Task 25: Lift feet and allow the trainer to clean them without kicking.
Hoof cleaning is one of the most complex tasks we train. It involves the animal giving up control of its primary tools for self defense. Horses play and fight by biting each other’s legs. Your horse may misunderstand your intentions if you are not careful.
We have separated front and hind legs for convenience. Start on the hinds. Review 6 and 11.3 before starting. Each set of directions is for one of the pair of legs. Complete each subtask on both legs of the pair before continuing to the next subtask.
ALERT: Standing closer to the horse is safer than standing an arm’s length away. An arm’s length of room gives the leg plenty of space to gather momentum.
Task 25.H Subtask1 Allow hind legs to be countdown (5) petted to hooves 3x
Objective: We need to be able to touch the legs first, or when we do, the horse is likely to be surprised. No surprises, please.
The Set-Up: Control the antecedents by keeping the animal’s anxiety low, limiting distractions, and being in a familiar pen. It is very advantageous to have an assistant to feed, but avoid using an assistant that might make the horse less comfortable or that isn’t proficient in delivering food on the bridge signal. Don’t assume your assistant will intuitively understand this task; practice it with them on an already trained horse. They should only feed when you bridge and they should refrain from talking to the horse. A incompetent assistant will cause a lot of problems.
Some horses do better with a clicker on this task than with a verbal bridge. This is especially true for people what tend to draw out their bridge. If you don’t have a crisp clean bridge, consider conditioning the horse to a clicker first (See Task 1.3).
Prerequisite Training: The animal should understand countdown petting and be accustomed to CDP(5) all over its body including the belly (T9 & T10). The animal should be comfortable with the legs being petted with the guider stick (T11.3).
Protocol: Start with CDP(5) on the croup and work down the leg. I generally have my inside hand (shoulder towards horse while facing tail) on the croup and use the outside hand to do the petting. The hand on croup allows you feel the horse move and to push away from the horse if it tries to kick. Extend petting to new areas on the 1-count (last) and keep the final stroke on a body area the animal is already comfortable with. Monitor the animal for anxiety and control it by going slower or increasing the number of small bites that the animal gets as a treat. If the animal moves, stop counting and stand up. Hesitate for 5-10 seconds (LRS) before starting a new trial.
QC: If the horse stands for three trials in which the whole leg is petted, you are done with that leg. Try to get both legs equally comfortable at petting, but don’t over-train this or the animal will believe it should not move its hooves in the next subtask.
- What if the horse wants to kick me? Standing close to the horse is safer than standing farther away. It is best to keep some contact between your shoulder/arm and the horses haunches, rather than put yourself where the horse can really wack you. Review Subtask 11.3 then fade out the guider stick. You can also train this with an iron pipe fence between you and the horse, but be aware that getting your arm or hand kicked against a solid fence is dangerous. Train the horse to stand close and parallel to the fence so you don’t have to reach more than a foot.
Task 25.H Subtask2 Lift hind hoof off heel upon cue “footie” with no latency (5x)
Objective: The horse will take the weight off of its heel of the indicated hoof, rolling it to only contact the ground with the toe. Mustang Camp uses the verbal cue “footie”, but you can use anything you want on your own horse.
The Set-Up: Distractions are limited. The horse can be at liberty if you don’t have an assistant to hold the rope and feed. You can train the horse through a panel if you are worried it will kick you.
Prerequisite Training: The horse should be comfortable having its hind legs touched down to the hoof (T25.1). If you are training through a panel, it needs to be able to stand parallel to the fence. It should have a generalized understanding of the meaning of the keep-going-signal, the count-down.
Protocol: Position the horse so that it will be inclined to lift the hind leg you are working with. Touch the hock and wait for the horse to start to move the foot. As soon as ANY weight comes off the foot (before it actually moves) bridge and feed. If you are fast enough to bridge and feed before the horse has a chance to do anything else, it will be very clear to the horse what it needs to do. If you are slow to bridge, you will get more kicking or stepping away.
QC: The horse should lift the weight off the heels and touch the toe to the ground with no latency five times in a row. Make sure that the horse responds on both legs.
- What if the horse starts holding its foot in the air? This is not a big fault and will resolve itself in the next step.
Task 25.H Subtask3 Roll hind hoof onto toe and rest while CDP(5)
Objective: The horse will maintain the toe to the ground for duration while the leg is being petted down to the hoof.
The Set-Up: Same as Subtask 2.
