Feeding for Healthy Hooves

All Articles Equine Health Formulator's Corner Nutrition & Feeding

Photograph by Jannes Pockele

Photograph by Jannes Pockele

 

Before Tigger first formulated BioStar’s Ultra Hoof EQ, she had already spent quite a painstaking period researching everything a supplement for healthy hooves needed to include. Here’s the story.

Over the course of my lifetime with horses, I have had horses with great feet, and horses whose feet nearly drove me into debt trying to fix them. You name the hoof supplement, I’ve probably used it in addition to hoof oils, creams, salves, and pine tar.  By complete happenstance, before I started BioStar, I began feeding flax seeds to one horse whose coat quality I wanted to improve . This horse happened to have shelly, brittle, thin-walled feet too.  After two months, my farrier commented on the improved hoof quality.  Never did I imagine that flax seed would improve his feet. Thus began my research as to why omega 3’s might play a role in healthy hooves.

The equine digestive system evolved to eat small, continuous meals of vegetation and to roam many miles per day, eating all day long.   The grasses not only provided water, protein, carbohydrates and fiber, they also provided fat, specifically the fatty acids: high amounts of omega 3 and low amounts of omega 6The fact that the horses were moving constantly (some estimates of up to 20 miles per day) increased circulation to the feet.

The Grain Connection:

Horses need higher amounts of omega 3’s than omega 6.   When we feed grains: corn, barley, oats, wheat middlings, wheat bran, rice bran, sunflower seeds we are feeding higher amounts of omega 6.

Additional sources of omega 3 like flax or chia must be added to maintain a minimum ratio of 2.5:1, Omega 3 to Omega 6.  Some researchers are pointing to increased ratios of up to 4:1 omega 3 to omega 6.

Grasses and hay do provide omega 3’s . Depending on how the hay was stored and maintained can severely affect omega 3 content.  I personally don’t depend on hay for omega 3’s.  Ten to twelve hours of turnout on grass per day will elevate the important omega 3’s in the equine diet. However, this can also be affected by the type of grass: coastal or bahia grasses don’t have the omega 3 content of timothy, blue grass or orchard grasses.

 

Protein and the Amino Acids:

The hoof wall of horses is made up of approximately 93% protein.  Hooves contain the amino acids: cystine, arginine, leucine, lysine, proline, serine, glycine, valine, methionine, phenylalanine and histidine.  Diets that are protein-deficient can lead to reduced hoof growth.  The composition of the hoof wall is predominately an insoluble protein called keratin,  which includes the amino acids glycine, phenylalanine, arginine, cysteine and proline.  The amino acid cysteine makes up approximately 24% of keratin.  Another sulphur-containing amino acid, known as methionine can be converted by the body into cysteine.

Many hoof supplements provide a form of methionine in its synthetic form: DL Methionine.  The rationale of providing methionine for its conversion to cysteine makes nutritional sense, but ignores the other key amino acids in keratin: glycine, phenylalanine, proline, and arginine.   The isolation of one amino acid (methionine) while ignoring the others, may explain in part why some hoof supplements that contain methionine may work for some horses, but not for others.

 

Zinc and Copper:

Copper is part of an enzyme that is required for the formation of the disulfide bonds in keratin.  Copper is a part of another copper- dependent enzyme that is also necessary for the structural integrity of collagen.

Zinc plays a role in enzymatic action in the formation of keratin and collagen.  Zinc is present in high concentrations in normal hoof tissue.  Zinc deficiency can show up as: slow hoof growth, thin walls, white line, abcesses.

Excess iron can interfere with zinc and copper metabolism, but it must be noted that iron absorption is low in equines and ranges from 2%-20% with 4% being the average, while zinc’s absorption range is 5%-90%.

Excess amounts of calcium from foods like alfalfa hay can negatively impact the absorption of zinc.  Horses that get alfalfa hay only and no other hay mix like orchard or timothy may need supplemental zinc.

Whole food sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.     Whole food sources of copper include sesame seeds, and kale.

 

Biotin:

Most hoof supplements provide the B-vitamin biotin.  Only a handful of studies have been performed in horses to determine the effect of biotin, and the most recent one was in 1998.   A Swiss study (1995) and a South African study (1992) highlight that biotin supplementation does not work in 30 days.  Both studies were 9 months in duration, and only the South African study demonstrated improved hoof growth on 15mgs of biotin per day.   The Swiss study, based on 20 mgs of biotin per day showed no improvement of hoof growth as compared to the controlled group.

If you choose to feed a hoof supplement containing biotin, it is important to give the product a good 7-9 months because it takes time to see if the biotin will help your horse’s feet.

Colostrum:

With over 70 different Growth Factors in bovine colostrum, this whole food can be very helpful in building better feet. One reason that colostrum is effective is because the Growth Factors help stimulate cellular reproduction, and regulate roles in cell growth. Growth Factors stimulate normal growth as well as the healing and repair of tissues. Colostrum is one of my go-to foods when dealing with hoof growth and hoof integrity issues.

 

BioStar's Furnace EQ to help promote circulation and healthy hooves.

BioStar’s Furnace EQ to help promote circulation.

Circulation:

Poor circulation in the feet will affect the quality of the hoof wall.   The strength of the equine foot depends on nourishment that begins with good circulation and vascularity.

Horses are designed to be on the move.  24 hour per day turnout in a big pasture, where the horse is constantly moving and grazing is not possible for many horses in boarding and training barns, and even horses kept at home.

Many training barns in Europe and the US use mechanical horse walkers to add more exercise and thus circulation for horses with limited turn out.  Horse Gym Treadmills are also becoming more common.   Some riders take their horses out twice per day, starting with a training session in the morning and then an afternoon hack or walk.  Not only is this good for building muscle and fitness, but it is very good for increasing circulation to the feet. Even hand walking, several times per day on grassy and hard surfaces will increase circulation to the feet, giving support for healthy hooves.

Nitric oxide is the master circulatory molecule in the body, and stimulating more nitric oxide production can be very beneficial to increasing circulation to the feet.    BioStar’s  Furnace is a nitric oxide stimulator, providing the substrate arginine for nitric oxide production.   This is the formula that brought my horse Lionheart back to soundness from his chronic inflammation of the navicular bursa.

 

Avoiding Soy:

Soy has a high phytate content, which can prevent zinc, copper, magnesium, and iron from absorption in the GI tract.  If your horse has weak, shelly feet, it might be best to avoid soy.

 

Genetics, Nutrition, the Farrier, and Movement:

Genetics can play a role in poor hoof quality, but nutrition, good farrier care, and circulation are critical for long-term healthy feet .

Personally, I’ve learned from the “less is more” approach to equine health and well-being.  Start with the diet: horses are by nature grazers, they need to move, they need to eat 20 hours a day of mostly fibrous foods: pasture, forage, hay.   They need higher amounts of omega 3’s than omega 6’s.  Adding chia seeds or flax seeds is particularly important for horses that are stalled with limited turnout or those living in drought pastures, or pastures with bahia or coastal grasses. Horses need good quality protein like alfalfa pellets or cubes to provide the necessary amino acids.   They need mineral support from salt licks or free choice mineral salts, and a multi vitamin/mineral supplement.  They need to move: circulation is one of the most important components for healthy hooves.

BioStar’s Ultra Hoof EQ is now available.

 

Feeding chia seeds for healthy hooves

Feeding chia seeds for healthy hooves.

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