Train Your Horse to Pick Up a Foot


Train your horse to allow his or her foot to be picked upWhen a horse won’t tolerate having his foot picked up, it’s not some quirky behavioral issue that you should learn to live with. For the horse’s own safety and his general well being, and the sanity of your farrier, he needs to get over this foot-phobia, right away.

Whenever you deal with behavioral issues like this, remember that some prior experience has caused your horse to act this way. Always rule out any health concerns that may be causing your horse to resist before proceeding with training.

Also, ask yourself if you’re the right person to be training your horse. You must be confident and calm in order to be successful. Your horse already dislikes people fussing with his feet. Getting mad at him will only exacerbate the problem. Instead, show your horse that the dreaded thing–in this case, picking up his foot–really isn’t so bad after all. Here’s how.

Horses generally have two evasions to hoof handling: They either pretend to have a stone leg that can’t possibly be lifted or they jerk a foot up quickly, only to smash it immediately back down, sometimes lurching forward in the process. To prevent this behavior, you’ll need to first outfit your horse in a halter and lead. A knotted rope halter or a chain shank properly attached to a leather halter will provide added control. Next, ask a capable friend to hold your horse in a very wide aisle. Better yet, have your friend hold your horse facing in the corner of his stall where he can’t bolt forward. (Both you and your friend should be wearing sturdy shoes or paddock boots, especially during this type of training, to protect yourselves from an inadvertent hoof misstep.)

Now, ask your horse to pick up a foot that’s easy for him: Sometimes a horse will pick up one foot easily–a front leg, perhaps–but not allow a back leg to be lifted. Practice picking up the “easy” leg several times before you move on to the difficult one. Reward your horse every time he does this well.

There is one surefire trick that may really help you out: Pinch together the two sides of the chestnut on the leg you’re trying to lift. Try this, and you’ll find that your horse will most likely respond by lifting his foot. (I’ve asked many vets for a physiological explanation for this behavior, but no one seems to know why this works so well.)

You can also try shifting the horse’s weight away from the leg you’re trying to pick up by leaning against his shoulder. When you feel him lean away from you, pick up his foot. Gently pinching the lower tendon that runs along the back side of his leg as you try to lift the foot also helps.

When your horse picks his foot up, have your helper praise him effusively with pats, a soothing voice or a treat. Then, put the foot down gently and repeat.  Don’t ask the horse to hold the foot up for long at first.

If your horse tries to stomp his foot back down, you’re going to have to be strong and not let go of that leg, however hard he tries to pull it away. (This is why your friend is there; if your horse can’t move forward, he has less chance of pulling the leg away from you.)  Just hold the foot for a short time, so the horse learns he can’t jerk it away. Then, reward him and let him put his foot down.

If your horse kicks at you or becomes upset, you need to first bring him back to a relaxed state of mind. Again, be honest about your own ability. If you’re not strong enough or quick enough to hang onto your horse’s leg when he tries to pull it away from you, get a more experienced friend or trainer to work on this problem until your horse improves.

If your horse regularly tries to back away from you while you’re picking up his foot, position him so his rear end faces the corner of his stall, or close the back doors of your barn and have you friend hold him in the aisle with his rear end facing the door so he can’t escape.

You’ll need to repeat these training sessions over and over until your horse understands that picking up his feet is part of everyday life. Over time you can gradually lengthen the amount of time you ask him to hold a foot up. 

Once your horse seems truly relaxed about this whole process, you can begin lightly tapping on the bottom of his hoof, first with your knuckles, then eventually with a small hammer, to prepare him for the farrier. Even if you don’t plan to shoe your horse, he’ll still need his feet trimmed, so gradually introduce touching the hoof with a rasp until he tolerates this as well. (Your farrier might be willing to give you an old, dull rasp that you can use for training. He may even wish to work with you on this last step!)

Training problems like refusing to pick up a hoof can be avoided if foals are handled properly from a very young age. Mona Gardella, who runs a breeding and training farm in Hoffman, N.C., suggests picking up a foal’s leg as early as a day or two after birth. Gently put a little pressure on the back of a foal’s knee with your elbow as you grasp the fetlock; the baby should instantly lift his leg. Remember that a young foal has a tenuous sense of balance, so don’t ask him to hold his foot high or for longer than a brief moment. Make sure to work with a youngster’s front and back legs.

Getting your horse to pick up a hoof will become an easy routine as long as you are patient and spend the time to train him correctly.

Further Reading

Guide to Hoof Problems

Thrush in Horse Hooves


  1. It is a very good article.Sliping a rope around a horses pasturne is another way of holding onto the hoof when a horse kicks.

  2. My horse is fine with his front feet being picked out but when I do his back feet he seems to put all of his weight on me. How can I break this habit?

  3. At our barn we have a little fat mustang pony that was abused at his past ranch. He is slightly tolerant about picking up his front feet, but when we tried his back feet he would kick and its hard to hold a hoof of a horse who is kicking at your face. If you are ever faced with this problem, I found the most helpful training technicque is to get a lead rope and put it around the hoof and simply lift it up and he will pick up his hoof. Then grab it and reward him. Now he picks his feet right up without a problem.

  4. My yearling filly will pick her little hooves for me, is a holy terror for the farrier. Just reading to see if I could find some hint in this article.

  5. I was hoping this article would help more with other scenarios…like mine where my yearling started off picking up her feet when she was younger, but now when her feet are picked up, she will start to go to the ground and sometimes almost lay down. I hang on as long as I can and know to not let go, but it’s so much of a struggle, she will even hop around on the other three legs and it just wears me out.

  6. If your horse starts to hop around three legs when u pick out his feet or even bow try having an assistant there to simply put there hand on his bum do discourage this, if he continues to do this put a little more pressure on. When your horse starts to stand more square praise him and even give treat. DO NOT BE TO ROUGH WITH THIS THEROY, A HORSE CAN FEEL A fly ON ITS SIDE SO WHY SHOULD WE BE RUSHING THEM!

  7. I have a small horse who was abused by the farrier as a colt. When I got him you couldn’t touch his feet without him pulling away, hopping on 3 legs, kicking, pawing or rearing. He minorly injured me and 2 or 3 other people. It’s been 3 years but he finally will stand groundtied for me to pick up all 4 feet. He will stand for the farrier if you let him eat. (This is a different farrier from the one mentioned above.) No more doping or nose twitching finally.

  8. We recently adopted a shelter horse who allowed hooves to be cleaned fine at shelter during interact time. But now at home she will not pick up her front hooves for cleaning. I have tried all the ideas presented with no luck. Should I just work on getting her to pick front hooves up before even attemping to use hoof pick? Honestly, I would not have adopted her if I knew this was going to be an issue. Please share any baby steps so we can go forward positively to reach goal of four clean hooves and not just two back clean hooves. Why will she allow only back hooves to be cleaned?
    Thanks for any helpful ideas!

  9. I have a a eight year old gelding. He does everything I ask of him except pick up his feet. I have tried everything and he acts like he is falling to the ground and won’t pick up his feet. He cow kicked me when I moved back. I need help.

  10. I start with a lot of approach and retreat and stroking their leg in the direction the hair grows. Never grab, just ask gently. If the horse jerks their foot away or stops then work their feet, i.e. lunge them in a small circle. If they try to lay down then stay with them. Release their hoof only when they are calm about it.


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