Sometime picking up a horse’s hooves can intimidate some horse owners since a well-placed horse kick would really hurt! Such cautions are 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 its front so that he clearly knows you are there – you don’t want to surprise him. Place yourself even with its shoulder and make sure to face its rear; you will both be facing opposite directions during the hoof picking process.
Make sure that your feet aren’t too close to the horse’s hoof. Run your hand parallel to him starting from its shoulder and down along the length of its leg. finally stopping just above its ankle. Grasp the ankle portion gently, then click (or otherwise verbally cue him) to ask it to raise its leg. If it’s well trained, that small cue will be more than enough and it’ll do just what you requested. You’re now free to begin picking its hoof.
If your horse is being a bit stubborn or hasn’t learned how to pick up its legs yet try leaning into its shoulder as you run your hand down the back of its 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 (or make a clicking sound) so the horse later associates your sound with the requested response. Increase the weight you push against its shoulder until he finally lifts its 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 its cooperation, then run your hand along its back to its rear leg. Place yourself in the same position as you did with its 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 its leg. Rest its leg on your thigh, grab its hoof and gently flex it upwards. By doing this you lend him some support and more importantly the position of its leg and its 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. Great, you’re halfway done! The opposite side will be done exactly the same way, but try to return to its front and start the opposite side rather than move around its 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 its remaining three. At no time should the horse actually lean its weight on you! Even when you rest its 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 its hooves. This can be done by attaching its halter to cross ties or asking a partner hold your horse’s head. By controlling its head you ensure your horse can’t move away from you while you’re trying to pick its hooves, or worse, it could take a bite at your rear!