How to Teach Your Horse to Pick Up a Hoof

Three Parts:Desensitizing the HorsePicking Up a Front HoofPicking Up a Rear Hoof

As a horse owner, it is your responsibility to train your horse to pick up its hooves. This will make attention from veterinarians and farriers much easier during the horse's whole life. As with most animal training, the key is patience and regular training sessions, moving to the next stage only once the animal is comfortable. Depending on your horse's temperament and level of training, this could take anywhere from a few days to a few months.

Part 1
Desensitizing the Horse

  1. 1
    Tie up the horse. Even if your horse is well-behaved and allows you to touch its body, its legs and feet may be another matter. Tie the horse securely.
    • If the horse becomes agitated when tied, have a horse-wise helper hold the horse on a lead rope instead.
    • Both you and your helper should wear sturdy boots.
  2. 2
    Approach the horse slowly and calmly. Don't rush into this. Nuzzle the horse's ears, or give them a treat and talk to them in a low, slow voice. If you stay calm, there is a good chance the horse will too.
  3. 3
    Gently swing a rope at one of the horse's front legs. Select a 10 feet (3 meter) rope, preferably one made from thick cotton. Stand in front of the horse and to one side, facing the horse's rear. See how your horse reacts when you lightly and quietly swing the rope to touch one of his front legs. Stand at least a couple feet (0.6m+) back and to one side, since the horse may kick.
    • The goal of this exercise is to get the horse used to having its legs touched. If your horse has issues with ropes, you may need to desensitize it to the rope first.
    • Remember, the rope is a gentle extension of your arm. Never use it to hurt the horse or intentionally scare it.
  4. 4
    Repeat slowly until the reactions become less intense. The horse will typically react by stomping his foot or moving away from the rope. Let it react, then slowly swing the rope again at the same leg. Repeat this motion until the horse starts calming down. It may take several days or even a couple weeks for this to happen.
    • If your horse over-reacts or panics, your training session is probably too long. Try to end each session on a high note, when the horse has shown improvement and before it gets frustrated.
  5. 5
    Praise the horse for calming down. When you notice that the horse's reactions decrease, stop touching him for about 30-60 seconds and praise him briefly. This lets him think that he has control over the rope touching him, or that he will get a reward when he stops squirming.
  6. 6
    Repeat with the other legs. Repeat the same exercise on the other front leg until you get the same result. Then move on to the hind legs and repeat, one at a time. Be especially careful with the hind legs as they can kick sideways and very quickly. Make sure the horse gets used to being touched around his flanks and high up between his legs.
    • It may take several days to pass this point, or even longer if the horse has picked up bad habits.
  7. 7
    Teach the horse to accept a rope around its leg. Once the horse shows no reaction to the rope, gently swing the rope so it curls around the horse's front leg. Again, repeat this exercise until the horse no longer reacts, then repeat for each of the other three legs. Patiently repeat this in daily training sessions until the horse stops showing any reaction.
  8. 8
    Slowly move the rope up and down a front leg. When the horse is ready, and not before, let the rope curve around a front leg as usual. This time, retrieve the other end of the rope, taking care not to place your head within kicking distance. Holding both ends of the rope, slowly and gently pull the rope back and forth and drag it up and down the leg. Repeat until the horse no longer responds to the movement.
  9. 9
    Lift the horse's hoof up with the rope. Let the rope slide down to just below his fetlock joint and slowly pull forward on the rope, lifting his hoof up off the ground about an inch (2.5cm), then returning it to the ground immediately. Slowly repeat this action until he stops pulling against you. Repeat with the other front foot.
    • This will teach the horse to balance on three legs, instead of on the back of the person inspecting his hoof! Your vet and farrier will thank you later.
    • Do not hold the hoof up for more than a moment. The first few times, the horse may lose his balance, pull back his foot, or over-react.
  10. 10
    Repeat with the hind legs. The process for the two hind legs is mostly the same. However, it requires extra caution, as this area of the horse is more dangerous and more likely to react. Some horses will kick when you bend down out of their vision, or when you try to lift the hoof. Keep a close eye on the nearest hoof and a firm grip on the ropes. Move extra slowly so you and the horse stay comfortable.
  11. 11
    Lift the hoof higher. Eventually, you should be able to lift the rear leg without the horse reacting. Start lifting the hoof a little higher each time, but no more than the horse finds comfortable. Do this only for the hind legs.

