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Building Blocks for Healthy Hooves

by Dr Clair Thunes PhD Nutrition
Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine & PET
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Winter can be tough on your horse’s hooves. Whether it is the damper than normal conditions caused by mud or snow, being stall bound which results in less movement and greater contact with manure and urine, hoof quality can deteriorate. Loss of hoof quality is something all horse owners worry about, after all “no hoof no horse”!

Whether it is chipping, cracking, splits, thrush, thin soles or less growth than desired, hoof supplements are a huge favorite and common place in most feed rooms. Even though there are a multitude of hoof supplements on the market when you look at the ingredients you start to notice a pattern. The majority contain lysine, methionine, zinc, copper, some kind of fatty acid and sometimes biotin. The question is what do these nutrients actually do for hooves?

Lysine and methionine are both essential amino acids meaning that the horse cannot make them and they must be present in the diet. Depending on the sources of dietary protein it may be that the diet is not providing adequate amounts of these essential amino acids which can result in problems with protein synthesis. Epidermal cells create proteins necessary for their cornification specifically keratin, keratin-associated proteins and cell envelop proteins. Keratin associated proteins in the hoof wall  are made up of a large proportion of sulfur containing amino acids of which methionine is one such amino acid.  Therefore diets that provide inadequate amounts of methionine may result in hoof tissue that lacks strength and has decreased hoof integrity.

Copper and zinc are both trace minerals required in the horse’s daily ration in milligram quantities. Most forages when fed in restricted quantities and unfortified grains do not provide adequate amounts of these trace minerals to meet daily requirements.  While many owners feed fortified feeds, it is common for these feeds to be fed incorrectly. In these scenarios, even if requirements are met, the ration is unlikely to be balanced correctly.

Copper plays a role in the synthesis of collagen which is the basis of connective tissues such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage and even bone.  A number of enzymes rely on copper including thiol oxidase. Thiol oxidase is necessary for the disulfide bonds in keratins. Without adequate copper in the diet thiol oxidase is reduced and the rigidity of the hoof wall is impacted.  Zinc has a part to play in the synthesis of collagen, as well as keratin proteins. Epithelial tissue such and skin and hoof tissue requires zinc for reproduction, repair and maintenance. Additionally zinc, via antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase, helps to protect cell membranes from damage.

After four months on the Enviro Equine program

BEFORE
AFTER

Biotin is a water soluble B vitamin that is needed for the extracellular matrix formed in epidermal cells. This matrix helps glue cells together. While forages are low in biotin the bacteria in the horse’s hindgut are thought to provide adequate amounts of biotin as no biotin deficiency has been identified. However research does exist suggesting the supplementation of biotin at 15 mg or higher per day may improve hoof quality in some individuals but it takes many months to see results.

Fatty acids such as omega fatty acids are often included in hoof supplements because fatty acids help the hoof retain its natural moisture and pliability, preventing the hoof from absorbing too much moisture from the external environment. Hay based diets may not provide adequate fatty acids for optimal hoof health.

While all these nutrients are important for hoof health they also play key roles in numerous functions throughout the horse’s body. Horse’s whose diets meet the daily mineral requirements that are properly balanced and provide adequate quality protein rarely have issues of poor hoof quality. Adding a hoof supplement to the diet may help correct these nutrient deficiencies and imbalances but perhaps the better solution is to take a step back and assess the diet as a whole. Are you feeding a commercially fortified feed at levels less than the manufacturer recommends? Perhaps you are not feeding any fortified feed or are relying on supplements that do not provide enough of these key nutrients? If so then this could be leading to deficiencies and imbalances in the ration. Feeding a greater quantity of the fortified feed might fix the nutrient deficiencies but result in the horse gaining too much condition. If so then rather than add a hoof supplement to the existing diet a nutritionally better and more cost effective solution may be to feed a different fortified feed that you can feed properly or feed a more fortified supplement such as EnviroEquine Everyday Balance or GastroBalance Plus.

