Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Picking up Your Horse's Feet - Some Easy TIps and Steps

Pick Up Your Feet - Please!
By Lindsey Partridge (formerly Forkun), www.PartridgeHorseHill.com

This week I had someone asking me about how to get their horse to pick up their hooves more easily. The answer is one of good timing and patience.

When working with horses it is important to remember that it's usually best if you work in baby steps. Don't expect your horse to pick up their feet and hold them up politely for 5 minutes right away, instead work on picking up feet for a few seconds at a time.

Horses need to know that they are doing the 'right' thing - so you need to reward often. Depending on what you are doing the reward will be different, but the reward is always in the release of pressure. When picking up hooves, the release would be letting the foot be put back on the ground.

Here are simple and easy steps to making picking up hooves easy:
1) Make sure you can rub your horse's leg all the way from the shoulder to the hoof without any anxiety. If the horse starts to dance around or get tense, continue practicing desensitizing the horse until they stand still. When the horse stands still you should reward them by stopping rubbing their leg.
2) Desensitize your horse to a rope being put around one of their legs at a time. Rub the rope up and down their leg.
3) Teach your horse to lift their hoof. It can be easier to do this by putting a rope around your horse's pastern (below their fetlock/ankle) and pull on the rope to lift their hoof rather than bending over all the way and using your hand. Just be careful the rope doesn't get wrapped around the horse's leg. Ask the horse to lift the hoof and then immediately put slack in the rope or gently let go of the hoof. Don't ask the horse to keep their hoof up, just ask them to lift.
4) Then teach your horse to lift their hoof longer. After the horse understands 'lift' on all 4 hooves, then you can start asking the horse to keep their hoof up for longer. Start with a short amount of time like 5 seconds. If the horse struggles or tries to toss their hoof around, try your very best to hold onto the hoof (or keep pressure with the rope on the leg if you are using the rope). If you pull the hoof up really high it is harder for the horse to scramble free. It is important that the horse's hoof stay up and only released when the horse is standing quietly and relaxed with their hoof. If the horse scrambles and gets their hoof free then they will learn that it is a good thing to scramble and kick their hoof free because it gave them a release in pressure (i.e you dropped the hoof). Try to release the horse's hoof in the exact right moment of the horse being quiet and still - if you have a very anxious or impatient horse don't expect them to be still for very long, accept just 1 second of being still and quiet and then reward them by releasing their hoof. This is why using a rope can make it easier (it can be difficult to try and hold onto a kicking hoof with your hand, but a rope is much easier to hang onto and release in the right moement).
5) Gradually build up the horse's tolerance. Depending on the horse will depend on how long it takes before you can hold a hoof up for several minutes. Over several tries ask your horse to hold their hoof up for longer periods of time and only put the hoof down when the horse is still and quiet. Even if the horse can pick their hoof up for a long time, sometimes it is good to pick up the hoof and only hold it for a short time (a couple seconds) so that the horse keeps paying attention but also so the horse doesn't think that every time he picks up his hoof it will have to be up for a long time.

Extra Tips:
- If your horse really doesn't like to stand still, why fight with him? Try making it your horse's idea to stand still either by doing some ground work and free lunging first to let your horse get his play and friskiness out, or by giving him his dinner while you do his feet - this way you can make it so your horse wants to stand still.
- Remember horse's gain confidence when they can go back to their 'safe place' - this means that a horse that likes to have all 4 feet on the ground will be more relaxed if you only ask for him to hold his feet up a short time and then let him put his foot down. It would be easier for the horse to pick up his foot, let you clean a little out, put the foot down, then pick it up again, let you finish cleaning, and put it down again, etc, rather than just keeping the foot up for the entire cleaning.
- Horses usually stand on 4 feet, so make it easier on your horse to stand on 3 legs by keeping him on level ground, and making sure his other legs are positioned in a way that is comfortable to stand on 3 feet. This is another reason why picking up the hoof for short amounts of time works well (it allows the horse to re-balance their feet if needed).
- The higher you pick up a horse's foot the harder it is for them to kick it free, but also the higher you lift a horse's foot usually the harder it is for them to balance. When you first start lifting a horse's feet, try not to lift them too high.

I hope this helps you with your horse's hooves!

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