We ask a lot of four bits of toenail carrying 1,000 pounds plus of lively animal, frequently with an additional 120 to 300 pounds on its back. Luckily, hoof horn is made of a highly modified, specialized, and tough material called keratin, a fibrous protein common to hair, fingernails, and rhinoceros horns. Keratin is produced by the coronary band at a rate between six and 10 millimetres (.25 and .40 inches) per month; thus, it takes between nine and 12 months to grow an entirely new hoof. Growth rate depends on a number of factors including:
Age: Foals’ and yearlings’ hooves grow fastest, about 12-15 mm per month; mature horses, as noted above; and aged horses, about six mm per month.
Breed: Some breeds tend to grow thicker, stronger hoof horn than others. Arabians, for example, are known for their dense, hard hoof walls, while some Thoroughbreds produce more fragile horn. There is tremendous individual variation within any breed, however.
Metabolism: Like people, horses have different metabolic rates, which can be increased with exercise. The higher the horse’s metabolism, the faster the hoof growth.
Injury and illness: Fever can retard hoof growth and even deform the horn. Also, horses that are lame in one foot will often have different growth rates in each hoof. The hoof that is in pain tends to grow more quickly than the sound hoof, possibly due to increased circulation in the painful limb, or due to increased weight-bearing on the healthy hoof.
Weather: Hooves usually grow faster in warm weather and slower in cold. Environmental moisture will also increase hoof growth, so spring is often a season with the most rapid growth.
Nutrition: Several dietary elements need to be in good supply in the horse’s diet to grow good-quality hoof horn. If the horse’s regular diet does not supply them in sufficient quantities, supplementation may be necessary.
Feeding the Feet
Generally speaking, a horse that has a balanced and sufficient diet does not need anything else specifically for the feet. That said, some horses do indeed need a little extra help. This can be due to their genetic propensities or low dietary levels of some nutrients.
A deficiency of protein in the diet, for example, can have an adverse effect on hoof growth, with weaker horn and a slower growth rate. Close attention should be paid to the nutrition of young, growing horses and lactating broodmares, which have very high protein requirements. Various amino acids are considered particularly significant for hoof growth. Methionine and cysteine, in particular, have been the focus of considerable research attention because they both contain sulphur, an essential element in the production of keratin. Methionine is an essential amino acid (meaning the horse can’t synthesize it himself and must consume it in his diet) so it is an important element to test for in diet analyses. These amino acids are believed to work synergistically with biotin, probably the most significant dietary supplement proven to improve hoof growth. Lysine has received some attention due to its role in young horse growth; however, it does not seem to have a significant effect on hoof growth.
Calcium, another important nutrient in the formation of bones, muscles, teeth and other structures, is also important to hoof growth. Horses fed a diet high in phosphorus and low in calcium (perhaps with lots of grain and bran and low quantities of hay) can suffer a calcium deficiency. In one British study, a number of horses fed oats, bran and grass hay showed a 22 per cent to 25 per cent improvement in the amount of horn they grew over a period of nine months after half of their grass hay was replaced with high-calcium and high-protein alfalfa hay. Supplementation is an alternative to feeding alfalfa where it is not readily available or the horse is on a low-glycemic diet.
Zinc is a trace mineral that is involved with growth rates and healing throughout the body. However, similar to the calcium-phosphorus ratio, zinc is only effective when used in conjunction with the correct ratio of copper. Both minerals must be supplemented in the correct ratio to rectify a deficiency. The form of zinc in the diet may have some relevance, as chelated zinc may produce results when inorganic zinc does not work. Chelated zinc contains zinc bound to an amino acid, and the zinc is absorbed with the protein, which is believed to enhance absorption. Most hoof supplements contain chelated or organic zinc. Deficiencies in zinc may be caused by malabsorption problems, diarrhea or chronic liver or renal disease.
Biotin is a B vitamin that is produced in the horse’s gut in sufficient quantity to satisfy his basic nutritional needs, but some horses with poor-quality hooves appear to need supplemental quantities of this vitamin. In one study, in which half of 42 horses were fed biotin at 20 mg/day, improvement in hoof quality was first noted six months after the study began, with the best results after 14 months. Improvement was measured as a decreased incidence of cracks, less crumbling of the horn, and a higher tensile strength. Hoof horn quality continued to improve as the period extended beyond 18 months. This study did not show an increased hoof growth rate; however, other studies have. Reilly et al. (1998) used a higher dose rate for half the ponies in a controlled feeding trial. After five months, the treated ponies had a significantly higher growth rate of hoof horn (15 per cent). This effect may be attributed to the higher dose of biotin used, which translated to about 60 mg/day in a 500 kg horse. Biotin is readily available and has no known side-effects. Given the slow rate of horn growth, your farrier may not notice the effects until most of the hoof is comprised of the new growth.
