Why Won’t My Horse Let Me Pick Up Its Feet?

If you’ve ever had to deal with a horse that won’t let you pick up your feet, then you know how frustrating the situation can be. There’s nothing like being reminded by a 1000 pound animal how small and powerless you really are.

Why do horses refuse to pick up their feet? There are a few reasons why a horse may not want to pick up their feet:

  • The horse is being stubborn and disrespectful
  • The horse has pain that is triggered when they pick up their feet
  • The horse has a difficult time balancing on three legs


Being able to differentiate between a medical issue and a behavioral issue when it comes to your horse picking up its feet will help you to determine the next steps you need to take to correct the issue.

A Horse Refusing to Pick Up its Feet Due to Stubbornness

Horse lifting Feet

How Stubbornness Affects the Horse

Believe it or not, a stubborn horse refusing to pick up their feet is quite a common occurrence. Stubborn horses sometimes like to do two things: 1) do as little work as possible, and 2) test your authority.

A horse can view picking up its feet as extra work; a horse will also test you to see if they can get away with not picking up their feet. If you have simply given up trying to get your horse to pick up its feet, then your horse has won. In that aspect, they no longer view you as the authority.

Hot to Tell if the Horse is Being Stubborn

When it comes to a horse not wanting to pick up its feet, it can be tricky to discern between whether the horse is simply being stubborn or if there may be a health problem. Regardless, your horse needs to be taught to respond to your cues and pick up their feet. A sick horse will still need its feet taken care of just like a healthy stubborn horse.

Some indicators that you may be working with a stubborn horse are as such:

  • the horse plants its feet and refuses to budge
  • the horse will use a “scare tactic:” pulling backward or throwing their weight on you.
  • when asked to pick up its feet, the horse will swing its body toward you, causing you to move to get out of the way


These are just a few examples I’ve seen stubborn horses demonstrate. It’s important to correct this behavior as soon as you notice it, or it will continue to get worse.

Issues that Cause a Horse to be Stubborn

As mentioned above, many horses like to do as little work as possible as well as test your authority and see what they can get away with. If refusing to pick up their feet will result in less work for them, then the horse will be all about. Likewise, if the horse realizes that it can get away with not picking up its feet, then it will just develop it further into a bad habit.

How to Correct the Horse’s Stubbornness

Correcting your horse’s stubbornness simply comes down to re-establishing respect. There are a few ways to do this. The first thing I would recommend is getting your horse to focus on you and your personal space. To learn about this more in-depth, check out our article How to Get Your Horse to Pay Attention to You.

Secondly, teach your horse that not picking up their feet it actually going to result in much more work for them. To do this, have your horse on a lead rope in a level area. Ask your horse to pick up its feet; if it refuses, immediately make them move out in a trot around you. Have them do a working trot for a few minutes.

Once they’ve trotted around, have them come back to a halt. Ask for the foot again; if they refuse, send them back out into a trot. Reward even the slightest try. Once you can pick up the foot, always make sure that you are giving the hoof for the horse to put down instead of the horse just putting down its foot whenever it pleases.

Gradually increase the amount of time you ask the horse to hold its foot in the air. Anytime the horse fights against you, send them out to work.

A Horse Refusing to Pick Up its Feet Due to Pain

How Pain Affects the Horse

When a horse has pain in its body, it may be hesitant to pick up its feet. In most cases, If the horse refuses to pick up a certain foot, it’s usually the opposite foot that would have the problem. When the horse shifts it’s weight to pick up the hoof, the extra weight on the opposite side may cause more pain and discomfort that would make the horse not want to shift their balance to that side.

How to Tell if the Horse is in Pain

if your horse is refusing to pick up its feet due to pain,  be aware that the pain point can be found anywhere throughout the horse’s body. However, it never hurts to check the horse’s opposite legs and hooves for heat.

