Hoof trimming for horses: how and why it’s done

Aimi Clark
Regular hoof trimming by a farrier keeps hooves healthy

Hoof trimming is just one of the vital steps of hoof care that your farrier does. Regularly trimmed hooves are stronger and healthier, whether they wear shoes or are unshod, and horses with routine farrier visits are more likely to stay sound for longer.

In the wild, horses are constantly on the move and cover varying terrain, which causes hooves to wear down and naturally keeps them short. Modern-day horses don’t live or work in the same way, and so without regular trimming their hooves will continue to grow, eventually becoming so long that they curl at the toe.

Horses who are barefoot and ridden regularly will wear hooves down, some more than others, but regular visits from a farrier are still essential, ideally every four to six weeks. Even if hoof trimming isn’t required at every visit, a farrier will be able to assess hoof length, condition and could even spot any potential problems before they become an issue. Shod horses have their hooves trimmed at each shoeing and it is important to note that in the UK, only a registered farrier can put shoes on a horse.

Horse hoof anatomy

A horse's hoof is rasped by a farrier

A farrier rasps a hoof after trimming

A horse’s hoof is a lot more than what see on the outside. These are the three areas that you can see:

Hoof wall

The hoof wall is the outer layer of the hoof and it is made of keratin, like human fingernails. It is hard and either black or white. It is the hoof wall that will grow and grow without trimming, providing it is strong and healthy. Potential problems include cracking and brittleness.

Sole of the hoof

On the bottom of the hoof is the sole, which you see when you pick out debris your horse’s feet with a hoof pick. It is the job of the sole and the hoof wall to protect the inner hoof capsule and bones. The sole is softer than the hoof wall and problems can occur if it is allowed to become wet and soften even more, leaving the horse vulnerable to problems such as thrush, bruising and abscesses caused by puncture wounds.

The frog

The frog is the ‘V’ you see in the sole of your horse’s foot. It runs from the heel bulbs of the hoof towards the toe and it is a sensitive area. It plays an important role in helping blood to pump to the heart.

Hoof trimming: how it is done

Farriers use a hoof knife to clean the foot before trimming

A hoof knife, pictured, is used to clean the sole

Before the farrier arrives to trim hooves or shoe your horse, make sure the hooves are clean and dry. This applies to the whole leg, so that your farrier doesn’t have to hold wet, muddy legs.

This is the process used to trim a hoof:

  • The farrier will pick up the horse’s leg and hold it between their knees, so that it is held firmly and they can see the sole. It’s important that in between farrier visits you routinely lift and handle your horse’s legs, so that they are confident when being trimmed or shod and will quietly stand still, sometimes for a long time.
  • The first thing the farrier will do is clean the hoof. They will use a hoof knife to do this and you may start to see clean sole (white) as the dirty black layer is removed. This applies to the ridges on either side of the frog too — a hoof knife has a specially curved end to help clean these areas. Once finised with the hoof knife, the farrier will use a wire brush to get rid of dust and dirt.
  • Using sharp hoof nippers (which look a little bit like pliers), the farrier will cut excess hoof wall from around the full circumference of the hoof. Some horses will need more trimmed than others. It’s a bit like a person trimming their nails — and it’s the trimmed hoof that you’ll see on the floor afterwards. (Dogs often like to pick these up!)
  • Next, the farrier will use a rasp to smooth out any sharp edges left by the hoof nippers.
  • It may be necessary for the farrier to remove any excess sole and frog. They are trained to know what is live sole, exfoliating sole, and retained sole — live sole should not be trimmed and will cause the horse pain if done so.

Hoof trimming: healthy hooves

When hoof trimming is complete, ask your farrier how healthy they think the hooves are and whether they recommend anything to improve them. Some, for example, may recommend applying an ointment to help with their condition and prevent them becoming brittle.

Remember it’s important to keep your horse’s farrier appointments whether your horse is shod or barefoot. Overgrown hooves cause horses, ponies, donkeys and all equines pain, affect hoof balance and in some cases, particularly welfare cases, prevent the animal from walking properly.

All images by Shutterstock

Profile image of Aimi Clark Aimi Clark


As the editor of Your Horse Online, Aimi oversees all our digital content. She has worked in equestrian media for over 15 years and joined Your Horse as editor in 2017. Aimi has owned and ridden horses all her life. She grew up on a farm in Devon and was a Tetcott & South Tetcott Pony Club member, joining with her first pony — a New Forest called Prudence — before moving on to a Danish Warmblood called Marcus and competing in all activities, but particularly enjoying eventing. She has rehomed and retrained more than 10 ex-racehorses and dabbled in point-to-pointing. There have been plenty of bumps, setbacks and heartache along the way, as well as a lot of fun and many successes. Aimi has two young children and she still loves ex-racehorses. You can often find her hacking her Thoroughbred in the Oxfordshire countryside, flying the flag for Your Horse's #Hack1000Miles challenge.

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