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 1 of the latest question and answer installment that you can share with your footcare clients.
Q: What do the rings and ridges I’ve seen on some hooves mean?
By Catherine Whitehouse, M.S.
A: Just as coat condition serves as an indication of health status in horses, hoof changes can provide important clues to a horse’s historical well-being. A sheen coat suggests vitality while dull, rough, or half-shed coats imply unthriftiness or disease concerns.
Since the hoof wall is subject to any number of imperfections, it is not uncommon for horses to be beset with shallow or deep cracks, chipped toes or flares. These conditions occur more frequently with horses that are not under the scheduled care of a farrier.
Yet more subtle changes in the hoof wall, including horizontal rings and ridges, tell more about a horse’s health than the regularity of hoof care.
While hoof rings and ridges sound synonymous, they are not. One is a normal feature of even the best-managed hooves, while the other is a sign of pathology and potential toxicity.
Hoof rings, also called growth rings, occur in healthy hooves and are typically the result of seasonal diet variations, especially in horses whose diets are composed primarily of forages. As the nutrient content of grass swells in the growing season, shifts in cellular production often cause distinct changes in the hoof wall, most notably slight color variations. The wall remains smooth with little or no palpable change in texture.
Hoof ridges, on the other hand, are usually indicative of a body-wide health insult,. These often cause a fever, such as a bout with laminitis or nutrient toxicity. Like hoof rings, ridges are plainly visible, but one important difference is the formation of well-defined bumps or ledges on the hoof wall.
Horses with chronic laminitis may have repeated disturbances in hoof wall growth, causing these ridges to take on a V-like appearance toward the toe.
For most common dents and dings in the hoof wall, a source of biotin, coupled with other important nutrients, should be supplemented in the diet. However, this should be done only after the ration has been evaluated to be sure all essential nutrients are being fed.
Hoof troubles often yield to optimal nutrition, such as biotin supplementation and consistent footcare. An ideal supplement would be one that contains biotin, methionine, iodine and chelated zinc at levels shown to support hoof growth, including the development of a strong hoof wall. Lecithin and full-fat soybeans round out the formula and are necessary for production of resilient hoof horn.
Biotin supplementation is not an overnight cure, as dietary changes affect only new hoof growth. As a result, some patience is required of horse owners. However, many horses respond so well to these kinds of supplements that new growth at the coronary band is visibly different from an older unsupplemented hoof wall.
Catherine Whitehouse is a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research in Versailles, Ky.
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Click here to read part 2 of the Jan. 15, 2020 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: When feeding alfalfa to insulin resistant horses, is there any difference between bales, cubes and pellets?