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Horse Hoof Health, Growth, and Nutrition

As the saying goes, “no hoof, no horse.”  The horse’s hoof is a vital component to soundness.  Poor health and nutrition are often reflective in that hoof health.  In many cases, the horse’s hoof is compromised in one form or another, leading and contributing to soundness issues.  Most horse owners are aware of whether or not their horse’s feet or hooves are in proper health or could use some conditioning.  One of the biggest deterrents to acquiring true hoof health is time and nutrition.  

A high percentage of horse lameness conditions are linked directly back to the foot, actually upwards of 90%.  A veterinarian or owner may diagnose a problem in the fetlock, hock, stifle, lower back or even have repetitive tendon injuries, but in reality, most of the time the hoof is involved.  How can that be, one might ask?

The hoof is an elastic structure, bending and flexing with movement.  It also aids in shock absorption and assists with proper blood circulation in the limb.  When the hoof is not in balance, weight is improperly placed on the foot, shock absorption may be impaired, and things become imbalanced. This lack of proper movement, flexion, and shock absorption then leads to more stress and strain in other areas of the body including the joints and tendons.  So, it is not uncommon to have a horse with a chronic suspensory injury or even hock osteoarthritis with noticeable hoof imbalance or poor hoof growth.

The improper hoof health and imbalances lead to common conditions including:

Despite understanding the basic physics involved, most fail to give the hoof or foot the attention it deserves.  In some cases, the hoof imbalance or poor health is not recognized.  In others, the problems are noted, but covered up with shoes or other appliances in order to weather the storm.  One main reason for the application of shoes to remedy the problem is that many do not wish to dedicate the time and attention to nutrition to aid in proper hoof growth.  One can cover up the problem with shoes, creating a more secure foot with altered angles almost immediately, but in reality the problem still exists.

How do you fix the problem?

If you have ongoing lameness issues, whether if they involve the foot, joint, or a tendon, the payoffs to paying attention to the hoof are huge.  Does this take time?  Sure, but all good things come with time. If you truly want that problem to be remedied in the best manner possible, for long term health and soundness, they you have to dedicate the time and attention.

There are many factors involved with hoof health and include:

  • Genetics
  • Dietary factors
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • Circulation
  • Footing and surface
  • Farrier work

All of these factors play critical roles in hoof health.  One cannot just apply one and expect results, but more so it is a combination of events working together.  For the sake of this discussion, we will be focusing on nutrition and gastrointestinal factors.

Digestion, The Gut, Nutrition and Hoof Health

One of the first things most horse owners think of when it comes to a cracking hoof or general poor hoof growth is nutrition.  This is correct, but the next question comes as to how does one accomplish this?  The first thing that comes to mind is a ‘balanced’ diet, but in reality this concept is based on synthetic based vitamin/mineral supplements.  That is one way to provide for your horse and it does help many, but despite, a high percentage of horses fail to show improvement and continue to have hoof issues.

Nutrition comes in many forms, but mainly most label it as synthetic or whole food based.  Most processed commercial feeds and supplements utilize synthetic or chemically created nutrients, in their isolated form.  This approach may be acceptable for some, but generally speaking it is truly lacking.  Food is more than the nutrients that it contains.  In whole food, true foods, one not only gains vitamin and minerals to boost and support health, but there are many phytonutrients, antioxidant compounds, nitrates, and even prebiotic potential to foods that are not included in the average commercial feed or supplement.  These extra benefits of food are what makes it so incredible and so valuable to health.  The phytonutrients contained within that food, co-factors, aid in nutrient utilization, digestion, and even impact circulation.  To compare whole foods with synthetic based nutrition is like comparing an apple to a vitamin C tablet.  There is no comparison.

Working with OTTB’s for many years in rehabilitation, I see the damage created in the hoof by years of excessive graining, medications, improper shoeing, and stress.  A high percentage of the horses that come into our facility have been on hoof supplements, commercial feeds with added nutrients, and synthetic based supplements.  Simply put, those approaches did not work and in the end, the damage was covered by years of shoeing in the hope of making progress.  Another aspect to the challenge in recovering some of these OTTB’s is that their gastrointestinal tract is severely damaged, sometimes beyond repair.  This impacts nutrient absorption, utilization, circulation, and overall inflammatory status of the horse.

