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Cleaning Hoofs, Leads to a Healthier Horse

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It’s critical to clean a horse’s hoofs routinely; we recently went to the race track to watch our friend’s horse run its debut race, however just before the race started, his horse was scratched because of an abscessed foot. This made me wonder if they are regularly cleaning their hoofs.

The anatomical structure of the bottom of a horse’s hoof has crevises that trap debris and moisture that lead to bacterial infections. A daily routine to pick a horse’s feet and inspect for problems eliminate many hoof related conditions.

Many people buy a horse based on its color or general looks, but the foot is critical to the health of a horse. There is an old saying “no foot, no horse.”

Picture of hoof picks used to clean horses' hooves.

Daily grooming must include cleaning the hoofs.

A good horseman will have an established daily grooming routine for their animal. During this routine grooming, thoroughly examine the horse and remove any clumps of dirt from the horse’s coat.

It is also essential to check the animals back where a saddle sits for any soreness. Next, examine the horses’ belly where the girth fits to ensure it’s clean and free of sores or bruises.

During daily brushing, be on the lookout for cuts or bruises that require attention and check for heat in the legs. Temperature can indicate tendon damage or fever, check for running eyes or nose, and whether the eye has a bright and alert look.

Check the frog of the foot when cleaning hoofs.

Dull or cloudy eyes is indicative of a medical problem. While cleaning the horse’s feet, check the shoes fit firmly and the hoof is adequately trimmed, the frog firm and pliant, and the hoofs are without cracks or splits.

A daily grooming routine helps you assess the overall health of your horse before saddling up. It also allows you to keep an eye on progressive changes that occur over some time.

If you catch a problem early, you can likely provide a remedy before it turns into a significant lameness issue for the animal. The anatomical shape of a horse’s hoof leads to the collection of moisture and debris, which can lead to problems if not cleaned regularly.

When cleaning a horse’s foot check it for thrush.

Thrush is a common bacterial infection that affects the frog region of the hoof. Horses develop thrush from standing in moist areas for prolonged periods.

Usually, when left in a stall that isn’t kept clean, it is indicated by an acidic smell and dark ooze. Horses with a high rising cleft in their frog are the most susceptible to developing thrush.

Thrush caught early is easily treated.

If left unattended it will generate a cheesy type texture in the affected area of the frog. Thrush in the early stages can be successfully treated, by application of a topical ointment and maintaining a clean, dry stall.

Severe thrush can cause lameness.

However, if left unattended thrush will eventually lead to lameness and permanent hoof damage. If you are concerned that your horse may have thrush, ask your farrier to check for you.

Thrush Buster powder is what we have used over the years to successfully treat thrush in our horse. You can check Amazon for current prices by clicking here.

Look for signs of an abscess when cleaning the hoof.

If you notice the foot of your horse warmer than usual and feel throbbing in the sole, there is likely an abscess in the animal’s foot. Knowing your horse baseline is critical to determine if the foot is warmer than usual.

Abscesses can be caused by a puncture from a misplaced nail in the hoof, or a stone bruise, really anything that allows bacteria into the foot. An abscess develops from bacteria entering the hoof wall, leading to inflammation.

Abscesses can rupture through the top of a horse’s hoof.

This buildup of infectious material expands and causes pressure inside the hoof. Eventually, the pressure will flow to the area of least resistance and sometimes will rupture on the top of the hoof.

Treatment is relatively straightforward. The abscess must be drained and kept clean. Contact your Veterinarian or Farrier to recommend the best treatment options for your horse. (To read more about abscesses in horses hooves click this link

Always check for hoof cracks when cleaning the hoofs.

Most cracks in a horse’s hooves are cosmetic and do not cause any health issues. However, there are times when a hoof crack can be a severe problem and lead to soundness concerns, such as deep cracks and persistent, recurring cracks in the same area.

If you are unsure about a break in your horse’s hoof have the animal checked by a farrier. Knowing the difference between these cracks could save you a lot of time and money.

The location of a hoof crack is critical.

Where the crack is located on the hoof is essential in determining the associated health issue. If the break starts at the bottom edge of the hoof wall and migrates upward, then it is likely only a cosmetic issue that will likely grow out.

Cracks that start at the coronary band and travel downward are more concerning, especially if they’re deep because it will disrupt the coronary band. Click here to read about Thoroughbred horse’s feet problems.

There are commercial products available to help keep the hoof more pliable and prevent cracking. (You can check here for current prices from Amazon.  Horseshoer’s Penetrating Hoof Conditioner )

You may find a puncture wound when cleaning a horses’ hoof.

Puncture Wounds in the sole of the horse’s foot are often caused by misplacement of shoeing nails, wires, or construction nails picked up around the barn during turn-out time.

The puncture location is vital; if the perforation occurs near the hoof wall, it likely hasn’t damaged any structure. These simple types of punctures will result in bruising and abscess.

