The idea of picking up a horse's hooves can intimidate some
owners since a well-placed horse kick would really hurt! Such
caution is good, but in reality if you pick up a horse's hoof
properly you provide him with no leverage or ability to kick
you. This is a situation where a person's worst fears can
cause him to imagine an incident that is highly unlikely to
occur with careful handling.
Here's how to safely pick up a horse's hoof:
Starting with the front hoof, approach your horse diagonally
from his front so that he clearly knows you are there – you
don't want to surprise him. Place yourself even with his shoulder
and make sure to face his rear; you will both be facing opposite
directions during the hoof picking process.
Making sure that your feet aren't too close to the horse's
hoof, start running the hand parallel to him down his shoulder
and along the length of his leg, finally stopping just above
his ankle. Gently grasp the ankle portion and click (or otherwise
verbally cue him) to ask him to raise his leg. If he's well
trained, that small cue will be more than enough and he'll
do just what you requested. You're now free to begin picking
If your horse is being a bit stubborn or hasn't learned how
to pick up his legs yet try leaning into his shoulder as you
run your hand down the back of his cannon bone. You can also
gently squeeze/pinch the tendons to further cue him to what
you would like. As you perform these physical cues make sure
you provide a verbal one also (I make a clicking sound) so
the horse later associates your sound with the requested response.
Increase the weight you push against his shoulder until he
finally lifts his leg as requested.
When picking a horse's hoof you want to remove all debris
from the hoof clefts as well as the rim and frog. Be careful
around the frog because it can sometimes be a bit sensitive,
particularly if the horse has thrush.
Once you have finished cleaning the front hoof carefully
guide it back to the floor; you don't want to allow the horse
to slam it, potentially hitting your foot in the process.
Praise your horse and pat him on the front shoulder a bit
so he understands that you are pleased with his cooperation,
then run your hand along his back to his rear leg. Place yourself
in the same position as you did with his front leg and do
the process over again.
There is a slight difference between lifting a rear foot
and front foot, even though your basic positioning and actions
are nearly identical. When you lift your horse's rear foot
he will probably give a little jerk that you might misinterpret
as a kick. This is a common reflex reaction among horses and
nothing for you to worry about.
Secondly, when you raise your horse's rear leg you'll want
to step into him a bit so that your hip is underneath his
leg. Rest his leg on your thigh, grab his hoof and gently
flex it upwards. By doing this you lend him some support and
more importantly the position of his leg and his flexed hoof
will prevent him from being able to kick you.
Clean the hoof, lower it cautiously as you did the first
and praise him. Congratulations – you're halfway done! The
opposite side will be done exactly the same way, but try to
return to his front and start the opposite side rather than
move around his rear. It's bad practice to approach or circle
all but the most trusted horses via the rear in such close
quarters since a horse would be within range to strike.
When lifting any hoof try to make sure your horse is properly
squared (balanced evenly on all four legs) so that when you
lift one hoof he can easily balance on his remaining three.
At no time should the horse actually lean his weight on you!
Even when you rest his rear leg on your thigh you're not allowing
him to use you as a crutch.
Once you have picked your horse's hooves a few times it will
probably become very simple and take less than 5 minutes to
clear all hooves. Most trained horses will raise their hoof
for you the moment they feel your leg run down their leg.
It is a very good idea to control your horse's head while
you are picking his hooves. This can be done by attaching
his halter to crossties or asking a partner hold your horse's
head. By controlling his head you ensure your horse can't
move away from you while you're trying to pick his hooves,
or worse… turn around and take a bite at your rear!
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About The Author
Jeffrey Rolo, owner of AlphaHorse and an experienced horse
trainer and breeder, is the author of the above article. You
will find many other informational articles dealing with horse
training and care as well as games and other horse fun on
his website: http://www.alphahorse.com