My horse won’t lift his back feet to clean. Help!

Horse cow-kicking

Get ready for a cow kick!

Question: I recently bought a 7 year old gelding home and the only problem I’m having is that he doesn’t want to pick up his back feet to be cleaned. He shifts his weight and when he finally lifts it he fires and cow kicks. Not sure how to break him of this or if I can. I’m guessing he’s been spoiled and has gotten away with it for a long time.

Answer from April Reeves: This question has a happy ending and easy answer.

I never fool around with a kicking horse, but you can get him to accept that he has to deal with having his feet worked on.

Take a soft long rope, about 12 feet long. stand at his shoulder, move your hand across his barrel, asking him to be nice to you (no cow-kicking). Place the rope around the back of his pasterns (the area above the hoof, below the fetlock joint). Stand at his shoulder, out of firing range of the cow-kick. Put pressure on the rope, enough to lift his foot and when it comes up, hold it there for a minute, until he quits kicking.

You will have to do this over and over until he eventually lifts his foot and just gives it to you. Do not attempt to go back there and try it until he is very giving and safe with just the rope. Some horses try to move around. Keep hold of the foot and move with him.

Sometimes you need a little extra muscle with this exercise, so I often ask someone for help. With some stronger horses, this can be very draining to a human arm!

You will find some trainers who actually tie the foot up. Two things: only on a very severe case would I do that, and only by a very qualified trainer. What I don’t like about tying the foot, is that the lesson is in the release, and tying will not give you that release at the proper moment. You can gain more respect and learning by timing of the release, over and over again.

Be careful that you do not let the rope go or slip when he moves his foot. It’s a bit tricky, but eventually you will get use to moving with him until he quits.

The minute he quits kicking and just hangs the foot, let it down very gently. Never drop a horse’s foot. Timing is important here, as you need to let him go softly once he has given you the result you are asking for. Don’t wait for the result to be long. Once he gives, you give. In time, his release and give will be quicker and softer.

Do this with both sides. I would do this for about 20 days, just to be safe. I have had some pretty nasty injuries from cow-kicking in the past, and now I take great precautions with this.

If he moves around a lot, and you drop or change rope position, just pick it back up and stay with it. Keep working on this, even if it takes an hour or more. If he continues to move around and get silly, let me know and I will write another article for you to try. I don’t see that happening here though. I think he just needs to be reminded of how it’s done. Somewhere, somehow, someone gave up on him and taught him to react this way.

There is a great video from Jay O’Jay on handling back feet with a rope. Go to my site: Horseman’s, and click on the first video, Roundpen Series Part 5. Jay has a video series on starting a young filly, and one of the videos is about what I just described, only his filly is young and has not taken this into a vice yet. Still it will give you another reference to how the rope technique is done.

4 responses to “My horse won’t lift his back feet to clean. Help!

  1. I recently bought a 2 and a half year old gelding. His mother was Percheron and his father was a Belgian/1/4 horse cross. He is a big boy and his feet are humongous and very heavy. I can usually get him to lift his front ones but he still has issues with his balance, that just needs some work. My problem is his back feet, they are too heavy for me to lift. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you

  2. Hi. I read your post about a horse who kicks with their back legs and the rope solution. I already knew the rope method but my horse is strong and he stomped down and kicked so aggressively that I had no choice as he is so much stronger. He got his foot down easily despite me trying to hold it up with the rope as he’s so strong and angry about it. What would you suggest?

    • Go slower. Put the rope behind for only a few seconds and release. Start as slow as you can. Slower is always faster. Next thing I would consider, since he’s angry, is whether or not he’s sound. Not in the foot, but the joints he has to move to get a foot up. Or was it past ‘training’? Remember that everything is training. Angry horses are trained, not born. I suggest spending a ton of time on the ground just working with him, so that you gain a bond where he trusts you better.

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