Feeding The Feet

Hoof products are big business and there are many companies selling their wares and to be perfectly frank most are absolute rubbish. Diet is key to a horse’s health and if the diet isn’t right then it will affect the horse’s body condition in lots of ways including their hooves. Slow growth, poor quality hoof wall, sand cracks, and splitting and cracking are all indications that a horse's diet is not right.


I attended a lecture from the top horse vet in our area about 8 years ago and this vet finished his talk with an explanation of how we were breeding the foot off our domestic horses. This really irritated me that someone in his position could lecture to the general public such codswallop and makes me more determine to make a difference. There are many things that contribute to poor hoof health. Too much sugar in the diet causes problems like thrush where pathogens, fungi and yeast have a field day eating away at frogs. The sugars in the diet cause hoof wall separation and opportunistic pathogens penetrate a separated whiteline causing seedy toe, wall cracks and so called whiteline disease. The evidence also points at the horseshoe causing more than its fair share of damage to the foot, then the lack of development of the back of the foot compounds many situations and deficiencies in the diet are responsible for its poor quality and problems healing. Besides, it's not genetically possible to change a hoof the way this vet describes in such a short period of time. I see daily horses with terrible feet develop into wonderful conditioned barefoot horses and I'm still amazed how quickly some feet progress. This is not magic, it's a natural diet, movement to develop the foot and good hoof care.

I often hear someone say that their horse’s hoof wall quality is poor because of breeding and more even often I hear that their horse can't go barefoot because their horse has shit feet. I say, what would happen if your horse was released into the wild? Would its feet change and become like all the other wild horse's feet or would it still have shit feet? I then point out that horses of the western united states run across volcanic rock as though it was not there. I also point out that nearly all wild horses are really feral horses and thousands of western united states horses were released in the thirties during the great depression and technically speaking, a mustang is a feral horse brought to South America by the Spanish and Portuguese. I'm passionate about barefoot horses and one day the world we live in may wake up and not look for excuses, magic bullets, or to cover hoof problems up with different types of horseshoe and instead look at a horse's diet, environment and will condition their feet.

Hoof horn thickness does depend on breed, but we still should be able to get quality hoof horn. We don’t know what the correct nutrients for each horse are but if we can grow in a well-connected hoof wall of good quality we know the diet is good. Even when we think we have the diet right Sometimes, you can’t grow a good hoof. In these cases, we need to look what minerals are missing in the hay, water, and soil, or maybe use broad-brush supplements. Toxins in their diet can also cause this issue. Just to go off track for a second. One simple method of detoxing your horse at the end of the summer, is to cut the nettles down in your paddock and leave them to dry and be eaten.

The jury is still out on biotin even after 20 years which makes me think it doesn’t work. The reason I don’t think it works, is most horses get enough of this B vitamin in feed and when grazing. To confuse things some horses have responded to it, unfortunately, no one yet understands why. Most evidence of biotin working is based on other animals, however, it did work on an experiment on Spanish Riding School horses but this is probably because they don't see anything green in their diet. In my opinion, because biotin deficiency is very difficult to induce and that biotin deficiency is only estimated in 2% of horses with hoof problems, it isn’t a very cost effect way or a good bet to treatment hoof problems.  

So if we decided to supplement and biotin isn't a good bet, what do we have to consider? keratin plays a big part in growing a hoof wall and dietary ingredients may influence the quality and production. Three sulphur bearing amino acids methionine, cystine, and cysteine help to give the hoof strength and resiliency. These amino acids also help with maintenance of ligaments, tendons, skin and cartilage. Research suggest that deficiencies in the essential amino acids methionine result in poor quality hooves. Supplementing zinc is also a reasonable idea where most horses are short of zinc and there is only has a small risk of toxicity. However, you need to watch the ratio's in feeds and supplements where 3 parts zinc to 1 part copper is needed for absorption and also iron needs to be present which is not usually a problem in this country. 

Fatty acids, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, and other B vitamins. All may have indirectly help with hoof quality. However, you have to be careful with selenium were overdosing can cause hair loss and the hoof wall to be shed from the coronet. Ouch!



© Copyright 2015 Chris Simpson