I had stopped at one of my large training barns to check on their horses diets, as they had just returned from a recent show circuit. The owner said the horses were doing well, but he was going to tweak their diets just a little. He had purchased a bag of selenium from a local milling company and just wanted to top dress a little extra.
Unfortunately for him, the truth is that more is not always better. I explained how vitamins and minerals need to be kept in certain ratios and levels in order to keep horses healthy, and random adding of supplements can endanger their health. For example, copper and zinc must be kept in a 3:1 t 4:1 ratio for proper bone growth, development and maintenance. In young growing horses, having this ratio out of balance could lead to Developmental Orthopedic Diseases. I also noted that not all are horse feed supplements are created equal. In the case of minerals, organic complexed trace minerals (minerals that are tied to an amino acid) have increased bioavailability over the oxide or sulfate forms.
Horses have mineral requirements which are broken down into Micro and Macro. Macro minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and sulfur. These are required in gram amounts in the diet. Micro, or trace, minerals include copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, iron and selenium. These are required in much smaller quantities in the diet, and are measured in “parts per million”, or ppm. A part per million is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into 50 liters (roughly the fuel tank capacity of a compact car). Micro and macro minerals play an important role in bone development, muscle, hair coat , appetite, as well as skin and hoof integrity. The key is that they must be balanced in the horses diet.
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.
In the case of minerals found in a bag of commercially prepared feed, the form of mineral used as an ingredient can be looked at. There are a variety of types of minerals that can be used as ingredients, with varying levels of bioavailability, or ability to be absorbed by the animal, for each of them.
Inorganic trace minerals, namely oxides and sulfates, are the most common, with oxides having about half the bioavailability of sulfates, except in the case of copper and zinc. These would be seen on a feed tag as “zinc oxide” or “copper sulfate”.
Organic* trace minerals, namely “chelates” and “complexes”, are two forms of minerals that are gaining popularity in horse feeds due to their increased digestibility.
Chelates are a mineral molecule tied to a string of general amino acids. These are seen on feed tags as “zinc amino acide chelate”.
Complexes (the more bioavailable of the two) are minerals tied to a specific amino acid that is known to assist in the availability. These are seen on feed tags as “zinc methionine complex”.
Premium horse feeds often contain one of the two forms of organic trace minerals, as they are the more bioavailable forms. They are generally used in combination with the inorganic forms to acheive the desired level, without skyrocketing the price of the feed.
For more information on trace minerals in horse feed, visit ZinPro’s website – ZinPro is a key supplier of trace minerals in the feed industry.
*Please note that “organic” is not referencing certified organic products like you would purchase at a grocery store – instead it is a scientific reference to the chemical makeup of the mineral.
Minerals are generally listed in two ways on a feed tag guaranteed analysis.
Macro minerals, or those needed in larger quantities, are expressed as a percentage. They include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur.
Micro minerals, or those needed in smaller amounts, are expressed as “parts per million” which is what the “ppm” on the tag stands for. Occasionally a feed tag will list these in “mg/kg”, which converts directly to ppm – 1 ppm is equal to 1 mg/kg. These minerals include selenium, iodine, copper, zinc, manganese, and iron.
When analyzing a feeding program, it is of great importance to make sure that the same units of measurement are being used. Often times, test results for a hay sample that has been analyzed will not be expressed in the same unit of measure as the nutrients guaranteed on a bag of feed. So, in order to know what the entire diet is providing, make sure you are comparing apples to apples!