moments a day; you never want to drill your horse. Build up over time. 

 

  • Reward when you can touch the leg up high, around the tendons, around the hoof.  

 

  • Then move on to grasping the pastern area as if you were asking for the hoof to lift. But don’t lift just yet. 

 

  • Then move on to asking for the hoof to come up for a second. If you want your horse to go from being touched to holding the hoof as you pick it out, chances are it’s not happening. Work up to holding the hoof for more extended periods. 

 

  • You can also teach your horse a word or short phrase as you ask for the hoof to lift. Using a bridge, like a clicker, alerts your horse to behavior well done before you waste precious seconds digging for a reward. It’s best to time the reward at the exact moment of the desired behavior. 

 

More horse training tips for picking up hooves

 

  • Give your horse a safe environment. No good happens when a nervous horse feels unsafe. Can your horse see other horses? Or be distracted by a hay net? Does he already have a full belly, or is he watching the hay wagon skip him?  

 

  • Avoid the pitfalls of labeling a horse as stubborn, and instead, focus on his health and comfort. Then you can build the trust needed to handle his hooves. They must understand that you are not there to harm them. Proper positive reinforcement training allows the horse to ask how they can help you.  

 

For more on rewards, this article has you covered. 

 

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Thank you!