The last thing you want is for yourself or your horse to get injured, and as far too many people know, farrier problems can pose great risks! Some horses are more tricky to pick up their front feet, but more commonly it’s the back feet. Of course, the problem may not be related in any way to picking up the feet, it could be fear of the smoke, or the hammering, or something completely different, but here I discuss how you can help overcome difficulties picking up the feet.
The first thing is being able to stroke all the legs, inside and outside. I saw a lady get kicked once because she was pointing out something on the inside of her foal’s cannon bone, and she went straight to the area she was mentioning, touching it, without running her hand down the horse’s leg. Teach yourself to always begin your touch well above the leg, on the shoulder or the quarter muscles, and gradually run your hand down to where you need to be. Use a fake arm or feather duster if your horse is particularly sharp, both to save the risk of getting kicked in the hand, and to save your back from having to bend down so much! Use the principles of pressure and release to work with the horse’s innate understanding of positive and negative reinforcement. This will help him to learn more quickly what is expected of him, and to do so in a relatively relaxed way. Personally I prefer a feather duster just because it’s lighter, both for me to hold, and if the horse kicks at it. You may have to begin by spook busting, to be able to get anywhere near your horse with the feather duster - if this is the case then spook busting is the right place to start! Without solid foundations in place it’s difficult to build a strong relationship.
Once you can rest the feather duster against your horse’s shoulder or quarters, gradually move it down, a centimetre at a time, until you feel your horse tense up. Depending on the individual issues, this might be at the upper leg or almost to the fetlock. Once you feel him just start to tense up, stop moving the duster and give him a scratch or stroke with your other hand if possible. After a few seconds, as long as he hasn’t moved, move the feather duster back up to the top of his leg, or away completely. This way you’re teaching him that if he stands still when the touch to his leg is bothering him, the touch will go away after a few seconds - and you can gradually increase the time. If however he moves away during the few seconds you ask him to be still with the duster touching his leg, do your best to keep moving gently with him until he does stand, and then remove the offending item. If you allow him to move away from the duster when it bothers him, rather than moving it with him, you are teaching him that he can control the touch by moving away, which will make it difficult when you want to pick his foot up.
© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021
Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion