Properly lifting and holding your horse’s front limb is a basic skill that all horse owners should know how to do. It is helpful if you need to pull a shoe, clean or trim a foot, assess an injury or treat a wound.
From the horse's side and facing the rear, touch the horse's shoulder and run your hand down the limb to the flexor tendons, just above the fetlock on the back of the limb.
To raise the limb, grasp the flexor tendons between your finger and thumb and gently but firmly squeeze the flexor tendons between your thumb and fingers, and keep pressure there until you feel the horse begin to yield and raise the foot, then instantly release the pressure.
If this does not work, try digging your fingernails or fingertips into inside (medial) and outside (lateral) skin over mid cannon. If this does not work, grasp the chestnut and pinch it. Do these things simultaneously, if needed. Instantly release pressure when your horse raises their foot.
Now cradle the limb gently but firmly in your hands. Keep the limb directly under the horse to the extent possible. To control the limb once it is raised, hold the toe of the hoof in one hand and use the toe as a lever for control. When your horse resists, put the fetlock in strong flexion and hold the toe tightly. When your horse relaxes, immediately relax compression on the lower limb.
After your horse relaxes their leg, step under the leg, tuck your inside hip under the hock and against the upper limb. Keeping your knee at a 45 degree angle with your horse, place their fetlock in your lap, against the inside of your inside leg, just above your knee.
Pull your horse’s foot backward gently with your inside knee and tuck the hock into your hip. Support the foot with your outside knee, and keep a hand on the toe at all times to maintain control of the foot and prevent the horse from pulling it away.
Tips for safety & Success
Generally, you should never perform any procedure on an unrestrained horse. For minor procedures that are not painful, a trained horse may be tied, or may stand in cross ties.
However, it can be dangerous to perform painful treatments on a tied horse. A trained assistant who is working in the same way you are makes any procedure easier and safer. If you do not have an assistant, you will need to restrain the horse's head at the same time as you work on the limb.
Use a farrier's leather apron for protection, especially if you are pulling a shoe. Whenever handling legs and feet, always keep your back straight and your shoulders above your hips to reduce the chance for back injury.
Try to consciously keep the horse's limb under the horse, and not pulled out to the side. Horses resent having their limbs unnecessarily strained, and will resist more than if attention is paid to keeping them comfortable.