While there are many factors that play a role in strong, healthy hooves, genetics rank number one. Although we can’t change our horses’ genetics, we can certainly provide them with every opportunity to maximize their genetic potential. Of course, regular farrier care and managing environment and exposure to moisture are incredibly important, but there are also nutritional steps we can take to promote a healthy hoof.
First and foremost, it is essential that our horses have a balanced diet in these 3 areas:
· Good quality forage in the form of hay and/or pasture.
· Balanced nutrition from one or a combination of the following:
o ration balancer
o vitamin & mineral supplement
o fortified feed from a reputable brand (fed at the amount based on the manufacturer’s recommendations)
· Scientifically supported supplements, if needed, that serve a purpose without unbalancing ideal ratios or reaching toxic levels.
And of course, salt and access to fresh, clean water.
If you are addressing the above bullet points, you are well on your way to supporting optimal hoof health in your horse. More specifically, this will ensure that you are providing your horse with the appropriate amount of essential amino acids, specifically lysine and methionine, as well as the trace minerals copper and zinc-all of which play an important role in hoof health.
On top of a balanced diet, many horse owners like to feed hoof specific supplements. There are a number of hoof supplements on the market to choose from. In addition to lysine, methionine, copper and zinc, hoof supplements often contain fatty acids, which help the hoof retain its natural moisture, as well as assist in keeping environmental moisture out of the hoof. Many hoof supplements also contain B vitamins, specifically biotin. While the horse is known to synthesize adequate amounts of biotin on its own by the microbes in the hind gut, research has shown that additional supplementation of biotin, at the amount of 15mg or higher, may improve hoof quality. That being said, I wouldn’t waste your money on a hoof supplement that doesn’t provide at least 20-30 mg of biotin/day. This is one area where we are seeing that more could potentially be better. Patience is key in determining if your added hoof supplement is helping, as it will take several months for the new hoof to grow out. Of course, if you aren’t seeing any benefits from an added hoof supplement, it’s prudent to discontinue its use, as it is likely an indicator that your horse is a non-responder to additional biotin in their diet.
Remember, if you are not feeding your fortified feed at the manufacturer’s suggested rates, your horse’s diet will likely have nutritional gaps, thus compromising hoof health. Easy keepers tend to fall victim in this area. They are commonly fed less than the recommended feeding rate in an attempt to not promote weight gain, but then their diets are coming up short on key nutrients. This is where a balancer or vitamin/mineral supplement comes into play.
As always, if you are unsure if your horse’s diet is balanced, it’s important to seek out the advice of an equine nutrition consultant.