Cleaning a Horse’s Hooves: Easy Illustrated Guide

How to Pick Out a Horse’s Hooves

Cleaning your horse’s hooves is just one out of many daily and regular tasks you’ll have to do as a horse owner in order to keep the horse’s hooves healthy and free from debris. If you’re not familiar with how to do this, it can be difficult to get the hoof truly clean.

So, how do you properly clean a horse’s hooves? To clean a horse’s hoof, first, secure your horse so it doesn’t walk off while you’re trying to clean its feet. Next, position yourself perpendicular to the leg you want to pick up and gently squeeze the fetlock of the horse to tell the horse to lift its hoof. Hold the hoof with your other hand as you use a hoof pick to clear away mud and debris.

A horse’s hooves are one of the most important yet fragile parts of your horse’s body. Hooves have to carry thousands of pounds of weight and endure a lot of stress. Taking adequate care of your horse’s hooves is one of the best ways to see that they stay healthy and happy.

Cleaning Your Horse’s Hooves: Step-by-Step

Here is a step-by-step guide you can follow in order to properly pick out your horse’s hooves.

Step 1: Secure Your Horse So They Don’t Walk Away

To clean your horse’s hooves, first properly secure your horse to that they don’t walk away while you’re trying to work on their feet. This can be done by tying them up or having someone else hold them for you. This will limit the movement of the horse and make it safer for you to work on the horse’s feet.

My horse ground ties so I can just throw the rope down with him and he won’t go anywhere. If you don’t have anywhere to tie your horse, you can hold the rope in your hand farthest from your horse’s hoof when you go to pick it out.

If you have a horse that you think may pull back as you try and clean their feet, tie them to a break-away strap. (this can be a piece of baling twine tied around a fence post)

While, yes, your horse will be able to break away if they pull back, it will actually be safer for you. The breakaway strap will break and the horse will continue to go backward instead of jumping forward where you may be in the way.

Step 2: Correctly Position Yourself to Pick Up the Horse’s Hoof

How to Clean A Horse's Hoof

When it comes to doing anything with horses, your safety should always be a top priority. Correctly positioning yourself next to your horse in order to pick out its feet will keep you safe from accidentally getting stepped on or kicked.

Stand perpendicular next to the horse’s leg you plan on picking up. (front or back) This means your side should be up next to your horse’s leg. In this position, you’re beside the horse so that you’re not standing either directly in front or behind the leg you’re working with.

Stand beside your horse facing behind the horse. When you pick up the horse’s hoof, your horse will bend their leg beneath them and you’ll clearly be able to see the hoof.

Step 3: Run Your Hand Down the Back of the Horse’s Leg

When you go to pick out your horse’s hooves, you don’t want to surprise them by suddenly touching their lower leg and having them spook or get antsy. This is especially true if you’re working with a horse you don’t know or that is relatively green.

One thing you can do to help your horse know that you’re there and help them anticipate what you’re about to ask is by running your hand down the back of the horse’s leg from their elbow to their fetlock.

This is also a great way to check over your horse’s leg and make sure there is no swelling or injuries. Part of cleaning your horse’s hooves is getting the opportunity to examine your horse’s legs and hooves for injury or anything out of the ordinary. Keep this in mind whenever you’re working with your horse.

Step 4: Apply Pressure to Ask the Horse to Pick Up Its Hoof

Not every horse will pick up their feet right away when you go to pick them out; you’ll have to give your horse a cue so that they understand what you’re asking. Here are a few cues you can try in order to ask your horse to pick up its foot:

Gently Pull Long Fetlock Hairs

One way you can ask your horse to pick up its hoof so you can clean it out is by gently tugging up on the horse’s fetlock hairs. If you look at your horse’s anatomy, the fetlock is the balled joint that connects the cannon bone and the pastern. Apply steady pressure as you pull up on the horse’s fetlock until your horse picks up its hoof.

