Faulty nutrition isn’t the only factor in hoof-quality problems, but it’s a big player. Slow hoof growth, chipping, cracking, white-line crumbling and inability to hold shoes are common. While genetics and faulty care are usually involved, inadequate nutrition can make the difference between the hoof with a potential for problems and one that actually develops them.
Hooves are built by specialized skin cells, and the same nutrients critical for healthy skin are also needed to build strong hooves. Nutrients documented to influence skin and hoof growth and quality include:
• B vitamins. The Bs, especially biotin, B6, folic acid, are important to your horse’s hoof quality. While the horse’s intestinal tract can synthesize enough B vitamins to avoid full-blown deficiency states, the levels may be inadequate for optimal health and hoof production. While the horse has been estimated to have a biotin requirement of 5 to 6 mg/day, doses of 15 to 20 mg may be needed to influence hoof quality.
• Trace minerals. Zinc is especially important to normal functioning of the cells that produce the hoof wall, but copper is also critical.
• Protein. The hoof wall is composed primarily of protein, and inadequate protein intake does result in poor-hoof quality. But it’s likely more a deficiency of specific animo acids needed in high concentrations than the diet’s overall protein level. These amino acids include cystine, cysteine, tyrosine and threonine in the outer layers of the hoof wall and methionine for integrity of the white line.
Cystine, cysteine, methionine are sulfur-containing amino acids. However, cystine and cysteine can be manufactured from methionine, so methionine is the one usually included. A comprehensive hoof supplement includes one or more other amino acids, plus the methionine.
• Fatty Acids. A healthy hoof holds it natural moisture/pliability, and avoids absorbing water from the environment, because of waxes and fats in the wall. Cholesterol compounds are the major type of fat, not a problem since the horse synthesizes cholesterol. However, the wall also contains essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that must be obtained from the diet.
Horses getting their nutrition from fresh grass take in anywhere from six to 20 times more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6, while horses on hay or hay and grain diets have exactly the opposite. Even the commonly used oils are all higher in omega-6. Many horses with dry, splitting feet that don’t respond well to other supplements improve when fed whole flaxseed or flaxseed oil.
Knowing what ingredients to look for is a start, but you’ve also got to know what levels are required to make a difference. Biotin levels in the supplements we surveyed ranged from just over 6 mg to 50 mg; zinc from 45 to 566 mg; methionine from 75 mg to 7500 mg.
Read labels carefully. Our chart is designed to help you choose the hoof product that will best fit into your horse’s existing diet, while targeting likely deficiencies.
Horses on mineral-balanced diets with adequate-quality protein rarely have hoof problems. For those that do, our choice would be Bio-Flax 20, which covers possible deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids, biotin, B6 and methionine.
If the horse has access to pasture so that omega-3s aren’t a concern, Uckele’s Equi-Hoof Complex is a good choice, providing adequate methionine, biotin and B6.
For horses receiving at least 5 lbs./day of balanced/supplemented grain mixes but no supplementation to correct imbalances that may remain because of their hay, look for more trace-mineral insurance in ratios that won’t interfere with the balanced grain. Your best choices here are Master Hoof Blend and Ascend Hoof Gel.
Horses receiving no or little supplemented grains, with unknown mineral intakes from hay, should try one of the more comprehensive hoof supplements such as Hooflex+, Farrier’s Formula, Shoer’s Friend or Nu-Hoof Accelerator. Nu-Hoof Accelerator is a definite best buy because of the higher biotin yet lowest price.