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Safely Handling Your Horse’s Feet, by Ken McNabb



Ken-McNabb-horse-trainingDoes your horse refuse to stand for the  farrier? Do you struggle to pick up and clean his  feet?

This month, we will cover some exercises  to teach your horse to pick up his feet and stand  politely and quietly while you or you farrier works  with him. For these exercises, you will need a halter  with a 12′ lead rope and a hammer. I prefer a rope  halter and lead rope with no hardware, but  whatever halter you have can work. It is important  that the lead rope be 12′ in length. You don’t  need a special farrier’s hammer for these  exercises. Any carpenter’s hammer will  work.

There are two reasons your horse will  fight you when you try to handle his feet:  One, he is afraid of you or nervous about  you handling him. Two, he thinks that you  are going to take his foot away and he is not  going to be able to get it back.

Horses need  their feet to survive. In the wild, a horse who  can’t run is quickly eaten by a predator. It  takes trust for your horse to allow you to  pick up his foot and take away his ability to  run. It is important to keep these things in  mind as you work with your horse’s feet.

Begin this month’s exercise in a pen or  enclosed area. I like to start by working with  the hind feet, since they are the ones we  tend to be most nervous about.

Stand by  your horse’s shoulder, facing the back  towards the hind end as you would when  you are getting ready to pick up his feet. Hold the lead rope in the hand closer to  your horse, and place your hand with the  lead rope on his withers. There should not  be much slack in the rope leading from his  halter to your hand, but you don’t want to  hold so tight that you pull his head around  towards you. Hold the tail of the rope in your  other hand. Start swinging the rope, letting  it bump around your horse’s hind legs. Make sure the rope just bumps him and is gone  quickly. This allows your horse to feel the pressure  there and then gone, and builds your confidence.

Once your horse stands quietly for you to  swing the rope around his near hind leg, start  swinging the rope around so it bumps the far hind  leg as well. Use a nice, even swinging motion,  and keep your hand on the withers the entire time  so you stay out of kicking range. When your  horse is doing well on one side, switch sides and  repeat these exercises.

Next, move your  body back towards your  horse’s hind end. It is  very important that you  stand with your toes  pointed out away from  the horse at a ninety  degree angle. That way if he kicks you your  knees will just buckle in the direction they bend  naturally, rather than blowing out a tendon if he  were to kick you in the front or side of your knee. Stay in this position and run your hand quickly  and rhythmically down your horse’s hind leg,  starting at the hip. Only go a little ways down the  horse’s leg at first, then work from the top of the  hip again, going a little further each time until you  can run your hand all the way down to the hoof.

Once he is comfortable with this, pick up the leg  and hold it for a split second, then drop it immediately. This lets your horse know that you want  his foot, but you are not going to keep it.

Now,  hold it for a little longer, and let it drop. At this  point you should be lifting the leg in and up  towards the horse’s belly, not yet trying to bring it  out in back of him. The whole time, your knees  should still be pointed away from the horse as we  mentioned earlier. It feels a little awkward, but is  very important for your safety.

Take your time with  this lesson, breaking it down in to small pieces  over multiple days if you want to. Once your horse is comfortable with all the  previous exercises, you are ready to move on.

Pick his hind foot up, stretch it out behind him a  little, and rest it on your knee like the farrier  would. Ask him to let you do this for a very short  time at first, and ask for longer amounts of time  as he gets more comfortable. Take the end of  your lead rope, and tap it on the bottom of his  hoof like a hammer. Rub the rope around the  hoof like a farrier’s rasp. When he is comfortable  with that, take your hammer and start tapping the  hoof, just like your farrier does when he is putting  on shoes.

If at any point during this process your horse  tries to pull away from you, hold and wait until you  feel him relax, then release the foot you were  holding. If he gets his foot away from you, that’s  okay. Just immediately ask him to pick it up  again. If he is really trying hard to take his foot  away, you can longe him for a few minutes, then  let him stand and rest and return to handling his  feet. Repeat all the exercises you used on the  hind feet on both front feet.

To ask your horse to  pick up his front foot, run your hand down his leg,  and push on the back of his knee with your elbow. Remember to be sure you can put the front feet  between your knees and tap on them with the  hammer just like your farrier.

When your farrier is working with your horse,  keep these tips in mind: Always stand on the  same side of the horse that the farrier is working  on. If you are on the opposite side from the farrier  and your horse blows up, he will have nowhere to go except over the top of you. Also, if  your horse does act up while having his feet  worked on, stay calm and quiet. Your horse will  reflect your emotions, and will stand much better  if you are dealing with him in a calm manner.

Always remember to enjoy your horses, and  may God bless the trails you ride. For more information on Ken McNabb’s  programs call us at 307-645-3149 or go to  

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 12.]


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