Prerequisite Training: The animal has learned to lift its heel off the ground.
Protocol: Capture an incidence of heel-lifting behavior with slightly longer duration and feed it generously. Feed instantaneous instances of the behavior very sparingly. When the animal is offering slightly longer durations, start responding with count-down petting(5). Because the animal has an extensive history with extending durations with countdowns, it is likely to simply keep the foot on the toe. If it doesn’t, make your petting/count-down very fast to try to match how long the animal will actually do it. If the foot comes off the toe, stop counting and wait for the behavior to be offered again. The animal will be learning as much from when you stop counting as when you are counting, so be strict while still keeping the rate of success high.
QC: When you can CDP(5) to the heel 3 times in a row with no evasions, move on.
What ifs: x
Task 25.H Subtask4 Relax while hind leg is held and bounced for 5sec while foot is resting on toe 5x
Objective: The horse will maintain a relaxed position while the trainer moves the hoof which is resting on its toe.
The Set-Up: As Subtask 2
Prerequisite Training: The horse must be quite relaxed about stationing on its toe while the cannon, fetlocks, and pastern are count-down petted(5) (T25.3).
Protocol: Transition from petting, to holding around the mid- to lower cannon bone as if you were picking the hoof up. Turn it into gently count-down rubbing. When the horse is comfortable with rubbing, start count-down wiggling the hoof enough to move it off the ground. Gradually increase the elevation of the movement until you can bounce it on the toe.
QC: When you can CDBounce(5) 3x in a row with no evasions, move on.
What ifs: x
Task 25.H Subtask5 Relax while hind leg is held off the ground 5 seconds 5x
Objective: The horse will maintain a relaxed position while the trainer holds the hoof for a countdown(5).
The Set-Up: As in Subtask 2.
Prerequisite Training: The horse should station on the toe when asked and then allow it to be manipulated and briefly lifted (T25.4).
Protocol: Continuing from Subtask 4 CDBounce(5), retain the hoof from touching the ground for the 1 count, then set it down again on the bridge. When that is tolerated, retain it for two counts in a row, then three, etc. Make sure the horse knows you think it is doing a great job.
QC: When you can hold the hoof for CD(5)
What ifs: x
Task 25.H Subtask6 Relax while hind hoof picked cleaned 5x *
Objective: The horse will maintain a relaxed position while the trainer cleans the hoof with a hoof pick for a countdown(5).
The Set-Up: As in Subtask 2.
Prerequisite Training: The animal will allow the human to passively hold its hooves for CD(5). (T25.5)
Protocol: While holding the hoof during the count-down, start scraping and tapping the sole of the hoof with your fingernails to desensitize the horse to a mild version of the sensations of hoof cleaning. When the horse accepts that level of stimulus, switch to using a hoof pick to gently tap and scrape the hoof wall and sole. As that is understood, change to prying dirt out of the central sulcus, and then to tapping on the hoof wall rim with the hoof pick. You can continue to simulate cleaning even after the hoof is clean to give the animal more practice.
What ifs: x
Task 25.F Subtask1 Stand still for front legs to be CDP(5) to hooves 3x
Objective: The horse will stand without moving while its front legs are being petted down to the hoof.
The Set-Up: Control the antecedents by keeping the animal’s anxiety low, limiting distractions, and being in a familiar pen. It is advantageous to have an assistant to feed, but avoid using one that might make the horse less comfortable or that isn’t proficient in delivering food on the bridge signal.
Prerequisite Training: The animal should understand countdown petting and be accustomed to CDP(5) all over its body including the belly.
Protocol: Start with CDP(5) on the withers and work down the leg. Extend to new areas on the 1 count and keep the final stroke on a body area the animal is already comfortable with. Monitor the animal for anxiety and control it by going slower or increasing the number of small bites the animal gets as a treat. Stop counting and stand up, looking away, if the animal moves. Hesitate for 5-10 seconds (LRS) before starting a new trial.
QC: If the horse stands for three trials in which the whole leg is petted, you are done with that leg. Try to get both legs equally comfortable at petting.
- What if the horse is already anxious? It is better to not train this unless the horse is calm.
- What if I have to work alone? By the time you reach Task 25, your horse will probably work with you at liberty. Don’t try tying up your horse to do this because it’s not safe. If you feel like it would help, then just station your horse at a rope hanging on the fence (T24.1)
Task 25.F Subtask2 Target knees to fingers if not completed with Task 6
Objective: The horse will lift its indicated front leg to contact the target fingers with its knees.
