Gimme Back My Hoof!

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Oh dear.

You've got a horse who doesn't "like having his hooves handled."

You've had a few farriers out to try to trim your horse's hooves but he just won't give 'em up.  His hooves, I mean.

What can you do?

Well, the first, quickest and easiest solution might be to call the vet to have the horse tranquilized.

In my opinion, that is the last resort! When I'm trimming a horse's hooves I like that horse to be 110% aware and with me. I want that horse to OFFER his hooves to me and HOLD THEM UP for me, too!  I want that horse to KNOW that I am underneath him with my nose at his hoof. I want that horse to know where I am every second and I want that horse to stand quietly.


I have a busted up neck and back. Bulging and herniated discs in my cervical and lumbar spine cause me intense pain when I'm moving the 'wrong way'. Trying to hold onto a horse's hoof while that horse is doing his darndest to get it away from me just doesn't work for me anymore. I can't do it. I can't hang on because the pain is excruciating in my neck and back. When I was younger then, yes, I could hold on and tell the horse to QUIT! and generally get agreeable results but now I don't even want to have to try to hang on. It just hurts too much.

So, what do I do? Well, I can either stop trimming horses hooves altogether and pay someone to trim my own guys or ... I can teach my clients' horses (and my own) to offer me their hooves and hold them for me QUIETLY while I trim them!

It's that simple.

And it takes just minutes. It doesn't take hours or days or weeks.

It takes just minutes.

Positive reinforcement goes a long way when trying to teach a horse to do something and do it correctly when requested.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Ahhhhhhhhh, that phrase, "Clicker Training" (CT) brings some people a feeling or horror and others a feeling of ridicule and then we have those who recognize the value of paying someone for a job well done.

That's what CT is. We're 'paying' the horse for a job well done and motivating that horse to want to try again to "earn his pay".


We ask for the right front hoof. The horse shifts its weight to the left shoulder.

CLICK! (in the INSTANT/MIDDLE of the weight shift) and treat.

We ask again? Repeat ... horse shifts the weight to the opposite shoulder. C/T.

About 3 or 4 times into it and the horse is consistently giving the 'right answer' we'll extend our request to lift the hoof and wait to "mark" (click). (We're waiting for the horse to actually relax or even lift the hoof off the ground) The horse will get a bit frustrated and lift its hoof or maybe "relax" the hoof. VOILA!  Click (in the exact instant of the lifting of the hoof) and treat.

Another 3 or 4 times of this then we ask the horse to HOLD its hoof up in our hand.

Again, same routine .. mark (click) and treat.

All in all this will take about maybe 5, 10 mins at the most, and the horse will be holding its hoof up quietly and patiently waiting for that 'marker' and treat.

It's that simple.

5 or 10 mins to get it right. That's less time than it takes struggling with a horse that doesn't WANT to lift its hoof, never mind holding it up for you ... making what could have been a 45 minute job a mere 20 minutes for a maintenance trim.

Now, y'all might say that it's not the hoof care professional's job to 'train' the horse and you'd be absolutely correct, in my opinion, of course BUT ... if you owners would learn to do this then you'd be able to keep your trimmers or farriers very, very happy. If, after a session of Positive Reinforcement and hoof trimming, you would spend just 5 or 10 mins a day repeating the exercises of lifting and holding the hoof, I guarantee you that your trimmer and farrier won't have to contend with an uncooperative horse the next time 'round (that is if they are in a proper mindset and not scaring the horse in any way).

Again .. simple. Figure out a sound you can use that would 'mark' the EXACT instant of the horse doing what you're asking ... I use a high-pitched, quick/sharp "Good!". Some use "EX!(cellent)"  while others tongue click or use some other singular, quick word. Try to ignore the unwanted behaviors and ONLY mark the wanted behavior. WATCH YOUR TIMING!  Just as the release must be in perfect time when 'training' a horse, so must be the 'marker' of a desired action.

After you've 'marked' the behavior give a wee treat. Or a nice scratch in a favorite spot. I've found that primary treats work the best ... food treats!  Horses learn very quickly when motivated and food treats are the best motivators for most. One, ONE "Cheerio" or ONE hay pellet or ONE tiny bit of carrot. Just ONE tiny bit as a treat.

Give the horse time to chew and 'process' then repeat your request.

It takes a horse just 3 or 4 times of doing something correctly and repeatedly and he'll never forget it.

(You may be safer if you start with a rope to ask for the hoof if the horse is really objectionable to having the hooves handled. You can use the Positive Reinforcement with this and it will go so much faster than 'conventional training'!)

Step by step ... hoof by hoof.

Some horses, especially those who are fired up and afraid of having their hooves handled, may require 'rapid firing' of treats. Just until you see that the horse "gets it". But that's a topic for another day and after y'all have some practice at this.

Owners, I was serious when I said it's really your responsibility to have your horse trained well enough that he or she won't cause issues with hoof trimming but we do recognize that this is not always possible.

Trimmers-Farriers ... no, it's not 'your job' to train a horse BUT ... this is so simple and so quick, why NOT try it out!  It honestly will take LESS time, as I said, than fighting with a horse.

In the video below you'll see me coaching the "owner" of a rescued Mustang who previously was never able to get hooves trimmed without tranquilizer. This is the 2nd part and shows how he was willing to stand quietly even after getting nerved up a couple of times and having to move away. He was never dangerous but could have been if forced.


(Disclaimer - I wish no one to be hurt. This method of teaching horses is best done by someone who has some sort of experience with horses. It is also not recommended for a 'lay person' to try with a very rank horse that is beyond the normal "I don't want my hooves touched." horse. Horses can kick faster than we can blink an eye and will do so when feeling threatened. If you have little to no experience teaching horses then I STRONGLY urge that you find someone who can work with you and teach YOU to teach the horse. While I personally prefer to work with a horse at liberty (free to move away if the need arises) I would recommend that you work on a lead rope to begin with until you learn how to connect with the horse. Always be safe.)



Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:


1 comment

  • jinx: April 16, 2019

    I have an older gelding who came thru a kill pen. He will lift his feet, but slams them down right away. I am not strong enough to hold it up (my farrier is). So, how do I get him to hold it up if he slams it down before I can click or treat? He is very tied to the ground and protective with his feet, does not try to kick at all, and was not handled well much earlier in life. Ideas? Thanks!

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