WHY IS HOOF HEALTH IMPORTANT?
You may have heard the phrase “NO HOOF, NO HORSE” which highlights how crucial the health and strength of the hoof for horse soundness.
That said for a horse, the hooves are low on their list of priorities. The nutrients provided in the diet are first used for survival. Supplying first the vital organs like the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs then if sufficient key nutrients remain, the hoof tissue is then supplied. Unhealthy hooves are a good indication of inadequate levels of nutrients supplied in the diet.
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WHAT ARE THE KEY NUTRIENTS FOR HOOF HEALTH?
Your horse’s hooves rely on a nutrient-rich blood supply to ensure proper growth and strength.
The key nutrients include:
Over 90% of the hoof wall is protein. Keratin is an extremely strong protein and is the major component in skin, mane and tail, hooves, and teeth as is the case for us with our skin, hair and nails. Many of the amino acids that are needed for keratin are never deficient; horses can manufacture them from other amino acids. Two that are required from the diet is methionine and lysine as they cannot be manufactured from other amino acids. They are both of great importance in the strengthening of the hoof structure. Lysine deficiency is common in horses that are fed diets high in cereal grains and can result in a restriction of growth. Methionine is often the second limiting amino acid, and is unique in that it is a sulphur-containing amino acid. Sulphur is critical to hoof quality because the main protein in hooves, keratin, is very high in sulphur.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Important for the shine and slick looking surface brought about from a network of fats and waxes. They are essential in the diet to maintain the “glue” holding the hoof together. They keep the environmental moisture out but critical tissue moisture in.
Other Key Nutrients
Calcium supports the enzymatic reaction that produces the disulphide bonds which link the keratin proteins in the hoof. Zinc is necessary for healthy skin, hair, and hooves, while Copper increases hoof wall strength. Vitamin A assists in maintaining the integrity of epithelial cell walls, and is needed for healthy skin and keratin. It is synthesized in the horse’s intestine from beta-carotene, which is abundant in fresh forage. Freshly cut hay also contains some Vitamin A, but this level decreases after hay is baled. Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin, previously known as vitamin H and works to improve tissue growth. Although biotin is produced by the bacteria in the horse’s hindgut as it ferments forages, it may not be produced in sufficient amounts or easily absorbed by the horse. Other aspects that affect the quality and integrity of the hoof wall is genetics and hoof care/trimming.
HOW CAN GREAT HOOF HEALTH BE ACHIEVED?
Healthy hooves are built from the inside out. Make the centre point of your horse’s diet a grassy hay or fresh pasture (if available). Feed fibre rich sources of feed/roughage to ensure good digestive health and a balanced microbiome.
Please contact us if you would like us to help balance the nutrient profile of your horse’s diet.
Written by Bryan Meggitt (BMedSc. PGCrtMedSc.)
Biochemist / Senior Scientist and Co-founder of CEN Horse Nutrition
Bryan is passionate about improving equine health through natural nutrition according to science.