Important Areas of Focus: Regular Grooming, Dental and Hoof Care

Icon of a book Grooming, Dental and Hoof Care


Regular grooming loosens dirt and mud, which can cause skin irritations and infections. If allowed to accumulate, mud and dirt can reduce the insulating properties of the hair coat in cold conditions. Grooming also provides an opportunity to check for injuries and can be calming horses.

Woman brushing a horse.
Figure 2.7 Woman Grooming Her Horse.

Dental Care

In order to digest food efficiently, a horse needs healthy teeth to grind the feed and allow enzymes and bacteria to attack the plant cell walls. The front teeth of a horse are designed for clipping grass and, with the help of the tongue, move the grass to the back of the mouth. The premolars and molars are designed to grind feed. Horses only salivate when the premolars and molars are grinding and the enzymes in saliva help to break down the feed.

A horse’s teeth should be examined regularly to ensure that they are wearing normally and are effectively grinding the feed.

”It is recommended to have a dental exam done annually and receive appropriate dental care as needed”

Source: section 4.3

Hoof Care

A foot refers to the hoof and all its internal structures including bones and sensitive structures. The hoof is the hard outside covering of the foot. Horse hooves are one single solid structure while cattle, sheep, goats and pigs have a hoof that contains two digits (referred to as cloven-footed). 

Hoof care is an essential part of maintaining a healthy horse’s foot. Horses can weigh over
453 kg, all supported by their hooves. Problems in the hoof can be very painful and can ultimately decrease a horse’s production, performance and longevity. 

By utilizing good hoof management practices, hoof problems can be greatly reduced and this can ultimately avoid or decrease health issues.


A hoof pick is an essential tool in a grooming kit. All horses should have their hooves cleaned regularly (ideally daily) to prevent thrush and inspect the foot for any debris that might cause injury. A horse’s hooves should also be cleaned before and after riding or exercise.

Person cleaning a horse's hoof with cleaning tool.
Figure 2.8 Carefully Cleaning a Horse’s Hoof with Hoof Pick and Brush
Source: Wikimedia Commons


Just like our fingernails, a horse’s hooves grow continuously. They should be trimmed every five to eight weeks to keep them in proper shape. The frequency of hoof trimming will depend on such factors as age, season, nutrition, management and injury. Trimming should be done by an experienced horse owner or a farrier. An inexperienced person can trim the hoof wall too short or pare too much sole, causing the horse to be sore. To avoid lameness, the hoof must be balanced precisely which requires skill and expertise. Shoes may be necessary when wear exceeds growth, or to correct confirmation or gait anomalies. Horse boots are also an alternative to shoeing. If a horse is shod, shoes should be properly fitted and maintained.

Other Strategies. Keeping a horse pasture clean, dry, and free of mud can help prevent the development of thrush. Providing adequate exercise, nutrition, and avoiding the extended use of hoof polishes can help maintain hoof health in horses. All horses should have their feet cleaned. 


Horses doing a lot of work or working on hard ground will need to be shod. Some horses with weak hoof walls, flat soles or other problems might need shoes even if they’re not working. Consult a farrier and veterinarian for advice. Shoes need to be reset every six to eight weeks, and leaving them on too long can damage the hoof. 

Healthy hooves are key to the overall heath and productivity of an animal. Hooves kept in good condition reduce the expense of treating lame animals in addition to contributing to their overall health and well-being.

What does the Code of Practice say about care of body systems for horses?

“Hooves should be trimmed as often as is necessary to maintain hooves in functional condition. Whether shod or unshod, hooves must not be allowed to grow to excessive lengths causing injury or discomfort to the horse.

Horses’ teeth should be examined at least annually. Uneven wear and abnormalities of teeth should not be allowed to interfere with normal eating habits. Dental care will depend on such factors as age, nutrition and management system. Dental care should be performed by a veterinarian or under veterinary supervision.”

Excerpts from the “Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals – Horses” (©2013) have been used with permission, Equine Canada™

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