When I Really Learned to Pick a Horse Hoof, Properly

The stall cleaner came over and showed us how to pick a horse hoof, properly. We didn’t really know what we were doing, my friend Michele and I, as we bumbled along together enjoying her first horse. We were just two teenaged girls naively in love with horses and riding.

Without regular formal instruction in our early horse ownership journey, Michele and I were left to figure out most things on our own. This stall cleaner at the boarding facility caught me picking the hoof towards my face. Uninvited (yet welcomed) and not speaking English, he stepped in and finished picking the hoof. His action focused on emphasizing the downward motion away from the horse’s heel and his face. I got the picture and never picked a horse hoof up towards my face again.

Much Later in Life I Really Learned How to Properly Pick a Horse Hoof

Now having picked out many a horse hoof later, I never had much trouble and had no need of learning more about the technique until this year.

First, before one can properly pick a horse hoof, the horse needs to learn to happily pick up their hooves for a human. This year I was gifted a Connemara filly. Whisper arrived three days after her second birthday. One of the first things to establish was a grooming routine which of course included picking out each hoof. I’m not sure how much hoof handling she previously experienced. In our early days together, my little filly was OK with the left front, terrible with her left back, so-so with the right back and hopping with the right front.

Trials of Teaching a Young Horse to Properly Pick UP a Horse Hoof

Whisper at just two years old was learning how to do things. She’s quite bright so could think of ways to challenge the activity. Even though she’s small, her weight and strength overpowered me every time. Working with her left-hind was the most difficult. When I would begin to slide my hand down to the inside of her left-hind leg, she would drop her hip and push into me. Once in a while I could get her to simply lift her leg, only to have her snap it back with a kicking motion.

When I Really Learned to Pick a Horse Hoof, Properly  | SLO Horse News
Lifting the left hind leg.

The solution was to go back to just asking her to lift her leg and hold it elevated on her own for a second or two without pushing into me or kicking out. When she accomplished that, she’d receive pats of praise. Fortunately, working with her right-hind was a different story. Here she let me support her leg and I was easily picking out the hoof soon after. Moving to the right-foreleg, picking up the foot was no problem. However, she soon discovered throwing her weight to that leg so I would have to drop it. Then she discovered she could hop on three legs while I held on to her right front leg.

Would she ever just stand nicely while each hoof was lifted and picked out?

Every day I work with her grooming her and picking out her feet is part of the routine. In the beginning she was praised for going through the whole grooming routine including picking out each hoof and getting spritzed with fly spray (something else she has become tolerant of). I rewarded Whisper for small improvements with praise going through the routine. She enjoyed a few lettuce leaves as a treat at the end. I’m pleased to report I soon had a much-improved happy hoof picker-upper.

Yet, There Was MORE to Learn About Picking UP a Horse Hoof

Through this process and getting input from others I learned something new about how to pick UP a horse hoof so it can be picked out. It has to do with getting the horse to lift its foot in an easy manner. Looking back on my horse hoof picking experiences I realize there can be quite a struggle with getting the horse to pick up its hoof so you can properly pick the horse hoof. I have actually struggled with this very thing, especially with a foreleg. One cannot “muscle” a foreleg or a hind leg to lift.

Useful Technique for Getting a Horse to Pick UP its Hoof

Now I have learned a useful technique that works every time. Here it is: Every horse has a “chestnut” on the inside of each leg. The chestnut is that rough and rubbery bare skin patch on the inside of each leg, most pronounced on the foreleg. This area is quite sensitive when touched or lightly twisted, causing the horse to move its leg. Therefore, I employ this reality by gently squeezing and slightly twisting this patch to get the horse to lift its leg. My filly now lifts her front leg as I run my hand down her forearm and touch the chestnut with my fingers. Same for the back legs.


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So Here is My Step-by Step Process to Properly Pick a Horse’s Hoof

When I Really Learned to Pick a Horse Hoof, Properly  | SLO Horse News
Pick debris away from the horse’s heel and your face. Start along the crevices of the V shaped frog.
  1. Approach the horse on the near side and stand side-by-side to the horse’s left front leg. Your face and toes should be parallel to the horse, facing the horse’s rear. Your left side should be very close to touching the horse. Stand with your feet apart to be a strong base of support for you and the horse.
  2. Take your left hand and run it down the horse’s forearm with your fingers on the inside. Feel for the “chestnut” – the rough and rubbery bare skin patch on the inside of the forearm in front or just below the hock in back. Grab the chestnut with your fingers and twist it a bit, you might also gently bump the horse with your body. This action will cause the horse to lift its leg, so be ready to grab the hoof with your right hand under the hoof and left hand supporting the leg.
  3. Slide the left hand to the hoof and position the hoof pick in your right hand with the picking part near your pinky finger. The hoof pick hook should be facing towards the hoof.
  4. With downward flicking motions of your wrist, dislodge the debris packed into the crevices on each side of the “frog” – the V shaped section in the middle of the underside of the horse’s hoof. Only use a downward motion going away from the heel and your face. Dislodge any other debris packed into the underside of the hoof.
  5. Move to the left hind leg. Position yourself side-by-side parallel to the left hind with your body nearly touching the horse. Your feet and face should face beyond the horse’s rear. Stand with your feet apart to set a strong base. Run your left hand down the inside of the hind leg, pausing with your fingers on the chestnut just below the hock, give a little squeeze here and bump your body towards the horse. Be ready to pick up the hind leg so that it rests on the inside of your left thigh above your knee. Your left hand should support the hoof. Position the hoof pick in your right hand with the picking part near your pinky finger. The hoof pick hook should be facing towards the hoof.
  6. With flicking motions of your wrist dislodge the debris packed into the crevices on each side of the “frog” the V shaped section in the middle of the underside of the horse’s hoof. Only use a downward motion going away from the heel and your face. Dislodge any other debris packed into the underside of the hoof.
  7. Move to the other side of the horse. I do the right-hind foot next, but some move to the right-fore and repeat the process. On the right side of the horse you will use your right hand to run down the leg and squeeze the chestnut. So, you will need to reposition the hoof pick to your right hand. It doesn’t matter which way you proceed, but it DOES matter that you are consistent. Soon you will find your horse anticipates the process and lifts its hoof up for you.
When I Really Learned to Pick a Horse Hoof, Properly  | SLO Horse News
Hind leg rests on the inside of your thigh just above your knee.

So there you have it. We are all on a learning journey. Picking up nuggets of truth along the way makes us wise and effective horsemen and women. I am thankful for my most recent nugget finding.


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Photo credit: Sharon Jantzen Photos

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Sharon Jantzen

Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family. Presently she is enjoying riding a Rocky Mounted Gaited horse and exploring Mounted Archery. Her new baby is Whisper, a Connemara filly.

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