If you find heat or a sensitive area, then you know that the horse is most likely refusing to pick up its feet due to pain. Check for heat or sensitive areas by running your hand down the horse’s leg and placing your hand over the outside wall of your horse’s hoof to see if you can feel anything warmer than usual. 

Another way to tell if your horse may have pain that is causing them to not pick up their feet, have someone hand walk your horse and study the horse’s gait. Take time to watch your horse’s gait to see if they may be limping or favoring a certain leg. If so, then you’ll know why the horse is reluctant to put any weight on that leg.

If there aren’t any specific outward signs that show that your horse is in pain, I recommend contacting the veterinarian. A veterinarian can do an x-ray of the horse’s leg to determine if there is anything internal that may be causing the horse to be in pain.

Issues That Cause Pain in Horse’s Legs/Hooves

There are a number of health-related issues that your horse could be dealing with that would make them refuse to shift their weight in order to pick up their feet. Here is a list of some of the most common issues:

  • abscesses in the hoof 
  • founder
  • arthritis in the joints
  • badly-shaped hooves
  • muscle tear 
  • splints
  • tendon injuries
  • ligament injuries


How to Correct the Horse’s Pain

If your horse refuses to allow you to pick up its feet due to pain, the most important thing is to have the health problem diagnosed and treated. The worst thing you could possibly do is allow your horse to live on in pain while you get frustrated and mad at them for refusing to pick up their feet.

Horses may not be able to talk, but they have their other ways of communication. If your horse is reluctant to pick up its feet due to pain, then it’s trying to communicate that there is a problem.

Even if your horse has pain, they still require daily attention to their hooves. If your horse is reluctant to pick up a certain foot, try turning their head to the side of the foot that needs to be picked up. This will automatically shift their weight to the other side.

If you’re dealing with a horse that has pain, I always recommend having a second person there to help you. They can hold the horse and help them balance while you work on the hooves.

Another important thing to remember is that if you’ve managed to get a hoof up in the air, then the horse is probably experiencing pain. Be sure to put the foot down often to offer relief for the horse.

A Horse Refusing to Pick Up its Feet Due to Balance

How Balance Affects the Horse

When a horse has trouble balancing themselves, it may be difficult to get them to pick up their feet. Horses weigh a lot; their weight should be evenly distributed over their four hooves. If a horse lacks the muscle to properly balance itself or perhaps it has yet to figure out how to balance on three legs, they may struggle to hold their foot up. 

How to Tell if the Horse is Off Balance

While there isn’t a clear indicator of whether your horse is off-balance when it comes to picking up their feet, there can be subtle things that hint at this issue. Firstly, if the horse is either young or old, they can have more problems balancing. These horses have either lost muscle mass or have yet to gain it, so it will naturally be harder for them to balance and support themselves.

If you’re able to get the horse’s hoof up but you feel them constantly leaning on you, then they could be off balance. The horse will rely on your sturdiness to help them balance.

Take time to assess your horse under saddle. Does the horse struggle to walk in a straight line down a hill? Does the horse drop its shoulder and wobble when you go around turns? All these can be indicators that your horse struggles to balance itself.

Issues That Cause a Horse to be Off Balance

While an unbalanced horse is usually the result of undeveloped muscles, there can be other issues that you should be aware of. Neurological issues like EPM can affect the nervous system, which would affect the horse’s balance. Your horse also could most likely be healthy and have a developed muscle tone; all they need is to be taught and encouraged to properly balance themselves.

How to Correct the Horse’s Balance

There are a few things you can do to help an unbalanced horse pick up their feet. The most common method is simply to turn the horse’s head to the side of the leg you plan to pick up. This will shift the horse’s balance off of this leg, which will make it easier to pick up as well as help the horse to learn to balance.

Developing muscle tone in your horse will help your horse be able to balance better and pick up its legs. Increasing your horse’s work out and adding hill work and small jumps to your routine can help your horse build muscle.

Want to know more about horse feet? Check out our article, Horse’s Feet Trim Frequency: Easy Guide.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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