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  • Q:

    My 15-hand, 900-lb (410-kg) gelding is an easy keeper, so I manage his grass intake and exercise him 3-4 times a week for about an hour. He’s outside half the day and inside the remainder of the day. His diet includes forage (pasture or hay), coconut meal, flax, chia, Micro-Max, a hoof supplement (biotin, silicon, amino acids), and a salt-magnesium product. I have thoroughly researched his feeds, so I am not looking to change his diet, but I’m wondering what else I can do for him to help his shelly, crumbly hooves. He is barefoot, trimmed every six weeks, and has trouble with chronic abscesses and white-line infections. He has chronic rings on all four hooves, yet both the farrier and the vet have ruled out laminitis. Any thoughts?

  • A:

    Genetics, environment, nutrition, and other factors can result in poor hoof quality. Regular farrier care plays an important role, particularly for challenging cases. During the summer months when hoof growth is usually fastest, it may be prudent to have your horse on a shorter trimming cycle, every 4-5 weeks. This small change in scheduling has helped some horses.

    Dietary mineral imbalances and low intakes, often the result of underfeeding a fortified feed, can result in poor hoof health. However, certain horses may have higher than average dietary needs for certain hoof-related nutrients, resulting in poor hoof characteristics even when they are receiving adequate nutrition.

    Nutrients to play attention to are calcium, zinc, copper, biotin, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and vitamin C. High-quality grazing offers many of these essential nutrients, so special considerations are needed for horses with restricted access to pasture and maintained on a low-calorie hay diet.

    Supplementing your horse’s diet with Micro-Max provides him with adequate nutrition to meet his basal trace mineral and vitamin requirements. Micro-Max does not provide a top-off for the macrominerals calcium and phosphorus or additional protein. Because the hay is of unknown quality, it is difficult to assess how much this is contributing to his nutritional needs; if for some reason the hay is of lower nutritional quality than expected for protein, calcium, and phosphorus, the gelding’s diet may be falling short. Australian horse owners should look for Gold Pellet.

    Because this has been a chronic issue, a comprehensive dietary review may be in order. If your hay is from the same supplier and you purchase in large loads, then it would be worth having a forage test done to know the nutritional composition. By doing this, any deficiencies can be addressed with targeted supplementation. Adding a small amount of alfalfa hay is the most effective way to boost the protein and calcium of the diet. A small portion of alfalfa will not contribute enough calories to cause a weight-gain problem and can replace a portion of the grass hay.

    If you are feeding 2 oz of Micro-Max, then you can increase this to 4 oz per day to provide the gelding with an elevated level of nutrition in case he has higher than average dietary requirements. KER does offer a hoof supplement, Bio•Bloom PS (Bio-Bloom in Australia), that provides all of the necessary building blocks for strong hooves. Bio•Bloom PS contains biotin, zinc, methionine, and iodine, formulated to provide the optimal amounts of these essential components in just 1-2 oz per day.

    Providing a higher level of Micro-Max, if possible, and Bio-Bloom PS will provide the best nutritional support and does not require any additional supplementation. If you are already feeding 4 oz of Micro-Max, then you may need to change to a ration balancer pellet that is fed at a higher rate and provides additional high-quality sources of protein, macrominerals, and micronutrients.

    Natural vitamin E is most abundant in fresh, green forages, so for horses managed like yours, supplemental vitamin E is recommended to maintain adequate vitamin E status for health and well-being. KER has two antioxidant products containing natural-source vitamin E, Preserve PS (Preserve in Australia) and Nano•E. Preserve PS contains additional antioxidants including selenium, magnesium, and vitamin C, whereas Nano•E is just a natural, water-soluble vitamin E product.

    I assume you’re feeding flax and chia for the omega-3 advantages. Both of these are plant-based sources of omega-3s. Marine-derived sources of omega-3s, such as fish oil, are thought to be more beneficial than plant sources, as they provide two important long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, directly. One research-proven fish oil is EO•3.

    Nutritional support for the immune system plus topical applications can help combat chronic hoof infections. The presence of a chronic infection may also be contributing to his poor hoof health. Daily exercise in combination with a monitored caloric intake is the most effective way to encourage weight loss. What is the surface of your drylot? Long periods of time spent on fine gravel surfaces can be tough of hooves.

    The following Equinews articles may be of interest to you.

    Calcium: How Important Is It For Hoof Health?

    Beyond Biotin: Horse Hoof Health

    Poor Nutrition Impacts Hooves

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