The Laminitis Clinic
Mead House
Wiltshire. SN15 4JA.

The material in this website is the copyright of The Laminitis Clinic it may not be reproduced without written consent.

Index page



Any serious rider knows the value of keeping their horse's feet in tip top condition. This is particularly important for distance horses which have to be shod more frequently than others. There are nutritional, environmental, genetic and iatrogenic factors which influence the health of your horse's hooves. Each carries equal importance in terms of hoof health.
Nutritional factors
It is important to realise that the hoof capsule is made of horn a keratinized epidermis, much the same as the horse's coat, mane and tail. The nutritional requirements of the hoof are the same as those for the rest of the skin. So if your horse's coat looks unhealthy due to a sub-optimal diet then the hooves will also be weaker than they could be. Similarly you cannot improve the condition of the hooves, by change in diet, without also improving the quality of the coat, mane and tail. It is now accepted that there are a large number of nutrients which the horse needs daily if its epidermis is to remain healthy. These are know as micronutrients as they are required in small quantity as opposed to the macronutrients such as protein, lipid and carbohydrate. Back in the '60's, the vitamin biotin and flowers of sulphur were the only supplements commonly used to try to improve the hoof horn of horses. A horse with a healthy hind gut does not require supplementary biotin as there is more than enough for its daily needs produced by the micro organisms living in the caecum and colon. However these days finding a horse in competition with a healthy hind gut is not so easy! Biotin alone has been shown to improve the horn quality of less than 10% of horses with poor feet. To be effective a supplement has to have a balance of particular vitamins, elements, phospholipids and amino acids to be effective. It should be realised that a supplement works best if no other additives nor balancers are given to the horse which may upset the balance of the ration. This is an important general rule applicable to all food additives. In particular owners should be very wary of mixing supplements which contain selenium as it is all too easy to give your horse a toxic dose. You should not exceed a daily dose of 3mg selenium for a 450kg horse for example. It is much safer to have your horse sampled to establish its selenium status rather than giving supplements indiscriminately.

Additionally, horses need an adequate supply of good quality protein and calcium to maintain healthy hooves. Alfalfa is the ideal way of providing these at a rate of 2.5kg of dried alfalfa per 450kg bodyweight per day. Horses with flat feet and collapsed heels, chronic bruising, hoof cracks or inability to retain shoes have all recovered well given time, the above supplemented diet and regular appropriate farriery.

Environmental factors
The degree of hydration of hoof horn has a major effect on its strength. Wet horn is weaker than dry horn. So avoiding standing the horse in wet conditions will help the hoof strength. What you are aiming for is a hoof capsule made of horn which is not rock hard as this lends little to the anti-concussive mechanism as the horse's leg lands. Neither do you want a hoof which is too wet as this will encourage the hoof to deform in an exaggerated fashion when the limb is loaded. Weak horn contributes to shoe loss and collapsed heels. You need a hoof which is inherently strong, by nutritional means, yet pliable so that it will deform when loaded yet spring back to its original shape without causing cracks or splits in the horn. Ammonia produced from stable bedding is detrimental to the health of both the horse's feet and its lungs, so clean beds are essential. I prefer a good quality whitewood shavings bed e.g. Bedmax. Stabled horses need their feet picking out twice daily whereas I am not so concerned if a horse has a sole filled with soil for a period.

The other major environmental influence is that of horn infections, leading to conditions such as thrush, white line disease or onychomycosis. These should be watched for carefully at each shoeing by the farrier and the owner alerted should they appear. Less obvious than frank horn infection is the following scenario. Your horse's coat looks well but the feet either appear not to be growing or are weak or split beneath the nails. This is often due to bacteria which are digesting the distal horn at about the same rate as new horn is produced from the coronet; giving the impression of no horn growth. To avoid horn infections I now use Solution4 Feet from Equi Life which is a highly penetrating solution which gets to the root of the problem. It has been proven to be effective by two British University studies. It should be applied after the farrier has dressed the feet and before the shoes are fitted. Twice weekly applications are usually all that are necessary to keep the hooves healthy.

Iatrogenic factors
This means that the problem is a result of what the human has been doing to the feet whether it be the human owner, veterinary surgeon or farrier. Problems of laziness or parsimony resulting in the horse's feet never being picked out or the farrier being called every 3 months are obvious reasons for poor hoof health. The farrier has a major influence on keeping your horse sound. His job will be made easier if he is asked to attend every 4-5 weeks, is presented with a horse with clean but not oiled feet, has a flat area in which he can see the horse walk up and a covered well lit area in which to work. A cup of tea is always appreciated!

A good farrier will not allow the horses' toes to become overgrown, will make a shoe which gives the wall of the foot full protection both in shoe branch length and width at the heels and drives his nails into the inside of the white line so that they exit the wall at least an inch above the shoe. He will avoid using shoes which are of too narrow a section or those which press on the horse's sole. Pads are best avoided if at all possible, they make the shoes less secure and trap evaporated moisture from the horse's sole under the pad. This can lead to wet sole and frog horn and predispose to horn infections.

It is very important to avoid using products containing formaldehyde, lipid solvents, bleach or viscous oils. Formaldehyde damages hoof horn and has been used for years in an attempt to harden hooves which soon become brittle and more severely cracked. Remember you need a strong but pliable hoof not a hard brittle hoof. Lipid solvents, destroy the inter-celluar junctions of the horn and predispose to hoof cracks and infections. Chlorine bleaches and ammonia are both damaging to horn. Thick oils prevent air getting to the horn and provide an ideal environment for horn digesting organisms to proliferate.

Some horses seem to develop poor feet early in life, some can be improved using the above treatments and techniques but generally speaking you are never going to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse; try finding a silk purse to compete on in the first place.