Alright, you’ve got to the point where he will kinda pick up his foot; he’s trying, anyway, and that is what counts. Keep at it and he will improve. If the going gets too slow for you, remember not to be impatient! Patience is the most necessary virtue in horse training, and if you know you don’t have it, maybe someone else should train for you.
If, after a few weeks, he is still trying and just can’t quite make it, try this. First, make sure your horse is standing squarely (the front legs in line) on a flat piece of ground. If it is hard to stand on three legs anyway, standing him on rolling or unstable ground isn’t going to help. Now try again. Instead of dropping his foot as soon as he picks it up, hold it for 3 seconds. If he starts to fall, though, get out of the way! You don’t want to be crushed. Hold it for a little longer and bring it a little higher every day.
If the problem is that he leans on you for support when you pick up his foot, pick it up, and as soon as you feel him start to lean on you, maintain your hold on the leg, and move away from his body so he no longer has contact with you. He will stumble, he may fall, so watch out! (please do this on a level piece of soft ground!) He will never do it again, though he may need the reminder of stumbling again, but he will not allow himself to fall ever again.
Some of our horses have issues about picking up their feet. And even if they do pick them up, it is grudgingly and they kinda lean on you, just to make it that much harder…. There is a simple way to fix this. Read on.
First off, we should always understand why our horse is doing what he is. This helps us deal with the problem, the whole problem, not just the symptom. Your horse may feel off balance when he is standing on only 3 legs, which may be why he won’t co-operate. He also may feel more vulnerable, as, without all four feet on the ground, he is not able to either kick or run.
Work at it slowly. Start with your hand on his withers and slide it down to his forearm. At this point, either give a verbal command such as ‘foot’ or tap twice on his leg. This becomes your signal. Pause for a second and continue down the leg to the cannon bone. Wiggle your thumb gently at first in the groove of the cannon bone, increasing your pressure if he doesn’t respond. As soon as he shifts his weight onto his other three legs, stop wiggling! If you keep at it and do this again and again, he will become more comfortable with picking up his foot, and even offer it to you as soon as you give him the signal you agreed upon.
If wiggling your thumb has no effect no matter how hard you tickle, run your hand further down to just below the fetlock bone and pinch there. Every horse I have met cannot ignore that! Again, release as soon as you get any kind of response that you are looking for – this is called ‘basic attempt training’. All you want is a try. He will be more willing to pick up his foot a bit faster the next time if you allow him time to develop his balance and muscles.
This is the last standing still lesson!
I suggest, to wrap this up, that you do not leave your horse with a bridle on and walk away until you are absolutely positive he will not walk away and step through his reins. Again, use your own judgement for this! Just be aware that this could hurt him badly and may wreck your bridle. Even the horse that is the most reliably trained will spook or jump occasionally – they are herd animals, and prey animals, too, and this is simply built into their nature. There is nothing you can do about it!
Great! You’ve got your horse off to a good start. By now you should be able to walk away from him at least two meters without him moving his feet at all. If he isn’t quite at this point yet, keep working on him patiently – he’ll get it eventually.
The next step here is to increase his comfort zone. Most horses prefer to be with other horses, and if there are no other horses around, they will stick close to their handler. For especially timid or spooky horses like Vienna, this could be hard. Leave your horse about half way down the arena or pen you are working in. Say your command (whoa or stand) and deliberately walk away, still keeping one eye on him so that you can correct him if necessary. Walk just outside two meters, which is his previous comfort zone. Then return, walking slowly and smiling if he does not move. If he does, correct him, and walk away again. As soon as he lets you walk farther away, return, praise him, and then stretch that zone again and see if you can get all the way to the other side of the pen.
This will take a while. Be ready to calmly correct your horse billions of times! If you are not very patient, perhaps you should consider hiring us to train for you. Please send us an email if you are having troubles.