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 will starving a horse negatively affect hoof growth?

By Joe D. Pagan, PhD

A: Inadequate dietary energy, especially to the point of emaciation, hinders normal hoof development just as radically as it affects other body processes. While hoof growth may continue at a relatively constant rate through downturns in nutrition, the quality of hoof that develops may be severely diminished.

Hoof quality will likely improve as a horse moves from a negative energy balance (too few calories in the diet to sustain body weight) to a positive energy balance (calories exceeding those required for maintenance of body weight). However, a malnourished horse with a negative energy balance will use whatever nutrition it consumes or can take away from its internal stores to fuel survival.

Therefore, meeting energy requirements with a well-balanced diet that contains high-quality forage and concentrates is the single most important factor when considering hoof growth and the integrity of an emaciated horse. As the horse progresses in its recovery, alternative energy sources such as fermentable fiber and fat may be added to the diet. While fat is a valuable feedstuff used to increase the energy density of rations and to add shine to a horse’s coat, it does not seem to have a measurable effect on hoof growth or strength.

Aside from energy, a well-balanced diet must provide the nutrients required for the horse’s overall health and well-being. These, in turn, will fuel sound hoof growth. High-quality protein will supply the horse with the necessary amino acids that researchers have theorized are basic for hoof growth.

Researchers have examined the amino acid content of both average and poor-quality hooves. They found a correlation between cystine content and hardness in normal hooves that was not present in poor-quality hooves, as the protein of normal hooves contained higher levels of threonine, phenylalanine and proline. Certain amounts of these amino acids are considered essential, which means they can’t be synthesized in the body in sufficient quantities to meet the demand for them.

Evidence suggests that low levels of zinc may cause horses to be more susceptible to hoof problems. A study showed that 25 horses with poor-quality hooves had lower blood and hoof levels of zinc than 38 horses with normal hooves. A study in Japan revealed horses consuming diets low in zinc and copper were more likely to have white line disease than horses that were supplemented with higher levels of trace minerals.

Joe Pagan is the founder and president of Kentucky Equine Research, an international equine nutrition research and consultation company located in Versailles, Ky. This item is condensed from an article he wrote entitled, “How the Hoof Reacts to Malnutrition” that appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of American Farriers Journal.

Click here to read part 1 of the July 15, 2021, installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: What’s the nutritional link between amino acids and various types of protein? Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.