Hoof Corner: Hooves and Nutrition and the problem we're seeing...

by James & Yvonne Welz ©2008

This is a huge topic, one that could fill a book. Please read all the nutrition books, and seek info from every available source. Educate yourself about nutrition in the same way that you are educating yourself about hoof care. There is no substitute for this vital and necessary information. But be prepared for confusion. Once you have done your research, you will then be astounded at the differences of opinion - often violently so - when it comes to "correct" equine nutrition. Very simply put, there is NOT "one correct way" to feed horses.

While we can break down the nutritional requirements of an equine into mathematical figures, the truth is, there are many different paths to providing those requirements to the horse. Equines are hugely adaptable to a wide variety of diets - some good, and some not so good, yet the horses still manage to survive, and in some cases, even thrive. It is part of their inherent physiology - they had to quickly adapt to whatever was available, wherever they were, or they would die. Once you understand the horse's basic requirements, the details of what you feed - or don't feed - will then be a matter of your personal opinion. We do have some basic guidelines outlined here: The Horse's Hoof Diet Guidelines

The problem that we are now seeing is that "nutrition" is being blamed for a wide variety of barefoot problems that are actually caused by poor or inadequate trimming.

Yes, there are often cases where nutrition plays a key role, especially if there are mineral deficiencies or imbalances. There are some horses that have severe metabolic problems, and hooves cannot improve without a nutrition program to address this. Then there is the simple fact that a horse who is overweight will put extra stress upon its hooves. Don't let your horses get overweight!

HOWEVER, what has been frustrating to us is to receive so many calls for help from horseowners seeking an answer to their ongoing or recurring hoof problems (even after being barefoot for many, many years). They are usually looking for nutrition advice, or some chemical or product to fix their problem. However, their provided photos display trims that are simply grossly inadequate. The owner was usually told by their hoof care professional that the horse had some sort of nutrition problem or fungus or etc., and that's the reason for the ongoing white line disease or whatever problem. People are soaking hooves in harsh chemicals, buying expensive supplements, laborously soaking hay, confining horses off any grass at all, and going to extremes trying to do whatever it takes to fix those hooves....

...When all the hooves need is really good, consistent trimming.

You can feed and care for your horse perfectly - but if the trim is insufficient, you are NOT going to have healthy hooves. And all the expensive supplements or/or chemical treatments in the world are not going to fix that.

If your horse is not overweight, and does not have a metabolic problem, yet they suffer from ongoing hoof problems, there is so much more to look at than just diet. Diet is hugely important, don't misunderstand! Please do clean up the diet, by all means - and if you were feeding huge amounts of grains, sugar or all-alfalfa hay, a diet improvement could really change things for the better.

Environment is crucial - probably playing a larger role than diet if the horse received a typical adequate diet of mostly grass/grass hay and vitamin/mineral supplement. Standing in urine or muck holes, extremes of climate, standing in a stall for 23 hours a day - all of these things can and do lead to poor hoof health. Exercise is key, and the more movement your horse gets, the better circulation to his hooves, and voila, better hooves.

So you've cleaned up the diet, and made sure the horse's living area is acceptable and he receives adequate exercise, but there are still hoof problems? Typically, these problems include: white line disease, seedy toe, thrush, ouchiness on gravel, hooves chipping or cracking, constant flare-ups of laminitis. Most of the time, these problems can be remedied simply with an adequate trim. How do we know? Because we have done just that, over and over again, with horses on a wide variety of diets, living in a wide variety of conditions (yes, even stalls!). What is an adequate trim? In our experience, it is our own trim, of course - that's all we know, and it just simply works. (We'll explain all these important trimming details in future articles, and be sure to read our reprints on Hoof Corner and watch the Trimcasts.)

Horses in our care do not have white line disease - if they come to us with it, it simply goes away - through trimming. They don't have thrush. We have never resorted to the use of any chemical to treat thrush, EVER. (In case you don't think thrush is a problem in the Southwest - think again, because we hear about it all the time from other area folks. And people who trim our way in wet areas of the country still don't have thrush.) Our hooves don't chip or crack, and horses that come to us with large cracks simply grow them out. If a horse comes to us with unhealthy feet, they may be tender for a while while the hoof improves, but with consistent trimming, the tenderness and/or laminitis episodes simply go away. Without endless diet adjustments, or going to extremes. If there is a nutrition or environmental issue, we will certainly advise on that. But the key is that correct, consistent trimming establishes a healthy hoof form.

Nutrition is important - it affects the entire body of the horse, not just its hooves (and so a horse with poor nutrition will show symptoms in more areas than just the feet). The trim directly affects the hoof. If you are having a hoof problem, please do not assume that the trim is unimportant! The trim is ALL IMPORTANT. (August 2008)

This area of The Horse's Hoof represents OUR own personal opinions and recommendations regarding hooves and hoof care. We are James & Yvonne Welz, owners of The Horse's Hoof Magazine and website. While the emphasis of The Horse's Hoof is to promote barefoot as a whole, and provide a place for practitioners of all methods to gather and interact, we do have our own personal way of doing things. Throughout this past decade, we have been quietly practicing barefoot horse care on hundreds of horses, ironing out what really works, and here we will share our knowledge with you.

©2008 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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