The Set-Up: Limit distractions and work in an environment where the animal is very comfortable.
Prerequisite Training: The animal should have low latency in targeting body parts to the finger target (T6.1). The animal should be comfortable about having its legs touched (T25F.1). Review this before starting.
Protocol: If you can touch the knee without any issues, you can touch the knee momentarily, bridging almost simultaneously and then feeding. Touch and bridge three times, and then on the fourth time, do not touch the knee but put the target a centimeter in front of the knee. Hold the finger target steady. If the animal picks up the hoof, the knee will contact the target. Bridge immediately and feed it generously when it does and make a big deal out of it. Keep your fingers close to the knee as you repeat this; holding the target too far forward will encourage the horse to paw. Pawing involves the cannon bone and hoof moving forward. The correct motion involves the cannon bone swinging backwards from the knee to a horizontal position. Pawing is a modal action pattern and the animal is instinctively primed to paw as a way to get food so it can be quite hard to get them to stop doing it and it is very hazardous to the trainers legs and feet. Don’t reinforce pawing more than once; if you accidentally bridge pawing, say “oops” and don’t feed. Add the cue “target knee” once you are sure that the animal will perform the action. I’ve had several male horses that thought this was very fun, especially from a distance.
QC: When the animal responds to request to “target knee” by lifting the indicated front hoof under itself with low latency 5 times in a row this subtask is complete (both sides).
- What if the animal starts pawing? Get your target fingers closer to the knee and try to make it difficult for the knee to push your fingers forward. Make sure your bridge happens exactly when the knee contacts the hand, and then the food goes into the animal as quickly as possible. In other words, get everything done before the animal has a chance to complete a pawing action. Watch the direction of the hoof carefully to know when it is really going to turn into a pawing action rather than a knee target and avoid bridging what might turn into a paw. You might want to video pawing to study what the animal does to get ready for that behavior rather than lifting.
Task 25.F Subtask3 Lift front hoof upon request with no latency while trainer is in position to pick up hoof (5x)
Objective: The horse will raise the indicated hoof towards its belly without targeting knee when asked for “foot”.
The Set-Up: As in Subtask 2
Prerequisite Training: The animal should raise the indicated hoof without pawing and be accustomed to contact the human hand in doing so. The animal should be relaxed about having its legs touched.
Protocol: Review T25F.2 and after 3 good performances, change the verbal cue (but not the body language) to “foot” and reward generously (5-bites). After a set of 3 good performances of that behavior, adjust your position to be identical to how you would ask for the foot to clean and continue until the animal can do it correctly five times in a row.
QC: When you can stand beside the horses shoulder and leg and ask the horse to pick up the hoof five times in a row with no evasions, got to Subtask 4
What ifs: x
Task 25.F Subtask4 Relax while held for 5sec while front hoof is off the ground 5x
Objective: The horse will remain relaxed while the front hoof is held for cd(5)
The Set-Up: As in Subtask 2.
Prerequisite Training: The animal must be accustomed to having the leg touched (ST1, ST2) and must lift its hoof towards its belly on command.
Protocol: Review targeting knee from the hoof cleaning position (how you need to stand), and adjust your hand to contact the cannon bone instead of the knee after the horse performs ST2 twice. At first just contact the palmer side of the cannon, then gradually slip your hand to cup around the medial side, and then to around and under. DO NOT HOLD ON TO THE LEG. The animal must be allowed to remove it. It will accept holding much better if it is not afraid you will try to restrain it. When the horse can lift its leg to contact the hand, then ask for duration by counting down (5) and support the leg during the count. Stop counting and start a new trial every time the horse takes its foot away.
What ifs: x
Task 25.F Subtask5 Relax while front hoof picked cleaned 5x *
Objective: The horse will remain relaxed while the front hoof is picked clean with a hoofpick for CD(5)
The Set-Up: As in Subtask 2.
Prerequisite Training: The horse can stand for the hoof to be held for a count-down(5).
Protocol: x While holding the hoof during the count-down, start scraping and tapping the sole of the hoof with your fingernails to desensitize the horse to a mild version of the stimulus. When the horse accepts that level of stimulus, switch to using a hoof pick to gently tap and scrape the hoof wall and sole. As that is understood, change to prying dirt out of the central sulcus. You can continue to simulate cleaning even after the hoof is clean to give the animal more practice.
What ifs: x