You want your foal's first hoof trim to be quiet, calm, and pleasant for all. Here is a step-by-step method that will do
Before you begin:
The foal can be handled with the mare turned loose in a large stall or small pen if the mare is safe to be around. The
mare can also be held on a lead, tied or placed in an adjacent pen or stall. You will be able to judge which will work best
depending on the mares temperament and training, and on the available facilities. Keeping the mare and foal calm is essential
for training to be effective.
The footing must be soft and not slippery. Dirt or sand is better than bedding on stall mats. Concrete or other hard surfaces
are not acceptable. The work area should be free of hooks, nails, shelves, waterers, buckets, dogs, tools, wheelbarrows, or
anything else that can cause injury.
You can work alone if you are comfortable doing so, or have one person holding the foal on a lead rope and another handling
How long for each lesson?:
That depends on the foal. Keep it short and end on a good note. The following lessons will be accomplished in several sessions.
Ten minutes per session will be about right. Keep the goal for each step in mind, but dont focus on achieving the goal in
a set time frame. What is most important is to be aware of the foals level of acceptance and to have each step solid before
Until the foal is very happy to pick up his feet and comfortable standing tied, he should not be tied during hoof handling.
He will be overwhelmed and will probably pull back and jump forward, possibly injuring himself or the handler. If the foal
is halter trained he can be held on a lead by a tactful handler without too much pressure. The person holding the foal should
always be on the same side of the foal as the person working on the feet, so that if the foal jumps his head can be tipped
toward the handlers, causing the hindquarters to step away rather than into the person handling the feet.
If a little foal must have the feet or legs worked on before being halter trained, she can be held with one arm around
the chest and the other hand around the base of the tail, close to the body. The tail can be injured if it is held farther
from the body and bent up over the back too much. A strap or loop of rope can be placed low on the foal's neck, at the withers
and around the chest and used as a handhold. Holding the foal against a fence is a help. Again, restraint should be tactful
and minimal, keeping the foal still with a minimum of pressure and allowing her to find a way to stand comfortably.
For these lessons, halter training should already be in place. The foal will be better able to balance and to focus on
the hoof-handling lessons if he has learned the basics. He should wear a halter comfortably, and be able to bend his neck
towards the handler and step his hindquarters away when asked with pressure and correctly-timed release on the lead rope.
Work on basic bending and stepping over exercises for a few minutes is a good preparation for further training in each lesson.
Step-by-step lessons build confidence:
Step One -
Goal: The foal is comfortable having her legs touched.
What to do: Rub or stroke each leg from the shoulders or hindquarters in progressively increasing steps until the
whole leg to the hoof can be touched. The handler can sense how far is too far for each increment. The idea is to expose the
foal to a new sensation without overwhelming her. Dont dwell on a spot that is uncomfortable; back off before the foal tenses
and then try to go a bit farther the next time. Brushing the legs is helpful also, using a soft brush and the gradual approach.
Remember, this may take several lessons. There is no rush; youre on foal-time here. The lessons can be spread out in brief
moments as you do barn chores and check the horses.
Step Two - Goal: The foal will begin to shift his weight off each leg calmly.
What to do: As you run your hand down the leg, briefly hold your hand around the leg, with a little pressure. Often
the foal will lift the hoof, sometimes in irritation, sometimes cooperatively or experimentally. Either way, no attempt should
be made yet to hold the foot up. The goal here is just to get the foal accustomed to shifting her weight and briefly lifting
the foot without upset. Gently let go right as the foal begins to lift the foot. Once the foal lifts each foot easily and
briefly, the hoof can be held for an instant before being released. The handler will know when the foal is consistently comfortable.
Moving on before this point is reached will create tense and fretful hoof handling experiences in the future.
Step Three - Goal: The foal will lift the foot when asked with slight pressure.
What to do: It is easy and tempting with a foal to simply pry up the foot. This unbalances, upsets, and can hurt
the foal. A better way is to teach the foal to shift her weight and and lift the foot herself.
On the front feet, the hand nearest the foal holds the mane near the withers, very gently suggesting a shift of weight
to the other front foot. The other hand encircles the leg with the thumb pressing or scratching just above the fetlock. The
moment the foal thinks of lifting the leg, the pressure of the thumb is released. This process proceeds in stages until the
foal will lift the foot when asked by the pressure of the thumb.
Over time, the handler will hold the foot longer as the foal can tolerate it. The hind feet are normally easier than the
front. The same is done as with the front feet, except the hand is rested on the foal's hip. The youngster can be placed along
a fence or wall if need be to prevent stepping away. It is important with front or hind feet to notice how the foal is standing
and to help him to stand his other three legs in a balanced way so that when any foot is lifted he will not feel unstable.
Once the foal is comfortable with having each foot lifted and held for about ten seconds, it is time for the next step.
Step Four - Goal: The foal is relaxed about having the hoof held up and worked on.
What to do: Once each foot can be lifted easily, you can tap on the hoof with your fingers and later a small hammer,
rasp the foot lightly, and anything else you can think up. A brush or hoof pick works fine as a pretend farrier tool, and
the foal wont know the difference. Do these things every chance you get, for just a few minutes per session. The time taken
now will be repaid a hundredfold in the horse's future.
Tools, tricks, and troubleshooting:
It helps to hold just the hoof, not the leg, after picking up the foot. This feels less threatening to the foal. It is
important to hold the hoof low and comfortably under the body. It is easy to hurt the foal by holding her foot too high or
out to the side.
With the little foal just beginning to have its feet handled, we proceed step- by-step in allowing it to be comfortable.
With an older foal that has had enough handling to be expected to be good about its feet, it is eventually appropriate to
hold up the foot, even if there is a struggle. Every attempt should be made to hold the foot in a comfortable position, firmly
without tension, and without allowing the foal to pull away. This often happens with weanlings or yearlings that haven't been
handled for awhile. With a good foundation the youngster will soon remember his earlier training.
If a foal kicks, just calmly hold the foot until the kicking stops. This is with a foal whose feet have been handled for
awhile. If it is too hard to hold the foot, a short, soft rope or strip of gunny sack can be twisted around the leg at first.
Punishment for kicking should not be used unless the foal is very aggressive and not improving. A single, prompt slap is enough,
with the lesson continuing immediately.