Spillers’ equine nutritionist Clare Barfoot provides one H&H forum user with some helpful advice on how to feed a barefoot horse for optimum health
Q: “Feeding a barefoot cob — I’m very new to horse ownership and want to research the best diet I should be feeding my part-bred cob, who I believe has been barefoot her whole life (she is nine-years-old). She’s on full livery, so gets fed as part of that, but I want to make sure she’s having what she should be to keep her and her hooves in the best condition. Could anyone give me some advice please?”
A: The importance of healthy hooves has been known for generations of horsemen with the saying “no hoof, no horse” often quoted. Hoof problems are a very common headache for horse owners and while good hoof trimming is essential, the importance of sound nutrition is often overlooked. Nutrition can play a vital role in the cause and prevention of many hoof problems therefore the growth of healthy hooves is dependent on a well-balanced diet.
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A balanced diet is key
Hoof formation is a highly complex process requiring good quality protein, vitamins, minerals, fats and not least energy. All of these need to be present in sufficient quantities and in correct proportions to produce a strong hoof so the entire diet needs to be balanced. Adding lots of one particular nutrient to a poor diet is unlikely to be of any benefit and some nutrients can even cause more harm than good if given in excess; for example, vitamin A and selenium can actually cause hoof problems if they are added to the diet at very high levels.
Good doers, like your cob and horses in very light work often get all of the calories they need from grass, hay or haylage, but forage-only diets often lack some essential nutrients. As far as diet is concerned, the first step towards maintaining optimum hoof health in horses on forage-only diets should be to provide a good quality feed balancer. Some balancers include hoof-supporting nutrients such as SPILLERS Lite and Lean Balancer or a broad spectrum supplement could be fed instead. This also applies to horses receiving less than the recommended daily ration of compound feed.
What about additional supplements?
If you are confident that your horse’s current diet is fully balanced and meets all of his normal requirements, additional supplementation may help with poor hoof quality. Biotin is probably the most well-known nutrient as far as hoof supplements are concerned; this member of the B vitamin family is a key component for hoof horn quality and there is scientific evidence to support this. Biotin should be fed at around 15 to 20mg per day for a typical 500kg horse i.e. 3 to 4mg per 100kg bodyweight. Calcium, phosphorus, zinc, MSM, lysine and methionine may also be useful additions to a hoof supplement.
For more information on feeding to support weight gain call the SPILLERS Care-Line on 01908 226626.