A common phrase used in the equine industry is “no hoof, no horse.” The hooves have many crucial jobs – bearing weight, shock absorption, blood flow, etc. – therefore, when we neglect to optimize hoof health, it can be detrimental to the horse’s general well-being and performance.

There are a variety of factors that play a role in hoof health such as genetics, the environment and nutrition. A commonly reported nutritional deficiency symptom is weak or brittle hooves, so a balanced diet is essential.

Here we look at the impact that nutrition has on hoof health, as well as provide tips on optimal nutrition plans.


When evaluating a nutrition program, the first step is to ensure that the horse’s caloric requirements are being met. When a horse is deficient in energy, their body will prioritize the basic functions. However, when energy is over-supplied it can also be detrimental to hoof health, so balance is key.

When a horse is over-supplied with energy, their body condition (weight) will increase, and they will eventually become obese. This increases their risk of developing laminitis – a painful condition in the hoof. Regular body condition scoring of your horse can provide you with information on how their energy requirements are being met by the current program.

When additional energy is required in the equine diet, adding an energy-dense fat source (vegetable oils, rice bran, flax seeds, soybeans) is a popular method to increase the caloric content. In relation to hoof health, fats in the diet have also been suggested to play a role in improving the hoof wall barrier.


A significant portion of the hoof is composed of keratin – a protein. Proteins are composed of many amino acids and for the horse, 10 of these amino acids are considered essential. This means that they must be supplied in the diet so when curating a diet supportive of hoof health, the protein requirement must be adequately met through feeding quality legume hay and/or grass pasture with the possible addition of soybean, canola, or linseed meal.

However, as with most other nutrients, too much of a good thing is often not the answer. When protein is over-supplied in the diet, the horse must excrete that excess urea and nitrogen in the urine. For horses that are at risk of dehydration or those with kidney problems, excess protein can be detrimental. Therefore, when looking to optimize a diet for hoof health, it is always best to have your hay tested. With a forage analysis, you will know exactly how much crude protein your horse is consuming and whether an additional protein source is required.

Vitamins and Minerals

Once the basic energy and protein requirements have been met, focusing on the nutrients required in smaller quantities is next. Vitamins and minerals essential to hoof health include zinc, copper, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin B7 (also known as biotin).

Zinc and copper both play a role in keratin protein synthesis and the bonds within the keratin. Calcium is important for the cells in the hoof horn, it has been reported that when there is a lack of calcium in the diet the hooves can be weaker. Additionally, when discussing minerals, ratios are extremely important as minerals often work in groups and have complex interactions. For example, when phosphorus is over-supplied in the diet and there is a skewed calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, the horse’s absorption of calcium will be negatively impacted.

In commercial hoof supplements, you will also frequently see biotin included. Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin; therefore, the horse will simply excrete what is supplemented in excess. However, there is positive research supporting the use of biotin for hoof health. Since biotin contains sulfur, it plays a role in the strength of the connective tissues in the hoof wall.

Hoof Nutrition Research

Most nutrition science regarding the equine hoof is based on relatively old research; following are a few more recent studies and a brief summary of their findings:

A study published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science by Ott and Johnson of the University of Florida entitled Effect of trace mineral proteinates on growth and skeletal and hoof development in yearling horses looked at 15 yearlings (nine Thoroughbreds and six Quarter Horses) used in a feeding trial to determine whether proteinated trace minerals were better utilized than inorganic trace minerals. Hoof samples were collected at the start and completion of the experiment and it was found that hoof growth was greater in the yearlings fed the mineral proteinate vs the inorganic minerals. Colts had greater hoof growth than fillies and while diet and gender did not affect hoof strength, Quarter Horses had stronger hooves than Thoroughbreds.

A newer hoof strength study conducted in Mexico City on 2022 compared two types of horse diets ‒ silage/oat hay and commercial concentrate/oat hay ‒ and their impact on hoof tensile strength. The objective of this study was to compare the differences in the mineral concentrations of sodium (Na), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), zinc (Zn), and Iron (Fe) between two diets. Thirty-two Spanish horses were divided into two groups; both diets were provided for 12 months and readings were taken from hoof clippings. Mg and Fe levels were higher in the silage than in the commercial concentrate, but the hoof Mg, K and Na were higher in horses fed with concentrate. Hoof Mg, Zn, K and tensile strength were also influenced by the hormonal stage, as geldings presented lower hoof tensile strength than intact males (but this may be due to the tendency of intact males to be heavier due to testosterone).

Overall, there are a variety of factors that play a role in hoof health to avoid chipping, cracking, slow growth, softness, etc,, but balanced nutrition is crucial! If your horse has poor hoof health, consult a qualified equine nutritionist to ensure that their diet is balanced prior to pursuing additional commercial supplements. If adjustments are needed, they can formulate a detailed plan tailored to that particular horse.

The equine hoof takes time to grow, so remember that when diet changes are made, it will take time for them to be visually noticeable.