Gently Squeeze The Back of the Horse’s Leg

Another way many people are taught to ask a horse to pick up its hoof is by gently squeezing the tendons and ligaments between the cannon bone and the splint bone of the horse’s lower leg. The slight pinch will signal to your horse to pick up its hoof.

If you aren’t familiar with the anatomy of the horse’s lower leg, have someone show you exactly where to squeeze before you try this method. While it won’t hurt the horse, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Lean into the Horse With Your Shoulder

Another cue you’ll want to incorporate while asking your horse to pick up its hoof is to have the horse shift its weight to its opposite leg so it will be easier for it to pick up its leg. You do this by slightly leaning into your horse’s shoulder with your shoulder until you feel their weight shift to the other side.

Step 5: Properly Hold the Horse’s Hoof While Picking it Out

Once your horse has picked up its hoof, you’ll want to make sure you’re holding the hoof correctly in order to stay safe and also clean it out as best as you can.

You’ll want to hold the hoof with your weakest hand, as your strong hand will have less of a struggle cleaning out the hoof. So, if you’re right-handed, hold the hoof with your left hand.

No matter what hand you’re holding your horse’s hoof with, it’s important that you continue to stay beside the horse facing behind your horse. Check to make sure you’re not standing where the horse could pull their knee up and accidentally hit you. Also check to make sure that if the horse put its hoof down, it wouldn’t land on one of your toes!

Another aspect to be aware of is that you should stay standing and bent at your waist in order to clean your horse’s hooves. In this position, you’re still mobile enough to get out of the way if something were to happen. However, if you’re squatting or sitting on the ground next to your horse, you could easily get stepped on or run into if something were to happen.

Step 6: Understand the Parts of the Horse’s Hooves to Properly Clean the Hoof

Before you pick out your horse’s dirty feet, take the time to understand the individual features of a horse’s hoof. If you can recognize each feature, it will make you more efficient at cleaning out your horse’s hooves. Here’s a list of some of the hoof features you should know:

Heel: part of the hoof that connects with the coronary band (the hairline where the hoof starts) on the backside of the horse’s foot. 

Toe: part of the hoof that extends the farthest outward and creates an angle with the ground.

Frog: a triangular part of the hoof that starts at the horse’s heel and extends midway through the hoof.

Sole: the bottom of the horse’s hoof.

Collateral Groove: a groove on either side of the frog. 

Bar: a ridge that sits on the outer wall of each collateral groove.

Hoof Wall: the outer strong part of your horse’s hoof that you can see if the horse is just standing still. This wall can be seen from the under-side of the hoof as a thick ring that goes around the outside of the hoof.

White Line: The white line is where the hoof wall meets the sole of the hoof. This can be considered as an inner hoof wall.

Step 7: Start Picking the Hoof By Applying Pressure to the Collateral Groove

I’ve picked out many a horse hoof and I believe I’ve finally mastered the art of getting a good grip on that pesky dirt and debris. Start by locating the beginning of each collateral groove and apply pressure here with your hoof pick. The groove will let you dig into the dirt that your horse’s hoof has managed to accumulate.

When it comes to cleaning out your horse’s hooves, I always say use the amount of pressure and force you need to in order to get the dirt out of their hooves. Dirt can get densely packed into a hoof, especially if your horse has shoes on, and it will take quite a lot of effort to get the dirt out.

Don’t worry; you won’t hurt your horse. Horse hoofs are tough and durable and they can withstand you fighting out that annoying mud.

Step 8: Clean the Horse’s Hoof Until You Can Clearly See the Sole of the Hoof

You may ask, “when do I know that my horse’s hoof is clean enough?” Clear the hoof of mud, rocks, and poop until you can clearly see the sole of the hoof. If you can see the sole, that means all the dirt has been removed.

An area of the hoof you’ll want to be diligent about when it comes to cleaning is the collateral groove. This groove will usually get little rocks and debris stuck in them as they are not always cleaned out properly. Clean out the collateral groove to the point where you can clearly see where the groove meets up with the hoof frog.

