The equine foot is a miracle of engineering and a design that is unique in the animal kingdom. Why the equine foot evolved the way it did is a bit of a mystery, but one clear thing is that the form of the horse is best suited to brief spurts of speed while the vast majority of the time the horse spent walking and grazing.
The hour or so a day working a stall-kept horse may be far less total time than a feral horse spends moving around, but much more time in trot/canter higher speeds, and therefore higher impact on the hoof.
It has been estimated that 60 to 80% of lameness issues in horses originate in the hoof. If you also include issues higher in the leg that are influenced by hoof form and imbalances, it is likely to be well over 90%.
The hoof wall should hug the internal structures like a sock hugs a human foot. If it doesn’t, consequences for movement and soundness range from the equivalent of trying to move in a clown-foot shoe to Asian foot binding – and many problems in between.
Faulty nutrition isn’t the only factor in hoof-quality problems, but it’s a big player. While genetics and faulty care are also involved, adequate nutrition can make the difference between the hoof with a potential for problems, and one that actually develops them.
Inadequate protein in general, or deficient methionine, limits the ability to produce the hoof wall’s structural protein, keratin.
Also necessary for keratin production are vitamin B6 and folic acid. Biotin has also been shown to be important for both good growth and quality.
On the mineral front, calcium, zinc and copper are particularly important for the functioning of enzymes needed to produce keratin and infection resistance.
Often overlooked, fat is very important to hoof health and integrity. Horses eating hay rather than fresh vegetation are consuming 50% less fat. Be sure to include the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, as these must come from the diet. Supplementing fat can change the fatty composition in the hoof, and often has a visibly obvious beneficial effect on the feet.
by Eleanor Kellon, VMD