Feeding your horse for better feet

We’ve all heard the saying “no foot, no horse” and, if you’ve ever owned a horse with poor feet, you will know how frustrating it is not to be able to ride because they have thrown a shoe again!

There are lots of reasons why horses have poor feet, ranging from conformation to poor farriery, so it is important to consider all of these areas because targeting one in isolation might not be effective in making improvements to hoof growth and quality of hoof horn.

Certain nutrients can be of particular benefit to hoof growth

Diet is fundamentally linked to good health and research has shown that certain nutrients can be of particular benefit to improving hoof growth.

Later, we will give you examples of how you can incorporate these nutrients into your horse’s diet effectively, but first we thought you might like a bit more info on what these nutrients are and how much you need to feed.

Biotin is recognised as being beneficial for horses with poor hooves

Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin that is commonly recognised as being beneficial for horses with poor hooves. Like other B vitamins, biotin is produced by the micro-organisms that live in the horse’s hind gut as they break down fibre.

When plenty of fibre is fed, a healthy population of micro-organisms can usually provide sufficient biotin to meet the basic requirements of horses and ponies. Poor-quality hooves can therefore be indicative of an unhealthy digestive system, which might occur as a result of restricted fibre intake. This is most common in performance horses and sometimes good doers.

Feeding more fibre is often an easy way to improve hoof quality, but this isn’t always possible, so supplementing with biotin becomes essential to meet the horse or pony’s requirements.

How much biotin should you feed?

Several research studies have been conducted to identify the level of biotin that can help to address poor hoof horn quality. One study found that 15mg of biotin per day achieved increased hoof hardness and greater hoof growth rates than 7.5mg per day, (Buffa et al, 1992), whereas another study found that continuous supplementation with biotin at a daily dose of 20mg improved and maintained hoof horn quality in horses with less than optimum hoof quality (Josseck et al, 1995). This information suggests that between 15 and 20mg per day should help to generate healthy hooves.

Zinc is necessary for the health of your horse’s hair, skin and hoof

Zinc is involved in the health and integrity of hair, skin and hoof. Hooves require zinc for the prevention of defective keratin, the tough material found in the outer layers of hoof and skin. If keratin is not properly formed, the hoof will be soft and brittle.

Research carried out by Coenen (1997) found that horses with insufficient hoof horn strength had less zinc in the hoof horn and plasma than horses with no hoof horn damage.

The form in which zinc is added to feeds and supplements could impact on the quality of your horse’s hooves. Zinc is a trace mineral, which is vulnerable to interactions with other minerals in the digestive system when in an inorganic form. Chelated zinc is an organic form of the mineral, which is achieved by attaching it to a peptide or amino acid. This process improves the absorption of the zinc, so tends to result in better health and condition of tissues such as hooves.

Calcium is essential for your horse’s bone development

Calcium is a mineral essential for proper bone development, but it is also required for cell-to-cell attachment in the hoof horn. Calcium is linked very closely to phosphorous and the ratio of these two minerals in the diet is crucial – ideally, a 2:1 calcium to phosphorous ratio should exist.

In a study conducted at the Royal Dick Vet School by Dr Sue Kempson, two different problems with hoof horn were identified. The first was described as a lack of horn in the outer layers and showed improvement when biotin was added to the horse’s diet. The second, described as lack of good keratin attachment, improved only when calcium intake was increased alongside the biotin. In this study, the calcium was increased by adding in alfalfa, which is a naturally abundant source of highly available calcium.

The most common reason for diets being low in calcium is when high levels of straight cereals are fed which are high in phosphorous. Adding alfalfa when feeding straights is an easy way to help create a better calcium-to-phosphorous ratio.

Methionine is recommended for improving your horse’s hoof quality

Methionine is probably the other nutrient most commonly recommended for improving hoof quality. Methionine is a sulphur containing essential amino acid and a major structural component of proteins and enzymes in the body. It is relatively abundant in alfalfa due to alfalfa being a legume and therefore able to fix nitrogen from the environment.

What is MSM for horses?

MSM is another commonly used source of bio-available sulphur in hoof supplements for horses. MSM is naturally occurring in animals and plants but, like many ingredients, is manufactured for use in feeds and supplements so it is consistent and affordable. The sulphur that MSM supplies is incorporated into tissues such as collagen and keratin and it is the latter that helps to improve the horse hoof condition.

The best hoof supplements for horses contain a range of ingredients to help support hoof horn growth but at Dengie, we’ve added these ingredients to our feeds to remove or reduce the need for supplements.

Healthy Hooves – a holistic approach

The key to healthy hooves is to promote or maintain a healthy horse and that was exactly the thinking behind adding MSM to Dengie Healthy Hooves Molasses Free. Not only do they contain all the key nutrients for hoof support, it is also a high fibre, low sugar feed formulated to promote a healthy digestive system capable of providing the horse with all the nutrients it needs.

One of the biggest challenges for horse owners in the UK is keeping the weight off their horse or pony which is why Healthy Hooves Molasses Free contains a high proportion of straw. The straw provides chew time and fibre with very low levels of calories and sugar. Straw is also not as abundant in natural vitamins and minerals as other higher quality forages like alfalfa. To counteract this, the addition of MSM and other important nutrients like biotin, help to reduce the risk of poor quality hoof conditions such as cracks and crumbling.

To get the full benefits of Healthy Hooves Molasses Free, it needs to be fed at the recommended level – one large Stubbs scoop (500g) for every 100kg body weight. Healthy Hooves Molasses Free is suitable for horses and ponies at rest or in light to moderate work and is approved by The Laminitis Trust because it is the ideal feed for horses and ponies prone to laminitis that have poor hoof quality. If you have a particular fussy horse or pony then you can consider Healthy Hooves Original. It’s also a nutritionally balanced feed but doesn’t contain MSM. It also has a low level of molasses to tempt fussy eaters and so can be useful for persuading some horses to eat.