No Horse, No Hoof. How To Build Strong, Healthy Horse Hooves. With as much information on the nutritional building blocks of good hoof production and the great number of horses suffering from poor hoof growth, something is wrong.
Instead of writing about how to help your domestic horse grow good hooves, perhaps it would be better to talk about why hooves do not grow as well as we would like them to grow. Far too many times with the best of intention we work against the best interest of our horses. We buy a “Hoof Product” thinking this will take care of everything.
Many times as horse owners, we want some magic recipe or method to grow hooves thinking perhaps that the horse has a Special Hoof Stomach, we make sure the right ingredients get into this stomach and we get great hooves. We then go about our same day to day activities and when we need good hooves again we look up the secret recipe and put it back into that stomach and once again…..BAM……great hooves.
All kidding aside, the product of hooves is an end product of the whole horse doing well. If we feed too much of something the horse may become laminitic and possibly founder. If we do not feed properly the horse will have shelly, thin walls prone to cracking, splitting or chipping, thinned soled, no bars, thin and mushy digital cushions, etc…
It is not a secret, there is no magic, the RNA and DNA has not changed in the horse for thousands of years. Hannibal and Caesar rode the same horses that we ride today.
It is well documented that the horse needs in varying amounts, biotin, methionine, lysine, cysteine, zinc, magnesium, selenium, cobalt, copper, sulfur, a host of B vitamins and a few other things to grow good hooves, but the horse also needs these same items for other functions at the same time……competing priorities! All at the same time, we and our horses have competing interests.
Growing great hooves is not like making a good chocolate cake. We all read and hear about the basic hoof ingredients, biotin, methionine, zinc, etc… But there exists a synergy within the body to maximize, for instance the three forementioned hoof building components.
Biotin is not stored in the body. It comes in the diet and it is synthesized in the gut via bacteria. Some say little is absorbed in the lower gut, others say it is, but what all seem to agree upon, is the necessity of Biotin to build good hooves.
Methionine, a sulfur containing amino acid (easily converted to Cysteine another sulfur containing amino acid), in order to be metabolized needs B12, Folic Acid, B6 and Magnesium. It would seem that methionine needs a few ingredients of it’s own to be available for hoof production..
Zinc is necessary for Keratin production but to keep zinc bioavailable the Calcium to Phosphorus ratio must be in balance. The higher the calcium levels the lower the absorption of Zinc. Too much zinc and the uptake of Copper will be diminished, once again, just having zinc does not mean the hooves will benefit from its presence.
The whole point of these three examples is the incredible synergy that is required to grow great hooves and to demonstrate that great hooves come from thriving horses with well maintained mechanically sound feet, good environment and movement. These are only three components, Biotin, Methionine and Zinc, there are a few more important items to grow great hooves.
Too many times we think about Diet Specificity after the horse is sick or compromised, we are then left with trying to fix the problem we created.
Most know that Alfalfa is very high in Calcium, anywhere from 5-8 to 1 in Phosphorus. The horse wants a 2 to 1 ratio to be metabolically balanced. Remembering that high Calcium levels will negatively impact the absorption of Zinc, and Zinc is a necessary ingredient in hoof production, this might be a problem.
The feeding of whole ground extruded soy beans, soy bean meal, soy hulls to horses might be another problem. Soy is a known anti nutrient, it will draw Zinc, Copper, Magnesium and Iron from the system. Soy also contains a high Trypsin inhibitor. Trypsin is an enzyme which breaks down only two things, Lysine and Arginine. All of this might be a problem in growing good hooves in so far as zinc, copper, magnesium, iron and lysine play primary and secondary roles in hoof production.
Selenium is necessary for strong hooves. If deficient in the diet the hooves will not be as strong as they might have been. If the selenium levels are too high the sulfur cross link will be replaced by selenium and the hooves will be weaker. So if the area in which your forage was grown is selenium deficient…the hooves may suffer. If the area in which your forage is grown is high in selenium your horse’s hooves may be weaker.
When picking minerals for your horse’s diet…it helps to know that minerals come in many forms, such as oxides, sulfates, amino acid complexes and amino acid chelations.
When many read the Guaranteed Analysis, untrained eyes see just Zinc. The fact that zinc is followed by oxide, sulfate, amino acid complex or chelation is extremely important.
The fact is, there is a difference with a HUGE distinction with what follows Zinc regarding the mineral form.
Oxides are generally poorly bioavailable, Sulfates are better absorbed yet lower the PH of the horse, Amino Acid Complexes are minerals bound to an amino acid by one bond and therefore highly bioavailable. Mineral chelations are bound to amino acids with varying numbers of bonds, hopefully the bonds will be broken before exiting the horse’s body, but generally chelations are very bioavailable.
High bioavailability is desired, the goal is not to produce a highly fortified manure or urine at the expense of the horse’s internal organs.
What is the definition of Supplement? The definition is ”something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend the whole. To supply (a deficiency) that by which anything is made full.”
It does the horse a disservice to balance the ingredients in the feed bag or a horse supplement or hoof supplement product you purchase at the feed store, disregarding the type of forage you feed your horse. The horse is better served if we provide our horse a supplement package that is consistent or balanced for the forage fed.
Forage Specific Horse Supplements speaks to the synergy of your horse…
Do we want to write a nutritional check that our horse must cash if it works counter to the horse’s ability to thrive metabolically?
For example, if you feed Alfalfa, which is very high in Calcium, why give your horse more Calcium? Your horse is already getting too much as it is with alfalfa. In fact, he is washing out the excess calcium with dietary phorphorus at the expense of his organs and phosphorus stores. This does not even address the energy levels of your horse given the relationship of Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vit D and the production of ATP, otherwise known as Adenosine Tri Phosphate.
If you feed Grass hay your horse will need more calcium, lysine and other nutritional items. We should be looking for Diet Specificity before the horse is metabolically compromised.
The practice of putting byproduct waste into our horse’s feed with a bit of molasses, or it is so dusty we must pelletize it, then ask why our horses are having difficulty growing good strong healthy hooves, does not make sense. If we put the nutritional needs on par with the need of horses to be barefoot and mechanically balanced, horses will begin to thrive with greater regularity.
Your horse does not have a “Special Hoof Stomach” and the hooves are expressions of the horse’s overall well being. Many say…”No hoof…No Horse”.
I believe it is quite the opposite….”No Horse….No Hoof”.
For all the Barefoot Trimmers, Farriers and horse owners who are intent upon facilitating functional hooves, it can not happen without synergistic Nutritional Building Blocks.
Great healthy hooves start with synergistically sound nutrition, proper hoof mechanics, proper environment, plenty of movement and the steadfast purpose of Equine Stewardship…..which defined is ”the careful and responsible management of someone or something entrusted to your care”.
By Dr. Mackie Hartwig, D.C., C.V.C.P. Copyright © M.K. Hartwig, D.C., C.V.C.P. All rights Reserved
Originally published in “The Horse’s Hoof, Issue 30, Spring 2008