You can convince your horse to allow you (or anyone) to easily handle his feet in only a few short sessions. You will need to pick up your horse’s feet countless times throughout his life. So this is a very valuable routine to get established.
Your horse may also need regular deworming. Here are some tips to make that easier: How To Deworm A Horse
First, your horse must be able to stand still. If he has a lot of excess movement, attempting to handle his feet will not end well. So get that skill firmly in place. Once your horse is haltered, he should stay where you put him. If he is antsy and wants to move, then simply put him to work moving more than he intended. Then offer the good deal of standing still again. Be extremely consistent about this until it becomes a habit.
Preparation For Handling The Front Feet
To be properly prepared to have his feet handled, your horse needs to be okay with merely being touched. If a light touch on his legs or feet causes anxiety, picking up the feet without a fight is a pipe dream.
Drape the lead rope over your arm. Do not tie the horse up. Stand by your horse’s shoulder. Use a flag or glove tied on the end of a lunge whip to gently rub the horse’s feet and legs. If the horse avoids this contact and begins walking around, don’t force him to stand still. Use the lead rope to keep his nose tipped towards you and go with him. Look for any signs of positive change and acceptance. Immediately reward his bravery by taking the flag away. Let him think about that for a second and then begin again. Do this on both the right and left sides.
Preparation For Handling The Hind Feet
Stand at the hip out of kicking range and use the flag or glove on the hind feet and legs. Be sure to keep his nose tipped towards you which will cause the hind end to track away from you if he decides to move around. Hang in there and go with him like you did for the front feet. When the horse makes a change, you make a change.
Once your horse is comfortable with all this, begin using your hand to rub his feet and legs. You would basically do the same thing, but use your hand in place of the flag or glove.
For more tips on desensitizing, grab my free flowchart here: Desensitizing Flowchart
Roping The Feet
This is an exercise I do with all my horses. It definitely makes handling the feet much easier. But it’s also a safety precaution. If your horse ever gets tangled up in some vines on the trail, or some wire in the pasture, this preparation will help the horse to relax instead of panic.
Use a soft lariat rope and do not wear gloves. This will ensure that you never put too much pressure on the horse’s foot. Put the end of the rope around the front foot. Stand back, facing the horse at an angle, and put some tension on the rope. As he resists yielding to the rope, keep your arm springy like a bungee cord. Any time the horse gives to the pressure, give him the foot back.
Play around with this until you can lead the horse by using a rope around any of his four feet. When the pressure tightens on the horse’s foot you want his first instinct to be yielding instead of resisting.
This is also great preparation for hobbling.
‘Roping The Feet’ video is included in your Buckaroo Crew membership: Buckaroo Crew
Ready To Pick Up The Feet
Reposition your horse’s weight so that it’s not primarily on the desired foot. My favorite method for picking up a foot is to begin above the fetlock and move my hand upward while lightly squeezing the back of the horse’s leg. The upward motion of your hand will encourage the horse to lift his foot. When he does lift it, immediately allow the toe to fall into your hand and bend it slightly up. This helps the horse keep his balance better than holding his leg in your hand.
Resistance To Handling The Feet
If the horse wants to take his foot away, let him have it. But put him to work and make him really hustle his feet with lots of direction changes. The point is not to get him tired. The point is to help him realize that allowing you to hold his foot is the best deal. Repeat this process until he allows you to hold his foot for at least a few seconds.
While you are holding his toe in your hand, stroke his leg and make that feel good. But don’t get greedy. At this point, the goal is to set the foot down before he decides to take it from you.
After the horse allows you to hold his foot without resistance, there are some things you can do to get him more sure about it. Tap on the foot with your other hand. Move the foot around and pretend to draw shapes in the air and on the ground. This will help eliminate all the braces.
Until the horse is pretty confident about having his feet handled, repeat this process often so that having all four feet picked up and held becomes easy and natural.
For more info on this topic, listen to my Podcast: Difficult To Trim/Shoe