How to Trim Horse Hooves

It can be a little scary the first time you set about trimming the hooves of a horse. The good news is that trimming horse hooves isn’t a process that needs to be overly complicated. No matter what the process happens to be, the goal happens to be the same: to find the hoof shape that will be the most comfortable one for each horse.

Some might discuss what the best parameters of a horse hoof should be or that a certain process is always the best solution. In reality, the horse is going to tell you everything you need to know. Here’s how to trim horse hooves so that you can have confidence when it comes time to get the job done.

#1. Make sure your horse’s hooves are long enough.

Horses grow hooves to act like the “shoes” for their feet. If the hooves are trimmed too short, then the feet are going to cause the horse pain just like your feet are going to hurt if you walk barefoot on gravel for some time.

Dr. David Ramey, DVM has developed a chart to help you measure how long the hooves of a horse should generally be. Now this is for general purposes only. You also need to look at the hooves up close to determine how effective they are at protecting the horse. If the horse is uncomfortable, then the shape or size is wrong and you’ll need to fix it.

#2. Create an adequate sole depth for each hoof.

It can be tempting to take a hoof knife to the sole and start scraping out the loose stuff that is in there. The only problem is that the outside of each hoof needs to have some structure to it so the weight of the horse can be properly supported.

Imagine wearing a pair of shoes that only had a sole to it and shoelaces that tied to the top of your foot. How comfortable would you be without the upper part of the shoe? Yet that’s what many horses receive during the hoof trimming session.

It’s often a better idea to brush away the loose sole materials instead of scraping them out. This way the horse can have the hoof support they need without creating discomfort in the process.

#3. There is no such thing as a proper hoof angle for all horses.

A horse’s hooves need to be trimmed at an angle that works best for the horse. Not every angle guideline for the front or rear feet is appropriate for every horse.

Instead of trying to remember where you put your high school math tools, just take a look at the front of the horse’s hoof in relation to their leg and the ground. You should have a straight line that runs from the pastern to the ground. This can take some time to develop, especially if the hooves have been trimmed in a different way in the past. 

#4. It’s usually a good idea to soak hooves before trimming them.

Have you ever tried to trim a thick toenail after a long day of being on your feet? That nail is virtually impossible to cut off. If you do get it cut, there’s a good chance that it’ll hurt for some time afterward as well. But if you soak the toenail before cutting it, then the process can be completed quickly and without pain.

Horse hooves are the same way. A dry hoof is a hard hoof, which means it will be almost impossible to properly trim. Hooves generally need to be soaked in water for at least 15 minutes before trimming.

If your horse doesn’t like soaking hooves, then you can bring a spray bottle with you so you can moisten the hoof as you trim it. You can also take breaks during the trimming process to keep the hooves moist for better results.

#5. Clean the hooves before you trim them.

Now that you’ve prepared the sole and soaked the hooves, you’re ready to clean each hoof so that it is ready for trimming. It’s a good idea to have a hook knife for this job since you never really know what your horse might have decided to step in for you.

Hold a hook knife in the opposite way you would hold a steak knife when you sit down for dinner. The blade should be pointed downward and you’ll want to use your whole arm to make a cleaning stroke.

#6. Assess the situation.

Once the hooves have been thoroughly clean, you’ll want to take the time to conduct one last inspection of each foot. You’re looking for areas that will need to be trimmed and each hoof is going to be different. In fact, the trimming experience for a horse is never exactly the same.

What you’re looking for are these four key areas of concern.

Cracks. If there are areas of a hoof that are cracked, then there is a good chance that those spots will need some sort of trimming.
 

Length. The outer hoof wall can grow too long at times, creating discomfort for the horse. Judge the angle to determine if or how much trimming will need to occur.
 

Symmetry. The horse should have fairly symmetrical hoof walls for the best possible result. Hooves can grow at different rates, so you may need to do more trimming on one hoof than the other.


Stance. Take a look to see if the front of the hoof is going to need trimming so that the stance of the horse can be restored to a more natural position.

#7. Get into the trimming position.

Now you’re ready to begin the trimming process. Get into a trimming position by holding the front leg of the horse. Lift it up and back, toward the chest of the horse. It’s usually best to rest the hoof on your leg. The back leg lifts directly up and is placed on your own leg in front of it. Only bend the leg with the natural motion of the joint and if the horse doesn’t want to cooperate, don’t try to force the issue.

Nippers are used to trim the actual hoof. They will remove the excess length that is potentially bothering the horse. Place the nippers on a long area of the hoof, clamp them down, and work slowly to trim to your desired length.

If you don’t want to rest the horse’s leg on your own, there are stands available from virtually any equine catalog that will help you bring the leg into its proper position.

#8. Rasp the hoof.

Once you’ve trimmed the hooves, you’ll notice that there may be some sharp, rough, or unleveled areas that need to be addressed. A steel file will help you rasp away these problematic areas on the hoof.

You can also use the steel file to trim down areas that may not be appropriate for the nippers to trim.

Use short strokes for control and long strokes for removal. Each stroke should be as flat as possible to avoid putting an uncomfortable angle into the hoof.

#9. Double-check the sole of the hoof.

After you’ve completed the trimming and rasping, you’ll need to check on the sole of the hoof. The goal is to have the sole down below the outer wall so that the pressure of the horse’s weight is placed on the outer portion of the hoof. If you don’t need to trim the sole because the outer wall is longer, then just rasp it so that it is smooth.

Some horses may not need to have this step completed.

#10. Check the hoof for problems one more time.

At this point, you’re wanting to make sure the hoof is clean and level. You’ll also want to make sure the steps your horse takes are level. Check on the symmetry of the hooves after each trim as well and then make adjustments as necessary so that they are even on all sides.

The bottom of the outer hoof wall should be flat.

Always work slowly and carefully, trimming based on what you see on the hoof instead of what you expect to see. It can sometimes be helpful to only trim two hooves per session. It’s also fine to take a break when trimming if you become tired or your horse is being stubborn about the process.

Always be patient. Many horses view impatience as an unpleasant experience and will be more likely to continue to be uncooperative in the future. 

If there are uneven growth patterns that are appearing on the hoof, then it may be necessary to hire a professional to create the final hoof that will create comfort for the horse. Injuries or health issues that involve the hoof should also be addressed by a professional.