In order to have good nutrition for hoof health, you must first have good general nutrition. Nutrition and supplements are not a miracle cure for poor hooves but they do play a vital role in the equation. Other influences include genetics, general hoof care, and environment. A horse can have the best possible diet, personalized by a professional nutritionist based on bloodwork, but with poor hoof genetics, infrequent or poor hoof care, and poor footing will inevitably still suffer from cracking and poor hoof quality. On the other hand, a horse with decent hoof genetics, regular trims from a skilled professional, and good footing but poor nutrition is also likely to have hoof troubles.
The good news is that you typically don’t need to do anything particularly intricate or difficult in order to provide your horse with a diet to support healthy hooves. The basic building stones for a healthy nutrition plan are protein, energy (carbohydrates and fats), minerals, vitamins, and water. Water being particularly important to monitor in extreme temperatures, both hot and cold as some horses don’t drink enough when water is cold.
The first of the building blocks listed above is protein, which makes up 90% of hoof tissue, primarily in the form of Keratin. Without getting too technical, protein is made up of chains of amino acids. There are many different types of amino acids, both essential and non-essential but the “limiting amino acid”, Lysine, is a good indication of whether your horse’s amino acid needs are being met. As a general rule, if your horse’s lysine requirements are met, they are almost certainly receiving enough of the other essential amino acids as well. Lysine quantities are usually listed on the nutrition labels of grain bags. A size and workload appropriate ration of a quality complete feed should fulfill your horse’s lysine requirements. Specific sources of lysine include alfalfa and soybean meal. The most important thing to note in regard to protein is that the amount of protein that can be absorbed into the bloodstream and the amino acid composition of the protein are what determine the protein quality and, therefore, how well the protein can be used by the horse.
Another key aspect of a healthy nutrition plan for your horse is the non-microscopic composition of it. Equine healthcare professionals believe a minimum of 50% of your horse’s dry matter intake should be forage (hay or grass), but preferably close to 75-80%. “Lawn ornaments”, or horses out of work, can even thrive on a forage-only diet. Plant fibers are found in high quantities in forage which promote a healthy gut as well as psychological well-being for the horse. More specific to hoof health, feeding a grain-heavy diet can trigger laminitis. While excessive grain is a big contributor to laminitis, forages must also be monitored for horses who are prone to hoof problems. Lush green pastures, primarily in spring and fall, often have high sugar contents which can also trigger laminitis. Careful pasture management, particularly in times of new growth-types such as spring and fall, is critical for healthy hooves.
Mineral balance is a key factor in any healthy diet to fuel tissue development and structure, both of which are important for healthy hooves. The most important mineral ratios to monitor are the calcium to phosphorus ratio (Ca to P) and the zinc to copper ratio (Zn to Cu). The ideal Ca to P ratio for adult horses is 2:1. If the Ca to P ratio is out of balance, or either component’s base needs are not met, the horse cannot properly absorb calcium, resulting in severe bone problems. The ideal Zn to Cu ratio is 4:1 for adult horses for proper absorption of both. Again, a quality complete feed bought in stores should already have these ratios balanced for you.
The final puzzle piece to be touched here is biotin, the vitamin most associated with hoof health. Biotin is one of the only nutrients to be proven through research to help improve hoof quality. While biotin won’t help every horse, it has been shown to help most horses with poor hooves who already receive a balanced, high quality, diet. While research regarding dietary biotin in horses is ongoing, there is no evidence to date that horses have a minimum biotin requirement. No symptoms have been shown for either biotin deficiency or toxicity. If you are looking to add biotin to your horse’s diet, alfalfa has a high biotin content or there are many hoof supplements on the market that include biotin. As with all hoof health, biotin does not immediately fix hooves. Biotin will increase the quality of new hoof growth but cannot fix the old hoof. You may not see significant changes in hoof strength and growth for 6 to 14 month.
To see some of the supplements we offer click HERE. If you have questions on hoof health and nutrition, please reach out to us.
If you are interested in hoof supplements, we carry these options:
Better Blend Hoof Supplement
Life Data Farrier's Formula®