Part 2
Picking Up a Front Hoof

  1. 1
    Approach the horse. Once the horse is desensitized to the rope, it's time to teach it to allow closer handling. Choose a time when the horse is calm and standing still. Spend a few minutes speaking to it in a calm voice, and/or petting its muzzle.
  2. 2
    Position yourself in a standing position. Stand next to the horse's shoulder, facing the rear of the animal.[1] During this process, bend at the waist and keep your legs only slightly bent. Never sit or kneel on the ground near a horse, or you will be unable to move out of the way if it gets violent.
  3. 3
    Move your hand from the shoulder downward. Slowly work your hand from the shoulder down the front leg. Pay close attention to the horse's reaction. If the horse makes a noise, moves its legs, or tenses, pause your hand. Once the horse stops moving, resume your slow downward movement. Continue until you reach the lower cannon bone, or further down to the pastern.
  4. 4
    Press forward onto the back of his knee. As one of your hands get all the way down to his hoof, use your other hand to press forward onto the back of his knee. This should make the knee buckle forward, so the foot lifts. Praise the horse when it allows its knee to bend.
  5. 5
    Place the toe on the ground. Place just the toe on the ground, leaving one hand on the back of his knee. If the horse responds pretty well, try gently lifting the toe off and on the ground to get him used to this motion.
  6. 6
    Convince the horse to relax. If the horse doesn't resists when you try to pick up his hoof, hold the leg in this position instead, with just the toe on the ground. Lightly massage the tendons at the back of his leg and fetlock to help him relax. Once you feel the muscles relax, let go and back away. If the horse stays in this position, he's fully relaxed and well on his way to having his feet picked out, worked on, and so on.
    • If the horse does not relax, slowly unflex the knee and bring the hoof onto the ground. Repeat this raising and lowering motion a few times. Do not drop the hoof abruptly onto the ground. This is fine for some experienced horses, but not beginners.
  7. 7
    Do not let the horse refuse. Assuming you have been patient and trained the horse well, he should have no reason not to lift his hoof. From now on, you should not give up when the horse resists. Patiently work with the horse until it lifts its hoof. Allowing the horse to "win" encourages further disobedience.
  8. 8
    Teach it to respond to commands. Many horse owners say the word "hoof" or a similar command each time they touch the leg. As the horse figures out what you want, it should start cooperating and lift its leg in response.

Part 3
Picking Up a Rear Hoof

  1. 1
    Know the risks. The hind legs are more difficult to pick up. Their movements tend to be less fine-tuned and more instinctual, often leading to overreaction. Attempt this only after you've succeeded with the front legs, and use an abundance of caution.
  2. 2
    Face the rear of the horse. Stand in a similar position as you did when you lifted the front leg, within easy reach of the hind leg. You should still face the rear of the horse and plan to bend over rather than kneel.
  3. 3
    Move your hand from the back downward. Show the horse what you are going to do by placing your hand on his back and slowly moving downward. Continue until your hand is on the back of the pastern, just above the hoof.
  4. 4
    Push the knee forward. You may try to flex the knee forward from behind, as you did with the front leg. This may work if your horse responds well to the rope training, which uses a similar motion. However, if the horse resists, tugging the heavier hind leg can be tough on your back.
  5. 5
    Push against the horse with your shoulder. Leaning your shoulder against the horse's haunch can cue him to shift weight onto the far leg. This can make it much easier to lift the leg if the horse responds.
  6. 6
    Pinch the inside of the leg as a last resort. If the horse still resists, try gently pinching the inside of the hind leg, at the fetlock. There's a nerve here that can reflexively flex the leg. Be very cautious with this method. Pinching too hard can hurt the horse and cause it to kick out instinctively.
  7. 7
    Train the horse to relax. Once the hoof lifts, you can use the same techniques you did for the front hoof. Massaging the leg, holding it so the toe is on the ground, and gently lifting it up and down can all help relax the horse. Over time, the horse should become more comfortable with you or a farrier lifting the hoof to higher positions.


  • Never tie your horse the first time you do this. He could easily hurt himself. If you work alone, drape the rope over your shoulder, and before doing this lesson, teach him to hold still while you pet his whole body and walk around him.
  • Never let the horse slam his hoof down, and that end the lesson. This teaches them to slam their hoof down


  • Do not kneel down. You are likely to be killed. At the very least you will end up with a visit to the emergency room.
  • Do not wear tennis shoes. Your toes will be broken. Wear sturdy boots.
  • Do not allow your horse to rest the lifted leg on anything (including yourself). This promotes laziness. Your 1,000 + pound horse should be able to support its own weight on three legs just fine. Also, whatever the leg is resting on could become a leg-breaking hazard should your horse spook or jerk its leg back.
  • The horse may freak out and possibly hurt someone. Consult a professional if you are uncomfortable with this.

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Categories: Horse Training