Learning to politely pick up a foot when requested is an essential part of the young horse’s training and should be done regularly from an early stage. Once you can run your hand down a foal’s legs and it remains relaxed, it is time to start teaching them to pick up their feet.
Start by putting your hand underneath the fetlock joint and verbally use a word such as “up” whilst using a gentle pull and release. As the foal takes its weight off that leg, stop and reward it and then change sides. Do not try to get 100% effort straight away. You want to avoid frightening them as they may learn to snatch their foot away. The aim is to teach the foal to relax and to balance itself as it picks up its legs. Make sure your foal is not standing with their side too close to the wall, as they need to lean over to balance themselves as they pick their foot up.
Give the foal time to absorb what has just happened, as it is important for the foal to learn that they can do what you ask without pressure. If the foal accepts you picking the front feet up willingly, then it is time to move onto the back legs.
After verbally reassuring the foal, stand next to its hip, facing the tail. Run your hand down the back of the foal’s leg to the hock. Then put your hand on the front of the hock and run it down the inside of the cannon bone down to the fetlock. Give the command ‘up’ as before and if the foal does not comply gently ease a little weight to encourage the foal to move its weight away from that leg. As with the front legs, be careful not to overdo this weight transference and do not do it suddenly. Move the joint slightly backwards when the foal raises its foot. Slide one hand down to encircle the foot, holding it at the toe with your other hand. Do not lift it high or take it far back. Hold the foot for a few seconds before gently replacing it on the ground.
As with most training, respect is a two-way street. Respect your foal, be sensitive to any feelings of fear or discomfort and make allowances for any previous bad experiences. However, this should not mean acceptance of complete lack of discipline and reasonable co-operation on the part of the foal. The foal must learn to respect you and follow your requests. A calm, firm and patient determination is a reasonable approach to consider.