What can I feed to make my horse’s hooves better?
People often ask what supplement can make their horse’s hooves grow faster and tougher. Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer. Many factors appear to affect hoof growth and quality as well as what the horse eats. These factors include genetics, age, season of the year, exercise, environment and blood supply.
No studies looking at hoof growth and quality based upon genetics of horses are known. It is felt by most experts, however, that hoof growth and quality are highly heritable. Studies done in other species, particularly cattle, conclude that selection for hoof growth and normal hooves could be effective. We probably should look at the sire and dam of a horse before we blame inadequate nutrition or a farrier.
Increasing the blood supply to the hoof may increase the rate of growth. Daily massages of the coronet to stimulate circulation have been reported to increase hoof growth. Further studies are needed to evaluate this practice. Several nutrients are known to influence hoof growth. Reduced energy intake can result in decreased rate of hoof growth in growing horses.
Several studies have shown a high correlation between rate of hoof growth and rate of weight gain. In a study done at Cornell University, pony foals were limit fed to grow at 0.2 pounds per day, while another group of foals was fed ad libitum. Hoof growth rate for the limit-fed group was 0.25 mm per day compared to the ad libitum group’s hoof growth rate of 0.38 mm per day.
Protein deficiency can also result in decreased hoof growth. In one study, hoof growth of weanlings fed 10 percent protein was only two-thirds that of weanlings fed 14.5 percent protein. Cornell researchers found no benefit from the addition of gelatin to commercial complete, pelleted feed. Supplemental methionine was fed to polo horses at two levels and compared to a control group receiving no supplemental methionine. Group one, the control, received no D.L.-Methionine. Group two received three grams per day, and group three received six grams of D.L. Methionine per day. The trial was conducted for 210 days. There were no significant differences in growth rates of the hooves with all those groups, averaging approximately 0.20 mm per day.
The addition of 0.3 percent lysine or 0.3 percent lysine and 0.1 percent methionine to a ration containing 14 percent protein did not improve the rate of hoof growth of weaning horses. It appears a horse that is fed at protein requirements will not benefit from amino acid supplementation.
Several vitamins and minerals are known to influence hoof development. Researchers in 1941 reported that horses suffering from vitamin A deficiencies had marked scaling of the periople. Biotin deficiency has been reported to cause heel cracks, erosion of the heel, cracks at the junction of the heel and toe, and cracks in the toe itself in swine. Biotin has recently gained popularity as a supplement for horses with hoof problems. Whether biotin added to a balanced diet improves hoof quality is still up for debate. Biotin added at levels of approximately 15 to 20 milligrams per day has shown in limited research to improve hoof quality.
Zinc is a mineral essential for normal epidermis. If a horse’s diet is deficient or marginal in zinc levels, foot problems could be encountered.
Selenium toxicity in horses can result in hair loss from the mane and tail and degeneration of hoof quality and eventually complete loss of the hoof.
There is no simple answer or supplement to improve a horse’s hoof quality. Many factors affect foot quality along with nutrition. We must not forget the care that we take of the foot. Horses with poorer feet will require more frequent trimming and/or resetting of shoes. It is impossible to correct a genetic defect. You can only attempt to manage what you have. If you have a horse in which you want to improve foot growth and/or quality, take a look at all of the factors. Next, test the present feedstuffs (roughages and concentrate) you are feeding to check that adequate, balanced levels of nutrients are being consumed. Make your supplement changes after you have done all of the above first. Do not randomly add supplements because someone told you it worked on their horse’s feet. Excesses, as pointed out, may be the problem in some cases. It is important to keep the right levels and balances of nutrients.