3 straightforward ways to improve hoof quality

How diet, environment and podiatry can play a role in improving your horse’s hoof quality.

Everyone has heard the adage “no hoof, no horse”, but how many people actually know how to keep their horses’ hooves happy? While there is no guaranteed method to encouraging hoof quality, some basic principles can help.

Nutritional support for hoof quality

Diet

The number one hoof need is proper nutrition. This is required for a healthy horse overall. Horses should be fed a balanced diet of forage and protein recommended for their caloric needs. Nutrition is best discussed with your veterinarian, since an easy keeper may need a ration balancer while a three-day event horse will need more calories from a nutrient-dense grain. Drafts, minis, foals and seniors have even more specialized needs.

Work with your local feed store to find a high quality hay source, as this is a major foundation of the equine diet. You should feed 1.5% to 2% of your horse’s body weight in hay per day. In terms of grain, look for a fixed formula feed for your horse so you know his micro and macronutrient needs are always being met. The company that does fixed formulas with the most research backing them up is Purina, while a good overall diet-balancing supplement is Platinum Performance. These companies do research into their feeds, have equine nutritionists on staff, and make sure the ingredients are the best sources for quality equine nutrition.

Once again, your veterinarian is a great source for which feed company and type is best for your horse, but the main message is to take care of your horse’s major nutrition needs of fiber, protein and calories. For most horses, meeting these needs will result in good hoof quality.

Supplements

If your horse is on a balanced diet and hoof quality is still a concern, you’ll need to investigate further. Most of the time, specific supplementation will be required in these cases.

Supplements are only as good as their studies. I recommend using the acronym, R.I.D.E. when evaluating supplements: Research, Ingredients, Dosage and Efficacy.

  • Does the company supply independent Research for their products?
  • Are the Ingredients high quality and bioavailable?
  • Are the primary ingredients included at the proper Dosage?
  • Last but not least, is this product Efficacious for your horse?

Very few supplement companies meet all four of these criteria, but they’re key to making sure the supplements you use will actually help your equine partner.

Let’s use hoof supplements as an example. Lots of supplements on the market claim to have all sorts of ingredients that correlate to hoof health. However, the only nutrient studied and shown to directly cause improvement in hoof quality is biotin. Biotin is a B vitamin involved in making fatty acids and glucose, and encourages healthy keratin, the same substance found in hair, nails and hooves. Most balanced diets have plenty of biotin in their formulas, but research has shown that 20 mg of biotin daily will significantly help horses with poor hoof quality.

My favorite supplement is Farrier’s Formula Double Strength, as I have had great success using it to encourage hoof growth and increase sole thickness in my equine patients. The company has research articles attached to their product page, and the biotin is there in sufficient concentration to give effect. Platinum Performance and Kentucky Performance products also adhere to my R.I.D.E rule and have great product lines for a variety of a horse’s nutritional needs.

Husbandry helps preserve the hoof you have

Second to nutrition, daily care is the most important element in improving your horse’s hoof quality, as husbandry helps prevent hoof loss. Remember, keratin is a main component in hooves, and just like daily hair care helps keep your hair shiny and healthy, so does daily hoof care promote improved quality. If you allow your horse’s hooves to erode by letting them chip in improper footing, get wet and rot, or become bruised – which can cause internal hoof capsule injury – you’re going to counteract any nutritional support you give.

Daily examination and picking all four feet encourages wet spots to dry, and allows you to become familiar with your horse’s normal hoof anatomy. Once you know his normal sulcus depth, frog size and sole shape, you will be able to pick up on bruises, thrush, minor injuries, loose shoes and other concerns before they become painful problems that lead to lameness or hoof damage.

Your farrier is your friend

The third most important aspect of hoof health is excellent farrier care. Look for a farrier who can do many things: recommend barefoot when appropriate, ask a veterinarian for a consult with possible x-rays when problems are noted, and also put on a regular or therapeutic shoe.

Nowadays, many farriers talk about podiatry as opposed to shoeing, as the focus has shifted to providing therapeutic care to the hoof. Horse feet are not one-size-fits-all, and neither should their shoeing needs be! Farriers can become certified and go to continuing education, as any professional should, to keep up with current science and best care for your horse.

If you’re looking for a farrier, visit the websites of the American Association of Professional Farriers or the American Farriers Association. These independent bodies have certification programs for hoof care based on science. When in doubt, call your veterinarian, as most vets have a few farriers they work with regularly. It’s important to have a team when caring for your horse’s feet!

Conclusion

When it comes to hoof quality, remember the three steps to achieve improved hoof quality: a good diet and supplements that adhere to the R.I.D.E. principles; day-to-day husbandry and footing; and the professional podiatry your horse receives. Your veterinarian can be your partner in all three aspects of caring for your horse’s hooves, and can help you understand normal from abnormal, give you valuable nutrition tips, and assist you in finding a farrier that will help your horse put his best foot forward!

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