Handling the Hooves:

Good Horsemanship Still Applies

Story and photos by Leslie Desmond

Published in the January 1997 issue of Stable Kids Magazine


When I was a child, I wished my own feet were hooves. I wanted to hear that magical clip-clop first thing in the morning as my feet hit the floor. I was fascinated by the movement of a horse's hooves because they often took me to special places.

I learned early on that most accidents involve the hooves in some way. It's best to get well acquainted with the way a horse's mind and body works - this determines how he operates his legs. If he feels threatened, a horse will use his hooves to defend himself against you, just as he would against any natural predator. A young or confused horse is likely to kick or strike in his own defense if you aren't informed and careful - be both!


Don't Take What Isn't Offered

Before you touch the horse's leg, notice how he's standing and exactly where his feet are placed. Don't try to pry a hoof off the ground if it's bearing weight. Depending on how his feet are placed, he may need to lift a foot up and replace it in order to maintain his balance. Don't shove against his shoulder or his hip to cause him to "give" you his hoof. This approach builds resistance in the horse when willingness is the objective. If you ask, you can receive what's offered. If you take the hoof without asking first, don't be surprised when it is taken back. As your "feel" and timing improve, the horse will eventually offer you his hoof as you reach for it.

Checking hooves daily is an important part of maintaining a healthy and useful horse. Notice that Trisha lets this horse know where she is by sliding her hand over his hip and down his hind leg before asking him to raise his hoof. This gives the horse time to shift his weight to the other hind foot. (photo 1)

Photo 1


Photo 2

If you have been taught to pinch the tendons to get the horse to give his hoof it is best not to lean over and simply grab his leg. Prepare him and help him understand what you want him to do. Once a horse knows what to expect, he'll shift his weight and lift the hoof for you. (photos 2 & 3)

Photo 3

Photo 4

Once the hoof is raised, don't pull the leg too far out to the side or back, or it will be difficult for the horse to stay balanced. (photos 4 & 5)

Photo 5


Support the hoof firmly. Remember to pick the hoof thoroughly with the sharp end of the hoof pick pointing away from you.(Photo 6)
Photo 6


Stay Out of Harm's Way

There are two simple guidelines:

Work beside the horse and when you must reach beneath or move behind your horse, be alert and cautious.

Keep your feet out from under the horse's hooves. Allow extra space for a horse that might possibly kick or strike.

If you follow these guidelines, you won't get hurt. Of course, it's a good idea to discourage kicking and striking long before you reach this point in handling. If you have a horse that simply doesn't want to have its legs handled, ask an experienced adult for help.


Go With the Flow and Get Good at Groundwork

There are times when a horse might yank a hoof from you. If he tries to pull away, you must either let go immediately or hold on and wait for him to stop struggling. Be patient. Remember, always stay in his sight and be aware of your position in relation to every part of his body. When you are out of position you are potentially in danger.

Learn to handle his legs thoughtfully, with a sensitive feel and accurate timing. This will build confidence by permitting him to maintain his balance.

Of course, handling your horse's legs must begin with good groundwork skills. You should be able to maneuver your horse's feet from gentle pressure and release on the lead rope. Lots of practice is the key: forward and back, left and right - thousands of times. The more you work with your horse to move his legs as you want him to, the more comfortable you both become. As you get more accurate, notice how he shapes his body in an arc that starts at the end of his nose and goes to the tip of his tail. This is what you want. You also want smooth, fluid movements. It can't happen easily when there's tension locked in his body. Notice, too, what expression he wears before he moves his feet.


Plan for Success and Success Will Be Yours

If you work at teaching your horse to help you to position his feet as you wish, he won't become sour and unmanageable about giving you his feet when you ask for them. This willingness is the result of good feel and timing - applied to thorough, accurate and patient groundwork. Best of all, it ensures the safety of your shoer and vet, yourself and anyone who needs to handle his feet in the future. It's just good horsemanship!


About the Author

 Leslie Desmond is a world-renowned horse trainer, people educator, and author. For more information about Leslie, her clinics, and the recently released book "True Horsemanship Through Feel" by Bill Dorrance and Leslie Desmond (with an introduction by Buck Brannaman), visit her website at www.lesliedesmond.com