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: What’s the impact of an overweight horse on its hooves?

By Shannon Pratt-Phillips, PhD

A: Similar to what is occurring with humans and companion animals, farriers and veterinarians are seeing more overweight horses. In fact, studies have shown as many as 50% of horses are overweight.

Similar to other species, obesity in the horse is fraught with negative health consequences. Adipose (fat) tissue is considered to be an inflammatory organ and produces numerous compounds that lead to inflammation in several parts of the body, most notably the hoof.

In addition to the hoof, problems also occur with reproduction, heat dissipation, digestion (due to lipomas that are fatty masses in the intestines that can cause blockages) and an intolerance for exercise in obese horses.

Overweight horses have a significantly higher risk of developing laminitis. There are several potential causes for the link between obesity and laminitis, including the previously mentioned inflammatory compounds that are produced by fatty tissue. These compounds can negatively affect the vasculature within the laminae and promote the incidence of laminitis. Many horses that are obese also develop insulin resistance, which further predisposes a horse to laminitis. 

It is also extremely likely that excessive weight has a negative impact on overall hoof health. As an example, proper blood circulation is partly attributed to the compression and expansion of the digital cushion within the hoof.

If a horse is carrying excess weight, the hoof’s digital cushion’s function may be compromised, resulting in poor blood circulation. Poor blood circulation and improper weight distribution can result in laminitis.

In addition to laminitis, excess bodyweight likely causes regular strain on the hoof wall as it expands with each step in order to absorb normal shock and concussion. This could be further strained with extensive exercise since even more force is applied as the hoof hits the ground. Over time, obesity may disrupt the integrity of the hoof wall, resulting in cracking or crumbling hooves. In addition, the extra strain on the joints is of great concern, particularly for athletic horses.

Obesity in horses is a significant and often overlooked health problem. This is partly attributed to many owners thinking a fat horse or pony is cute, and that the ribs should never be seen on a horse. In fact, seeing a few ribs on a horse is probably much healthier than a horse being overweight or obese. 

Shannon Pratt-Phillips is an equine nutritionist at North Carolina State University who authored “Too Much Weight Leads to Hoof Woes” that appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of American Farriers Journal.

Click here to read part 1 of the May 1, 2021 installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: Do I need to be concerned about hoof quality when I turn my two Quarter Horse mares out for grazing this spring? Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.