Puncture wounds can damage the horse’s pedal bone.

However, if the wound is more towards the center of the foot, it is at a higher risk of damaging the pedal bone. The most severe puncture wounds occur in the rear area of the foot, usually in or through the frog.

Penetration in this area could lead to infections causing damage to the coffin joint, tendons, and navicular bone. This type of puncture wound needs to be treated urgently. Contact a horse care veterinarian immediately.

Treat a simple puncture wound with a poultice.

When you first notice a foreign object in your horse’s foot, pull it out and try to mark the spot. Leaving it in will only cause more damage as he walks on it. If you determined that it is a simple puncture wound, you could treat the injury.

First, clean the sole and wall of the hoof thoroughly and apply a poultice. (Click this link to learn more about puncture wounds and treatment

Contact your vet if you notice any signs of lameness.

If your horse shows signs of becoming lame within 24-48 hours, call your veterinarian because this may be a more severe puncture wound than you initially thought. To learn more about the signs of lameness click here.

If your horse has a puncture wound to the frog or rear half of the foot-apply a clean, dry bandage and call the veterinarian without delay. (To check price and availability for poultice from Amazon click this link Animalintex Poultices)

Establish a routine to clean your horse’s hoofs.

Horses like routine, even when it comes to cleaning their feet. If one person has handled the horse, then watch to see how he approaches the animal. Most handlers start cleaning the feet by asking for the near (or left) foreleg, then moving to the left rear leg, then to the right foreleg and ending up with the right hind leg.

Some horses couldn’t care less on which leg you start, while high-strung types may insist you follow the procedure to the letter. So after you’ve determined how to start on the right foot, here is the method to follow.

How to Clean a Horses Feet.

Facing the horse’s rear, place your shoulder against the horse’s shoulder and run your hand nearest the horse gently down the shoulder to the fetlock. Say “feet,” or “lift,” or “give” or even “come on,” and a well-trained horse should lift its foot.

If you don’t get a response, gently pinch the tendons with your thumb and fingers just above the fetlock. At the same time press, your shoulder more firmly against the horse’s shoulder, again give the voice command.

Start at the heel and pick the inside of the shoe.

Be firm and patient, and eventually even the less well-educated horse will respond to the pressure. After he lifts his foot, hold the hoof and take the hoof pick and starting at the heel, pick around the inside of the shoe.

If the horse is unshod, pick along the rim of the foot. Remove all mud and other matter from the sole. (Click here to shop for a Horse Hoof Pick,) Then find the two valleys formed by the frog and, always working from the heel toward the toe, clean out these valleys, making sure that no stones remain.

Stroke away when cleaning the valleys formed by the frog.

By stroking away from you toward the toe, you avoid accidentally pushing any foreign matter into the heel of the frog, where it might become embedded.

When the frog grooves are clean, gently run the flat edge of the hoof pick over the frog to check for lodged stones, cuts, or bruises and to remove excess mud.

Lightly tap the frog with the side of the hoof pick, and if the horse flinches or reacts, check carefully for reasons why. If the frog looks soft and somewhat mushy in texture, lean down and sniff.

If you notice a foul smell your horse likely has thrush.

If the scent is acidic and foul, you are probably smelling the distinctive odor of thrush. You must take measures to cure it and prevent its recurrence. Before putting the foot down, check the shoe to be sure it is firmly attached to the wall of the hoof and that there are no loose or missing nails.

If a nail has worked its way loose, pull it free before it snaps off. If you don’t remove the nail, it could work its way from the wall of the hoof into the bone and cause severe damage.

Check the hoof wall for cracks.

Finally, look at the hoof wall. It should be solid, free of cracks, splits, chips, or rings, the last indicating founder or fever. If the hoof walls are dry, apply a hoof conditioner, and if they continue to worsen, consult your farrier.

The entire process of cleaning a horse’s feet should take just minutes. During those minutes, however, experienced equestrians will also be examining the foot to anticipate any problems before they occur. (You can check here for current prices from Amazon. Hoof Conditioner)

Excerpts from “The Whole Horse Catalog: The Complete Guide to Buying, Stabling and Stable Management, Equine Health, Tack, Rider Apparel, Equestrian Activities and …Else a Horse Owner and Rider Will Ever Need” December 1998.


Does cleaning a horse’s hoof hurt?

Cleaning your horse’s hoof doesn’t hurt them and often gives them relief from pain. All you need is the right tool, some patience, good communication skills, and knowledge on how to safely hold the horse’s foot while cleaning them out.

Do horses feel pain in their hooves?

Horses don’t feel pain in their hooves. There are no nerve endings in the outer section of a horse’s hoof, so they don’t feel any pain when you’re nailing on those shoes! Horses’ hooves are made out of a tough protein called keratin, the same protein found in humans’ fingers and toenails.

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