Hoof health is essential all year round, but the changing seasons can have a significant impact on your horse’s hooves. In this seasonal blog post, we look at caring for the health and integrity of your horse’s hooves during potentially the most challenging season – winter.
Environmental conditions such as wet, muddy, and frozen ground can have adverse effects on horse’s hooves so it’s important to try to protect them as best you can with the right care and prevention.
The right nutrition is crucial in winter and throughout the year to create strong, healthy hooves so it’s important to ensure your horse is receiving a balanced diet which supplies key nutrients:
Energy and Protein are the two most limiting nutrients for hoof health and growth and if they are not supplied sufficiently hoof quality will be poor. Ensuring the diet provides the right energy balance is, therefore, essential to maintain hoof integrity.
A winter diet made up of good quality forage should ensure energy needs are met well, but if your horse is working harder, additional feed may be needed to provide sufficient calories to maintain good energy levels.
Protein is vital for healthy hoof formation all year round. Hooves are made up of protein and keratin, a specialised sulphur rich protein which is the same protein responsible for our own hair and nails. Amino acids provide the building blocks for proteins so it’s important to ensure the diet provides these.
There are 10 essential amino acids (including the 3 major limiting amino acids, Lysine, methionine, and threonine), which horses are unable to make themselves and need to be supplied as part of a fully balanced diet.
Methionine in particular is a key part of good hoof structure and formation because it provides a source of sulphur, which is essential for producing keratin. Methionine can also be used to produce the sulphur rich amino acid cysteine, which along with cystine is also vital in hoof horn formation.
Good dietary sources of protein in winter include good quality hay and haylage, linseed meal, alfalfa, and chia seeds. Good quality protein can also be supplied through a high specification balancer or hoof supplement.
Biotin is one of the most well-known nutrients when it comes to good hoof health. This sulphur rich B Vitamin is a vital for the production of Keratin for strong, healthy hoof horn and has a key role in tissue growth and maintenance.
Biotin and other key B Vitamins for hoof health are actually produced through fermentation of forage by the microbes in your horse’s hindgut. Ensuring your horses hindgut microbes are happy and healthy will help them produce all the essential B vitamins your horse needs.
A compromised microbe population won’t be able to do this, so it’s important to ensure they are supported through the right nutrition. A diet rich in varied forage can help develop a healthy microbial population, alongside pro and pre-biotics to support and nurture beneficial gut microbes.
Research has shown that providing around 20mg of Biotin daily can help hooves to strengthen and grow but to be fully effective it needs to be provided with other nutrients such as methionine and zinc.
Biotin and its co-nutrients can be provided through a good balancer or hoof supplement, but it is important to be aware that hoof horn can take 9 to 12 months to grow down fully from the coronet band, so horses with poor hoof quality will need to be fed it all year round.
There are a number of vitamins and minerals with vital roles within hoof health and formation. Essential minerals include zinc, copper, manganese, sulphur and calcium which all have a structural role within the hoof wall and support cell function and proliferation for optimum hoof growth.
Vitamins A, E, C, and the B vitamin niacin are also important for hoof health and integrity. A balanced diet consisting of good quality, varied forage fed alongside a good balancer or hoof supplement will help ensure you provide your horse with all these essential micronutrients.
Fats play a pivotal role because they retain the natural moisture and pliability of the hoof wall, resist the absorption of water from the environment and prevent bacteria and fungi from entering the hoof horn all of which is essential during winter.
Fats contain both Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, but horses need a higher level of Omega 3 fatty acids for optimum health. Omega 3 fatty acids have numerous benefits associated with their anti-inflammatory properties and help support strong, well growing hooves.
Good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include fresh grass but when this is lacking in winter, they can be provided through linseed meal or oil.
Although hoof growth is generally slower in winter, regular visits from qualified hoof care professional are still essential to optimise hoof health. Always make sure your horse’s hooves are checked for abrasions and cracks and picked out regularly to remove mud and other debris.
If your horse is stabled for long periods over the winter, pick out any wet bedding and ensure this is kept clean and dry to help prevent infection and thrush. If your horse is shod, snow can often ball up in the sole so this should also be removed when necessary.
The horse’s hoof is believed to be strongest when it has a stable moisture content of 25%. However, this is difficult to maintain, especially in wet winter conditions. When the hoof is exposed to excessive amounts of water, moisture floods the hoof structures, weakening the hoof horn.
Wet conditions can also cause the hoof wall to expand and contract allowing bacteria to invade the capsule, where they can multiply and produce a painful abscess.
Additionally, cold, icy weather can mean paddocks will freeze, causing the ground to become extremely hard and result in bruising to the soles of the horse’s feet. Most common winter related hoof problems can be avoided with FormaHoof.
FormaHoof protects your horse’s hooves from absorbing large volumes of water whilst creating a clean, moist environment where the hoof can stay naturally hydrated and maintain a healthy moisture balance, helping to keep common winter conditions like thrush, cracks and abscesses at bay.
FormaHoof has been tested in sandy deserts, over rocks and mountains to the snowy alps and provides proven benefits to your horse during winter month. FormaHoof can provide much needed protection as part of a winter hoof care regime to help combat the many challenges of winter.
The unique application means the sole and hoof capsule are protected and supported when the ground is hard, helping horses to cope better in tough, frozen conditions.
In particularly snowy and icy conditions, the Traction application is perfect for providing excellent grip. Studs can be added directly into the application for even more grip if needed.
Storing your FormaHoof Advanced Polymer correctly, at room temperature, prior to the application process is key to a successful winter application.
Snowballs appear as snow when the warm hoof touches the ground and re-freezes when touching the cold metal of the shoe. FormaHoof imitates the perfect natural barefoot and is non-metallic, whilst snowballs are a problem for horses with shoes, no snowballs build up in a FormaHoof application.
Many factors can affect hoof growth and quality, with winter posing a variety of challenges. However, with the right nutrition, care and protection, you can help maintain healthy hooves even in the worst wintery conditions.