What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Handler Cannot Pick Up Foot, or Horse Pulls Foot Away


It is very important to know that PAIN in either the supporting limb (the limb not being lifted) OR the limb being lifted may cause a horse to resist raising a limb or keeping a limb raised. Likewise, any condition which worsens a horse's ability to balance and support its weight on one limb (neurologic conditions are an example) would be expected to cause the same thing.

If pain or other physical cause is not the reason, then a tendency not to yield the foot (or yanking it away prematurely) is usually caused by a lack of training or the wrong cues being given by the handler. For a horse to easily and quickly raise its foot when cued, and continue to keep the foot raised until the handler releases it, the horse must know that quietly complying with the request is easier than the alternative - pulling the limb away.

For that to happen, proper cues must be given to ask the horse to lift the limb. Proper technique must then be used to keep it in position. The raised position must ALWAYS be comfortable for the horse. Struggle or resistance must be LESS COMFORTABLE than complying.

  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If you notice lameness or other problems associated with this sign.
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

Try to determine whether this behavior is a result of a training deficit, behavioral issue or physical problem resulting in pain or discomfort. Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) paying particular attention to the appearance of the limbs. Look for swelling, digital pulse and heat in both the problem limb and the supporting limb (the limb the horse must stand on). Assess lameness at the walk and trot. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not assume that there is or is not a physical cause for this behavior. Do not rely on sedation by your vet to accomplish what should be a standard horsemanship skill.

your vet's role

Your vet can help you differentiate a physical problem from a behavioral or training issue. They do this through observing the behavior, the limb that is being pulled away, and the supporting limb. They assess gait, looking for lameness and neurologic deficit that could be related to the behavior.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this behavior?
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • Does your horse walk and move freely, or have you noticed any lameness?
  • Was the horse good about this before?
  • Was there an incident that seemed to cause this behavior?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP