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: Since hoof nutrition sounds complicated, can you give me a basic lesson on the role of nutrition in hoof health?

By Daniel J. Burke

A: A horse’s geneticsand his or her environment definitely affect hoof quality. Genetics is comprised of the genes the horse received from its sire and dam at conception and can’t be changed.The environmentis everything else that affects the horse such as nutrition, hoof care, management practices, health care, etc.

General factors affecting hoof growth include age, breed, genetics, metabolic rate, exercise, environmental temperature, environmental moisture, illness, trimming and shoeing.

Nutritional factors affecting hoof growth include:

  • Energy (calorie) intake as it relates to the hoof’s growth.
  • Calorie source, as the relationship between sugar and starch can be related to laminitis. Fat and fiber are safer calorie sources than sugar and starch.
  • Protein (amino acids) affects both the rate of hoof growth and hoof quality. Proper intake amounts are important and can affect metabolism in the hoof. In addition, the amino acid balance is more important than protein intake.
  • Minerals, such as zinc and calcium.
  • Vitamins that include biotin and vitamin A.

To help you understand the all-important role of nutrition, here are three examples of how nutrients can impact hoof concerns.

Dry, Brittle Hooves

Defects can occur in either or both of the two major layers of the hoof wall.Nutritional contributors differ between these layers, but you can’t determine which of the layers is affected without laboratory work. As a result, we need to address all relevant nutrients.

The most likely ingredients to be involved are zinc, the amino acid methionine and, in some cases, biotin. Biotin seems to help the most in horses with genetically poor hooves, especially Thoroughbreds and draft horses.

The organic form of zinc is absorbed more readily than inorganic forms, thus it is more effective in supporting hoof health.

White Line Disease

White line disease is a progressive separation of the inner zone of the hoof wall, beginning at the sole. The separation occurs in the non-pigmented horn at the junction between the two main layers of the hoof horn. Opportunistic bacteria or fungi may invade the separation and cause further disease. Field studies suggest a higher level of iodine, which is anti-fungal, in the diet may help resolve white line disease concerns over a period of weeks.

A good hoof supplement is formulated with well-balanced amino acids, including methionine, higher levels of organic zinc and higher, but safe, levels of iodine. Field studies have shown that these ingredients help improve and maintain hoof health.


Laminitis is inflammation of the sensitive structures in the hoof called the lamellae. The lamellae hold the coffin bone tight within the hoof horn. This condition is extremely painful and can lead to rotation of the coffin bone, which is known as founder.

Nutritional causes are related to a high intake (not percent) of sugar and starch, primarily from the large consumption of grain mixes that are high in cereal grains and molasses. Another common cause of laminitis is over-consumption of pasture grass, especially when the grass is actively growing, typically in the spring or after a good rain.

Minimizing the horse’s sugar and starch intake at each meal is the best way to prevent or manage laminitis. Feeding low amounts or a low sugar/starch product in multiple meals per day is the best approach for preventing laminitis.

Daniel J. Burke, Ph.D., is the director of equine nutrition at Kalmbach Feeds, Inc., in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Visit TributeEquineNutrition.com for more information on hoof supplements and other products that can help prevent these concerns.

Hoof Nutrition Intelligence is brought to you by W.F. Young Co. (Absorbine). Absorbine

Like many significant achievements, Absorbine® grew out of humble beginnings—and through the tenacity of someone willing to question the status quo. In this case, it was a young woman in late 19th-century Massachusetts: Mary Ida Young. Her husband, Wilbur Fenelon Young, was an enterprising piano deliveryman who relied on the couple’s team of horses to make deliveries throughout the Northeast. Inspired by Mary Ida and Wilbur’s vision, Absorbine® has continued to add innovative products throughout the years — products used every day by horse owners around the world. Which is why, since 1892, we’ve been The Horse World’s Most Trusted Name®.

Click here to read Part 2 of the August 15, 2016 installment: Why is it so important to avoid overfeeding grain to horses?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.