Trouble picking up the fore-foot

Hello everyone :slight_smile: my horse has developed this recent problem that I don’t know how to solve after a recently stressful vet visit.

My horse had a light suspensory ligament injury. We found this out because the vet came and had to do some nerve blocking. I don’t know much about my horse’s life prior to me - but he does not like vets or his feet being touched in certain areas. That’s the weird part. Anyways, here’s the basic issue:

I need to wash his feet after every ride - because some of the ground is muddy and hoof-picking is a mess at my barn your required to do this in the wash area. For the past 1.5 years, no issue.

Then the injury came. We needed to do a nerve block in one leg/tendon. He went mad. Every time the vet came toward that right fore leg with an injection he tried to kill him - had 4-5 very close calls, eventually had to sedate. Mind you this is all drama more than pain - he’s a very rude horse, when we first imported him he kicked our groom’s teeth out because he got startled by something. Anyways, he’s fine now, completely sound and almost fully back to work.

Issue is - he does NOT like that foot touched, mainly IN the washing areas only (and mind you he resists at ALL the washing areas although the “bad moment” didn’t even happen in a washing area, he just had to be around one of the washing areas :roll_eyes: ). In general he’s also a little apprehensive having that one foot picked up (he did not enjoy the flexion test with the vet) but he’ll shift weight for 2-3 seconds and give in, I stretch his legs every morning and he doesn’t protest. When I’m in the wash stalls - it’s almost impossible. He just keeps shifting weight back and seems to be unafraid if it causes him to trip or slip. In the past week it got worse when the only let me touch 2 of his legs in the wash stall, so this seems to have spilled into:

wash stall + leg attention = backup, ears back and head up

Again, I’m pretty sure it’s not pain related bc back int he stall I was able to put polo wraps and in general just pick up his feet, and the daily stretches so… probably something about fear/ bad association.

I’m soo confused by what to do. I need to be able to wash his feet in the wash area - I don’t feel like I should compromise with him on this given it’s a new behaviour. Any tips on how to help this? I get scared to be too persistent with forcing him to accept it because when he rocks back when I have his fore foot he’s sometimes ended up slipping and almost banging his head or jamming his hoof into my toe.

Please do let me know of any suggestions! I’m thinking of doing some general ground work as a start so he can respect and trust me more. But if anything specific that would be great. Also please nothing involving treats - he cannot handle them. If he knows a treat is in the vicinity it captures 100% of his attention and he will NOT do anything but search - I’ve had many hours of failed training attempting to use carrots. Gave up and just give generous praise now haha.

It sounds like he needs a general tuneup on ground manners, and you could benefit from working with a groundwork trainer. There’s no magic bullet for an aggressive and reactive horse that has picked up a new bad behaviour based on an incident of pain and fear.

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2nd @Scribbler… it sounds like he needs a few months with a cowboy and learn manners. These bullies can not be given even one inch. You need to be on top of their manners all the time.

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When i am training ‘foot-foot’ to my mustangs, i will first loop a really thick cotton rope around her/his pastern and lift without getting my face down there.

I do not go straight for the loop and lift though…since these are wild horses, it’s a very gradual process. What i do is desensitize them to touch of my hand. I begin my hand at a place on their body where i know s/he is comfortable and using gentle, yet firm, constant contact and quiet verbal reinforcement, move my hand down their near front leg. The moment s/he backs off i know my point. This is where that horse begins. So with plenty of treats, i spend a couple of minutes a couple times a day with that horse training touch down that leg. Always stopping when s/he becomes uncomfortable. It doesn’t take very long at all to get to the hoof when i use my approach. Once i’ve gotten there, i start all over with the other front leg. But i do return to that first leg about every-other day just to ‘keep’ it. For rear legs, i am even more careful, and a whole lot more rewarding…

It is not until i can run my hand down every single leg to the hoof without my horse showing discomfort (ie emotional discomfort) that i introduce the rope. First i let them feel the rope alongside their leg, then i begin working my way down their leg with the rope looped and some pressure. Process for rope binding is as gradual as the hand one is. Once i have looped rope giving pressure to all four legs all the way down i begin lifting. Again, tiny steps, an inch at a time. I also cue the movement to ‘foot-foot’. In the end, my horse will lift her/his leg to a little tap and the word: foot-foot.

