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This routine helps you get a leg up

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - March 21st, 2013 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: I have a beautiful 20-year-old Lusitano stallion that has always done everything I’ve asked of him. Lately though, when I go to pick his feet he seems to be bothered when I reach for his feet. It almost seems like he doesn’t want me to touch them, especially the back ones. Initially, I thought he was being helpful because he would pick up his feet before I asked, but when I went to hold them he would move around or snatch his foot out of my hand. Now he has gotten so bad that I am afraid I might get kicked.
–Kristin Johnson, Corona

HEY KRISTIN: This is a common problem for many reasons. The important question here is not so much “why is he resisting?” as it is “how can we fix this without getting hurt?”

I propose we try not to get connected to your horse’s foot in any way — no holding, grabbing, ropes or hobbles. This type of approach will only add to the problem (and increase the chances of getting hurt.)

Step 1. The easiest and safest way to approach this is to simply use an extension of your hand like a wand, bamboo stick or simply use a whip while pointing the handle end towards the leg you are trying to pick up. Because your horse is picking up his leg before you ask, simply touch the leg with the stick until he eventually sets the foot down. You should not only be able to touch your horse’s leg, you should be able to rub it all over without him moving or picking it up. Continue working on this until he ignores the touching while keeping his foot flat on the ground. This stage of the process will help you with being able to groom his legs, shave, medicate and wrap without having a problem. Only after he is totally accepting without moving, should you attempt to pick up his legs.

Step 2. Using your stick, begin to lightly and consistently tap your horse’s leg on the cannon bone with careful and gradual intensity until he picks up his leg. As soon as the leg comes off the ground, support the underside of the leg with your stick. If the foot begins to descend simply keep the stick connected to the leg until the foot touches the ground. At that time re-tap the cannon bone as before until the leg comes up and stays up. You should continue this process until the horse clearly understands that keeping his foot up on his own efforts will keep you from tapping. Do this with all the legs — front and back — before attempting to reach down with your hands. It is important that you can read your horse’s intentions before throwing yourself between his legs.

Step 3. Now that your horse is waiting for you to ask him to pick up his legs in a safer and more predictable fashion, we now need a cue that will clearly paint the picture for him. One way of doing this is to squeeze or pinch the tendon behind the cannon bone and hold firmly until the leg comes up. If he doesn’t pick up his leg, continue squeezing and add the tapping as before until the leg comes up, then release and simply support the leg. Continue this until the horse has no issue whatsoever with picking and holding up his leg in your hands.

Place the leg back down to the ground while keeping contact. Try not to release the leg until the foot is settled on the ground without movement. Repeat this until your horse reaches a standard that is of your liking.

You are now ready to attempt to pick your horse’s feet once again. Try not to spend too much time picking. What’s important is trying to pick up and put down the foot without resistance on his part. Doing a perfect job at picking should come only after your horse is accepting of the whole process without issue.

Kristin, if you follow these steps carefully, you should be able to get your horse back on track providing you trust your instincts and think safe throughout every step in this process.


Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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