The Basics of Trimming Horse Hooves

Learning how to trim a horse’s hooves is a very important part in the health and care of horses. Horse foot care is best left to a farrier, but in case you are interested in learning how to do the job yourself, then you will need to invest in the proper tools Before attempting to do the work of a farrier yourself, it would be best to take some lessons from a professional before trimming your horse’s hooves.

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First you will need an apron or some chaps to protect yourself from the horse’s hooves. Chaps work great for holding a hoof securely between your legs. Then you will need a hoof pick to clean out debris from under the hoof and to clean the sole and groove areas. If this debris is not removed, your tools will become dull and even develop a build up that can hide injuries to the hoof itself. A hoof knife will be needed to trim away any loose and dried out sole. Be careful not to cut into the live flesh or the sole will bleed and become very painful.

Nippers are needed to trim outgrowth of the hoof wall. Even though toe length will vary with each horse’s breed and size, a general adult horse of average size should have approximately 3" to 3-3/4" of hoof from wall to toe, which is measured from the top of the hoof wall to the ground (bottom) and in the center of the toe of the hoof wall.

When you are trimming a front foot, be sure to hold the hoof firmly between your knees; and if you’re trimming a rear foot, then hold the hoof securely across your lap with the hock beneath your arm. You must keep the nippers blades parallel to the bottom of the hoof. Using both hands, one handle in each hand, hold them perpendicular to the bottom of the hoof and not at the angle of the hoof wall. Starting at one heel, begin trimming the hoof wall to the toe and then stop and do the same on the other heel. Try to make each cut with the nippers only half the width of the nippers blades, in order to get an even cut.

One of the largest trimming mistakes made by the beginner is digging out the quarters by cutting the hoof wall too short by following the line of heel to sole instead of heel to toe. The proper way is following a straight line from heel to toe. Be careful not to cut the hoof wall to the sole where it is cupped at the quarters. If you’re not sure how much to trim, it’s always best to leave too much that too little. A little more heel won’t be as painful as removing too much heel.

The rasp tool can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on if it is used correctly or not. To the inexperienced hand, the rasp has been known to cause injuries to the users hands, fingers, and knuckles and even to the hoof wall. After you’re done trimming with the nippers, you will need to use the rasp to level out the bottom of the hoof wall. You will also need the rasp to remove any burrs and to smooth and round the outer edge of the hoof wall. Using the rasp takes both hands, push with one hand and pull with the other, using an equal, downward pressure. Do not remove the rasp until it’s flat to the hoof and at the same time is making contact with both sides of the hoof wall. Avoid cutting across the hoof from side to side, which will dig out the quarters, instead cut from heel to toe and vise versa. Constantly check your work. A rasp can cut so fast that before you know it, the hoof can be uneven or even bloody.

You will want to check for levelness by holding the horse’s leg by the cannon bone and allowing the hoof to relax. Looking across the hoof to the heel, the bottom of the hoof wall should be flat, free of any high spots or dips. Look carefully from the bottom of the hoof and the back of the leg up to the knee, this should form a T.

You will also want to use a pair of calipers to measure the evenness of your trimming. Remember that trimming a horse’s hooves may look easy when done by a professional farrier, but this is a trade that takes time to learn. Get the right farrier tools and a little training and you will be just fine.

Videos of Trimming of Horses' Hooves

Horseshoe'n Time Television Show Host, Ralph Casey, demonstrates the use of The Merlin Hoof Trimming Kit for Horses. Ralph Casey is president of The Farriers' National Research Center in Villanow, Georgia. Horseshoe'n Time is seen on Dish 9411.

This is a quick video of a trim from the farrier today. The three tools used are a pick, nippers and rasp.

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