The feed and the feet: how one affects the other
Diet impacts a horse’s entire body, from its mane to its hooves. When a horse owner gives feed to their horse, they are providing the horse with amino acids that help maintain strong and healthy hooves. As horses eat, the minerals and nutrients in the feed find their way to the blood supply, and the feet collect them for nourishment. If the quality or quantity of the feed is not at the recommended level, there may not be enough blood flow to the feet to allow a horse’s soles and hoof walls to develop properly. To keep hooves strong and avoid health issues, a proper diet is key.
Detecting Dietary Needs through Hooves
Shelly hooves appear to be soft, thin and unhealthy, and are a sign that a horse’s dietary needs are not being met. Horse hooves and hair are made up of proteins. When a horse lacks a proper diet, it can become protein-deficient. If horses do not replace these proteins via food, their hooves can start to break down. The easiest way to tell if a horse is lacking nutrients is first in its coat—it will lack volume and shine. Then, similar to split ends on human hair, farriers will find that the hooves will start to fray and become shelly indicating that the horse lacks amino acids.
When this happens, giving the horse amino acid supplements is a viable option. Biotin, for example, is a beneficial vitamin that can boost a horse’s health. For optimal results, give the horse Biotin with an amino acid like DL-Methionine. These two supplements work together to build new blood vessels and provide nutrients that support hoof and overall health.
While Biotin is a helpful nutrient for a horse, it’s also something a horse’s body produces on its own. Feeding Biotin as a supplement can be advantageous, but overfeeding can cause excess Vitamin B which is not advised.
If a horse’s feet become shelly due to an improper diet, horse owners and farriers can use pour-in pad materials to make horses more comfortable and contribute to a faster healing process. For shod horses, Vettec Equi-Pak works well because it absorbs shock and concussion to alleviate pressure from the hoof wall, and allows hooves to heal.
For barefoot horses, Sole-Guard serves as a firmer pad material that distributes a horse’s weight evenly across the entire hoof-bottom. It allows for faster sole growth and relieves pressure on the hoof wall.
Talk with a farrier or veterinarian about how to maintain a horse’s diet, and how pour-in pad materials can be a helpful tool to prevent weak or shelly hooves.