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Taking into account these feeding tips for hoof health can instantly improve horses’ hooves. Hoof health not only encompasses appearance, but strength, durability and flexibility of the hoof wall. Although, there are some great ingredients for hoof health, what nutritional rules should owners live by to enhance hoof health?
Hooves play a key supporting role to the horse’s life, from work to play. Therefore, healthy hooves are essential for health, welfare and performance.
Healthy hooves should possess qualities of;
Flexibility of the hoof wall ensures that the structure can absorb the force produced by movement. Maintaining flexibility also means the hoof wall is not brittle, which would increase the likelihood of losing shoes or chips. Additionally, maintenance of hoof wall flexibility provides protection for sensitive structures inside the foot.
Strength and durability of the hoof wall is also importance to protect delicate structures of the inner foot and provide a barrier to external pressures. Durability against the environment ensure hooves maintain balance and wear is reduced between farrier visits. Hoof imbalances can cause extra stress or strain of tendons and ligaments, increasing probability of injury.
Hoof care is not only about looking after the external features with topical care essentials, it is also about looking after the hoof from the inside through the role of nutrition. Malnourishment can negatively impact hoof health and growth. Not meeting the dietary or energy requirement of our horse’s can hinder hoof health and growth, as well as the health of other structures and bodily functions. With extreme malnourishment, there may be very little hoof growth, as the body favours using energy to support vital functions instead. However, any hoof that does grow will be of poor quality.
Providing the appropriate nutrients but remaining in a calorie deficit may hinder hoof health. Horses in a negative energy balance (an energy intake under the intake required to maintain body weight) will use whatever nutrition they consume to fuel their survival. Therefore, before adding supplements to support hoof growth and health, ensuring your horse is consuming enough energy to support their daily energy expenditure is crucial. Remember, it’s not just exercise that horses need energy for. Energy is used all the time, from breathing to eating!
High quality proteins have been suggested as an essential to hoof growth. Studies into certain amino acid (the building blocks of protein) in the hooves have found a correlation between the content of the amino acid, cystine, and the hardness of normal hooves. Additionally, normal hooves in comparison to poor-quality hooves have been found to have higher levels of amino acids, threonine, phenylalanine, and proline. These amino acids are considered to be ‘essential’, as they cannot be created in by the body and must be supplied through the diet. However, methionine and lysine are the two most important amino acids that tend to be limiting, as they are the most common amino acid deficiency in horse’s diets. Therefore, the need for high quality protein in the diet is crucial in the fight for healthy hooves and without these building blocks, hoof growth is restricted and integrity is likely to be poor. When you look for a hoof supplement, be aware that it should contain methionine in its formulation.
Hoof health should be supported by a balance of vitamins and minerals. Nutrients that are vital for hoof health include;
Studies have shown that horse’s with poor-quality hooves had lower blood and hoof levels of zinc than those with normal hooves. Meanwhile, other studies have suggested that horses consuming diets low in zinc and copper are more suspectable to white-line disease than horses supplemented with the minerals.
Biotin may also support hoof growth, with various studies suggesting supplementing approximately 20mg per day can significantly improve hoof condition. Improving the condition of the hoof through new growth, it may take serval weeks to notice any difference in the quality of your horse’s hooves though. Six to eight weeks is the average for noticeable differences in hoof quality to manifest with biotin supplementation.
Just like skin and coat condition, hooves can benefit from the addition of adequate fats and oils within the diet. Fats provide a carrier substance for essential vitamins. Vitamins supported by fat include vitamin A, D, E and K which are essential for tissue health and protection. In addition, fats carry hormones, some of which are essential for cell growth and repair. they also Horses need a ratio of 2:1 of omega-3 and omega-6 to maintain homeostasis (balance) in their body. Good sources of omegas are forage, soyabean oil, and linseed oil.
Meanwhile probiotic, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae can be beneficial for hoof health too. The yeast culture support microbiome function, aiding digestion of fibre and uptake of essential nutrients from natural feed stuff and supplements.