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 1 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 the hoof?

By Shannon Pratt-Phillips, PhD

A: Obesity is a result of horses consuming more calories than they are expending through basal metabolism or exercise. Like with humans, farriers and veterinarians are seeing more overweight horses. In fact, studies have shown that nearly 50% of horses today are overweight.

Similar to other species, obesity in the horse is fraught with negative health consequences. Adipose (fat) tissue is 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.

There are several potential causes for the link between obesity and laminitis, including inflammatory compounds that are produced by fatty tissue. These compounds can negatively affect the vasculature within the laminae and promote the incidence of 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 digital cushion’s function may be compromised, resulting in poor blood circulation and 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 can 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 that 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 2 of the Dec. 23, 2021, installment of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence: How important are trace minerals for improving hoof quality? Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.