September 2017 - Hooves Reflect Health

The right nutrition plan helps hooves stay in top shape.

by Sally Hugg

The hallmark of a healthy horse is a glossy coat, but hooves are also a reflection of his health.

Hooves are constantly growing, so dietary deficiencies and imbalances often show up in the hooves before they are noticed elsewhere.

What are the most important things to look for in a supplement that will ensure your horse gets what it needs to have strong, healthy hooves?

Horses on a basic diet of high quality forage (hay and pasture) will usually meet their requirements for protein, calories and most minerals, but there are several important nutrients that often come up short.

The essential amino acids lysine and methionine are often included in hoof supplements. Lysine is the only amino acid for which there is an established minimum requirement. High quality hay usually provides adequate levels, but diets low in methionine may result in poor hoof quality. While alfalfa is an excellent source of protein, in terms of hoof health many horses do better on a mixed grass hay diet.

Copper and zinc are two important trace minerals that are crucial for hoof integrity. The levels in forage vary from deficient to barely meeting minimum needs. High levels of iron commonly found in forage and commercial feeds can compete with copper and zinc for absorption, therefore copper and zinc often need to be supplemented in amounts greater than needed to meet minimum needs. Fortunately, horses have a high tolerance for copper and zinc, so there is no risk in feeding them at levels well above the minimum requirements.

Selenium is another trace mineral that is often deficient in forage, but has a narrow safety range and is only needed in small quantities.

The horse’s natural diet is low in fat, but horses eating hay with no access to green pasture need supplemental omega 3 fatty acids.  A good source of omega 3 is flax or chia seed. There are several good brands of ground and stabilized flax available at feed stores, or you can save money by buying whole seeds and grinding them yourself.  Avoid fat sources such as rice bran or corn oil that are high in omega 6 fatty acids.

What about vitamins? Horses grazing fresh green pasture do not need supplemental vitamins, but if your horse only eats hay, supplemental vitamin A and E should be added to the diet.

The B vitamin known as biotin is often added to hoof supplements. While the specific requirement for biotin has never been established for horses, studies have shown that the addition of 20 - 30 mg of biotin per day can improve poor hoof quality. No additional benefit has been observed from feeding biotin in higher amounts.

Ensuring that your horse gets the nutrients it needs for healthy hooves is simple. Start with quality hay or pasture, avoid feeds or supplements that add extra iron, and look for products that include at least 150 mg of copper and 450 mg of zinc per serving, with vitamin A, E and biotin.


Article provided by California Trace. For more information, visit www.californiatrace.com.