It is so important to get your horse use to having his legs touched and his feet picked up. More than likely you will at some point want to have your horse’s feet trimmed, and it’s also good practice to clean your horse’s hooves from time to time. If you are working with a colt that has never had his feet messed with, you probably don’t want to just run up to him and try to pick up his feet. Odds are you will scare your horse, and you may end up hurt.
Once my colt is okay with me brushing his legs, I start working on getting my colt use to more handling of his legs. What I have found works the best for the following is a nice soft cotton lead rope that is around 15 feet long. Your colt should be use to being touched with this rope on his legs if you properly desensitized him to it. If he is nervous about the rope go back and do a little more desensitizing. Horses tend to get a little nervous when we first start messing with their legs, so it is important to try to stay relaxed and calm when performing these exercises. If you try to rush this you will stress your horse, which will increase your odds of getting hurt.
To get started
Before I will ask my colts to pick up their legs for me I want to be sure they are comfortable with their legs being handled. I accomplish this by using my rope first then moving to using just my hands. By using the rope as an extension of my arms and hands, I can handle my horse’s legs while remaining at a safe position should the horse decide to kick. The following pictures are of me working on Cobain’s legs.
Notice when I start I’m standing slightly in front of his shoulder. I have a hold of the lead rope next to his head with one hand, and I am touching him with the tail end of the rope with the other. I’m making sure that he isn’t going to spook from the rope. I rub his shoulder with the rope, then move down to the outside of his leg. If he is remaining relaxed I see if he will let me rub the rope on the inside of his leg. If at any point he becomes a little nervous I just go back a step and restart from there.
Once he is okay with the rope touching the inside of his leg I go ahead and loosely put the rope around his leg. I then move the rope all the way up and down his leg a few times until he is completely relaxed with this process. If he is standing nicely and seems relaxed, I will remove the rope from his leg and step back a couple feed and let him stand. By letting him stand for a little bit, you give him a chance to process what has just happened. More than likely, after a couple of seconds he will like his lips (a sign that he is thinking), and if you are really lucky, he will let out a big sigh. Repeat with the legs.
If you are unsure about wrapping the rope around the back legs, you can use the alternate method of getting the rope around them. For this you will need something firm to drag the rope with such as a carrot stick. Stand by your horse’s shoulder and swing the rope so it wraps around the ankle of your horse. If you have properly desensitized this shouldn’t be a problem. If he seems a little jumpy just keep repeating until he relaxes. Also you want to take your stick and rub it on his leg to make sure he isn’t going to swat at it when you reach for the end of your rope (in the picture to the right I am using a whip, it happened to be what I had laying around handy) Okay now you want to swing the rope around your horse’s ankle so that enough of the tail is sticking out between his back legs that you can catch the end of it with your stick. Using your stick drag the end out towards you until it is far enough out that you can reach down and get the end. Make sure to keep a good grip on the end of the rope attached to the halter so you can pull your horse around if needed.
Giving to pressure
After the horse is comfortable with having the rope around his legs, I start applying pressure to his legs and asking him to give to that pressure by lifting his leg. I first do this using the rope and eventually move on to using my hand. Once again I will put the rope around my horse’s leg. Let it slide down around the fetlock. Then I apply constant pressure on the rope. For starters I ask the horse to give me his leg to the front. The instant the horse makes an effort to pick up his foot, release all pressure on the rope. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. Continue to repeat until your horse will pick up his hoof with the slightest amount of pressure. Then repeat with the other legs. At this point we aren’t asking him to hold them up for any period of time, we just want him to get the idea that when we apply pressure he should give to that pressure.
Finally Picking Up the Foot
After my horse is giving to pressure of the rope well, I start using my hands to ask him to actually pick up his feet. To start I position my self by his shoulder holding on to the lead rope with one hand. I then run my other hand down the leg I wish to pick up. If all goes well I apply a little forward pressure to his leg and he will pick up his foot. Then let him put it down right away. Then repeat, this time when he picks up his foot move it back and hold it up for a couple of seconds. You may have to start holding it low so your horse can keep his balance better, but eventually you should be able to lift it as you would if you were going to clean it. I work all of the feet this way, starting out with holding the foot up a second or two and then adding more time. The goal is to eventually be able to hold his foot up long enough to clean or trim it.