Feeding for Healthy Hooves

The pickup and trailer are hooked up, filled with diesel and tires checked. Clothes are pressed, and entry fees are paid. Practice went well this week, and Sheila King is anxious to get to the next rodeo. The last thing to do before heading down the road is to catch her horse “Skippy.” There’s only one problem: Skippy lost a shoe that was put on three days earlier. The bare foot is cracked and beginning to break off. Knowing she can’t compete now, Sheila turns him loose and goes to the house to call the farrier.

This is an all-too-common scenario for many horse owners. Hoof nutrition is often overshadowed in the normal feeding regimen but should not be forgotten. Without strong, healthy hooves, horses can’t perform at their full potential. Dr. Jim Ward, an equine management consultant for AQHA Corporate Partner Nutrena, gave the Journal these tips for hoof health:

Balanced Diet

Dr. Ward says the most important step of good hoof health is a balanced diet. This includes a high-quality feed and hay best suited to your horse’s age and level of activity.

“Based on forage intake and levels they are being fed, you should select a concentrate that would be balanced with forage for the intended use,” Dr. Ward says. “In most cases, that means buying a feed that is balanced for performance horses.”

“Maintain the hay-to-grain ratio somewhere around 50-50, depending on the amount of use,” he says. “For safety’s sake, we like to see horses eating more roughage than grain.”

Purchase a feed designed for your horse and don’t change the feed ration once you get it home. This can offset the balance of nutrients and minerals in the feed.

“One of the most serious errors that occurs is where people do not buy a commercial horse feed that is prepared scientifically for the class of horses they’re dealing with,” Dr. Ward says. “They’ll try to fabricate their own diet. Without having other nutrients tied to that, they either come up with a deficient diet or, in most cases, an unbalanced diet.”

Water and Nutrients

It seems simple, but water is an important key to horse health and many other important functions of the body. Horses should be provided daily with fresh, clean water.

“They have to have plenty of water,” Dr. Ward says. “The hoof is a living structure. It has to have adequate moisture content.”

Many nutrients and minerals play a role in hoof strength and growth, but don’t be overwhelmed, Dr. Ward says. Just feed a balanced diet.

“The first thing that a horse has to have is adequate energy. You need adequate protein for amino acids,” he says. “Minerals to be concerned with are calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is needed for good, hard feet. Trace minerals needed are zinc, copper, manganese, Vitamin E and biotin.” Make sure your horse receives adequate amounts.

To Supplement or Not to Supplement

Horse owners often look to supplements for a quick fix. But, Dr. Ward says, supplements usually aren’t needed if a high-quality ration is fed that meets the horse’s nutritional requirements.

“If a feed is designed for performance horses and made by a reputable company, and its intended use is performance,” he says, “then it will be fortified adequately.”

Dr. Ward warns that not all feeds should be considered high quality. If the brand is not recognizable, be sure to analyze the nutritional content before purchasing.

“If you see a maintenance horse feed, many times, it’s put together with economics in mind,” Dr. Ward says. “Many times, those kind do not have the fortification of all the nutrients (horses) need.”

Do your homework. Dr. Ward says many supplements on the market today might not live up to the promises on the label.

“If you see hoof conditions, you need to do something about it. See if you have a balanced diet. Sometimes supplements are full of hype, so check diet first,” he says. “People will buy a cheap feed and then spend money on expensive supplements. In the end, they end up with a higher cost per day and still don’t have a balanced diet.”

Diagnosing the Problem

“The hoof is one thing you can use as an index to good health,” Dr. Ward says. “Good-quality hooves and good-quality hair coats kind of go together. The hoof is actually an extension of the skin. Healthy skin goes along with a healthy hoof.

If you feed a balanced diet, other factors might be causing your horse’s chips and cracks.

“The hoof is also a product of the environment,” Dr. Ward says. “Horses that are kept in conditions where their feet stay wet and then they go to a period of dry weather can experience profound changes.”

Regular hoof care is vital. Be consistent, whether your horse has shoes on or is only trimmed.

“A lot of times, people leave shoes on too long,” Dr. Ward says. “Shoes over a period of time cause hoof problems. They need to go barefoot some to stimulate proper hoof growth.”

Keep It Simple
Practice the basics to keep your horse’s hooves healthy. A balanced diet, regular hoof care and a consistent living environment are all your horse needs for perfect hooves. If you notice cracks or can’t seem to keep shoes on your horse, go back and make sure you’re covering the basics. If more problems occur, consult your veterinarian to find the source of the problem.

“It’s pretty simple,” Dr. Ward says. “It gets complicated when people try to fabricate their horse’s diet themselves. We spend a lot of money on research. Why try to reinvent the wheel?”

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily