How to Pick your Horse's Feet

Owner cleaning out and picking horse's hoof
Owner cleaning out and picking horse's hoof
  1. No hoof - No horse

    This old adage truly reflects the importance of equine hoof care. Horse owners who regularly attend to their horse's feet have fewer lamenesses and overall healthier horses.
  2. Your toolbox

    The basic tools are very inexpensive. Minimally, a good quality hoof-pick is all that is needed.

    Many find an assortment of brushes help clean the exterior of the hoof, and the nooks and cranies between the frog and sole.

    Horses with thrush (noted by a noticeable oder) may benefit from application of a thrush treament medication. Ask your veterinarian or farrier for recommendations on treating thrush.
  3. Life stages

    Equines require hoof care through all stages of life. Young horses should be trimmed regularly. Handling a young horse's feet is an important practice and will be appreciated by your farrier.

    Working horses, shod or unshod, should be picked clean daily, and have farrier attention every 6 to 8 weeks. If you can't clean daily, make it a practice to clean before and after each ride.

    Older or pastured horses must not be ignored. Horses in pasture should be checked regularly and attended to by a qualified farrier.
  4. Step 1 - Secure your horse

    Start the process by securely tying your horse to a suitable and immovable object. Ties should be above the height of the horse's withers, and should be limit movement of the horse.

    For younger or untrained horses it may be best to have someone hold it to reduce the horse's anxiety and the chance of a pull-back accident.

    Make sure the horse is standing comfortably with its feet evenly placed.
  5. Step 2 - Pick up the foot

    Start with the front left foot. Face toward the rear standing with your left shoulder practically touching the horses right shoulder.

    Pat the horse on its shoulder and then move your left hand down the shoulder and on to the leg while still contacting the horse.  Stop just above the fetlock joint. Most horses will lift their foot with a gentle squeeze above the fetlock joint.

    Younger or untrained horses may require that you press lightly against their shoulder so as to unweight the target foot.
  6. Step 2 - Pick up the foot (continued)

    As the horse lifts its foot, reach under and grasp about the joint for support and control. Keep control of the hoof and don't let the horse take the foot away from you if at all possible. The horse needs to learn to stand calmly with its foot being held off the ground.
  7. Step 2 - Pick up the foot (continued)

    Grasp the toe of the hoof with your right hand and reposition your left hand to crade the horses hoof. Cradle the hoof at a reasonable height and do not pull the leg to the side.

    Making your horse comfortable at all times is key to having a horse that is easy to handle.
  8. Step 3 - Pick the hoof

    Take the hoof pick in the right hand with the pick emerging from the bottom of the clenched fist. Start from the heel of the horses foot and clean the groove between the frog and sole. Don't worry about hurting the horse. The sole and frog are not sensitive to touch. Especially make sure that you dislodge any rocks or organic material wedged into the groove.

    Use the pick to clean the entire sole. A pick with a built-in brush helps to clean the sole for better visibility. After the bottom surface of the foot is clean, inspect the sole for bruises or damage.

    When done, gently place the foot back on the ground. Do not drop the foot as this may startle or hurt the horse.
  9. Step 4 - Repeat

    Next repeat the process with the horse's rear left leg. Move then to the horse's right rear leg as pictured above. Note that experienced horsemen and women will cradle the back leg on top of their thigh. This makes it easier to support the leg and free the hands for better control.
  10. Treating thrush

    A foul oder from the horses hoof may indicate a thrush infection. After cleaning, your farrier or veterinarian may recommend that you apply a product designed to treat thrush. We find that using a large syringe is helpful in administering some popular thrush products. Follow the directions on the bottle or as recommended by your healthcare partner.
  11. The finished product

    A clean healthy foot is the result of routine hoof cleaning. Taking care of the horse's feet reduces the chance of lameness and is one of the most important and effective activites to maintain a healthy horse.

About the Author

Mark Sellers

Author picture

Mark is the founder of EquiMed.  Prior to EquiMed, Mark was the CEO and founder of Pacific Crest Corporation, a maker of wireless communication devices and now a subsidiary of Trimble Navigation.

Mark trains and shows reining horses, and is a member of the West Coast Reining Horse Association, the NRHA affiliate in Northern California.  Mark also breeds and exhibits Mediterranean Donkeys.

Mark has a strong interest in equine health.  This website is the result of Mark's and numerous other contributor's efforts to make equine health information accessible to the horse owner.