How to Clean Your Horse's Hooves in 6 Steps

Follow our hoof cleaning guide to keep your horse in top shape.

Published February 16, 2023
Close up of girl cleaning horse hoof

Cleaning horse's hooves is an important part of caring for your animal. You need to clean your horse's hooves regularly because mud, dirt, and other debris can build up inside the hoof wall, which can cause cracks and other problems. Ideally, you should pick out your horse's hooves daily. The more often you clean your horse's hooves, the better off they'll be!

Tools You Will Need

Before you start the actual cleaning process, make sure you have the necessary equipment.

  • A hoof pick: Each hoof pick has two sides; one for cleaning out dirt, mud and stones; and one for removing excess hair that builds up on top of the hoof. There are many types of hoof picks available in shops today, including plastic ones or stainless steel ones with little sharp edges. There are also different sized picks available depending on how big your horse is.
  • A soft-bristled brush: You can use a brush to remove mud or dirt before picking out your horse's hooves.
  • A halter and lead rope: You need to tie your horse for the cleaning.

1. Secure Your Horse First

Start by tying your horse to a safe spot. You can ground tie your horse, or tie them off to a loop or structure. Some equestrians are confident enough to hold their lead rope, but if you are just beginning, make sure your horse if fully secured.

It is also important to tie your horse with a break-away, so that if they get spooked or something happens, they're able to pull away from the tie safely.

2. Remove Dirt and Wash Their Hooves

Before you start the actual cleaning process, remove any excess mud or dirt from the outside of your horse's hooves. Most of the time, your brush will do the trick.

In some cases, if mud is dried on the outside of your horse's hoof and won't come loose, you may want to use some warm water to soften it up. This is a quick and easy step that will help loosen dirt up, which makes the rest of the job much easier. If you use warm water, allow your horse's hoof to dry naturally, or towel it off completely before proceeding.

Quick Tip

If you get your horse's hoof wet during cleaning, apply a hoof conditioner to prevent cracking. If you allow your horse's hooves to get wet and dry repeatedly, you can damage their hooves in the long run.

3. Approach Your Horse Correctly

After checking that they are securely tied, you can approach your horse.

  • Approach carefully and speak calmly to your horse to let them know it's time for cleaning.
  • Start at the front of your horse's body, facing toward their rear.
  • Stand directly beside your horse's leg. Don't position yourself too far forward, or too far behind the leg.
  • Run your hand located on your side closest to the horse down the back of their front leg until you reach the tendon just above their fetlock, which is the joint close to their hoof, just above the pastern. Check their anatomy if you aren't sure.
  • Gently squeeze just above their fetlock. This signals to the horse that they need to lift their leg.
  • Hold your horse's front hoof with the hand farthest away from their body while you pick out with your other hand. When picking their back hooves, hold their hoof with the hand closest to the body.

Once you have their front hoof elevated, you can get ready to pick.

4. Pick Out Their Hoof

Have your hoof pick ready for the cleaning process.

  • Hold your pick with the handle up and metal tip down, with the tip pointing away from you.
  • Carefully, begin to pick out any debris and dirt.
  • Work around your horse's frog - the back part of their hoof - moving your pick toward their sole and hoof wall. Be careful here: don't mistake your horse's frog for dirt and accidentally try to pick it out.
  • As you loosen dirt and rocks, check for debris down in their collateral groove - the indentation between the frog and sole.
  • Don't pick into the frog or sole, as these can be more tender than other parts of the hoof.
  • As long as you aren't digging into sensitive tissue, use moderate to strong pressure. Don't be shy or too gentle. You aren't going to hurt your horse if you understand their hoof anatomy.
  • If your horse tries to put their leg down, keep upward pressure on their hoof.
  • Use your brush to clean out any remaining dirt or debris from your horse's foot.
  • When you are done, gently put their hoof back down on the ground - don't let them do it, or they might think it's their job to decide when to put their hoof down.

If you need to trim back any long hair on your horse's fetlock, use scissors or clippers for this task. When done trimming, wipe down the area with a damp cloth so there isn't any residue left over from clipping around where you trimmed.

5. Check for Abnormalities

Once the hoof is clean and dry, it's time to inspect it. The first thing you will want to do is look for cracks, chips, or other abnormalities in the outside of the hoof wall.

If you find something unusual during this step, consult with your equine veterinarian immediately before moving forward with any further cleaning or trimming. If everything looks good during this step, congratulations! You're done with cleaning your horse's hooves!

6. Time to Moisturize

Hoof oils are used to condition and protect the hooves of horses. They keep the hooves soft and flexible, which prevents cracks and makes the horse more comfortable. Hoof oil also helps prevent chipping and cracking, which can lead to infection in the hoof.

There are several different types of hoof oil available for horses, including:

  • Mineral oil
  • Carnauba wax
  • Pine tar
  • Glycerin

Make sure new, fresh product gets applied evenly across all four feet. Use a brush or rag to gently wipe your chosen product over the outside of your horse's hoof wall. Once you've applied a good amount, wipe up any excess from you horse's hoof.

The key to using hoof oil is consistency. You want to make sure that your horse has been getting regular treatments over time so they aren't developing any new cracks or splits in their hooves. Hoof oil also helps prevent thrush from forming inside of the hoof by keeping them clean and healthy looking on the outside as well as on the inside.

How to Stay Safe

If your horse trusts you and is tied securely, there isn't too much risk when picking out their hooves. Every horse is different, however. Also, horses are massive animals, and if something goes wrong, you are at risk of serious bodily injury. These techniques may help reduce the risk, but if you aren't sure, ask a professional for help.

  • Approach calmly from the front, and make sure you know the horse's temperament and disposition.
  • Ask first. Use a verbal cue, such as "Leg up," before you touch your horse's leg. This signals it is time for cleaning.
  • Stand in the correct position - straight up, close to their body, and directly next to your horse's leg. If you are too far away, or too far forward or back from the leg, a kick can do more damage.
  • Do not crouch down. You are off balance in this position, and if your horse shifts or moves, you could be stepped on.
  • Do not put your hand on the ground. If your horse decides to put their hoof down, your hand could be crushed.
  • Do not stand behind your horse. This is a good way to get kicked.

Why Cleaning Hooves is Important

Cleaning your horses' hooves is an important part of your horse's health. Horses need to have healthy hooves in order to be able to run, walk, and stand comfortably. Mobility is everything for horses. If they become injured, it can seriously impact their quality of life.

Hooves are made up of keratin, which is the same material found in human hair and nails. Because they're so similar to your own fingernails and hair, it's important that you keep them clean so they don't get infected or damaged.

Caring For Your Horse

Cleaning the hooves of your horse is not only a good idea. It's an essential part of basic horse care. Not only does cleaning keep your horse healthy, but it also helps prevent future problems. Your horse will thank you for taking this time to care for their hooves with regular checks and cleaning. Be sure to keep an eye out for any abnormalities that might indicate infection or injury.

How to Clean Your Horse's Hooves in 6 Steps