Cleaning hooves is an important part of basic horsemanship. You should pick a horse’s hooves before and after riding to avoid bruising from rocks or debris. Additionally, regularly cleaning and inspecting the hooves can also help you identify any abnormalities, such as odor, bruising, cracking, or loose shoes; if you do notice an issue, consult with your veterinarian or farrier to determine the proper steps to take to remedy the problem. But first things first: Here are the steps to take to properly and safely pick a horse’s hoof:
- Ensure your horse is haltered and securely tied, or that an assistant is holding him.
- Standing next to your horse’s shoulder (for his front feet) or hip (for his hind), face toward your horse’s tail. Keep your feet together and turned away from your horse to ensure your toes don’t accidentally get stepped on if he puts his foot down. Reduce stress on your back by bending at the knees as you lean over to pick up his foot.
- Run your hand down your horse’s leg to signal that you want him to pick up his foot. Depending on your horse and how cooperative he is about picking his feet up, you might need to use your shoulder to lean some weight against him to encourage him to lift his foot. Just don’t lean too hard!
- Use a verbal cue, such as “hoof up” or “pick up” to ask him to lift his foot.
- As he lifts his foot, hold his leg at the pastern or coronary band (just above the foot) or hold under the hoof itself to offer support.
- Using a hoof pick, start cleaning out any rocks, dirt, or other debris from around the frog (the fleshy “triangle” on the bottom of his foot). If your horse is wearing shoes, trace around the inside of the shoe to check for and remove any pebbles. For a barefoot horse, clean around the area were the hoof sole (bottom of the hoof) meets the hoof wall (the outer hoof capsule).
- Once the foot is clean gently set your horse’s hoof down on the ground. Resist letting him do it himself—patience on his part might save your toes from getting squished! Instead, guide his foot to the floor. Use special care when lowering older, arthritic horses’ hooves, as dropping a geriatric’s foot could cause pain or cause him to lose his balance.
- Repeat on the remaining three hooves.
Thank you to Lauren and her Friesian gelding, Pyter, for demonstrating how to properly pick a horse’s hoof!