Back to basics: cleaning horses’ hooves — a complete how-to guide

  • Here is our complete how-to guide on cleaning horses’ hooves, an essential part of daily care. To many, the process will be second nature, but for those less familiar, we hope you will find our tips and advice useful.

    How do I clean my horse’s hooves?

    The process of removing dirt and debris from the inside of your horse’s hooves is called “picking out” the feet. A hoof pick is used for this purpose. Some of the best hoof picks have a small stiff brush attached, which can be used to brush away loose dust and dirt after the majority of the mud or dirt has been removed.

    1. Start by facing your horse’s tail.
    2. Run your hand nearest the horse down the back of the leg, and gently squeeze just above the fetlock to signal to the horse to lift the hoof. If the horse doesn’t respond, try adding a little extra pressure from your thumbnail.
    3. Holding the hoof with the hand closest to the horse, use a hoof pick in the other hand to start scraping away any dirt. If it is a hind foot, make sure your arm is positioned in front of the leg, so if the horse kicks out backwards your arm will not be in danger. For a front foot your arm should be behind the leg.

    When cleaning horses' hooves use the hoof pick from the heels towards the toe.

    Library image.

    4. Start where the horse shoe ends, beside the bulbs of the heel and scrape any debris out, moving your hoof pick away from you towards the toe of the hoof.
    5. Scrape firmly over the sole and along the inside of hoof wall and shoe line until all remaining dirt, rocks and debris are gone.
    6. Take care when removing dirt from the triangular frog, including the central cleft. The frog is a shofter tissue than the sole and it should be firm without any discharge.
    7. Check there are no foreign bodies penetrating either the frog or the sole of the hoof. If there is a nail or similar in the hoof, do not pull it out – this is a potential emergency situation so call your vet immediately as it may be necessary to X-ray the hoof with the object in place to see whether any internal structures have been damaged.
    8. If the horse is shod, check the shoe is secure and there are no risen clenches, or loose or missing nails.
    9. Once you are done, gently replace your horse’s foot onto the ground.
    10. Move onto the next leg and hoof, and repeat this process.

    Cleaning horses’ hooves that are muddy

    If you need to clean mud from the outside of your horse’s hooves, tie him up in a secure place and begin by using a stiff brush to remove the dirt from the hoof wall. If the dirt needs softening, then warm water is more pleasant, effective and less time-consuming than using cold water, especially in the cooler months. Make sure that you are aware of your horse at all times and do not kneel on the floor while you are cleaning the hooves or place your hand on the floor — squatting will allow you to move quickly out of your horse’s way if they decide to move. If the hooves are wet, allow them to dry naturally, or you could wipe them with a towel, before applying a hoof conditioner to help prevent the hooves drying and cracking. Repeated wetting and drying of the hooves should be avoided as this can compromise their condition.

    How often should horse’s hooves be cleaned?

    Cleaning horses hooves should be a part of equine daily care so should happen at least once a day. In most professional stable yards, horses have their hooves picked out before leaving their stables to avoid dragging muck and bedding on to the yard. Horses that are turned out daily should also have their hooves picked out after turnout to remove any stones or mud that has been collected while in the field. Horse living out all the time should have their hooves cleaned and checked at least once a day as part of their regular health checks.

    Products to help keep your horse’s hooves in good condition

    There is a wide range of hoof conditioning products on the market, as well as hoof supplements that can be fed to help support healthy hoof growth. If you’re trying to improve the condition of your horse’s hooves, it’s wise to consult your farrier or vet as some applications may be more of a hindrance than help. However, when the hooves’ natural wet/dry cycle is interrupted by typical British weather, using the right hoof oil or conditioner can help to maintain the natural moisture balance.

    What role does the farrier play in cleaning horses’ hooves?

    Along with a clean environment, a healthy diet and the regular attention of a farrier ​contributes greatly to hoof health. Get in touch with a fully qualified farrier, who will be able to offer advice on how regularly your horse or pony requires his attention – typically this will be around every five to six weeks. Your farrier will appreciate it if your horse is presented with clean, dry legs and hooves when he attends and he will be able to tell whether you are frequently cleaning and caring for your horse’s hooves or not.

    My horse’s hooves smell bad, what should I do?

    Manure and soil left in the hoof can create a damp, dirty environment that makes an ideal place for thrush to start. Thrush has an unpleasant and recognisable smell, typically combined with a soft ragged frog and black discharge on the sole of the hoof. Cleaning your horses’ hooves daily may help prevent thrush from starting. If thrush does set in, speak to your vet or farrier for advice on treatment while frequent cleaning of the hooves can help prevent it from getting worse. Any thrush remedy you are using should be applied to clean, dry hooves to be most effective.

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