All done without histrionics. all R+. Smooth, calm, positive.
edit: oops, just saw that your horse is too aggressive about treats. I have one horse, a domestic rescue gelding…not a mustang, that i did not start myself… that is a food-mobster. He will also be a slave to a good scratch. For him, a vigorous butt-scratch is his all-time best reward. and he will work for compliments and a withers scritch too. TIMING is the most critical part of reward, not what the reward is.

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I agree with the first two responses. These behaviors do not sound like a frightened horse to me. It sounds like he’s got your number and is taking advantage of your apprehension. From your description, it’s also not clear if he’s sitting back/pulling against the cross ties in the wash rack or just yanking his foot out of your hands. Either way, I think that he and you both need to enlist the services of a trainer who is very good at ground manners. In my experience, it is much easier to find these types of trainers in the Western world than the English world, but the specific skill set is much more important than the trainer’s discipline in this case. Please get help before you and/or your horse get injured.

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Most of us are also lucky enough to be in barns where we can vary the routine to accomplish our training goals. If I had a horse that had developed a fear based aggressive behaviour (which is what this is) I would avoid the trigger spot while going back to work on basics, in the spirit if not the technique of Eightpond (I’ve never used the hoof rope so far).

I would not continue having a staged fight at the washrack. I would pick out and brush his feet multiple times a day in a place where he feels comfortable. Then I would introduce a spray bottle and then finally return to the wash rack in increments. Look at the hose. Hear the hose run. Feel a little squirt.

You are not going to fix this overnight.

This sounds to me like a horse that gets aggressive when he is scared, and an owner that doesn’t have good ground skills.

I should add that clicker training properly done makes a horse more respectful and less anxious/aggressive about treats. However you need to have excellent timing and ability to read your horse in order to use clicker training. And you have to introduce it as a global concept, not just shoving treats in his mouth in one situation.


It may be an “attitude” problem, but I might try getting past it by clicker training vs. any sort of “come to Jesus” meeting. Like refusing to argue with somebody by changing the subject. It knocks them out of the behavioral loop that has developed.


If you have clicker skills, you can “over write” undesired behaviour with desired behaviour.


A couple of responses for you from reading your post… there is always a reason why a horse does something. You may not know what that reason is, but he’s got one. Extremely sensitive and reactive horses are not the easiest horses to deal with, work with, ride or train.

Horses are not “rude”, humans are rude. Horses are horses, being “rude” isn’t part of their make up. If he does not trust and respect you, this is not his fault, you have not earned his trust and respect from him yet in your association with him. Perhaps nobody he has met yet in his life has successfully fully earned his trust and respect. He’s protecting himself, from humans. He’s reactive. Some mistakes have been made with him previously… I can’t imagine a vet trying to get a needle into a horse for a nerve block who is already known to be this way without sedating first, to do so was a mistake (obviously). If you make mistakes like this with a horse like this, it can indeed be life threatening for the human. But it is still not his fault, and not because he is rude.

Dealing with horses like this with trust and respect issues and emotional baggage is ALWAYS a matter of compromise. How much you can modify his responses is unknown in advance, and depends solely on gaining his trust, and respect, and understanding… mutual understanding of each other’s character, language, opinions and history. And yes, this is accomplished by ground work, cues and responses and rewards. Some trainers are extremely skilled with this type of ground work, and may be able to get through to this horse and improve his understanding and responses to cues. But it is never just the horse who needs this, it is his human as well… you. Because your mindset has to be changed a bit too, to learn how to interact with him safely and effectively… what you can expect and ask of him, and what you can’t.
Good luck and stay safe. Find a trainer locally who can improve the relationship you have with this horse, and work with both of you. He may never turn into a school pony, he may never be able to be handled by green or incompetent handlers- because if the humans make mistakes with him, he is not responsible for his actions.


Turn him around so his back is to the wall. Then he can not lean or pull back. If it is pain he can put his weight back on the wall while you lift the hoof.

If it is bad manners he will walk forward all over you. Then it is your training that needs to be addressed.