From Horse and Rider - UK. Jan. 2016
LIFTING HORSE'S FEET
ASKING A HORSE TO PICK UP ITS FEET CAN SOMETIMES BECOME MORE STRESSFUL THAN IT NEEDS TO BE. JASON WEBB EXPLAINS HOW YOU CAN TEACH A HORSE TO PICK ITS FEET UP.
You may occasionally find yourself in a position where you can't get your horse to pick up his foot. It could be the first time he's been asked to do it and he doesn't understand what you're asking, or he won't pick it up because he's nervous or just stubborn. Another complicating matter is that, as a flight animal, holding one leg in the air leaves your horse in a compromised position, so allowing you to hold his leg up requires him to feel calm and trusting in his environment. It can be frustrating when he doesn't pick up his feet when you ask, but going back to the start and retraining him is the key.
First things first
Before you start trying to pick up your horse's feet, you need to prepare him for being touched and handled all over his body, and make sure he is comfortable with this. A safe way to do this is to use a long rope. To desensitize your horse to the rope, stand at his shoulder and get him used to the feeling of the rope over his neck, back and around each leg. If he reacts, go back a step and try just stroking him with the rope in your hand, and slowly progress to allowing it to hang.
When he is comfortable with the rope, the safest way to introduce hand-like contact is to start with a soft pole. This is especially useful if he appears nervous. Use the soft pole as an extension of your arm, starting where your horse is comfortable (usually on his neck) and progressing the stroking with the soft pole down your horse's leg, on all sides, until he is comfortable with you doing so. Begin with his front legs and progress onto his back legs. You don't want him to react to the touch of the pole because you don't want him to think that every time you touch his leg he needs to pick it up. You need a different cue for that. This might take a few days, but be patient and don't rush. The length of the soft pole allows you to stand in a safe position where you can step away if there is a problem.
Jason Webb is an Australian horseman. He was taught how to back horses using methods handed down through generations of horsemen in his family, and has gained a reputation for producing calm, well-mannered horses, and for having an ability to turn around horses with severe behavioural and ridden problems.
Time to transfer
When your horse has learnt that it's okay for you to touch his leg and that he doesn't need to react, the next stage is to teach him to transfer his weight from one leg to another. When you ask some horses to pick up their leg, they haven't transferred their weight properly, so they just lose balance and stamp it back down or don't lift at all.
To teach your horse to transfer his weight, start by standing at his head and loop the rope around his front leg, then let it drop to his pastern. Apply pressure to his fetlock by gently pulling on the rope and eventually, in order to release the pressure, he will transfer his weight and lift his leg. When he has lifted it, release the pressure and allow him to put it down again, then praise him. If he doesn't respond to your initial gentle tug on the rope, increase the pressure slowly and wait until he does. As you keep practising, the pressure cue will become less. If
he overreacts and snatches his leg up, don't worry, keep practising and he will become less reactive.
When using this technique on a hindleg, start the process by looping the rope above your horse's hock. Starting above the hock allows your horse to get used to the feeling of the loop and if he reacts and kicks out, the rope will be easier to hold. The aim at this point is for him to settle while feeling the pressure from the rope and get him to take a step forward. If your horse overreacts, you can let go of the rope and go back to desensitizing. When your horse is accustomed to the rope around his back leg, you can lower it to the pastern. Apply a little bit of pressure, then when he picks it up, allow him to put it back down. When your horse is reacting consistently and correctly to the feeling of a light and consistent pressure, you will find that he'll stand resting that leg. This is when you can be sure that your horse has transferred his weight and you can start introducing your hand.
'When you first start using your
hand, start with your hand on
your horse's shoulder to avoid
Taking it into your own hands
The next stage of retraining is introducing your hand to apply the pressure cue and supporting the leg when it's lifted. When you first start using your hand, start with your hand on your horse's shoulder to avoid surprising him and check he's standing in a good position. Then run your hand down his front leg and apply pressure behind his fetlock. When he picks it up, hold his foot rather than his leg. Be careful not to hold it for too long and to put it back down, let his foot fall. Holding his foot as he puts it down will teach him that he can push your hand down and he will learn to lean. With his back leg, put one hand near your horse's hip and make your way down his leg with the other. If he feels tense, you will be able to feel it in the hand on your horse's hip first. If he walks away, go back to using the rope so that you can move with him and reward him for stopping. If your horse feels tense when you lift his leg, give him a moment until he relaxes and let his leg fall. Be persistent and consistent with this plan, and in time you will have a polite horse with easy-to-pick-up feet. ■
I'M QUITE SURE THIS ALL WORKS. IF YOU HAVE TIME YOU CAN "HOOK UP" WITH THE HORSE, GET HIM TO KNOW YOU ARE HIS FRIEND, WHERE HE FEELS "AT HOME WITH YOU" AS WE SAY. BE ABLE TO BRUSH HIM ALL OVER INCLUDING HIS LEGS. BE ABLE TO PUT YOUR HAND ALL OVER HIM INCLUDING HIS LEGS. HE'S NOW RELAXED, TRUSTING YOU, HOWEVER LONG IT TAKES. THEN VERY OFTEN WITH A HORSE RELAXED AND CONFIDENT IN YOU, YOU CAN RUN YOUR HAND DOWN HIS FRONT LEG TO THE ANKLE, AND WITH YOUR FINGER TIPS, SQUEEZE HARD ENOUGH [A LITTLE PINCH], PUSHING YOUR SHOULDER ON HIS SHOULDER TO MOVE HIS WEIGHT OVER TO THE OTHER LEG, AND MOST OF THE TIME THE HORSE WILL LIFT ITS FOOT. AS HE LIFTS SAY THE WORD "UP" - YOUR VOICE TRAINING HIM TO LIFT HIS FEET. YES DON'T HOLD HIS FOOT UP VERY LONG AT FIRST, YOU CAN EXTEND THE LENGTH OF TIME, OVER TIME.
ON THE BACK FEET THE BASIC SAME AS THE FRONT, ONLY KEEP CLOSE TO HIS LEG, IF HE WANTS TO KICK OUT SOME, HE WILL PUSH YOU AND NOT KICK YOU, IF YOU ARE IN CLOSE TO HIS LEG. IF YOU ARE NOT CONFIDENT DOING THIS ON THE BACK LEGS, THEN INDEED USE THE ROPE WAY. I PERSONALLY HAVE USED OVER THE YEARS, THE WAY I'M DISCUSSING IT.
THE BIG KEY THIS WAY IS TO HAVE THE HORSE "HOOKED UP" WITH YOU - FRIENDS WITH YOU, TRUSTING YOU.
FOR HOME BORN FOALS, AFTER THEY ARE WEANED OFF THEIR MOTHER, THIS IS THE BEST TIME TO HALTER BREAK AND TEACH TO PICK UP THEIR FEET…..AFTER THEY GET IT ALL, DO IT ONCE A WEEK FOR A NUMBER OF WEEKS, THEN SAY ONCE A MONTH, UNTIL THEY ARE READY TO BREAK FOR RIDING. ONCE FULLY LEARNED THEY WILL REMEMBER JUST FINE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE VOICED TRAINED FOR THE FEET WITH THE WORD "UP" - MY HORSE GOLDIE WAS TAUGHT THAT WAY - SHE PICKS HER FEET UP WITH THE WORD "UP" AS MY HAND GOES DOWN TO HER FOOT - Keith Hunt