Finally, supplementation with essential fatty acids can encourage the development of a healthy periople, the permeable barrier on the outside of the hoof that prevents drying and cracking. The body can synthesize most of the fats it needs from diet. However, two essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha-linolenic, cannot be synthesized in the body and must be obtained from food. These basic fats are used to build specialized fats called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Flaxseed (linseed), canola, and olive oils are excellent sources.
Most hoof supplements contain some or all of the above dietary elements. Good nutrition is a crucial part of maintaining healthy feet and the supplementation of these ingredients have been proven to encourage both the growth rate and quality of hoof horn. Of course, more research is needed to determine optimal dosages, and also why some horses may require these additional quantities of certain nutrients for growing healthy feet. In general, though, supplements are both safe to feed and, along with good care and farriery, may give your horse the best toenails possible to walk on.
HOOF PRODUCTS AND SUPPLEMENTS
Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength
A pelleted hoof supplement that provides nutrients such as phospholipids, omega fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and important amino acids required for building strong hoof capsule and fast growth of the hoof wall, sole, frog, and heel.
11 lbs $89.95
A pelleted hoof supplement that contains 7.5 mg of biotin plus lysine, methionine, and other essential amino acids along with calcium, phosphorus, chelated copper and zinc and omega-e and omega-6 fatty acids.
38 lb bucket $82.95 USD
A feed additive out of Ireland containing calcium carbonate, methionine, dried yeast, MSN dextrose, biotin, zinc oxide, copper, and an amino acid complex.
The ultimate source of essential minerals, trace elements, vitamins and antioxidants in one convenient highly bioavailable form. Essential for healthy bone, ligaments and hooves.
500g $49.50 / 1 kg $86.50
A biotin, methionine, and organic zinc supplement formulated specifically to increase hoof growth and integrity. Research has demonstrated that hoof integrity is directly related to zinc content in the hoof wall. Contains no added selenium and will not unbalanced existing rations.
3 kg $42.75 / 10 kg $102.75
A liquid conditioner that softens, heals, and stimulates rapid hoof growth.
450 ml $22.50
Hoofheal From Cut-Heal®
A super-penetrating, easy-brush-on conditioner that achieves long-lasting moisture balance. Antibacterial and anti-fungal to help prevent infection. Aids in preventing and eliminating thrush and keeps coronary band, heel, sole and frog healthy.
473 ml $34.95 / 946 ml $54.50
Straight Arrow® Hoofmaker™
Protein-rich formula that you apply with your hands. Safe and biodegradable.
907 gm w/Pump $15.95 170 gm tube $4.95
Essential amino acids, biotin, omega fatty acids, and trace minerals supply the nutrients necessary to support soft skin, strong hooves, and a beautiful hair coat. Maintains strong keratin bonds within the hoof, reducing the incidence of cracks, crumbling walls, and thin soles.
25 lbs $252
Right Balance Equine Treats & Supplements
A palatable, digestible source of organic zinc (Zinpro®) essential for optimum hoof, skin and coat health, formulated to provide a nutritious, natural supplement for your horse. Improves cell reproduction, hoof condition, immune response, wound healing and skeletal soundness.
5 lb tub $56
Equi-Pak™ Hoof Packing
This pad/packing material – a liquid urethane – bonds directly onto the sole and frog and sets in 30 seconds. Can be used with or without a pad for comfort, protection, therapeutic support, and shock and concussion absorption.
With several points of articulation and angular stress of the supporting tendons, hooves sustain tremendous amounts of force. TRI-ACTA joint supplements help reduce inflammation and maintain proper conformation by protecting the integrity of articulating cartilage, tendon-bone attachment and synovial fluid.
1 kg $119.99
A complete mineral and vitamin supplement formulated to provide optimal hoof condition and health. Provides biotin levels clinically proven to improve hoof quality.
5 kg $46.00 / 20 kg $125.00
For those horses that need extra fortification:
5 kg $65 / 20 kg $220
Keratex Nail Hole Damage Repair and Hoof Putty
Simply squirt this instant cleansing and repairing solution into new, old, or stressed-looking nail holes. Combine with Keratex disinfecting Hoof Putty as an effective solution for puncture wounds.
Solution 200 ml $45
Carr & Day Daily Hoof Dressing and Ointment
The world’s original hoof ointment is also available in an easy brush-on formula. Ideal for maintenance of all hoof types.
Dressing 500 ml
250 ml $26.50/500 ml $36.95
Sturdy, durable, lightweight, and safe, the Hoofjack® comes complete with cradle, straight post, magnets to hold your tools, and an instructional DVD. Available in sizes for the smallest mini to the largest draft. Use for picking, bandaging, trimming, rasping, shoeing, and more.
All prices are approximate or SRP in Canadian dollars and subject to change.