“We ask an awful lot of an animal who walks around on his middle toenails”-Karen Briggs. There are several well-known factors that affect a horse’s hoof quality, which includes:
Expanding on the above information further, young horse’s hooves grow faster than older horses’ hooves. Hind hooves grow faster than front in foals and weanlings, but less difference is seen in yearlings and older! Growth slows in winter. Growth is faster in wet environments, and slower in dry. Counter-irritants are unproven to affect growth rate, yet a fever can increase the rate short-term! Nutrition bas been shown to be capable of promoting healthy hoof growth. Most published research has been done on Biotin, including a major study involving 42 Lipizzaner horses.
We can’t do much about the weather, age or genetics, but horse owners can ensure proper levels of key nutrients that can help promote healthy hoof growth for your horse. These include Biotin, Methionine (and other amino acids, particularly sulfur-bearing amino acids), Essential fatty acids (vegetable fats and oils, from quality sources), Fat soluble Vitamin A, C, E, and Zinc.
Biotin: Also known as vitamin B7, is water soluble and some low levels of it is nearly always present in the typical horse feed. It is also synthesized by the horse’s gut bacteria, but some horses may absorb it poorly for unknown reasons. Biotin is a coenzyme in the metabolism of fatty acids and leucine. In Europe, it may be known as Vitamin H which is German for ‘haar und haut’ (hair and skin). Biotin is the most frequently researched of all hoof-related nutrients. The result is that Biotin (alone) sometimes works great, and sometimes does not! This interesting result strongly suggests that there are multiple causes of poor hoof growth; a Biotin supplement alone cannot ‘do it all’. A large study involving 42 Lipizzaner horses was undertaken in Switzerland in 1995, and the conclusion was that nearly all supplemented horses showed “small but significant” improvement.1
Methionine: An amino acid, methionine also contains sulfur, needed for sulfur linkages between other amino acids. Many amino acids linked together form a protein…keratin is an example. Of all amino acids, methionine is considered crucial for healthy hoof development. Methionine however, is not the only amino acid to consider. It is just one of the 22 ‘standard’ amino acids. Feeding gelatin to promote healthy hooves is an old-time horse trainer’s method, for clear reasons!
Vitamins A, C and E: Vitamins A and E are required for keratin formation and Vitamin C may promote healthy cell membranes, particularly in the cells generating the new hoof tissue.
Zinc: Zinc is supplied in two forms: as an ionic salt and as the gluconate. Zinc deficiency is proven to ‘depress utilization of amino acids and sulfur’ by the horse, which as we’ve already seen is critical for healthy hoof growth. An excellent article on nutritional supplements for hooves, including Zinc specifically, by Eleanor Kellon, VMD, can be found online.2
Essential Fatty Acids: EFA’s can be found in 3 natural vegetable oil sources including: Wheat germ oil, Olive Oil and Flax Seed meal. It is important to have a blend that covers all sources of fats and oils that reach the optimal level of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid ratio. These are top quality oils. Good quality oils in the diet may help promote healthy hooves via mild anti-inflammatory action, cell membrane protection, and inclusion in the keratin hoof matrix, not unlike a natural water proofing component. Published research showed a change in hoof properties (but not growth rate) in a group of horses given evening primrose oil, compared to a control group.3
1Equine Vet J. 1995 May; 27(3):183-91
Histological and physical assessment of poor hoof horn quality in Lipizzaner horses and a therapeutic trial with biotin and a placebo.
Zenker W, Josseck H, Geyer H.
Institute of Veterinary Anatomy, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
3Equine Vet J Suppl. 1998 Sep; (26): 58-65
Effect of a supplementary dietary evening primrose oil mixture on hoof growth, hoof growth rate and hoof lipid fractions in horses: a controlled and blinded trial.
Reilly JD, Hopegood L, Gould L, Devismes L.