Horse hooves have to support thousands of pounds of weight and must endure a lot of stress. To keep them healthy and strong, regular hoof picking is essential. Whether your horse is shod or barefoot, they need to be picked regularly to remove debris and make sure the frog is firm. This also helps prevent thrush, which can be a painful condition for your horse. It is recommended that you pick a horse’s hooves on a daily basis or at least every other day. This may seem like a lot of work but it is better than the alternative of not picking the hooves at all. If you don’t pick a horses hooves they will likely get overgrown and develop a hole that could lead to infection.
When picking a horse’s hooves, it is important that the animal is calm and trusting of you. Young horses are not used to having their legs lifted and hooves picked, and older horses may have a negative experience with a farrier that left them scared of the process. The best way to approach a horse is to use verbal cues, such as “Leg up,” to let them know that it is time for cleaning.
Once you have the horse in a calm state, start by tethering them safely. It is recommended that you use a cross tie rather than a halter because it keeps you away from posts and walls you could be knocked into if the horse tries to kick during the process. Once the horse is secure, run your hand down their leg toward their hoof and apply pressure at the fetlock (ankle) to lift up the foot. Some people may prefer to use a hoof pick instead of their hand, but using your hands is better because you can feel how much pressure is being applied and the amount of movement.
Once the foot is lifted, massage it a bit to help keep the horse calm while you are cleaning out the hoof. You can use a hoof pick to scrape off any dry mud or manure from the base of the hoof wall. You should also pick around the cleft of the frog to make sure that nothing is stuck in there. Some hoof picks even come with brushes on them that can be helpful for this part of the cleaning process.
While the frog of the hoof is much softer than the sole, you should still be careful not to dig into it too aggressively with your hoof pick. This can cause the white line to become irritated and start to seed, leading to thrush. You should also be cautious about putting the hoof pick between your horse’s toes. This can be extremely uncomfortable for the animal and may result in them kicking out their toes. It is best to build up to this slowly by massaging the hoof with your fingers and then holding it between your toes for a few seconds at a time.