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Guest writers

Clair Thunes
Summit Equine Nutrition

Clair Thunes

As an equine nutritionist Dr. Thunes has worked with a wide range of horses from lactating mares to competitive dressage horses, and with a variety of physiological problems including insulin resistance and muscle myopathies, and she is happy to work in conjunction with your veterinarian. Dr. Thunes believes in finding the right balance between the horse\'s diet and needs and the client\'s resources. She works with both individual horses or an entire barn and enjoys working with owners to find the optimal feeding solutions. Services provided include diet evaluation and formulation, hay analysis interpretation, custom supplement formulation and farm visits. Dr. Thunes also offers phone and email consultations. Dr. Thunes can be contacted at 916-248-8987.

Articles by Clair Thunes:




Charles Wilhelm
Ultimate Foundation Trainings

Charles Wilhelm

Charles Wilhelm is internationally known as America’s most respected horse trainer and is the creator of Ultimate Foundation Training, an equine training technique that combines the best of traditional, classical and natural horsemanship into a methodology that is applicable to every riding discipline.

His training facility located in Castro Valley, CA, offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship, from novice through trainer.  His programs truly reflect his motto “Success Through Knowledge”.

Articles by Charles Wilhelm:

Introduction to De-Spooking and Sacking Out

Training Month IV - Continuing Linework & First Bath

Training Month I - A Good Mind & Haltering

Training Month II - Leading & Picking Up Feet

Training Month III - Basic Linework

The Role of Equipment in Horse Training


Training Month II - Leading & Picking Up Feet

by Charles Wilhelm

Last month I talked about the benefits of selecting a youngster with a great mind, and haltering techniques so that you can catch them in order to work with them. In this column I will cover two very basic handling exercises: leading and handling feet.

Teaching a baby to lead seems like it would be the easiest exercise in the world. And sometimes it is. But more often than not, people start tugging forward on a lead rope, and the young horse has not yet learned there is supposed to be a connection between that lead rope and his feet! And he does what most babies do - he resists what he does not understand. There you are pulling straight on the lead rope with all your might, trying to get that baby to go forward, and unknowingly, you have helped him get into the perfect position to lock up at the knees and resist.

So instead, when teaching a horse to lead we begin by asking them to move sideways. Not too much of an angle, let’s say around 45 degrees to begin with. Stand 45 degrees off their head and maybe four to six feet away, and then make contact with the lead rope. Maintain the contact until they step over — even a little bit. If you are making contact and they are still not taking a step, increase the angle you are standing at up to maybe 90 degrees as needed. It is more difficult for them to “lock up” sideways, so at some point if you are pulling or maintaining pressure sidewise, they will step over. The second they do, then release for the reward. Like anything else, horses need a reason to learn or change a behavior. For them to learn to step when you pick up that lead rope, to make that connection in their mind, they need a reason they can understand. By placing them physically in a position where they almost have to step based on the angle and contact, and then you rewarding them each time they do — they will get the lesson much more quickly than trying to pull forward where you have little opportunity to reward them.

Now is where repetition comes into play. Pick up at your angle, hold, release upon a step. Then go to the other side and do the same thing. Keep going back and forth, asking them to move sideways toward you, and as the horse gets more responsive, you can decrease the angle at which you are asking, until the horse seems to be taking a step forward on it’s own. The trick with this is to be looking for the horse to be moving in the direction of the poll, not its nose. The “magic” happens when that horse learns that his feet should be moving in the direction of the poll, rather than nose.

When the horse starts leading with you, on the left side walk in a circle to the left, keeping him with you as you maintain going left. And then when he is consistently staying with you at the circle, try going straight. Take a couple of steps forward. If he stops, go back to the circle to encourage the horse’s feet to keep moving when yours are moving. It’s best to start this work close to the youngster’s stall, or even in his paddock (if he has one), to increase his comfort. Otherwise, just stay close to where he is normally kept while doing this exercises initially, to help assure his focus is on you and not his anxiety.

