When it comes to successful hoof soaking, there are a few steps you can take to ensure everything goes smoothly:
1. Plan for success
Naturally, my first tip would be to get your horse used to having his legs hosed and his feet soaked/wet as early on as possible. Horses are horses, and at some point they will injure themselves – it is so much easier on everyone if they are prepared in advance to be relatively calm about first aid and therapy processes, rather than trying to “train on the go” after the fact. I am currently dealing with a newly acquired rehab horse who has an injury that requires clipping, needling and cold hosing – none of which he readily accepts. It can make an already traumatic event so much more difficult, and I do not recommend it. A little prep work to ease your horse into hoof soaking can go a long way later on!
2. Boot or bucket?
There are a few options to choose from when determining what you’re going to use for your horse’s hoof soaking. When using an open container, I usually find the shallower the better. Some horses tend to worry less if they don’t feel their foot is “trapped” in something. I usually use a shallow Fortiflex rubber feed pan.
Specific hoof soaking products involve a strong plastic bag that can be put over the horse’s foot and tied around the leg, or just a boot that goes over the foot and can hold a poultice. What you use depends entirely on your horse’s preference and what you have available to you.
Regardless of what you are using, first check to make sure the horse is comfortable standing in it dry.
3. Just add water
How much water you need, what you are adding to it, and what temperature you use will depend on what your goals/needs are. Ideally the horse should not be afraid of standing in water, or getting his feet/legs wet – if he is, it makes things much more difficult. The first time I do a hoof soaking, I have someone hold the horse rather than putting him crossties, just in case something goes bad or the horse needs a little more support.
4. The soaking process
Once you have everything set, pick up the foot you need to soak, place the container under it, and lower it into the water. I find it helps to keep my hands on the horse’s leg for a bit at first, until he settles with the idea – one hand on the knee, and the other on the tendon. Sometimes I’ll take this opportunity to do a bit of acupressure or massage work to make it a nice experience for the horse and help with whatever issue he is experiencing.
If the horse gets antsy or removes his foot during the hoof soaking, I don’t make a big deal of it – I just start over again from the beginning. Eventually he’ll figure out that he can stand nicely and have it become a pleasant experience, with his rider by his side.