Daily Hoof Care for Horses

Daily Hoof Care for Horses

The simple act of picking out your horse’s feet can detect and prevent a lot of problems.

A woman holds a horse's hoof after she has cleaned it out with a hoof pick.

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By Holly Clanahan

The phrase “no foot, no horse” is often directed at farriers, who are responsible for balancing hooves, tacking on the appropriate shoes and educating horse owners about proper hoof care. But they only visit every six to eight weeks. It’s horse owners who should care for their horses’ hooves on a daily basis.

That starts with the simple practice of picking out hooves. Cheryl West, an instructor with the Certified Horsemanship Association from Sand Springs, Oklahoma, walks us through the steps.

First, a little hoof anatomy.

  • The triangular structure in the middle of the hoof is the frog, which helps a horse with circulation and shock absorption.
  • The grooves on either side of it are called the commissures, or sulci. Cheryl says she teaches her younger students to call them “valleys,” which is easier to pronounce and remember.
  • The groove in the center of the frog is the central sulcus.
  • The flat area that extends outward to the hoof walls is called the sole.

Next, the proper tool: a hoof pick, which can be fancied up with a brush. Cheryl prefers that option, since it allows her to swipe away any loose dirt as she picks it out.

  1. Start by cleaning out the commissures. Make sure to get to the bottom of the grooves, removing all rocks, mud or manure.
  2. Scrape debris off the sole, as well, so you can get a good look at the entire hoof.
  3. There are several things you need to check for, especially if your horse seems uncomfortable as he walks.
woman holds horse's hind leg up to pick out hoof with hoof pick
To hold a back foot, Cheryl staggers her feet and allows the horse to rest his hoof on her knee. (Holly Clanahan photo)


If you notice a black, stinky substance in the commissures, you’re looking at thrush – an infection usually caused by bacteria that invade unhealthy frogs. It’s important to keep these hooves as clean as possible (use that brush!), and there are a number of topical ointments to treat thrush. Learn more from AQHA Corporate Partner SmartPak

Foreign Objects

As you picked out the hoof, you already eliminated rocks or other debris that could make your horse sore. There is a chance (thankfully, a slim one) that he stepped on a nail or something similar that punctured the sole or frog of his hoof.

If you find an embedded object, don’t pull it out. Your veterinarian will want to see the location for him or herself and document how far in, and in which direction, the object extends. There’s a chance that the nail has pierced a crucial internal structure. Pack the bottom of the hoof with soft material like a diaper or paper towels covered with duct tape, so that the nail doesn’t move or penetrate farther.

Here’s more, from the vet school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, hoof abscesses occur when bacteria get trapped between the sensitive laminae and the hoof wall or sole. The bacteria create pus, which builds up and causes painful pressure behind the hoof wall or sole.

If your horse is suddenly very lame but has no heat in that leg, there’s a good chance he has an abscess that has not yet ruptured. Your veterinarian may need to locate and drain the abscess.

Horseshoe Woes

If your horse is shod, you’ll want to check his shoes every time you pick out his feet. Cheryl recommends running the hoof pick around the rim of the shoe and around its heels, ensuring that no small rocks or debris have gotten in there.

See if any nails or clinches seem loose, and, if so, call your farrier. More commonly, though, you’ll find a shoe that is just missing or coming partially off. In the case of the lost shoe, Cheryl says horse owners can put on a hoof boot to protect the bare hoof from further chips until the farrier can come out and tack a shoe back on.

For shoes that are still hanging on the hoof, you’ll want to pull the shoe. Ask your farrier ahead of time for tips on how to do it, or refer to a tutorial from the archives of America’s Horse.

Cheryl West of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, is certified in both western and English instruction by the Certified Horsemanship Association, an AQHA alliance partner. Go to www.chainstructors.com to find an instructor near you. AQHA Professional Horsemen are also great coaches. Go to www.aqha.com/findatrainer to search this list.