Difficult with Feet

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Q: Geronimo, I have just acquired a horse who is very reluctant to lift her feet. I can lift them for short periods, front more so than hind. She's obviously had a bad experience. Well, do you think there is any hope? Have you ever shoed a tranquilized Horse? (My shoer suggested that) For now I'm just working with her to lift her feet. What other measures should I take? She's a 14 year QH who is super friendly and manageable otherwise. Thanks.


A: You failed to state what your horse does after a short period...Does she slam her feet to the ground? Does she drop to the ground? Does she kick or pull away violently? After you get her feet up, do you lean against her? If so she will naturally lean against you and you can not possibly hold up a heavy horse. Her way of refusing to allow you to keep her feet up will dictate the method most appropriate for correcting the problem.

I was recently called to trim a 6 year old Quarter Horse gelding. After introducing myself to the horse, I asked him to pick up his feet. He would pick them up and as soon as I cradled them between my legs, he would slam them violently to the ground, both front and hind feet. I went to my truck, got out a lip chain, put it on the horse, explained to him with two very sharp jerks on the lead line that I would not tolerate this kind of behavior, and there were no more problems with this horse. After I had trimmed him several times and shod him twice, I was informed by the owner that before my first visit, three farriers had come out to try and trim the horse but he didn't allow any of them to complete the job.

Just because the lip chain worked on this horse does not mean this is the answer for all horses. You size up the situation and from a lifetime of experience you choose a method. If it works, so much the better. If it doesn't, you try something else.

You say you can lift your horse's feet for short periods. You should not have to lift her feet. She should pick her feet up for you. When I have a horse that is reluctant to pick up its feet for me, I will oftentimes lightly poke the bulbs of its foot with my hoof pick. This usually solves the problem.

You also stated that she obviously has had a bad experience. Although possible, this is not necessarily so. My thoughts are that a 14 year old Quarter Horse has probably been trimmed and shod many times. I would probably come to the conclusion that she is testing me. She would soon learn that I have the confidence and ability to make her pick up her feet. When you realize that the greatest communication with horses is touch you can understand that the touch of my hands on the horse communicates to the horse confidence, ability, firmness and affection. Usually at that point they pick up their feet without question.

If your horse has had a bad experience such as being severely quicked, tranquilizing may be the only humane solution. Read the Q&A on Quicking on my web site for further information on this.

I have worked on tranquilized horses and there are rare occasions when, to get the job done, this is necessary. The veterinarian or an experienced horse owner or trainer under the direct supervision of a veterinarian would have to be the one to tranquilize the horse--never the farrier.

If normal methods of asking the horse to lift its feet and to hold them up fail, a veterinary examination of the horse to determine whether there is a physically painful reason for this behavior is in order. If nothing physical is found, I would suggest that you hire a professional trainer to teach the horse to lift and hold its feet.

Is it possible that you are unwilling to let your farrier handle your horse in the way he sees fit, and/or to pay him for his time to train your horse? If your farrier has suggestions other than tranquilizing your horse that he is willing to try, I would give him the opportunity. Be willing to pay for the training, whether it comes from your farrier or another trainer. He has suggested tranquilizing because he does not want to put himself or your horse at risk. Proper training may make this unnecessary.

I have in the past employed such methods as tying up a foot, blindfolding a horse, twitching a horse, using a lip chain and giving a horse a good swift kick (without malice, and not in such a way as to cause injury). Sometimes moving the horse inside on a hard surface and sometimes having the horse stand on dirt or grass will gain cooperation. But if the horse is not hurting, there is no reason for it not to lift its feet and allow them to be worked on.

Some of the practices that I employ are not suitable for beginners and amateurs to attempt. I mention these methods so you will have an idea what are acceptable training methods for a professional.

You stated that your horse is super friendly and manageable other than with her feet so I hope you can get over this problem with the suggestions I have made. By and large the horse simply has to know who is in charge. Right now she is the boss where her feet are concerned.

Please share your successes or failures with others by getting back to me and letting me know how things work out.

Geronimo Bayard
The American Blacksmith
Oakland, Oregon

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This entire web site is copyright protected.  1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard,  2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.