Pre-Purchase Horse Hoof Exam

When purchasing a horse, whether from an auction house, individual, or even over the Internet, check his feet! This can be the single most important evaluation you do. While a pre-purchase exam by a reputable veterinarian and farrier is ideal, it’s not always feasible. Here’s how to check those feet yourself. (Note that a horse of any age that willingly allows you to pick up his feet for handling and cleaning is well worth a second look.)

Picking up a horse’s feet-especially those of an unfamiliar horse-can be intimidating at first; here are some safety measures to reduce the risk of injury.

Restraint. Never tie the horse so securely that he can’t get away while you check his front feet. If the horse spooks, he should be able to get away without hurting you or himself. A tight restraint will frighten him even more, and you’re asking for a blow up! Have a helper hold him, or, if you’re alone, drop the lead line on the ground. Choose an area away from other horses, such as a round pen, a stall, or a washing area.

Front-limb position. When picking up a front limb, lay your arm across the horse and bend your legs, as shown. Not only will you save your back, you’ll also keep your head high and away from the limb. That way, you’ll be safely out of the way, if the horse kicks at a fly on his belly.

Hind-limb position. When picking up a hind limb, lay your arm across the horse’s back, bend your legs, and lay your face on the animal, as shown. This position keeps your face out of kicking range and helps support some of the horse’s weight; plus, you’ll be able to feel any warning signs of a kick. Put the hoof in your crotch and twist your buttocks in the direction under the horse for more control. Keep in mind a horse has to cock his leg before he kicks. If you’re locked securely when he cocks a hind foot, he’ll pull back to your original position, saving you from being kicked. Practice this technique on a familiar horse until it feels comfortable for you. Now, here are two hoof abnormalities to avoid when buying a horse.

Severe clubbed foot. This abnormality can sometimes be hidden in deep sawdust in an auction barn. In this condition, the horse’s hoof is abnormally upright, with an axis of more than 60 degrees. The hoof heels are closed, which prevents the frog from hitting the ground; the frog helps a horse absorb concussion and provides traction to help him avoid slipping.

Founder. This horse was brought to us for an evaluation after the owners had purchased him from an auction. They said there was so much mud and manure on the horse’s feet that they didn’t notice the hoof deformity. The horse didn’t show signs of limping, and when the seller was asked if the horse was sound, he answered yes. The new owner went for ride the next day, and the horse came up lame. The hoof rings and deformity on the outside hoof wall show clear signs of founder and an old abscess that busted out in the middle. The hoof had been maintained and shod, but the seller wasn’t totally honest with the buyer.

Here at the research center, we offer a clinic once a month on “How to Purchase and Evaluate a Horse from Head to Toe.” We encourage people of all ages and riding levels to attend, including professional riders, breeders, and horse traders. This is the same class we offer beginning farrier students, veterinarians, and veterinary students.

For more information, contact the Farriers’ National Research Center and School, Inc., attn. Ralph Casey, President/Director, 14013 East Hwy. 136, LaFayette, GA 30728;

Hoof Care Hotline: (706) 397-8396. To locate a farrier, call (706) 397-8047. For Casey & Son Horseshoeing School and Shoeing Appointments, call (706) 397-8909; or visit

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