I like to take the bristles of the hoof pick or a body brush to brush away any remaining dirt from the hoof. This will remove any remaining dirt that may be stuck in the horse’s hoof.

Step 9: Gently Place Your Horse’s Hoof Back on the Ground

When you’ve finished cleaning your horse’s hoof, it’s important that you gently place the hoof back on the ground rather than letting the horse choose when it puts its hoof down.

This may seem like a minor thing to be aware of, but this is how horses learn bad habits. If your horse figures out that it can pull its hoof away and put the foot down anytime it wants, it will be harder to clean out your horse’s feet.

Remember, you choose when your horse’s hoof goes back on the ground, not the horse. If your horse does jerk its hoof away, just pick it back up and hold it for a few seconds so your horse learns that you decide when its time to be done, not them.

Step 10: Repeat 3 More Times!

Now that you can properly pick up and clean one hoof, it’s time to do the other three feet that your horse has! Each hoof should be treated the same when it comes to asking the horse to pick up their leg and the features of the hoof.

While picking up the front feet of your horse may seem like it would different compared to the back feet, you would treat it all the same. The only thing that would be different is that the horse’s hind-end can be much more mobile when your horse is tied compared to the front-end of your horse.

Why Should You Pick Out a Horse’s Hooves?

Ideally, your horse’s hooves should be picked out at least once a day. There are multiple reasons why your horse’s hooves should be cleaned out regularly:

Rid Your Horse’s Hooves from Uncomfortable Debris

One of the more obvious reasons to clean your horse’s hooves is to rid the hoof of any debris that may cause them discomfort. I’ve found sharp rocks, sticks, quarters, bullet shells, and nails packed into my horse’s hooves. All of these objects can get wedged into the horse’s hoof and cause discomfort.

Horses may even hobble or appear lame if they have something jabbing them in the hoof. If your horse appears to be off in the gait, always check their hooves first to see if there’s debris that needs to come out.

Your horse can get an uncomfortable rock or stick wedged in their hoof even when being ridden. There have been multiple times I’ve felt my horse go off in their gait and I’ve had to jump off to find a big rock in their hoof. To be safe, I recommend carrying a hoof pick if you’re out on a trail or away from the barn.

(Check out our article 16 Horse Trail Riding Tips: Ultimate Guide.)

Prevent Thrush and Other Fungal and Bacterial Hoof Issues

Another reason to regularly clean out your horse’s hooves is to help prevent the development of thrush and other fungal infections in your horse’s hooves. Thrush is a fungal infection that slowly eats away at your horse’s hooves.

Horses can develop thrush by standing in wet and dirty environments. If your horse is turned out during rainy months, then they’re probably spending a lot of time walking through mud. If your horse is stalled regularly or standing around a round bale, then they’re probably standing in manure. These types of environments are breeding grounds for thrush.

Cleaning out your horse’s hooves can remove that mud and manure from the hooves that otherwise left packed in the hoof can lead to the horse developing thrush.

Daily Examination of Your Horse’s Legs and Hooves

Spending time cleaning your horse’s hooves will make sure that you are regularly getting to examine your horse’s legs and hooves. Believe it or not, but the horse’s legs and hooves can be some of the most sensitive and fragile parts of the horse’s body.

When you’re working with your horse’s feet, you can do a quick visual examination to make sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary. One time, I found that my horse had stepped on a nail and I was able to get it removed and cared for.

If I hadn’t gone to clean out my horse’s hoof, I never would of found the nail. My horse could’ve gone lame and I would’ve never known why. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly check over your horse’s legs and hooves when you’re working on picking out your horse’s feet.

I hope this article was helpful! If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this video:



Maybe you want to clean out your horse’s feet but you can’t even get their hooves off of the ground! If this is the case, check out our article Why Won’t My Horse Let Me Pick Up Its Feet?

P.S. Save this article to your “Horse Care” Pinterest board!

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

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