A little shift in balance can help when teaching a horse to accept having its foot held.
The next time you see a horse standing still with a hind leg cocked, walk behind it and make note of how that leg hangs down under the hip. It’s straight down, not angled out from the body.
Idaho horseman and clinician Martin Black says that observation is key to helping a horse—especially when young or inexperienced—learn to accept holding up a foot while you work on it.
“Right there is the easy place for him to hang his foot. It’s in neutral,” Black says. “So that’s where I try to hold it, and where I try to do my work. The lower the better on a green horse.”
It’s easier for the person to hold the leg out, at an angle, but that makes it more difficult for the horse to balance.
“That’s all right, if your horse is tolerant of it,” Black says. “But on a young horse, or a horse learning, I would keep my knees bent and get more underneath, closer to where the foot naturally hangs.
“That’s a lot of work for me, but it’s more comfortable for him. He’s going to learn to accept [me holding it up] a lot sooner the more comfortable it is for him.”
Black adds that it is a process over time for a horse to learn to accept having its foot held up and at an angle, as it would need to for a farrier.
“If I’m just trying to get a bunch of broodmares trimmed, or yearlings, if I can do that where that foot’s barely off the ground I’ll get through the job a lot faster and they’ll accept it a lot faster than if I insist on picking their leg up high where I can stand up straighter,” Black says. “I try to operate from where the horse is balanced.”
Helping the horse stay balanced also lessens the chances that a horse will want or learn to lean on a handler while the foot is held, he says.
“If I don’t ever give him a reason or opportunity to lean on me—keep him in balance or don’t keep his foot up so long, things like that—he’ll never learn to lean on me,” Black says. “Get underneath them further. It’s a little bit of a yoga move, using thigh muscles you’re not used to using. But it’ll pay off.”