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How to Pick Hooves

Photo by AnnaElizabeth Photography/Shutterstock

The foot is the foundation of a healthy horse, so it’s important to know how to safely pick out a horse’s feet and take good care of them.



The horse’s foot is made from the same material as your fingernails; it’s always growing and has to hold up all of the horse’s weight. If something is wrong with the hoof, your horse can go lame.

You’ll want to have a farrier see your pony every four to eight weeks to trim or shoe him. Ponies and horses with very tough hooves or those in light work may not need to wear shoes and can be maintained with regular hoof trims. If your horse gets ridden a lot, especially on hard ground, he may need front shoes or shoes on all four feet.

Special types of therapeutic shoes are available if your horse faces a particular challenge, such as navicular or thin soles. Your vet and farrier will advise you if these are needed.

Photo by AnaKondasp/Shutterstock

Daily Care

Your horse or pony’s feet should be picked out every day. This is important to prevent a disease called thrush from developing. A horse may also pick up a stone in his foot or step on nail, which can cause a serious injury and lameness. For this lesson, you will need a hoof pick—your most important grooming tool!

Here’s how to pick out a foot correctly:

◆ Stand beside the horse’s front left leg, facing his tail. Put the hoof pick in your right hand (the hand farthest from the horse).
◆ Run your left hand (the one closest to the horse) down his leg to the tendon below the knee. Squeeze just above his ankle with your fingers and push the horse away with your shoulder. Use a verbal cue, such as “hoof please” or “pick up” so your horse knows what’s coming. When the horse lifts his foot, hold the hoof, not just the pastern.
◆ With your right hand holding the pick facing away from you, dig out the dirt. Start at the heel (back of the hoof) and pick toward the toe. Be sure to not dig at the “V” shape in the center of the hoof—that is the shock absorber, also called the frog.
◆ Once you’ve dug all the dirt out, you can flip the hoof pick over and use the brush to clean away any additional debris.

Clean the grooves alongside the frog well, and check for any rocks or bruises. Courtesy USPC

Things to Look For

Look for any black oozy sub- stance and foul odor that indicates your horse has thrush. Check for bruised or injured places on the sole.

If there are shoes, test the tightness of the shoe by gently grabbing one side of it with two fingers and try to move it. If it moves, the shoe is loose and a farrier needs to be called.

When you are finished, set the foot down gently.

If you suspect thrush, purchase a thrush treatment at the tack store to apply daily. Most thrush goes away easily with daily cleaning and treatment.

Make sure you never sit or kneel when picking out your horse’s feet, as a sudden noise or fly could startle him or cause him to kick, leaving you unable to get away fast enough to avoid being hurt.

The frog is the triangular shock absorber on the bottom of the foot. JNIX/Shutterstock

When picking hind feet, it’s safer to be as close to the horse as possible. A kick from a few feet away can hurt you the worst, but if you’re right up against the horse, it’s much harder for him to get that foot flying.

Brought to you in partnership with the United States Pony Clubs. Find this lesson in the USPC Manual of Horsemanship Basics for Beginners D-Level (2nd edition), chapter 8. For more fun lessons like this, join Pony Club!

This article on how to pick hooves originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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Horse Illustrated is the magazine for people who are passionate about horses. Each issue offers advice on horse health and care, plus user-friendly training tips for both English and western riders and engaging lifestyle features for horse lovers.

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