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When Your Horse Won’t Pick Up Its Hooves

Cleaning out a horse’s hooves is not the most fun part of grooming a horse, but it is very important that it is done regularly. Unfortunately, not all horses like having their hooves handled, and some just like to test people whenever they can. In these cases, cleaning a horse’s hooves can become what feels like a never-ending struggle. Some horses need more time and patience to learn that you are not going to hurt them, and others will need to understand that you won’t give up easily. Here, we have gathered some tips for both types of horses.

In this article, you’ll learn more about how to:

Horses that hate picking up their hooves for cleaning are a pain- here are some strategies that work.

Use Repetition and Rewards with Less Handled Horses

If your horse is young, has not had their hooves handled regularly, or has been treated badly, leading them to being untrusting, they may struggle with letting people pick their feet up. It will take a lot of work and time to build trust with them and teach them that it is okay to have their hooves handled. It is best to start out slowly with them.

Ask for a little improvement at a time, even if it is just them shifting their weight to the other foot when you ask them to pick one up. Then reward them for their effort. This reward can be pats and praise, scratches, or treats; although, relying too much on treats as rewards comes with its own set of problems to take into consideration. 

Repeating the action and rewarding them afterward will help them understand that you are not going to hurt them. Keep asking for their foot the same way each time so that they learn the cue. Try to make it a stress-free experience for them. They are likely to be confused as to what you are asking of them at first, but with consistency and staying calm they will learn it. 

3 Tricks to get a horse to lift their foot

Horse people aren’t above a little hack here and there to trick a horse into picking their foot up. Here are 3 popular maneuvers:

Try Tapping Above the Fetlock with the Hoof Pick

If your horse knows how to pick their feet up, but is refusing to do it for you, there are several tricks you can try to get them to respond. One is to try tapping their leg just above the fetlock with the end of the hoof pick. Ideally, use the round side so you do not accidentally stab them with it.

If they do not pick up their foot after a few taps, begin tapping a little harder, and continue tapping in the same place while increasing the tapping. The repeated tapping will cause them discomfort, which will encourage them to lift their foot. If your horse does not respond to this method after a few attempts, it may be time to move on to another tactic. 

Lean into Them and Use Your Elbow

When you bend down to pick up their hoof, you try leaning into them a bit to push their weight onto their other hoof. You can even use your elbow to push into their cinch area to encourage them to shift their weight over. Once their weight has shifted to the other foot, the hoof you are trying to pick up may be easier to lift.

One risk with this method is that some horses will try to push back when you lean into them. This tends to happen a lot once you have gotten their hoof picked up, and they will then start shifting their weight onto you. You may need to use your elbow again to remind them to keep their weight shifted the other way.  

Ask Them for a Step Back and Catch the Hoof

Another tactic is to ask them to take a step back, then grab their foot when they lift it off the ground. This is not the easiest option, especially if your horse tends to slam their foot down. It is very important to keep your own feet out of the way to avoid being stepped on. Also, be careful with your hands, as the horse may yank their foot away before slamming it down. Don’t try to hold on if that is the case, as you may also risk getting your hand stepped on. 

Use a Rope to Lift Their Foot

A girl holds a horse's hind foot for cleaning.

Some people will use a soft rope around their horse’s leg to give them better leverage, and is also helpful if you are not able to bend all the way down. It is best to work with your horse beforehand to make sure they are comfortable having a rope wrapped around their legs.

Horses who are not used to this are prone to panicking when they feel the rope at their feet, and it could become a dangerous situation, especially if they are tied up. Do some groundwork with your horse first to get them used to the rope and work on using it to lift their feet in an arena before trying it while they are tied up. 

Once your horse is completely desensitized to the rope at their feet, you start using it to lift its hooves. Loop the rope around their fetlock and apply pressure to the rope from the direction you want them to lift it. The feeling of the rope tightening at the back of their fetlock should be uncomfortable enough for them to decide to lift their foot. Make sure not to tie the rope around their leg in case they panic and get away from you. The rope should come right off if you drop it. 

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, horses don’t understand that we need to pick up and clean their hooves for their well-being. Lifting hooves is essential for checking the fit of horse shoes and for farrier visits. It can be incredibly frustrating when your horse refuses to pick up their hooves, and sometimes it feels like they are being stubborn just for the fun of it. Staying consistent and not giving up is the best way for them to learn that picking up their feet is the easier solution. 

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