Not only does EveryDay Balance provide a significant amount of the daily requirement of copper and zinc it also utilizes amino acid complexes which are forms of these minerals attached to single amino acids lysine and methionine. These bioavailable trace minerals have been shown in research to have an advantage for hoof growth including sole depth making them a great choice for horses with thin soles, ulcers, abscesses and other compromising issues. GastroBalance Plus also utilizes these bioavailable trace minerals. If your horse’s diet already provides necessary trace minerals and essential amino acids you may just need a source of omega-3 fatty acids and OmegaBalance would be an excellent choice.

When assessing your horse’s ration try to insure that at least 50 percent of his daily copper and zinc requirement are being provided from fortified grain or supplements. For a 1200 pound horse in moderate work this would be about 62 mg of copper and 245 mg of zinc. Also insure at least a few grams of additional lysine and methionine and a source of omega-3 fatty acids.

EnviroEquine EveryDay Balance is well fortified with these key nutrients (120mg of copper, 390 mg of zinc, 4.5 g lysine and 2.5 g methionine plus 15 g of omega-3 fatty acid per serving) as well as many others that serve numerous important roles in your horse’s body. This is why feeding products that provide a broad range of key nutrients resulting in a well-balanced diet is a better way to solve hoof problems than just feeding a hoof supplement.

Not only does EveryDay Balance provide a significant amount of the daily requirement of copper and zinc it also utilizes amino acid complexes which are forms of these minerals attached to single amino acids lysine and methionine. These bioavailable trace minerals have been shown in research to have an advantage for hoof growth including sole depth making them a great choice for horses with thin soles, ulcers, abscesses and other compromising issues. GastroBalance Plus also utilizes these bioavailable trace minerals. If your horse’s diet already provides necessary trace minerals and essential amino acids you may just need a source of omega-3 fatty acids and OmegaBalance would be an excellent choice.

Nutrition is not the only key to healthy hooves. Movement is also vital. Horses that move more tend to have faster hoof growth. How a horse moves impacts hoof shape and growth rate. Hooves that are loaded unevenly will grow unevenly. Uneven loading may be due to any number of reasons including how the horse is ridden as well as conformation. It could even be a saddle fit issue that prevents the horse from moving correctly which in turn impacts hoof growth. Your horse should be seen regularly by a farrier or hoof trimmer who can help keep hooves balanced and consider working with a qualified body worker who can identify problems with muscle tension that may impact movement.

Topical hoof dressings are another useful tool for insuring hoof health. CocoTea Hoof Therapy is a blend of coconut, camelina, tea tree and lavender oils that may be applied to the hoof wall and sole. Aiding in hoof growth it helps maintain hoof elasticity, and alleviates scaly, brittle and compromised hoof. Due to its ability to suppress anaerobic bacteria CocoTea Hoof Therapy also fights to combat thrush.

If your horse has less than stellar hooves, for best results be sure to address the problem from multiple angles. Keep in mind that some horses have genetically superior feet compared to others. Nutrition will never make up for poor genetics but good nutrition can help your horse’s feet reach their full genetic potential whatever that might look like.

Consulting Nutritionist for EnviroEquine Dr. Clair Thunes is passionate about her profession—one that she decided upon at the age of 14. After earning a Bachelor of Science with Honors from Edinburgh University, and a Master of Science in Animal Science and a PhD in Nutrition from the University of California, Davis, Dr. Thunes went on to found Summit Equine Nutrition LLC an independent consulting company in 2007. An experienced nutritionist and accomplished scientist, Dr. Thunes understands the vital role that nutrition plays in managing horses today. Most importantly, she believes in making nutrition accessible to everyone and removes the guesswork so that owners have the peace of mind that their horse’s diets are optimal for maximum health and peak performance.  Her clients include all horses from competitors at the 2016 Rio Olympics to retired pasture friends, mules and miniature donkeys. She writes a weekly online commentary for theHorse.com and her nutrition articles have been published in noted publications including: The Horse, Equine Wellness, Trail Blazer, Horse & Rider and The Horse Report. Besides consulting she teaches equine nutrition and equine exercise physiology in the Animal Science Department at UC Davis and equine health at Cosumnes River College.  Clair continues to be involved with The United States Pony Clubs, Inc. and she is currently the Regional Supervisor for the Sierra Pacific Region.

Top Photo: © ksuksa / Can Stock Photo