how to pick up a horses feet without kicking

How to Pick up a Horse’s Feet Without Kicking

Let’s be honest. Horse care is no easy feat. You’ve got so many things to think about all at once – the feet, the teeth, the muscle tone and grooming to name a few. Foot and hoof care is one of the most important aspects of caring for your horse. So, it makes sense that one of the biggest worries for new horse owners is how to pick up a horse’s feet without kicking. 

If you’re blessed with a chilled-out equine friend, this shouldn’t be too hard for you. But what if your horse hates his legs being touched? What if she’s got a mischievous streak and likes to put her weight on the foot you’re trying to lift? Let’s explore how to care for your horse’s feet. 

How to Pick up a Horse’s Feet Without Kicking: Step-by-Step

First and foremost, make sure your horse is as calm as possible before you start picking. Whether that’s soothing her with your voice or relaxing her with a good scratch, try to set a calming atmosphere to show your horse there’s nothing to worry about. 

Always be sure your horse is aware of your presence before you get started. Surprises are not a good idea in this case. 

  1. Make sure your horse is safely restrained with a lead. Even better, have someone standing by to assist you if necessary. The assistant can help to soothe stressed or anxious horses. Perhaps have the assistant stand up ahead and talk encouragingly to the horse throughout the process. 
  1. Stand alongside your horse and make sure your feet are pointing away from him. This helps ensure your horse doesn’t step on your toes. It also puts you in the best position to apply weight if necessary. Keep your distance if your horse is reluctant to have his feet touched. 
  1. Place your hand gently on your horse’s back leg and move gradually downwards. This is a cue to your horse that you want to pick up his leg. Some horses will respond to this cue, whereas others will stand firm. If you’ve got a horse that kicks out or gets distressed, try getting him used to the leg touching by attaching something soft to a long stick or broom handle. Run that gently down the leg. You might need to do a few sessions of this alone before he starts to get used to it. This keeps you safe if he kicks out, as you’re standing at a good distance. 

You can also try getting her used to the feel of a soft rope looped around her leg. You can then use this rope to lift the leg if you’re not yet at the stage where using your hands would be safe. Once your horse seems okay with whatever method you’re using, move on to the next steps. 

What’s Next?

  1. If he doesn’t pick up his leg, try encouraging him with a verbal cue like “up!” or “pick up!”. You can also try using your weight to lean against the horse to take the weight off his foot. Once he is relaxed, relax your grip. You don’t need to use so much strength to actually keep a hold of it if your horse is calm. 

How to Pick Horse Hooves: Beginners Guide

When the tricky part (actually picking up the feet) is out of the way, it’s time to start picking your horse’s hooves. 

  1. Hold the horse pick downwards in your hand. You should direct the pick itself towards the ground, away from you.
  1. Start picking out the commissures, which is the area around the frog. Brush the area when you’re done picking to get rid of leftover dirt and debris.
  1. Pick around the shoe area to get rid of the dirt and debris there. 
  1. When picking the frog, be gentle. There are sensitive nerve endings in this area, so take special care not to dig too hard. 
  1. When done, gently release the horse’s foot and let him put it back down the way he likes. 

Why is Foot and Hoof Care so Important? 

It is a good idea to clean out your horse’s feet daily. The reason for this is that dirt and debris build-up on the hooves can cause all manner of issues. Some of these issues include: 

  • Infections 
  • Hoof cracks
  • Abscesses
  • Lameness
  • Pain and irritation 

In addition to all of the above, simply having debris in the hooves can be an uncomfortable experience for horses. You know when you have something in your shoe when you’re walking? It’s kind of the same thing. When you clean out your horse’s hooves every day, this gives you the opportunity to keep an eye on things in the general area. 

Common Foot and Hoof Problems to Look Out For

Vigilance is always the best policy when it comes to horse care. Even if your horse appears fine, keep a good eye on those hooves and feet. Here are some common foot and hoof conditions in horses.


Thrush is a pretty common hoof condition. It tends to affect the frog and sometimes the heel of the foot. Bacteria is what causes thrush in horses, and symptoms include black discharge that smells, soreness and a reaction when the area is touched and lameness in serious cases. 

According to this article by Dr. Stephen O’Grady, a horse with healthy frogs is unlikely to develop thrush. If dirt and debris get into the hooves or the horse with unhealthy frogs is in dirty or moist conditions, the condition is likely to occur or worsen. 

Scratches (Greasy Heel)

Greasy Heel, or scratches, is an inflammatory condition that causes lesions. Bacteria, fungi and mites are common causes of this condition. Persistently wet, muddy conditions and poor hoof care are aggravating factors. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the back of the pastern (the part between the fetlock and hoof)
  • Scabs and crusts
  • Pus and discharge from the affected area

If you suspect greasy heel, some cases are possible to treat with anti-fungal shampoos or antiseptic solutions. More serious cases require a vet or farrier’s help. 


Laminitis is a serious condition affecting the tissues that join the hoof wall to the pedal bone. The result is that swelling and inflammation occur, which can be very painful to horses. Serious cases of Laminitis can cause the pedal bone to puncture the hoof and can severely affect the quality of life. Sadly, some owners have their horses euthanized at this stage.

This is why it’s important to keep an eye out for Laminitis to increase the chance of catching is early. Symptoms to look out for include: 

  • One hoof that is hot for several hours
  • Strange, distorted hoof shape
  • Unusual rings on the hoof
  • A strong digital pulse
  • Lameness

If you suspect Laminitis, consult a vet immediately. 

Hoof Bruises

Hoof bruises happen when trauma to the foot occurs. For example, a horse that has been running in a rocky area is likely to obtain bruises. They can also occur in wet weather, due to thinning of the sole. In addition to these causes, horses with something hard caught in their hoof, like rocks packed in by mud is another common one. 

Look for purple or red marks on the hooves, shortened stride and an increased digital pulse. The digital pulse is what you can feel pulsing in your horse’s foot as blood flows to the hoof. 

How to Pick Up a Horse’s Feet Without Kicking: Sum-Up

how to pick up a horse's feet without kicking horse field
  • Some horses don’t mind their humans touching their feet. Others may kick, snort or show other signs of distress when you try to pick up the feet. Rescue horses that have been neglected or suffered abuse in the past are more likely to have issues with this. 
  • Be patient with your challenging horse. Sometimes he is acting out of mischief, but sometimes out of distress. 
  • A common tactic for picking up a difficult horse’s foot is rubbing a rope down the leg instead of your hands. You can then loop the rope and gently lift. This helps you keep your distance if the horse reacts badly. 
  • Another tactic is to attach something soft, like a cloth, to a long stick or broom handle. Use that to get the horse used to the feeling of his legs being touched. 
  • Daily foot and hoof care is crucial for horses. It alerts you to potential foot and hoof issues you might not otherwise notice. 

How to Pick Up a horse’s feet without kicking: Final Thoughts

We get it. Standing close to the back feet of a horse with a tendency to kick is pretty nerve-wracking. Always look out for your safety first and foremost. Make sure your horse knows you’re there. Talk to her soothingly. Give her a brush down or a massage before going near the feet. Keep your distance and use a prop if you think your horse might injure you. 

Basically, do whatever it takes to keep yourself safe when dealing with your horse’s feet. We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. Check out the awesome YouTube videos we’ve attached for visual guides by horse experts. 

Happy riding!