When we first started working with the OTTB cases, I quickly began to realize that nutrition was something they needed at a much higher level than previously thought.  The stress and damage to the body was taking a toll, not just on hoof health, but overall health.  We had to truly provide for the body and give it what it needed to heal. The solution was beyond just providing high quality roughage, pasture turnout and whole food grains.  That was a good start, but still the desired plane of nutrition was not achieved.  This is when we created and began to use a whole food blend in these patients with two goals: providing sound nutrition from a variety of food sources and aid in balancing the hindgut along with digestion.

Nutrition and the Gut

Proper nutrition is needed to keep the body moving and aid in tissue health and repair.  There is no question.  However, proper gastrointestinal function is a vital component and if digestive function is impaired, then nutrient absorption will be impaired.  Digestive function and nutrition work hand in hand.  This may explain why so many owners struggle to gain results not just in hoof health but in body condition or tendon repair.  Even with both in full play, time is also needed as healing does not happen over time and the hoof requires 4-6 months to fully regrow.

Commercial feeds provide isolated nutrients, but lack in vital cofactors, natural antioxidant compounds, nitrates for circulation and even prebiotic compounds to support gastrointestinal health.  In some cases, the commercial feeds, due to the synthetics, sugars, and preservatives added may actually contribute to more gut problems.  This may then exacerbate poor nutrient absorption.

If your horse is continuing to have hoof health problems, then a new approach is needed.  Ideally, a whole food approach to gain maximal benefits.

EQ Rejuvenate and Hoof Health

The formula that we use heavily in our rehabilitation patients is the Cur-OST EQ Rejuvenate, which was created early in program to directly assist those patients.  This whole food supplement not only provides a nice vitamin/mineral base with plant based protein, but it also contains natural prebiotic fibers, brewer’s yeast beta-glucans and a hops extract to assist with gastrointestinal health and the microbiome.  This is a high dose formula that can provide significant benefits to the patient on many levels.

When it comes to hoof health and bad feet, we have seen the worst of the worst.  Many are track related issues stemming from diet, stress, and medications.  Others are metabolic related and connected to laminitis.

Horse Hoof Health and Nutrition
Horse Hoof Health and Nutrition

Here is one example of a metabolic related patient with poor hoof growth and laminitis.  The EQ Rejuvenate was used as a part of a complete approach, including inflammation management and trimming every 2 weeks.  These results and an 80% improvement in soundness was achieved in just a little over 8 weeks, with no medications and no processed feeds or supplements.

The walls in this horse experienced significant growth in a short period of time and laminar separation is also greatly improved as the hoof capsule grows down.  Sole depth and quality is also improved, which then greatly contributes to increased soundness.  This is just one step in a multi-step program, but results were quickly achieved.  Providing whole food nutrition and addressing the hindgut has paid big dividends for this horse.

The Benefits of Whole Food Nutrition

  • Natural nutrient dense with macro and micronutrients
  • Natural co-factors to enhance nutrient absorption and utilization
  • Phytochemicals to boost antioxidant protection and medicinal value
  • Prebiotic fibers and starches to support a healthy GI microbiome
  • Natural nitrates to support healthy circulation

Taking the Next Step

Diet and nutrition are critical components to health and soundness for your horse.  In today’s equine society, it is very easy to reach for a popular commercial feed with added nutrients.  This can provide benefits for some horses, but many suffer deficiencies on a higher level that cannot be remedied by continuing to add one supplement to the next.  Take the challenge and move towards a whole food approach for your horse, enhance the digestive tract, and see the differences it can make.  All things are tied together, but by making this a part of your complete program, results may be more within reach than you realize.

At Nouvelle Research, Inc., we are dedicated to assisting you and your horse.  Let us know how we can help you today!


Author:  Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN


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