Six Steps to Healthier Hooves

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Adapted from an article by Fran Jurga in The Trail Rider

To help your horse grow the healthiest possible hooves, start with his or her diet—right down to good-quality hay. Make sure your horse has no digestive issues, is getting plenty of water, and is wormed regularly. Then, if you are still concerned, consult with your farrier and veterinarian about whether a hoof supplement is needed.

If so, here are six steps to helping your horse grow a better quality hoof wall through the use of a supplement:

Step #1: Give It Time.Supplements don't "fix" the hoof. There's no way to fix a poor-quality hoof wall; your horse has to grow a new one. This growth takes stimulus and time. Hoof supplements provide the stimulus, but then you need to be patient. Purchase at least a 60-day supply of your chosen supplement, and follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter. When you reorder, order the same supplement, and continue to follow the dosing instructions. It might take four to six months to see the results of a good hoof supplement.

Step #2: Consider Protein.Vegetable-based protein is a quirky diagram of building blocks called amino acids. Each is there for a reason, and each serves a function. They're usually in ample supply in horse feeds in the form of soybean or cottonseed oils. Two types of amino acids dwell in those building blocks. One type contains sulphur and one does not.

The conventional wisdom for stimulating hoof growth is to feed sulphur-based amino acids (such as methionine) because the hoof wall is constructed of the protein keratin, and keratin contains sulphur-based amino acids. However, the building-block diagram calls for a balance between all the protein elements. If your horse is deficient, feeding just the right amount may help, but that's a gamble. And keep in mind that most things in nature have a yin-yang relationship: Pumping up a single nutrient will affect another nutrient.

 Step #3: Consider Minerals. The biggest source of minerals in your horse's diet is the soil in his pasture and in his hay. Like other nutrients, minerals need to be in balance. The bigger group of minerals, called the macro minerals, consists of magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, sulfur, chloride and potassium. The micro minerals important to your horse are zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, selenium, chromium, and cobalt.

The principle minerals to look for in a hoof supplement are calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, cobalt and chromium. Again, work with an equine nutritionist to determine the right mix for your horse.

Step #4: Consider Vitamins.Again, give your supplement time to work. Over time, your farrier will gradually rasp and nip away the old crumbly wall and sole and a healthy, new wall will grow in. Many have suggested that horses with wall cracks, slow hoof growth or spongy hoof walls need the vitamin biotin. Research studies clearly have shown that horses do respond to atarget addition of biotin to the feed. But just as clearly, research has shown that some horses with hoof-quality issues don't respond to biotin.

There's also the question of how much biotin to feed. Biotin is sold as a supplement, but it's also manufactured in the horse's hind gut. There's no question that biotin is a key nutrient for proper hoof metabolism at the cellular level. But don't be surprised if your horse doesn't respond after a few months. It might be better to feed a broad-spectrum hoof supplement that contains biotin as well as other nutrients. Also look for supplements that contain Vitamins A and D for horses with hoof problems.

Step #5: Choose Pellets or Powder.To choose between pelleted and powdered formulations, consider how and where you feed your horse, and what his habits are. Some horses are messy eaters that knock over a feed tub or bucket, spilling the contents onto a stall floor or the ground. These horses will waste a powdered supplement, but they'll probably clean up flavored pellets.

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You can also hand feed your horse's daily dose of pelleted supplements as a treat. A powdered supplement is a great choice for a horse that receives direct care, such as a stall-bound horse with laminitis or a leg injury. You can feed a powdered supplement in a wall-hung feeder, or mix it with some applesauce, put it in a medication tube, and push the plunger right in your horse's mouth.

Step #6: Choose Targeted or Broad Spectrum.Whether you should use a targeted, specific element or a broad-spectrum formula is the biggest argument in hoof nutrition and overflows into differences of opinion with overall horse nutrition.

Many equine nutritionists and veterinarians simply state that overfeeding a single nutrient can be more dangerous for a horse than underfeeding it. If you're already feeding your horse a general vitamin supplement or a fortified grain product, he may be receiving plenty of the nutrients he needs. Therefore, avoid piling on a single ingredient, such as methionine, zinc or biotin. If you feel that you must supplement an individual nutrient, do so with the help of an equine nutritionist to determine the proper dosage.

And here again, research counts! In a recent field test, for example, horses fed Hooflex Concentrated Hoof Builder Supplement—which contains many proven ingredients, as well as prebiotics and chelated minerals for high bioavailability—showed a significant increase in hoof growth after a six-month period of use.