In continuing the No Hoof, No Horse series of topics, this article will focus on the nutritional hoof supplements for your horse. Remember that, as tough as the hoof horn may seem, it is approximately 95% protein, similar to your own hair and skin. It's beneficial to keep in mind how quickly both good and bad nutrional changes can be seen in the hooves. If your horse has a noticeable hoof problem and you begin with a nutritional program to solve it, you should see a positive difference emerging from the coronary band within 8 - 10 weeks. If not, you need to re-examine your nutritional and managemet program immediately with the help of an equine nutritionist.
Salt and trace minerals should not be fed in combined form as your horse's needs for each of these is quite different. Salt requirements beyond metabolic needs are based on the amount your horse sweats. Trace minerals, on the other hand, are a metabolic need and are relatively steady irrespective of exercise and ambient temperature. When salt and trace minerals are fed together either in block form (or loose for that matter), horses are force fed trace minerals according to their salt needs. This can become problematic. What to do? Feed high quality hay and a single balanced supplement and grain as needed. Your horse will receive more than enough trace minerals. However, it is a very good idea to provide your horse free choice loose salt to ensure that their salt needs are being met. Why not a salt block? Salt blocks are intended for cattle tongues. Horse tongues are too smooth to get much gain from licking, so salt depleted may bite off chunks and swallow it creating an abundance of hoof destructive urine! Remember excess salt = excess thirst!
Wheat, rice, oat or other grain, bran contains phytate which is high in phosphorus which blocks absorption of calcium in the small intestine. So horses with hoof problems should not be fed bran. As phosphorus blocks the absorption of calcium, as explained, this unde4rmines hoof health. If you are feeding bran to regulate stool consistency, you are better off using beet pulp instead. If bran is being used to prevent sand colic, psyllium is a much better solution.
Biotin alone isn't enough to correct poor horn quality in many cases as it's only one of many nutrients which is required. Biotin deficiency is relatively rare and is usually accompanied by many other dietary deficiencies. Horses which respond to biotin supplementation show large holes in the outermost layer of the wall when viewed under a microscope. The inner layers of the wall usually weren't affected. However, recent research has indicated that an increase in botin helps the hoof in the presence of laminitis.
Methionine, proline, glycine and glutamine are some major building blocks of healthy connective tissue, or collagen. Copper and vitamin C are also very necessary in the formation of a strong and healthy horn. For healthy hooves, all these nutrients should be supplied either through supplementation or dient.
Essential fatty acids are necessary for a healthy, shiny coat as well as the proper moisture maintenance and pliability of the hoof strucure. Fatty acids can be obtained from grain,k unprocessed grain oils, cooked whole soybeans or lecithin found in processed grains and supplements.
Zinc is necessary for health hooves and for the prevention of defective keratin (the tough material found in the outer layer of the hoof) If keratin is not properly formed, the hoof will be soft and brittle. Zinc can be suppled through diet or supplements.
Some people believe that selenium will help hooves become healthier however there are no studies that support this though. Selenium, when fed in high amount causes excessive and very poor quality hoof growth and can be very toxic.
Foundered horses require special care. Good quality grass hay, little or no grain, free choice water and loose salt along with a well balanced supplement for proper nutrition is a must. However, keep in mind that each foundered horse is an individual so there is no blanket rule. Your veterinarian and farrier should be consulted.
The easy keeper horse can actually be less than easy! The solution is much like for a foundered horse. Good quality hay, little or no grain, water and loose salt and a well balanced supplement that includes L-tyrosine and iodine.
Keep in mind that older horses may have problems chewing. Combined with their less efficient metabolization of nutrients, you have a horse that needs special care. If your horse isn't chewing his feed properly, he's not getting his nutrients...it's as simple as that. Examine your horse's manure for whole grain or hay stems exceeding 1/4 inch in length and look for excessive dribbling of feed or an unusual sensitivity to the bit. These are signs that your horse's teet need attention and it's time to call your equine dentist.