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: When it comes to the hoof, it seems like there are several misconceptions about the impact of nutrition.
By Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD
A: For some reason, the hooves have spawned several out-there beliefs or theories over the years, including a number about nutrition. Fascination with the horse’s hooves has given rise to some wild ideas such as the four listed here.
- The horse has five hearts, one in the body and one in each hoof. The source of this is the effect that the pumping action of the hoof’s frog during exercise has on blood going through the hoof, which is true.
What is not true is that the hoof contains a heart, as some people took this literally. Our human bodies work the same way, with movement facilitating blood return up the leg, but unlike the hoof, we don’t have frogs and it isn’t necessary for the blood to return.
- Horseshoes numb the feet so horses can’t feel pain. The theory is that because there is some restriction of blood flow through the hoof that its nerve function is also somehow affected. Shoes do restrict the normal flaring of the hoof wall on weight bearing, which could be painful for horses with poor wall connections.
Depending on the type of shoe and the condition of the hoof, they may also relieve pain temporarily, such as an underrun heel with hind foot pain. However, any equine veterinarian can tell you there is no limit to the number of shod horses that have hoof lameness/pain.
- Horses can absorb aluminum or other harmful metals from their shoes. Simply not true. For there to be any possibility of absorption, the substance must have contact with live tissue or blood. The ends of the hooves where shoes rest are as dead as the ends of our fingernails.
- Trimming that distorts the digital cushion may cause metabolic issues. This is the most recent myth to be brought to my attention, and possibly the most outlandish. It basically says that over trimming the heels mimics the worn-down heel of a feral horse traveling long distances to try to find enough food when it is in starvation mode and it also distorts the digital cushion. This is also based on the premise that the digital cushion is fat and contains endocrine glands.
However, the digital cushion is fibro-fatty tissue, not just fat, and becomes more fibrous with the more stimulation that it gets. The digital cushion of a feral horse would likely have very little fat. In any case, the amount of fat in the digital cushion is minuscule compared to the amount found in the rest of the body.
In addition, fat does not contain endocrine glands and feral horses traveling long distances daily are the least likely to have metabolic problems. Fat also does not control the metabolic response to starvation.
Eleanor Kellon is the staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition. She has been an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years and is also a founding member and leader of the Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance (ECIR) group, whose mission is to improve the welfare of horses with metabolic disorders via integration of research and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. For more information visit www.ecirhorse.org
Click here to read part 1 of the Oct. 14, 2021, installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: Are stress rings in the hoof due to nutritional changes in the horse’s diet? Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.