It`s a really basic part of horse care, but let`s face it, we can get complacent about it.
This week has reminded me about how important it is to get your horse used to having his feet picked out. I`m talking of course, about Apollo. The monkey of a four year old I have acquired. In general, he is very easy to handle and enjoys a good groom (and a good roll afterwards) but picking out his feet can be a bit hit and miss.
On day one he was foot perfect, no pun intended. He lifted when I asked and held his foot still. The next day however, he was a bit fidgety. On the fourth day my friend brought him in from the field and gave him a really good groom (I think he wants to be bay not skewbald). After about forty minutes she tried to pick out his feet. Her previous experience has been with mature horses, so she got herself in a bit of a muddle. As did Apollo. He stood firm and then when he did lift his leg he waved it around frantically, causing her to drop it. After a couple of attempts I had to do them. Apollo was quite cheeky, but I think part of it was that he was bored of standing around and wanted some dinner.
Later that day I brought Otis in, and once in his stable I immediately went to do his feet. Deep in thought, I bent down and tapped his fetlock. He lifted his foot straight up. Once picked, I let go and he lowered it down and I moved onto the next foot. Easy as pie.
As I compared him to Apollo I thought about how I had trained my previous horses. I picked their feet out when they came in, so it became a strong routine and they weren`t fidgety and impatient. I start by making sure the youngster is standing square and not about to step forwards – easier said than done! Then I approach the first leg and before I run my hand down it I give them a bit of a push on the shoulder or flank. This gives them an elephant sized hint to shift their weight away from me and then as I run my hand down I lean slightly against them. I try and use the same word “foot” or “up” would be acceptable and then once they lift their foot I hold it still, or keep holding it until they settle, then hoof pick them. If they hold their foot still then I put it down gently. If they try and snatch it away I keep hold until it`s still, and then I put it down. If the horse gets their foot away from me I take a deep breath, say their name sternly, and try again.
Hopefully by keeping this strict routine and repeating it regularly Apollo will soon learn to lift his foot automatically.