Once he is going with you, work on just leading around his stall or paddock. Slowly go a bit further out each time, always coming back when you can sense he is getting anxious. As you continue the leading training, you are controlling his feet, which is getting his attention on you and also setting you up to become his leader.

The filly Jaz that I am starting has been very quick to take to the leading lessons so far. But even with her low emotional level and natural sense of wanting to be with me, I still am taking my time and not rushing her through anything. While she has not seemed anxious during many lessons, I will continue to proceed cautiously and do baby steps in every lesson. There is absolutely no reason to rush with a youngster when you are trying to “build” a fantastic horse for yourself, and the better you do these truly basic foundation exercises, the more solid your horse is going to be at every single training level.

Now the other important training issue to tackle right away with a baby is handling their feet safely. You can wait on a lot of training, but not on hoof handling. You need for your horse to be able to be trimmed well by a farrier, and also to be able to check them any time you may detect a soundness possibility.

For hoof handling, which is a type of sacking our exercise on itself, I start with something like a stiff dressage whip, nothing too flimsy. I rub it up and down the front legs. If the horse strikes, I am out of harm’s way since I am using a long “extension” of my arm. If the horse is fidgeting, I keep rubbing until she relaxes. Pressure and release again, reward the horse by removing the contact only when she is being quiet and not moving. Otherwise I keep rubbing (with the whip) the outside legs from the top down to the hooves, then the inside legs, under the belly, both sides to the rear legs. When you can make contact with the horse in all of these zones with the dressage whip, and the horse remains standing quietly and is calm, then you can move on to the next step, picking up the feet.

A cane (or something like it) is actually a great tool for the next phase. We actually have a dressage stick with curved end like a cane that we have in our tack store. So if you do not have one, you can either get an inexpensive cane at a local drugstore or contact us at the ranch for one of ours. It is a very effective piece of safety equipment! The curved end of the cane can be used as a hook – again providing you a safe extension of your arm and hand to pick up the hooves. Begin by reaching down with the curved handle of the cane to the front leg just above the pastern. Put some pressure (by lightly lifting or pulling on the cane) on the area and when the horse yields by picking up at all — release immediately. Keep repeating this as needed on the same leg until the horse almost leaves the foot there on her own. Then move on to the other front leg and start over.
Once the horse is comfortable with the cane and the pressure (and this could be 10-30 minutes on each side), then you can try picking up the hooves with your hands rather than the cane. How do you tell the horse is comfortable? Make sure she is not moving away when you add pressure on the contact of the cane, and that her overall body posture seems relaxed and complacent. Note that if you have been releasing at all while the horse was moving away, you have been teaching her to resist! So remember, stay with it until she quiets.

When you are ready to use your hands, set yourself up off to the side (to be as safe as possible) and use your arm/hand just like the cane. The second the horse picks up her feet at your contact - release. But if she starts moving away, do not release! One common problem to watch for is to not be holding the hoof tightly. This will actually cause a lot of horses to resist much more and slow the training greatly. Act like you are holding a baby bird in your hand when you pick up a hoof. Firm enough not to lose it if she moves, both otherwise very gentle.

Another common mistake people can make is to initially try to hold the hoof too high at first and/or for too long. Baby steps! Start with holding it just barely off the ground and then for only a second. Over time, increase first the amount of time you are holding the hoof off the ground, and the later how high the leg is yielding off the ground. As you slowly acclimate your horse to having all four feet picked up (and you should be doing this every single day you can), then eventually you can also start lightly tapping the hooves with the cane or even a rock, in preparation for the farrier. We have been working with Jaz’s feet every single day, and once she was fairly solid with my handling of her hooves and legs, I started having the rest of the staff work with her as well to increase her comfort of strangers picking up her feet. She has just her first trim by my farrier and because we had worked with her regularly, it was exceptionally easy.

Next month we will cover beginning round pen work (weather permitting) and also lunging 101. These both are fundamentally lessons of respect and leadership more than physical exercises for a baby, but critically important when training any horse — especially a youngster.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email at or visit us on the web at

Until next time,

Charles Wilhelm

Andalusian Dressage Partners
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