Horse Training: 7 Essential Steps for Safely Handling Your Horse’s Feet

Handing your horse’s feet regularly is necessary for his health and wellbeing. But did you know that how well your horse behaves about having his feet handled is also a sign of how much he trusts you?

It takes a huge amount of trust for your horse to be relaxed while having a foot held. As a flight animal your horse’s natural instinct is to resist having his feet restricted in any way.

If your horse won’t let you handle his feet or behaves badly when you try, it is not only frustrating it can also be dangerous.

Follow these tips if you are nervous about handling your horse’s feet or if your horse has any of these or similar behaviours:

  • refuses to lift his foot
  • slams his foot down as soon as you pick it up
  • leans his weight on you when you pick up his foot
  • rears, strikes or kicks when you try to pick up a foot or touch his leg

Follow these tips to help your horse pick up his feet willingly and safely.

Set up for Success: Always work with your horse in a quiet area where you are both away from distractions so you can focus on each other. If you tie your horse, always use a quick release clip or not and have the tie long enough so his neck can be level.

Establish your personal space. Horses determine their place in the herd by who move who. Respectfully ask your horse to move out of your space. If your horse responds aggressively (biting, striking or kicking), get help from a professional horse trainer.

Build trust about being touched everywhere. Using a whip to extend your reach, stroke your horse gently starting on his withers and shoulder then down his front leg finishing by tapping the hoof. Next, stroke along his back, barrel, and croup then down his haunches and back legs tapping the hoof. Pay attention to your horse’s body language. If he shows signs of stress, return to somewhere that he was comfortable until he relaxes again.

Balance matters. Your horse is balanced when he is standing with his feet square and under him. When he is standing square, ask him to shift his weight off the leg you want him to pick up. As he lifts the foot, support the fetlock and hoof with your cupped hand. Keep the foot lined up with the knee to avoid pulling on the shoulder, knee or fetlock. Gently lower the foot to the ground placing the toe down being careful not the drop it.

Prepare for picking and trimming. At first, only hold the foot up an inch or two for a second or two. Gradually increase the height and the length of time. When your horse comfortably holds his foot up for about 30 seconds, gently brush ad then tap the sole with your hand, a brush or a hoof pick.

Protect your back. When handling your horse’s feet, keep your knees bent and your weight shifted slightly more over your outside leg (farthest from your horse). Stand close to your horse but be aware of where your feet are to avoid being stepped on. Your horse can’t see your feet.

Quality is more important than quantity. The length of your sessions is less important than the quality of the experience for your horse. The goal is for him to be calmer at the end of the session than he was at the beginning.