Hoof Nutrition Intelligence 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: How important is calcium for hoof health?

By Bryan Waldridge, DVM

A: Calcium is required in the diets of all horses for optimal health and well-being. Considered a macromineral, it is needed in a relatively large amount, especially when compared to trace minerals.

Though calcium is aligned most often with musculoskeletal strength and soundness, as well as nerve conductivity, its importance in hoof health is unquestionable. However, a severe calcium deficiency is likely to have deleterious effects on other body systems before a significant collapse occurs in hoof health.

The provision of a well-balanced diet will ensure that calcium levels are appropriate for the type of horse being fed. As a result, most horses given a balanced diet will not have hoof problems due to poor nutrition.

Calcium is present in minuscule amounts within the hoof, making up approximately 300 to 350 mg/kg of hoof wall. One of calcium’s primary roles is assisting in the creation of sulfur cross-links between hoof proteins that allow for cohesion among cells. The stronger the cohesion, the more healthy and impenetrable the hoof.

The amount of calcium in the hoof is dependent on numerous factors, according to a study conducted in Virginia (Ley et al., 1998). In one trial, 30 mature Thoroughbred mares were fed one of three diets, with 10 mares relegated to each diet. The three diets were significantly different:

  • An all-forage diet, in which the mares had access to pasture.
  • A drylot diet, in which the mares had free-choice access to barn-stored, 1-year-old cured hay.
  • Forage and concentrate, in which pasture feeding was supplemented with vitamins and minerals to meet National Research Council recommendations for mature horses.

The 30 mares were allowed access to a mineralized salt block at all times. They were fed their respective diets for at least 1 year before the research study began.

After hoof tissue collection and testing, the researchers concluded that hoof wall characteristics, including calcium content, were influenced by season and nutritional management. The average amount of calcium found in hooves ranged from 906 ppm for mares on the drylot diet to 1,404 ppm for mares on the all-forage diet.

This study confirmed the notion that different nutritional and management regimes influence hoof composition, and that changes in composition are commonplace between seasons and years.

Without calcium, horses are incapable of achieving optimal growth, performance or health. A sustained lack of calcium would almost assuredly affect hoof health. Therefore, providing a well-balanced diet to horses, with a keen eye on macromineral and micromineral balance is the first step in the maintenance of healthy hooves.

Bryan Waldridge is an equine veterinarian at Park Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky. He received his veterinary degree from Auburn University and was formerly the resident veterinarian at Kentucky Equine Research in Versailles, Ky.

Click here to read part 1 of the Feb. 15, 2020 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: How do hoof concerns relate to overall nutritional deficiencies in the horse? Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.