Horse Hoof trimming - Can you trim your horse’s hooves yourself?

How to trim horses hooves

The short answer is YES!
However, you need to develop some skills to do so and for underlying conditions, a professional hoof care provider should always be consulted.
Trimming your horse’s hooves is a job that requires some skill and practice. It is not as easy as it may look, but everyone can learn the basics. If you are not comfortable handling your horse’s feet, you shouldn’t try trimming yourself as you could injure yourself or your horse.

The horse’s hoof is a wonder of natural engineering and is made up of various structures and layers, all of which have their own functions. If trimmed correctly and kept in good health, the barefoot hoof is the most natural and healthy option for a horse. FormaHoof replicates the natural biomechanics of the barefoot hoof, thereby helping to facilitate this effective mechanism. Furthermore, FormaHoof can be applied by anyone with trimming skills.

There are some crucial parts of a horse’s hoof that you should be aware of before beginning to trim them.

Table of Contents

The Hoof Wall

Treats can be used as part of positive reinforcement, which horses respond well to due to the way they learn. Positive reinforcement with treats is a fantastic way to teach your horse new skills in a fun way they will love – for example, you can teach your horse to touch a target placed at different heights and levels, which is a brilliant way of training them to lower their head when needed.

Positive reinforcement can be used to help your horse accept being touched in certain areas and can also be used when schooling to help teach and reinforce the correct exercise. Horses are intelligent animals who are willing to learn and please so there really is no limit to what you can potentially teach with treats!

Research studies by Innes and McBride (2007) and Warren-Smith and McGreevy (2008), have shown that positive reinforcement can enhance learning and the motivation to learn, so your horse will learn quicker! Using treats in this way can help create a cooperative and willing horse, whilst strengthening the human-horse relationship, and who doesn’t want a better bond with their horse?

The outer layer of the hoof capsule is called the hoof wall and is comparable to our fingernails. It is made up of keratinous material that continuously grows if it is healthy, and its purpose is to provide stability and support while the horse is moving.

The Horse’s Frog

When picking up your horse’s hoof, the frog is the V-shaped part reaching from the heel bulbs towards the toe (front of the hoof).

The frog in each horse’s hoof acts like a pump to push blood back up the leg with every step a horse takes. When the hoof is down on the ground, it contracts, and the blood is sent back up the hoof to the heart. When it is picked up, it expands and fills with blood. Around a litre of blood is pumped through the body every twenty strides! When the horse moves, it works as a shock absorber, protecting the pad beneath it.

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The Hoof Sole

The sole is the underside of the hoof. A healthy sole protects the inner structures of the hoof capsule and underlying bones. A healthy sole is slightly concave and hardly touches the ground. The structure is similar to the keratin of the hoof wall, but in most cases is softer and so is more easily worn down than the wall.

To learn more about the horse’s hoof structures and how they function, we suggest taking a detailed online course or a deep dive into related webinars such as barefoot vs shod by the Equine Documentalist Yogi Sharp.

Hoof Trimming Basics – Step-by-Step Guide

Required Tools:

  • Hard Brush
  • Rasp
  • Nippers
  • Hoof Knife
  • Gloves (Optional)
  • Hoof Stand (Optional)

Before you start – Gather your tools and get the horse’s leg into position

Aligning your tools will help avoid distraction and interruption during your trimming process. We recommend having your tools close enough to reach them, but out of the reach of your horse.

Next, pick up your horse’s front leg as you do when picking out the hoof – when the leg is up, place it between your knees, which will hold the leg in position. The hoof should face you when looking down, which will give you a good overview of the entire hoof. Try to keep your horse in a centered alignment and avoid pulling the leg into any unnatural position which will make your horse uncomfortable.

Make sure you and your horse are in a comfortable environment (this should also apply for farrier visits). A kicking horse is clearly uncomfortable with the situation and can cause injuries to themselves and yourself.

Tips and Tricks:
Depending on the circumstances, hooves can be hard and dry. Soaking the feet for approx. 20 minutes before trimming can make the work easier.

Step 1 – General cleaning of the hoof

Horse Hoof Trimming Step 1 Clean Hoof

As a horse owner, you already know about the importance of daily hoof cleaning and picking out. Therefore, it should be easy to remember that cleaning the hoof is the first step when trimming.

Cleaning the hoof with the hoof knife is easy. However, the knife is sharp and handling should always be carried out with caution.

As your knees are holding the horse’s hoof, your hands should be free to move. However, you should use one hand to support the stability of the foot whilst working on it. Hold the knife with your strong hand facing you and the hook pointing inward.

Depending on the amount, hardness, and thickness of the dirt you may need to scrape the sole several times before it becomes reasonably clean.

