A Horse Won’t Hold Its Foot in the Air for You. Right?

“Well, it’s not like the horse is going to hold their foot in the air for you to clean it out.”

This is a common assumption in human thinking. However, if you try on some “horse thinking”, all of a sudden the idea of a horse holding its foot in the air for you becomes completely reasonable and normal.

When it comes to cleaning the feet of a horse it’s a job that needs to be done, and as humans beings we are a predator (eyes in the front of the head, canine teeth for eating meat), and we are straight line thinkers. The quickest route from point A to point B is a straight line.

Contrast that with prey animals. Their eyes are more on the side of their head. They don’t have teeth for eating meat and their default is a meandering line, not a straight line. If a horse feels a straight line, that’s a big tip off to them that they’re being stalked by a predator and are about to be dinner.

Several years ago I used to volunteer with a horse therapy program for at-risk youth. One client I worked with was having trouble picking up the feet of her horse. She was so focused on getting a hold of the hoof that she would try, fail and then give up. She repeated this process so many times that soon the horse didn’t even bother to listen to her. The horse eventually kept all its weight solidly on the very foot she wanted to pick up. She was very much in straight line thinking. The horse was very much resisting.

I remember telling her to forget about picking up the foot. Instead look for a green light from the horse, no matter how tiny, like a shift of weight, and then pet the horse’s leg immediately. She did this several times. She got better at asking slowly so she could better sense the very beginning of when the horse started to cooperate. The moment the horse began to cooperate, she went to petting the horse’s leg. She did not care about what the foot was doing.

After several times of doing this, the horse decided to hold his foot in the air for just a moment. Amazed, she was about to grab it, thinking she could finally clean the foot.

I abruptly stopped her and said, “Resist the temptation to grab it. Instead, ignore it, and just pet the horse’s leg.”

She was able to over-ride her straight-line thinking, and just pet the horse’s leg. After a couple of times of this routine, the horse eventually held its foot relaxed in the air for several seconds, the longest he ever had. I knew he was ready for her to clean it out. And so she did, with complete continued cooperation from the horse.

Yes, you can get a horse to do things using straight line thinking. If the barn is burning down and you need the horse out of there now, straight line thinking will get the job done. But what if the barn isn’t burning down? What if there is no emergency? Then what would our interaction with them look like with a round about line, the kind of meandering line that horses spend the majority of their day doing?

This is where horses show us humans another world. If we have the patience and courage to enter their world and see it as they see it, a whole new experience unfolds before us. It’s where the magical moments with horses reside, where they want to be with you, and they want to interact with you of their own free will. Once you get a taste of a horse seeking you out, nothing can compare. It is heaven on earth.

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