Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is a twice-a-month web segment that is designed to add to the education of footcare professionals when it comes to effectively feeding the hoof. The goal of this web-exclusive feature is to zero in on specific areas of hoof nutrition and avoid broad-based articles that simply look at the overall equine feeding situation.
Below you will find Part 2 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: My farrier says the hoof quality is extremely poor on my 6-year-old mare. Is nutrition to blame?
By Kentucky Equine Research staff
A horse with poor-quality hooves can certainly be a concern. Under a hot, dry conditions, horses may have hoof horn that is dull, brittle and easily chipped or split. If hoof problems become severe, the horse is at increased risk for lameness, which can impact its comfort and usefulness.
Rethinking a complete hoof management program for these horses often leads to hooves that look better and help the horse stay sound. However, just as owners can’t change the climate where their horses live, they also can’t expect quick results. Building strong hooves takes at least 6-12 months, and nothing can speed this process.
Hoof growth is influenced by several factors. These include age, breed, genetics, metabolic rate, exercise, external temperature, environmental moisture, illness, trimming and shoeing.
Important nutritional influences include energy intake, protein and amino acid intake and metabolism, along with minerals such as zinc and calcium, as well as vitamins such as biotin and vitamin A.
When faced with poor-quality hooves, the first thing to consider when evaluating a feed program is total energy intake. Meeting energy requirements may be the first and most important step in ensuring hoof growth and integrity for horses kept in any climate.
A horse with a negative energy balance will utilize protein in the diet or body to make up energy needs for maintenance or growth. This may create a secondary protein or amino acid deficiency.
Research has shown hoof wall growth was 50% greater in growing ponies with a positive energy balance than in ponies that were fed restricted diets with reduced body growth rate. It is a common observation that when horses gain weight on lush spring grass, they also grow hoof faster. Recent research has shown that increasing the dietary intake of fat has little effect on hoof growth rate or strength, but fat can be a valuable addition to the diet for maintaining positive energy balance.
Aside from energy, a well-balanced diet will provide needed nutrients for overall health and well-being, and these in turn will help fuel sound hoof growth. The hoof wall is about 93% protein on a dry matter basis, and high-quality dietary protein will supply the horse with the amino acids that researchers have theorized are essential for hoof growth.
While protein-deficient diets lead to reduced hoof growth, splitting and cracking, diets intended to support more rapid growth with young horses do not necessarily maximize hoof growth. This suggests the amino acid needs for general body growth and faster hoof growth are different. Scientists have studied this difference in search of the most important nutrients for producing better hooves.
Obviously, nutrition is important in producing healthy, strong hooves. Basic hoof care is also important. A regular schedule of hoof trimming for barefoot horses and trimming/resetting for shod horses should be followed. Farrier care every 4-6 weeks is sufficient for most horses. Letting horses go more than about 6 weeks without a trim is asking for trouble, as longer hooves tend to chip and split.
Good basic nutrition is the bottom line for hoof quality. Owners should use a feed that is designed for the class of horse being fed and used according to the manufacturer’s instructions for the desired body condition. Look for feeds that are balanced for both macro- and microminerals.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix and maintaining a good foot on a horse is a combined result of good farriery, good nutrition, good health care and selecting horses that genetically have healthy hooves.
Kentucky Equine Research is located in Versailles, Ky.
Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine).
Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.
Click here to read Part 1 of the Dec. 15, 2018 installment: Is the poor hoof quality on one of my horses likely due to poor nutrition?