Every part of your horse’s body relies on a correctly balanced diet for optimal function, and the feet and the hooves are no exception. In fact, nutrition shortages and imbalances probably show faster in the hooves and hair than anywhere else.
Hooves are constantly growing marvels of biological engineering, providing a biomechanical shock-absorbing function during movement as well as a protective barrier to the innards of the foot. In order to function optimally, the body requires all the essential nutrients in adequate amounts in order to build strong, resilient, well-attached hoof horn.
In addition to adequate intake of the essential nutrients, hoof health also relies on healthy diet, or one with balanced levels of water soluble carbohydrates (WSC, or sugar and fructans), starch and fibre. A diet that is too high in WSC or starch, or too low in fibre can have detrimental effects on hoof health.
Hoof horn relies primarily on adequate dietary energy, and this is the first consideration. The horn is made up of mostly protein, and a shortage in good quality protein, which supplies essential amino acids, will also detrimentally affect the hooves. The horn also contains several minerals, and again, relies on adequate dietary supplies to be optimally strong and healthy.
All of the above will be covered with a balanced diet, and extra supplements should not be added until dietary energy, protein (quality and quantity) and minerals have been assessed and adjusted as necessary. Many cases of hoof problems will be remedied when a good multi-vitamin and mineral supplement is added to a mostly-forage diet, which would have been deficient in minerals.
A horse fed a correctly balanced diet who continues to have hoof problems may benefit from extra supplementation of specific nutrients at ‘supraoptimal’ levels (higher than those required for normal health). The B vitamin biotin, macro-mineral magnesium, micro-mineral zinc and amino-acid methionine can all be supplemented at higher levels than found in a normal diet, with useful effects in some horses. Feeding a well-formulated hoof supplement on top of a correctly balanced diet can help some horses to have strong, resilient hooves.
Don’t forget that – in addition to the diet – the hooves are significantly affected by environmental conditions, exercise and the shape imposed on them by the human hand that trims or trims and shoes them.