As with all animals, what a horse eats is vital to delivering the nutrition it needs to thrive and maintain a healthy life. Though the nutrition in horse feed impacts the entire equine body, providing a proper diet is also essential to keeping the hoof in good health.
As Phillip Thommen says, writing for Past the Wire’s website, the horse’s feet are susceptible to the trauma that happens throughout the horse’s body. What happens in a horse’s hoof-care regiment affects its walking and exercise, disposition, and much more, meaning the key to a healthy horse is through its feet.
Thommen references Doug Butler, one of the leading authorities in farriery regarding caring for the whole horse, in saying a horse without good feet, its foundation, is like a house without a sturdy framework; it will be only a matter of time before all the elements come out of alignment. As such, nutrition can provide a healthy barrier for preventing common hoof-care related issues such as laminitis and inflammation.
Inflammation is a key component of managing equine soundness later in life, including in the horse’s joints and feet. As with humans, a diet of high carbohydrate intake can cause joints to inflame, meaning the horse’s hoof wall could break down. This will allow for the sole of the hoof to overcome the growth of the outer hoof wall, the part of the hoof a horse walks on. Without the outer hoof wall, the horse’s sole will be pressing up against the shoe while walking, which sends pressure and strain throughout the leg and body. Eventually, this pressure will cause damage to the horse and potentially lameness, as all parts of the horse’s skeletal and muscular system are interconnected. Causing damage to one part of the body puts an unduly amount of stress on the rest of the system.
It is important to dig deeper into how the hoof affects the equine body. While nutrition plays a key part in holding inflammation and laminitis at bay, the work of the farrier is also integral to examining the success of treating these conditions.
Tom Schell, DVM, CVCH, a practitioner of equine veterinary medicine, writes that, as farriers and vets, “to some degree we need to look at the hoof as an extension of the skin. When problems are occurring, it is important to look at the whole structure.” Schell says the horse is designed to consume plant material in the form of pasture and foraged sustenance. When the pasture consists of poor terrain and foliage for the horse to eat, or owners provide the animal with poor quality grains and feed, as Thommen suggests, the hoof will suffer.
Schell strongly contends that if the diet is the cause of a problematic hoof, simply recommending or supplementing the horse’s nutritional regiments with vitamins and minerals won’t solve the issue.
“We need to step back, look at that patient with hoof cracks, thrush, white line or overall poor growth and really assess the situation,” Schell writes. “In most, it is not as simple as rasping those flares, utilizing quarter clipped shoes or clearing out the collateral sulci. We can do this, but the problems often will persist. We do need to address the foot, as mentioned above, but we also need to treat or better manage the problem.” When the foundation is not aligned with the rest of the body, the body will ultimately not work properly.
As Thommen mentions, “The critical ingredient to keep the system aligned is through good nutrition and hoof care,” such as regular trims and shoeings.