I recently had the pleasure of having lateral radiographs done of a client’s horses feet. We took them because it’s smart to have baseline rads in a younger horse for future comparisons and because he has a slightly club-like foot and I wanted to know how much lower I could take his heels.
Turns out his angles were perfect. This horse has beautiful feet on the outside, concave on the inside and is sound barefoot on nearly every surface. However, his films revealed something – in the year we’ve had him, he’s grown a much healthier, hardier foot – but the work is not done yet. His soles are still not yet thick enough to shorten his toe anymore than it is – it would drop him down onto his coffin bone.
It’s a process. It’s a process. It’s a process.
Here are nutrients found inside horses feet, borrowed from Progressive Nutritions website:
Table 1: NUTRIENTS FOUND INSIDE THE HORSE’S HOOF from high to low
Protein/Amino Acids (94%)
Carotene (Vitamin A)
Alpha-Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
Please note that biotin is LAST on this list. Protein and amino acids are FIRST, followed by fats and then SULFUR and then a slew of minerals and a few vitamins. Yet most “hoof supplements” are based on biotin.
Hoof quality, or lack thereof, is the thing I hear the most complaints about. I do trim, and I do advocate for horses being barefoot but there is a caveat – if the horse is fed correctly, a tremendous amount of improvement can be made in almost any foot. If not, you can forget about it. The single biggest hoof killer is carbohydrates. Again, the formula for a healthy horse and foot is forage and nutrition first and carbs last. If a horse is not fed correctly great feet will not happen.
My vet was thrilled with those films, as both his owner and I were. We are in this for the long haul. Another six months or so and those soles will be super thick and the toe will be able to be brought back even more. Thinking long term is critical when considering what you feed your horse. While feet get the big complaints, the most common question is “how do I put weight on my horse?” The usual answers are the answers that cause secondary problems like poor hoof quality. If you focus on only weight gain, you may sacrifice having a sound horse in the long run. I like a horse in good flesh as much as anyone does – frankly, I like mine a little fat. But I want that horse standing on good, solid feet and nothing will do that but proper nutrition.
The beautiful thing about this is that the science has been done and the questions have been answered. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Minimize carbs and provide the proper building blocks and every horse will grow a better foot. Will he trot sound on gravel like this guy? I can’t say. But if you are struggling with hoof quality, please stop feeding for weight gain or a shiny coat. You can do your own homework – there are many resources – or you can contact me and I’ll guide you through the changes in your horses diet that will improve his hoof quality. Incidentally, shiny and fat will follow right along!