You can use the bent front piece of the knife to clean out the collateral grooves on each side of the frog. Make sure to remove dirt and mud from the area without pressure to avoid any unnecessary cuts or puncture wounds from the knife.

Last but not least use your brush or wire brush to get rid of dust and any remaining dirt.

Step 2 – The actual hoof trim

Horse Hoof Trimming Step 2 Trimming The Hoof

Take out your nippers and start trimming your horse’s hooves. The nippers should be sharp to ensure easy removal of the excess wall and avoid any ripping and tearing during the process.

Your hoof nippers work like nail cutters — by placing them on the edge of the wall you can cut excess hoof around the entire foot with little effort. Make sure to start with small amounts before you are comfortable enough to decide how much hoof can be taken off during a trim.

Make sure your nippers are flat on the foot and the handles are pointing up to you to avoid cutting awkward angles into the hoof. To avoid a sharp toe, trim the front of the hoof at a 45-degree angle.

Hoof trimming is about trimming the overgrown hoof wall and allowing your horse to go forward comfortably. Most horses need regular trimming in a 3-6 week cycle when kept barefoot. However, the growth will depend on different factors such as age, fitness, overall health, and activity level. It is recommended to keep an eye on your horse’s growth and wear to find the best-suited schedule.

Step 3 – Filing the hoof

Horse Hoof Trimming Step 3 Filing the hoof

Filing is the harder part of the trimming process. As you know from cutting your nails, a nipper (or nail cutter) can leave sharp and unwanted edges. To smooth these, you file down your nails and this is the next step for your horse’s hooves as well.

While your knees are still holding the hoof in position, you want to use both hands to hold on to your rasp. Make sure you are in a stable position where you can stay balanced while holding the foot. Work slowly, being careful not to file the sensitive sole and frog areas. Use the white line in the hoof as a guide to ensure that you are rasping only the safe zones.

Check the heels for any unevenness. Don’t drag the rasp across both heels at the same time. Instead, identify the higher of either heel and file it down to the other’s level.

Step 4 – Remove excess sole and frog material

Horse Hoof Trimming Step 4 Remove Excess

It is important not to touch the sole until you’ve reached a stage in your education where you can distinguish between live sole, exfoliating sole, and retained sole.

Live sole has a waxy appearance while exfoliating sole is either chalky and comes off easily with your hoof pick or has cracks and edges that look like they can be peeled away. Retained sole is usually quite smooth and frequently fuses with the frog.

What is recommended here is that if you’re not sure, don’t remove it. However, if a part of the sole is not ready to be removed, it will be quite difficult to do so anyway, so this can provide reassurance of what should or shouldn’t be filed. If it chips or flakes out easily, don’t be afraid to exfoliate it – gently. You’ll then be better able to gauge appropriate wall height and heel height.

As we learned above, the frog is a blood-pumping organ within the horse’s hoof and needs to be handled with absolute care. Over-trimming the frog can cause profound problems for your horse.

However, not caring for the frog at all can cause problems too, especially when overgrown or when the frog shows signs of infection. However, cleaning the frog as we did in step 1 will give you an indication of the health status of the frog.

Studying the appearance of a healthy frog will allow you to decide when it needs trimming and when it is better to leave it alone.

Take your time and be patient. In general, you should avoid taking off too much hoof material while you are inexperienced. Instead, shorten your cycles until you are comfortable and knowledgeable enough to see how far to go with your trim.

Don’t be shy to reach out to local trimmers for advice or attend a trimming course. These can not only be fun but will make sure you are going in the right direction when trimming your own horse.

Warning: If you notice any injuries on your horse’s hoof, consult with your veterinarian immediately. A small cut or bruise can easily get out of hand.

Once I know how to trim, can I apply FormaHoof myself?

YES! Applying FormaHoof is an easy-to-learn and repeatable process. Many owners around the world have chosen to apply FormaHoof themselves and showcase successful examples and best practices, as horse owner Kate explains in the video below.

It is easy for everyone to learn how to apply FormaHoof with the FormaHoof Academy courses and tutorials. FormaHoof not only offers great support for horses with various hoof-related problems but is also fantastic for transitioning horses to barefoot while replicating the natural biomechanics of the perfect barefoot hoof. Start your journey to healthier hooves today.

Jan Snyder
Jan Snyder
Read More
Shout out to FormaHoof, Eli walked in the snow more comfortable than ever has in the past… His FormaHoof ‘shoes’ didn’t accumulate any snowballs and barely tracked snow into the barn
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Jan Snyder
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Shout out to FormaHoof, Eli walked in the snow more comfortable than ever has in the past… His FormaHoof ‘shoes’ didn’t accumulate any snowballs and barely tracked snow into the barn

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