Welcome to our monthly feature, “Ask a Farrier,” a Q and A with farrier Karen McMann. Karen has been a full-time farrier for 17 years. She graduated in 2002 from the Canadian School of Horseshoeing, where she studied under Pat Cullen. She serves on the Advisory Board of Equi-Health Canada and Equi-First Aid USA as a Farrier/Hoof Health Support specialist. She lives and works outside of Okotoks, Alberta.
This month’s question is:
Q. Does my horse need extra supplements for his feet?
A. There are a few factors to consider before deciding to add more to your horse’s diet. Genetics, breed, exercise, nutrition and environment, all play a role in hoof strength and growth. Arabians tend to have stronger feet than Thoroughbreds. Draft horses carry around a lot more weight than ponies. A working cow horse gets considerably more exercise than a brood mare. Horses raised in the Calgary area are blessed with much more sunlight than those near Vancouver.
The hoof wall is approximately 93% protein and is made up of two layers. The inner layer supplies the outer layer with oxygen and nutrients from the blood supply. The inner layer also produces a fibrous protein called keratin, which is the same protein found in our fingernails. The more keratin in a hoof, the stronger it will be.
Let’s look at the nutrients your horse does need to build strong feet:
Amino acids – the building blocks of protein. A horse’s digestive system converts plant protein into amino acids.
Methionine – an essential amino acid, which is an important element in the formation of keratin.
Biotin – a B-complex vitamin that aids in hoof growth and strength. It also improves the condition of the white line. Like all B vitamins, biotin is water soluble and not stored in body fat; therefore it must be present in a horse’s daily diet. A horse with healthy feet will get enough biotin from grass or hay.
Zinc – essential for proper growth, skeletal soundness and a healthy immune system. A horse requires at least 400 mg daily, but zinc can cause copper deficiencies if fed in excess, so consult your vet or nutritionist before adding extra zinc to your horse’s feed.
Vitamin A – plays an important role in bone formation, tissue maintenance, hoof wall growth and strength. It also helps maintain a healthy vascular system. Vitamin A is found in grass and hay in the form of beta-carotene.
Vitamin D – also plays a role in bone formation because it enhances the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from the kidneys to the feet. Horses who are exposed to 4-6 hours of outdoor light will get sufficient vitamin D.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that preserves the structural integrity of the cells. It is also helpful in the treatment of exercise-induced tissue damage and muscle soreness.
It’s a good idea to talk to your vet or farrier before you decide to add anything to your horse’s diet. There are many different brands of supplements to choose from. I’d recommend one that has biotin (20mg per day to improve hoof health), zinc and methionine. You should notice your horse’s coat, mane and tail getting shinier within a couple weeks. It could take three to six months before you see any improvement in the new hoof growing down from the coronary band. In the meantime, regular visits from your farrier should keep any cracks under control.
If you have a question you’d like to ask a farrier (about horseshoeing, farriery, hoof and horse health, blacksmith tools, working as a farrier, etc.), leave it in the comments below. Every month, we’ll pick one question to answer in our feature.