No hoof, no horse!
The equine foot is a complex alignment of bones, tendons and ligaments, which undergo an extraordinary amount of stress and strain, both at rest and exercise. Problems within the foot can easily and regularly occur. Keeping our horses’ feet healthy should be at the forefront of any owner’s mind. A great relationship with a regular and consistent farrier is key, but there are plenty of things we can be doing ourselves, in between shoeing or trims.
- Firstly, ask your farrier those burning questions. How are the feet looking this time? Worse, better than last time? Do you think the 6 weekly trims are working? Do we shorten the cycle during summer? The more rapport you have with your farrier the more assistance you will have to keep those feet in tip top condition. No question is a silly question and I guarantee any good farrier will be happy to give advice and help. Keeping your horse on a regular trimming/shoeing schedule can help prevent any nasty hoof cracks from appearing.
- Feeding is a huge factor for all round hoof health and is completely unique to your horse. A great starting point is to feed your horse an overall balanced diet, and provide the best nutritional conditions to grow strong, healthy hooves. While good quality hay and decent grass should contain all the vitamins a horse needs, it often doesn’t provide optimal levels of minerals. Zinc and copper deficiencies are particularly common in horses and directly impact hoof health. Zinc deficiencies are associated with slow hoof growth, thin hoof walls and weak hoof horn while Low copper levels have been linked to cracked hooves. Think about where you can add these minerals to the diet (check your balancer).
If you really want to supercharge the vitamin offering in your horse’s diet, Vitamin E is a great place to start; this builds keratin, which is the major structural protein in a horse’s hooves, coat and skin. Fatty acids are also important for healthy hoof growth, so a good balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 in your horse’s diet will give them the best chance.
- Take care when adding specifically targeted ‘hoof’ or ‘foot’ supplements to your horse’s diet. Nutrients work together in a way that adding more than the needed amount could throw off the balance of total nutrients. “As an example, a common targeted hoof supplement like biotin has shown little scientific evidence of increasing hoof growth if the horse isn’t in fact deficient of biotin to start off with. While biotin does support natural hoof growth, biotin will not necessarily make it grow faster. As such, adding extra biotin to your horse’s diet will most likely only be effective, if your horse actually has a biotin deficiency.” [Helle Maigaard Erhardsen. 2021]
- Shod or barefoot, your horse should be encouraged to move as much as possible. Walking on varied terrain is important, in order to naturally harden your horse’s hooves and stimulate frogs. As well as regular exercise, your horse would ideally benefit from a paddock setup that imitates a life in the wild – or as close to this as possible. Think large open spaces, varying surfaces, multiple feeding stations and tracks in and around your pasture.
- Finally, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of oil to moisturise and keep hooves looking great. Aqueous cream is also great as it really penetrates to moisturise and keeps heels smooth while allowing exfoliation. Oils and creams are great to have and I’d liken them to wearing moisturiser yourself, they keep the outside looking how the inside should feel – the root of hoof health always comes from maintenance, diet and activity.