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: Do the feet of my horses deserve special attention during cold and wet winter weather?

By Eleanor Kellon, VMD

Horses actually tolerate and enjoy the cold a lot more than most humans do. Their neutral temperature, with no energy expended to either keep warm or cool off, is in the 40s (Fahrenheit), which is about the same as your refrigerator.

However, a number of health conditions that are made worse by the winter environment may dictate the need for supplementation that is not required in the summer months. A few nutritional tweaks can pay off in weight maintenance, reduced colic risk, better hydration and improved hoof health.

Frozen, uneven ground or wet, muddy conditions may mean a horse’s feet need more attention. The hoof wall contains a specialized form of the same protein found in skin, which is keratin. Key nutrients for the hoof are also the same as those for skin. These include the B vitamin biotin and pyridoxine and the essential amino acids L-lysine and L-lethionine. Fat plays a pivotal role in the protective barriers in skin and the hoof. Copper and zinc are keys to structural integrity and resistance to infections.

In winter, some horses tend to have difficulty holding a good body weight. Healthy fats can help hold weight and condition, as well as help maintain a glossy coat and strong solid hooves. In winter, feeding extra fats are perfect for providing cool calories in a palatable energy source. 

Your horse needs a vitamin and mineral supplement matched to your hay. This isn’t something you want to skimp on just because the horse is not working as much during the winter. These are the nuts and bolts that keep the immune system healthy and literally keep every cell functioning.

Electrolytes aren’t just for sweating horses. They are for every day, all year. There are baseline requirements present all year long for sodium, potassium and chloride. Failure to meet them easily leads to inadequate water consumption and a chronic tissue dehydration which can result in the most common type of cold weather colic – impaction. Electrolytes help keep the horse drinking well and support normal intestinal function. 

If your horse spends considerable time in the barn, or faces long periods of confinement due to winter weather, there are special considerations. Being stall bound is difficult for some horses, which leads to nervousness and undesirable behaviors like weaving, stall walking and wood chewing. This is a perfect time for herbal and nutritional calming alternatives.

A barn that is closed up tightly to keep out the cold and wind can be warm and cozy, but still hard on the horse’s respiratory tract. Ammonia from bacterial break down as well as mold spores and small particles from hay and straw combine to irritate the tissues and set the stage for chronic lung conditions. Stale air in close quarters also concentrates viruses, which have a much easier time setting up house in irritated lungs. Targeted vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients like spirulina, jiaogolan and ynostemma that support balanced immune responses will help.

Dr. Eleanor Kellon, a staff veterinary specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition, is an established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years. She is 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.

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 December 15, 2016 installment: Is laminitis more of a concern with overweight horses?

Click here to read more installments of Hoof Nutrition Intelligence.