Cleaning Horse Hooves Essential Steps to Promote Good Health

Cleaning Horse Hooves: Essential Steps to Promote Good Health

by | May 29, 2023 | Equine Health, Equine Hoof Care

One of the most basic tenets of wisdom passed down from grooms and riders through the ages is “no hoof, no horse.” While many other adages and wives tales have passed into disuse as our knowledge about horses has increased, this one has persisted. Even today, from the time a young child is first struggling to get a lesson pony to pick up his hoof, a horse person learns about caring for their horse’s feet. Indeed, while many other parts of grooming are merely cosmetic, hoof care is truly one area in which the horse owner cannot afford to skimp.

Why Is It So Important to Care for Horses Hooves?

The anatomy of the equine hoof is truly fascinating. The feet of humans, felines, canines, and even other hoofed mammals allow the animal’s weight to be distributed over several bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments. On the other hand (or hoof, if you will) the equine hoof encases a single pair of bones equivalent to the human index fingertip. Encasing this bone are a series of filaments, called laminae, blood vessels, which are in turn encased by the hoof wall. The hoof wall is made up of keratin, same as human hair and fingernails, but much stronger. The frog is a shock absorber, allowing the hoof to bear the impact of the horse’s steps and movements. While the hoof seems to be hard, it bears the burden of any nutritional deficiencies as well as any physical labor that the horse performs. For this reason, it is important to carefully and thoroughly maintain your horse’s hooves, keeping them clean and clear of debris.

How to Thoroughly Clean a Horse’s Hoof

So how do you go about cleaning your horse’s hooves thoroughly? The very first thing to do is make sure your horse is comfortable picking up his four feet. When you run your hand down the back of his leg, he should shift his weight to the other three legs. When you squeeze his pastern and give a voice command (I say “gimme the foot,” or some people say “hoof” or “up” – it doesn’t matter what you say, so long as you are consistent).
It is also important to vigilantly check for lameness. As you are leading him in from the paddock, or down the barn aisle, look back to see how he walks. Is he favoring one leg more than the other? Does his head bob more when he lifts one leg than the others? This is the first defense against hoof problems – early detection of problems.

Step 1: Dandy Brush

When you have your horse tied up so that he can’t go anywhere, take a dandy brush and go around the outside of the hoof. For this job, I prefer a dandy brush with synthetic bristles like this one. First use horizontal strokes, then vertical strokes. This takes the mud, manure, bedding, off the outside of the hoof, and allows you to make the first inspections for cracks, ridges, cuts on the coronet band, etc.

Step 2: Hoof Pick

Next take a hoof pick (my favorite is this style, which combines a small brush, a scraper, and a hook) to pick out the bottom of your horse’s hoof. Use the hook first in a scooping motion downwards, loosening the mud, manure, and bedding that has been packed into the crevices of the sole. Do not use the hook on the frog, the triangular shock-absorbing tissue of the hoof. Instead, use the bristles or scraper on the brush to remove the debris from this sensitive tissue. Take special care in the crevices of the hooves to inspect for signs of thrush or for small stones wedged between the frog and the sole.

Step 3: Hoof Brush

Once the majority of the hardened mud and debris is gone from the hoof, take a hoof brush to brush away the last of the debris. Pay special attention to the sole with this brush, but you can also use it on the outside of the hoof.

Step 4: Inspect Visually for Foreign Bodies, Loose Shoes, Etc.

Use this time to look for black, foul-smelling slime around the frog in the crevices of the sole, which is the clearest sign of thrush. Look around your horse’s heels and pasterns for oozing scabby rashes in the skin which is a sign of scratches, or mud fever. If your horse wears shoes, check to see that they are still on solidly, that no nails are coming loose, and that the hooves have not overgrown the shoes. Check to make sure that the quality of the hoof wall hasn’t changed drastically, that it hasn’t become soft or crumbly, which is a sign of white line disease. And of course, make sure that there is nothing like a nail, a rock, glass, or a sharp piece of metal wedged in the horse’s hoof.

Step 5 (Dependent on Weather): Water

If weather and facilities permit, wash your horse’s hooves with a hose or a bucket of water and a sponge next. This gets even more sand, dirt, mud, and other debris off the hooves and legs, as well as providing moisture to the hooves. Wash the outside of the hoof, then lift the leg and apply water to the sole as well. Allow the hoof to sit for a few minutes to let the moisture absorb for a bit before the next step.

Step 6: Hoof Conditioner

Finally, use a brush to apply a hoof conditioner to the outside and the soles of your horse’s hooves. This seals in moisture and helps prevent cracks from forming. Some of the best hoof conditioners are Farnam Horseshoer’s Secret, Fiebing’s Improved Hoof Dressing, and Absorbine RainMaker. Enjoy your horse’s beautifully pedicured feet!

Step 7: Knowing the Signs of a Healthy Hoof

All these steps will be in vain if your horse’s nutrition and farriery is lacking. Educate yourself in recognizing the signs of lameness, as well as how certain hoof illnesses manifest themselves. Recognizing what is normal for your horse’s hooves as well as having them checked regularly by your farrier will allow them to stay healthy, and have any problems be caught early.


As with everything, careful and methodical care of your horse’s hooves is the key to keeping them healthy. Picking them out regularly will keep them cleaner, and will help his legs and whole body feel better.

What is your go-to tool for hoof care? Answer in the comments below!

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Ani Petrak</a>

Ani Petrak

Ani Petrak is a freelance linguist and writer based in the Czech Republic. A lifelong English rider and groom, she has experience showing in dressage, hunter-jumpers, trail, and young horse in-hand competitions. She is currently working with a Grand Prix showjumping and dressage trainer while raising and training her young warmblood gelding for a career in dressage, working equitation, and cross-country hacking.

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