Ed Dabney Gentle and Natural Horsemanship Confidence Course. Step by step obstacles to develop confidence, trust, agility, awareness on part of horse.
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"Picking Up Hooves"

Note: This writing is a correspondence from Ed to a client concerning this topic.

Hi Sue,

As far as helping your horse accept the picking up and holding of her hooves:  To give her hoof to someone is a big trust issue for a horse.  As a prey animal, having use of their feet at all times is vital for fleeing danger and survival.  As you begin doing the Six Keys exercises with her you will be developing a relationship of respect and trust which will enable her to be more willing to give you her foot.

I would advise having your farrier slow down and take a little time to make friends with your horse.  He should just rub her all over with a steady rythym, find some itchy spots and do some brushing.  Maybe even lead her around, take her for a short walk and offer her a little of her feed in a bucket.  Then when he tries to pick up her feet he is doing so as a friend she knows and trusts instead of as a stranger who is trying to take her foot away.  He should be calm and patient with her, keep her foot as low and straight under her as possible and not try to hold it for a long time without putting it down to let her rest.  She will need to know that when he takes her foot he will give it back soon.  When he gives it back he should set it down easily, not just drop it.

To help prepare her for the farrier, you should spend plenty of time handling her feet. If it is difficult for you to pick up and hold her hoof, do so at first using an 8 - 10 foot length of thick cotton rope.  This type of rope will prevent rope burns.  Take a couple of wraps around the pastern with the middle of the rope, then hold both ends and gently and slowly pull her foot slightly off the ground with the rope.  Keep the foot low and directly under her.  Hold it for a second then let it right back down.  In this way she will learn to stand on three legs and to trust you to give her hoof right back to her.  Try to set it down before she gets upset or jerks it away.  At first you may have to set it down quickly, almost as soon as you pick it up.  That's ok.  As you continue to do this numerous times over several sessions you will gradually begin to be able to hold the hoof up for longer periods of time.  Using the rope to pick up the hoof will save your back and keep you away from possible flailing hooves. 

Throw out the old notion of having to hold the foot until she quits fighting.  This is not a battle.  Don't make it one or you will accomplish nothing more than teaching her how to beat you.  We are not physically superior to horses.  They will always win if we challenge them on a physical level.  Use your intellect, the only area in which we are superior to the horse, to help her through this difficult time in her life.  Be the patient, confident leader she needs and wants. 

If after all this patient work she continues to resist the farrier, give her something to do that is more work than resisting, for example asking her to do lots of backing with energy is a constructive consequence.  You will be making the right thing (standing calmly for the farrier) easy or comfortable and the wrong thing (resisting the farrier) difficult by causing her to have to work hard at backing up quickly.  Backing is always good for horses anyway.  Having a horse back up for misbehavior is like you having to do push ups for misbehavior.  It is constructive (good exercise) but not
necessarily something you would want to do.