Farriers often recommend hoof supplements when they think your horse might be lacking the nutrients needed to grow good strong hoof wall. IF you are already feeding a well balanced diet, doubling up on nutrients with a hoof supplement is unlikely to help.
If your horse’s diet doesn’t provide enough nutrients then you do need to supplement.
But why add a supplement just to feed feet when a well balanced diet based on roughage and minerals plus a hard feed if necessary will provide everything a horse needs to grow healthy hooves? The added bonus of feeding correctly is that not only will hooves flourish, the diet also provides everything needed to keep the immune system, musculo-skeletal system, respiratory system healthy as well!
If your horse’s feet aren’t as healthy as they should be, check the whole diet for correct balance rather than reaching for the band-aid solution of a hoof-food supplement. And remember that it takes around 9 months for the hoof wall to grow from the coronet band to the weight-bearing surface so taking care of hoof health requires a long-term commitment. It is easy to see the impact of previous changes in nutrition or health status by looking at the ‘growth rings’ that occur in the hoof wall.
Hooves, hair and skin are made from a very strong protein called keratin which comes in hard or soft forms depending on the minerals and amino acids it contains. Keratin production requires the horse to have eaten enough of the right amino acids and to have absorbed adequate vitamins, minerals and fatty acids along with the energy (calories) required to convert these raw ingredients into the proteins that make hooves healthy and strong.
HOW DO YOU FEED FOR HOOF HEALTH?
All horses need roughage for gut health, which also provides most of the protein and energy they need to survive. Most diets need minerals added to top up the levels provided by forage to at least daily required minimum levels as well as to balance critical mineral ratios. Some horses need more energy (calories) added to the diet to sustain work loads, growth or maintenance. Some horses need extra protein added, especially for growing horses or those on very poor quality roughage such as straw or very mature tropical grass hays. Some diets also need supplementation with specific essential amino acids such as lysine, methionine and threonine. Of these amino acids, methionine is most important for hoof development. Horses also need small amounts of oils with balanced levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
The diet must supply enough proteins with a good balance of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. For adult horses, the total level of protein necessary is usually easily provided by the roughage they consume, but it is important to check that the levels of the most commonly limiting amino acids are also present. Generally lysine, threonine and methionine are those that are most frequently limiting in a poor quality diet. Full fat soybean meal and lucerne contain these frequently limiting amino acids and is often the easiest way to supplement them in a balanced diet.
Good nutrition supports your horse to grow the best hoof tissue he or she is genetically programmed to grow. Zinc, copper, sulphur and selenium are microminerals or trace elements necessary for healthy skin, hair and hooves.
Scientific research has shown that the horn from hooves containing lower zinc concentrations are not as hard and strong as those with higher levels of zinc. Zinc is used in more than one hundred enzymes in the body responsible for a large number of cell functions including energy metabolism, cell division and keratinization (the growth of hair and hooves). Copper forms an important part of numerous enzymes in the body, including some responsible for connective tissue formation, pigmentation of coat colour, cell respiration and anti-oxidant functions. Selenium also plays a role in keratin synthesis for hoof and hair production. The concentration of sulphur in keratin is higher than in any other tissue in the body due to the levels of sulphur-rich amino acids such as methionine.
Having the correct levels of copper and zinc, and the correct ratios between them are necessary to allow the body to make healthy hooves. The levels of copper and zinc also need to be balanced in relation to iron and manganese. Since grass and hay are high in iron, if you add any more iron to the diet it becomes almost impossible to balance the copper and zinc (and since dietary iron levels are normally well over daily requirements, why add more anyway?). Selenium levels must also be carefully balanced between the relatively narrow margins of required daily minimum amounts, and toxicity levels. Sulphur deficiency rarely occurs when horses are fed an adequate daily intake of average quality that meets their daily protein requirements.
The B-group vitamins B7 (biotin) and B6 (pyridoxine) work together to produce keratin which is important for hoof and hair health. Horses at pasture and leading a life free from stress, illness or hard work will generally produce enough B-group vitamins in conjunction with their gut microbial population. Hard-working, stressed or ill horses may need supplemental vitamin B to meet needs.
Biotin supplementation at levels of 15 – 20 mg/day for a 500 kg horse has been demonstrated to improve hoof hardness when compared to diets low in biotin. In one study, diets with very high levels of biotin supplementation (up to 60 mg/day for a 500 kg horse) increased growth rate by 15% (Reilly et al 1998). But biotin alone doesn’t appear to be enough – when horses don’t get enough calcium or zinc, supplemental biotin doesn’t harden hooves.
Adding omega-3 fatty acids also improve the integrity of the periople (a protective layer around hoof walls) for horses lacking access to green grass. Grass contains about four times the amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6. Dried grass (hay and chaff), grains and most other vegetable oils (including canola and sunflower seeds or oil) are much higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 compared to omega-3. Therefore a horse eating lots of hay or hard feed needs more omega-3 added to the diet to increase the omega 3 to 6 ratio to a level similar to grass. Vitamin E acts in the body as an antioxidant to protect these fragile fats, so supplentation with extra vitamin E, especially for horses in hard work or who have been stressed or ill, is advised. Omega 3 rich supplements such as Equine Vit&Min Omega-3 PLUS (which is also high in vitamin E), linseeds, linseed oil or fish oils are best if your horse is relying on hay for roughage or is on a high grain diet.
WHY DO EQUINE VIT&MIN CUSTOMERS SEE RESULTS IN COAT AND HOOF GROWTH?
All Equine Vit&Min products are scientifically formulated to balance the mineral ratios across the diet to within recommended ranges. There are many benefits to feeding a correctly balanced diet, but one of the first advantages you will notice is a deepening of coat colour intensity.
Over time, a well balanced diet will also lead to growth of the best mane, tail and hoof that your horse is genetically programmed to produce. As an owner you will still need to mange the many other environmental factors that impact on hooves to get the best out of the nutrition you provide. These factors include correct and regular farriery to promote healthy hooves and eliminate cracks, splits and damage as well as providing appropriate surfaces during weather extremes to manage hoof moisture and avoid disease.
As a bonus, many horses fed correctly balanced diets also become more metabolically efficient at using energy, meaning you can save money on the amount and type of hard feeds your horse requires.