"The Role of Nutrition in Healthy Hoof Growth
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"The Role of Nutrition in Healthy Hoof Growth

Horses
Health & Safety

The phrase “no hoof, no horse” is well known in the equine world because it is so very true. So when it comes to keeping your horse's feet in good condition, it's important to take a look at their diet because nutrition plays a key role in healthy hoof growth. A well balanced diet will help ensure the integrity of hoof tissue, maintaining its structural integrity.

A good farrier can improve the shape of a hoof, but when it comes to the integrity of a horse's foot, this can only be achieved through diet and good husbandry. There are a lot of contributing factors which includes the following:

  • Genetics plays an important role
  • A horse's general health will affect hoof growth
  • The amount of exercise a horse is given will have a bearing on the quality of their feet
  • The environment a horse is kept in can impact hoof growth

Poor Diet Will Show Through Their Hooves

Any nutritional deficiencies will show up on the condition and quality of a horse's hooves. In a healthy mature horse, the growth rate of the hoof wall should be around 6 – 10 mm a month, the reason being that it is being continually worn away and therefore has to be continuously replaced.

When a horse is not given the nutrients they need, their hooves will be impacted and grow a lot slower than they should. On top of this, the horn tends to be much weaker and much poorer in quality too. A horse needs all the key nutrients in their diet which includes the following:

  • All-important minerals which includes zinc and calcium
  • Essential vitamins which include biotin and Vitamin A

The Role Energy Plays in Healthy Hoof Growth

The energy requirements of a horse are all-important when it comes to healthy, hoof growth and the integrity of the foot. If this is lacking in their diet, a horse will make it up in other ways which typically sees them using the protein in a diet or stored in their bodies to make up the difference. The result is a deficiency in other secondary proteins and amino acids which then compounds the problem.

The Role of Protein in Healthy Hoof Growth

The hoof wall is made up of around 93% of protein on a hard base that is made up of keratin which is in fact an insoluble protein. If a horse's diet is lacking in protein, their hooves will grow more slowly and as a general rule, the quality of their feet would be pretty poor and more prone to splitting and cracking.

Keratin itself is made up of many amino acids that form a chain, much like all other proteins. These amino acids include:

  • Cysteine
  • Methionine

Both of these contain sulphur which is another crucial element in the hoof because it is this that holds it all together by forming links and the more of these links there are, the better quality the hoof wall tends to be.

If a horse's diet is lacking in methionine, it will result in a deficiency in Cysteine which then leads to slower hoof growth and weaker hoof walls. By supplementing a horse's diet with methionine, it helps improve the quality of the foot and the speed at which it grows.

The other advantage of adding a methionine supplement to a horse's diet is that it increases the bond between the hoof wall and the laminae which is a crucial factor should a horse be prone to suffer from laminitis.

The Importance of Minerals

Both macro and micro minerals are crucial in a horse's diet and will not only ensure good hoof growth and a healthier foot, but will also maintain a horse's general good health too. The all-important minerals include the following:

  • Zinc – a deficiency in zinc can lead to poor hoof growth, thinner walls and much weaker horns. Zinc also helps minimise the risk of a horse developing hoof diseases and it helps prevent abscesses from forming
  • Copper – this mineral is valuable as it promotes the much needed sulphur found in the foot which forms the cross links that hold everything together
  • Calcium – this is needed because it helps cells connect to each other which in turn means more cross links are formed in the hoof making it that much stronger
  • Selenium – too much selenium in a horse's diet is in fact, not good because it interferes with the amount of keratin that forms. If this happens the all-important cross links are made up with the selenium which results in a weaker foot and hoof wall.

The All-important Vitamins

A horse needs the correct level of vitamins in their diet to promote healthy hoof growth. These include the following:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Biotin

A healthy horse would produce all the biotin they need in their hind-gut, but if they are not fed a well-balanced diet many horses do suffer a deficiency in this valuable vitamin which can impact the condition of their hooves quite dramatically. Research has shown that supplementing a horse's diet with around 15 to 20 mg of biotin on a daily basis will help improve the quality of a horse's hooves.

Fat and Healthy Hoof Growth

The role of fatty acids in the hoof is to protect the outside of the foot. It prevents moisture from entering the hoof and therefore protects the hoof wall too. The best source of fatty acids is good quality grass because it contains the following:

  • Linolenic – omega-3
  • Linolenic – omega-6

Horses fed hay only, benefit from their diets being supplemented with flax seed oil which provides them with all the essential fatty acids they would get from being out at grass.

Conclusion

Poor hoof growth could be due to many things which includes being genetically inherited. However, diet plays a key role in the quality of a horse's feet and the rate at which their hooves grow. A horse that's being fed a well balanced diet that's rich in all the right nutrients will boast much better quality feet. Supplementing their feed with the right vitamins and minerals helps promote a healthier foot and if you are at all worried about the quality of your horse's feet, you should discuss the problem with a farrier or your vet.

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