If your horse has ever had issues with his/her feet, the old adage, ‘no hoof, no horse’ could not ring truer. When considering hoof health, multiple factors influence the state of your horse’s feet including nutrition, conformation, environment, use and overall management and care. When assessing your nutrition program in relation to hoof health, there are many key components that need to be present for healthy hoof maintenance and growth.
- Water is the most important nutrient for horses overall. Specifically for feet, adequate amounts of water provide tissue hydration and promotes the circulation needed to deliver nutrients to the living hoof tissues.
- Balanced energy in the diet is important to support metabolic activity, the growth and function across the entire body system, including the feet.
- Balanced proteins (aka amino acids) provide structural strength and function for hoof tissues. Lysine, Methionine and Threonine are the three most commonly associated with hoof growth. It is imperative that amino acids be present in balanced levels along with key minerals and vitamins. The ability for the body to absorb these critical nutrients is dependant on the delicate balance of them and too much of one or another can disrupt the utilization of these key nutrients.
- Macro minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium and sulfur. The appropriate balance of macro minerals play a key role in skeletal development and maintenance, blood clotting, muscle contraction, temperature regulation, enzyme activity regulation, glandular secretion and cell membrane integrity.
- Micro minerals (aka trace minerals) include zinc, copper, manganese, cobalt, selenium and more. Trace minerals help with the synthesis of proteins, immune system activity, synthesis and maintenance of elastic connective tissues, the integrity of skeletal bone tissue, antioxidant activity and much more.
- Vitamins, both fat and water soluble, play a key role in the formation, maintenance and repair of hoof tissues. Vitamin A,D and E aid in bone and muscle growth, maintenance of healthy epithelial tissue, calcium metabolism control, immune response and activity. Vitamins C and B-biotin, both water-soluble vitamins, aid in antioxidant activity, lipid metabolism, as well as growth and maintenance of tissues. Biotin aids in the cell-to-cell adhesion in the outer hoof layer.
If you are feeding a commercially produced complete feed, check the guaranteed analysis for these nutrients. It is also important to check that you are following the feeding directions so the proper levels of nutrients are making it in your horse. Feed companies formulate the nutrient density and balance based on their feeding directions. Feeding less than recommended amount means your horse is likely not getting enough of the balanced nutrients he needs.
Hoof supplements are widely available and varied. If you are feeding a complete feed from a commercial manufacturer that guarentees levels of the nutrients listed above, you likely do not need to supplement for hoof quality. However, special cases require additional nutrient supplementation. It is best to work with your vet, farrier and a qualified nutrition consultant to determine the best feed and supplementation program for your horse.
Feeding a horse that has established foot issues such as laminitis takes special care, as he needs the nutrients in feed but likely not the energy provided. Excessive levels of starch and sugar per meal increase spikes in glucose and insulin which may have a negative impact on feet. A low calorie feed or ration balancer fully fortified with vitamins, minerals and amino acids is your best bet for these special cases.
Finally, if you have specific questions about your feeding program, check with a qualified nutrition consultant for more information. A combination of regular hoof care , the right nutrition and proper management for your horse will go a long way in keeping him or her sound for years to come.