How to Clean a Horse Hoof

If you’ve ever been around a horse, then you know that they like to find the grossest, nastiest, and smelliest stuff possible to step into. Then they stomp around all day, creating a dense material in their hoof that looks like dried-out toxic sludge. Here’s the problem: the horse cannot typically remove these materials on their own. If it stays, it can impact the health of the hoof and potentially even the overall health of the horse.

Other factors can also affect the cleanliness of the hoof. The terrain that you ride on, a spell of bad weather, the fit of their horseshoes, and even their feed can all affect the health of the hoof. 

This means you must know how to clean a horse hoof properly so that your horse remains sound. Here’s what you’re going to want to do.

#1. Get in there with a hoof pick.

That dried-out toxic sludge must come out for the horse to remain happy and healthy. Grab a good hoof pick and get in there, removing any rocks, grass, dirt, and the ever-present manure that tends to cake up. Once you get all the dried gunk out of there, you’ll want to follow up with a stiff-bristled brush to clean away any debris that is lingering in the sole.

If it is visible, it needs to come out. Any debris that remains can potentially damage the hoof and injure the horse. 

As you’re using that hoof pick, make sure that you’re taking a good look at the hoof itself. This is a great time to look for any puncture injuries, cracks in the hoof, or abscesses. You’ll also be able to tell if you’ve got a case of thrush that needs to be treated here in this first step.

Have the horse pick up the foot and then hold it to offer support. Start picking out on one side and then work your way across the hoof. Pay attention to the area where the sole of the hoof meets the outer hoof capsule.

#2. Inspect the shoes of the horse.

Once you’re confident that you’ve removed the toxic sludge from the hoof, it’s time to take a look at the shoes. Horseshoes have the nasty habit of moving to the side of the hoof, pulling away from it, or bending because the horse is practicing for its racing dreams while being turned out. A shoe that is not properly positioned can cause a severe injury, either from the metal of the shoe itself or from the nails or cinches that were used to affix it.

If a shoe has been thrown, you’ll need to remove it. Your local farrier can teach you how to do this if you’re not sure of your current skills.

#3. Repair the hoof as needed.

If you have found cracks in the hoof or other injuries that need to be addressed, then you’ll want to work on repairing the hoof as much as possible. Hoof cracks are not breed or activity specific and their presence can tell you a lot about what the horse is experiencing.

Hoof cracks are also very common. Don’t panic. Just get to work.

Horizontal hoof cracks can be evidence of a ruptured abscess or an injury. These will usually grow out in time, but if the horse seems a bit lame, you may wish to bring in your veterinarian.

Vertical cracks are much more common and may be complete or incomplete, affecting any portion of the hoof. They can occur suddenly or occur over a long period of time. Repair involves making sure the foot is properly trimmed and balanced, with all dead or loose materials removed. Then have a hoof repair kid on-hand so you can stabilize the crack, protect the damaged wall, and eliminate any bleeding or pain that may be happening.

#4. Give the horse some healthy hoof stuff in the feed.

Hoof supplements in the feed can really help to improve overall hoof health and keep each foot healthy even when the horse is mucking about. Look for supplements that include zinc or biotin for the best results. Other products that help to encourage keratin or protein growth will also help the hoof.

Many horses have specific dietary needs that must be met, so speaking to your veterinarian about the nutritional needs of your horse will be a good idea.

#5. Hoof moisture: you need some, but you don’t want it all.

If the hoof receives no moisture at all, then it will begin to dry out and this can encourage cracking. If the hoof receives too much moisture, then it will begin to soften and leave the horse more susceptible to an impact injury. To manage this moisture, consider using a topical conditioner as part of the cleaning process.

This will help to lock in the right amount of moisture while providing hooves that are hot and dry with some of the nutrients that they need. If you have a horse that is particularly sensitive to moisture changes, you may also wish to apply a sealant in the final stages of the horse hoof cleaning process.

#6. Get the horse out of the mud.

If you are turning out your horse into a muddy field or enclosure, then you’re going to give yourself a future headache. Too much mud and muck causes hoof moisture content to change, providing the foundation for an infection, thrush, or loosened shoes to cause a lot of havoc. Mud also causes slipping, falling, and a general mess that can take forever to groom out.

Having a level pasture can solve a lot of problems. Fill-in holes to prevent water buildup. Having a run-in shelter will also make sure that your horse always has some access to dry ground.

#7. Let the horse have some exercise.

Exercise encourages hooves to grow and strengthen. This allows the horse to have better health because the feet feel better. Encourage the horse to play games, run around, or go for a nice, long trail ride on a frequent basis. Having a protected pasture space will also encourage the horse to explore and get some movement.

If your space is rather limited, consider using a lunge line and working with your horse 3-4 times per week at minimum so that some exercise happens within your paddock. There are always options available. If you use them, the hoof cleaning process will get easier in time.

It can be rather unpleasant to clean out the hoof of a horse who is adventurous. Yet that impacted toxic sludge is also evidence that you and your horse have a great relationship and have been having a great time. Invest a little time and effort into making sure the hoof is clean and the shoe is properly fitted and you’ll be able to make good hoof health part of your regular routine.