Feeding the Hoof

 

Feeding the Hoof   7-30-08     Pete Ramey     2018 additional material added to end

Copyright 2008

The very best hoof care can only go so far. We must properly feed our hooves if we want the best out of the horse and we must properly feed our horse if we want the best out of our hooves. Over the years I noticed that no shoeing or trim mechanics could grow healthy walls, laminae, soles or frogs on some horses. This led me to Katy Watts www.safergrass.org and her studies on varying sugar levels in grasses and hay. When I realized that constant carbohydrate overload was destroying the hooves of so many horses, I became a "sugar freak"; an expert at finding the "hidden" sugars in horses' diets and convincing horse owners to take the necessary steps to eliminate them.  My trimming changed very little, but the results I was getting improved dramatically when I started to pay more critical attention to the diet.

Grass became "the bad guy" for me; a distant memory for many of the horses in my care. For some horses this is truly the way it must be, but I've always noticed that some pastures support herds of horses in perfect health, while another pasture two miles away seems literally toxic to any horse that lives there. I've noticed the same thing in horses at boarding facilities with little or no access to grass. I would find myself at one boarding facility preaching that a lack of exercise was causing the sickness and weakness in their horses, but then drive a few miles to another (seemingly identical) situation that featured horses in extraordinary health, with beautiful feet- in spite of spending 12+ hours in the stall every day. I didn't talk about these observations very much, but they constantly gnawed at my gut instinct -- I was missing a critical piece of the puzzle.

I had several pastures within my clientele that produced poor hooves no matter how they were previously shod, and the problems persisted no matter how I trimmed them. The hoof walls were weak and peeling apart in layers. There was no white line integrity and I could not grow well connected walls. The soles were thin and thrush was common. I would show up at 5 weeks to trim the feet and it looked like I should have been there 4 weeks ago. Again, it was easy to blame the excess sugar consumption and no doubt that is still a big issue. But it was hard to ignore the fact that there were other pastures in the same area that supported nice hooves in spite of that same free access to "all you can eat" green grass.

Finally, Katy Watts led me to testing the grass in those problem pastures and found that there was virtually no copper or zinc in the horses' diet. [Copper supports enzymes that form the strengthening cross-links between collagen and elastin molecules in connective tissue. Deficiencies lead to abnormalities in bone, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and arterial walls among the most dramatic consequences. In horses, copper deficiency has been linked to uterine artery rupture in mares, a fatal complication of labor. Copper deficiency is known to cause developmental bone disease in foals. From research in other animals we also know that copper deficiency has adverse effects in hair quality. Although it hasn't been studied in horses, remember that the ingredients and growth mechanisms for hair and the hoof are virtually identical.

Zinc performs a host of functions in the body. Structures on proteins called zinc fingers allow them to bind to DNA. Zinc fingers also influence the folding and structure of proteins. In enzyme systems, zinc is essential for pigment formation, antioxidant function, transport of carbon dioxide in the blood, bone building and remodeling, insulin production and release among others. Eleanor Kellon, VMD]

I bought the over-the-counter hoof supplement that had the highest zinc and copper levels I could find, and it improved the hoof quality of every horse in those pastures.

Now I knew I had found the tip of an iceberg; I enrolled in Dr. Kellon's basic course "NRC Plus" www.drkellon.com . I firmly believe that every person responsible for taking care of horses should take this online course. It will teach you the relationships, roles and importance of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and electrolytes, how the horse utilizes food for energy and the basics of what makes it tick. The course demystifies the feed labels, forage analysis and teaches you how to really provide for your horse's needs.

During this course, when I looked back at my pasture and hay analysis from the past, it became clear that the lack of copper and zinc were the least of my problems. In my area, the grass, hay, water (and even the mineral blocks I was recommending) consistently have extremely high levels of iron. [Excess iron cancels the absorption of copper and zinc- even if there is an "adequate" amount of those minerals available. Excess iron has many effects, including predisposition to infection, a predisposition to arthritis and increased risk of tendon/ligament problems, liver disease and altered glucose metabolism, including insulin resistance and overt diabetes. Eleanor Kellon, VMD]

High body iron levels drive insulin resistance, and vice versa.  This may explain why the high sugar content of the grass had an exaggerated effect on the horses living on the high-iron pastures and water sources. I was first called to each of these facilities because of acute and/or chronic laminitis, and the problems persisted even with grazing muzzles or dirt paddocks with hay (from the same region). Now I understand why.

The most frustrating part is that after taking that class, I can now read the labels on equine feeds and supplements and compare them to the horses’ actual needs. The deception is sinful. Horse owners buy a supplement and/or commercial feed and think they have covered all the bases of nutrition. They read the label and see, "It's in there: zinc, copper, biotin, calcium, phosphorus...  All the things they are told their horse needs for optimal health and performance listed in ppm (parts per million) or percentages, but they don't know what it means. They put their faith in the manufacturer. In most cases, the actual levels provided are only a fraction of what the horse needs.

One very popular daily supplement I found at a customer's barn was 93% salt and had 3ppm of zinc proudly printed on the label. Since zinc was listed (along with a dozen other minerals in similar amounts) the owner thought she had the trace minerals covered. Her 880 pound horse would actually have to eat 220 pounds of this supplement per day to get the minimum NRC requirement for zinc! (Needless to say this would kill the horse.) Deception – and our horses are suffering for it.

To make matters worse, if a supplement does not complement the grass, hay and other feeds it is worthless or even toxic. Understand this all varies- every pasture and hay field has a unique mineral profile and will thus have unique supplement needs. You should test each of your horses' food sources and consider the entire nutrition profile together. The horses with little or no access to green grass are subject to the same problems as well- it all depends on the soil in the hay field. Additionally, the hay-drying process eliminates vitamin E and essential fatty acids so important for skin (hooves) and for fighting inflammation. These must be supplemented if the horse has limited access to green stuff.

The same goes with important amino acids (lysine, methionine and threonine) important for both muscle development and the horse’s foot – these are often abundant in green grass, but are destroyed by the hay drying process, as is vitamin A.

At boarding facilities, where hay and grains provide most of the calories, I'm seeing another very common scenario. The horses are often getting too much calcium and not enough phosphorus. It is important that they are balanced in a 2:1 ratio respectively. Alfalfa and in some areas even grass hays tend to have a ratio of 5-7:1. This creates a functional lack of phosphorus that can lead to angular deformities in foals and bone loss in older horses. This does not mean that you should blindly supplement phosphorus. Too much phosphorus also robs the horse of calcium. You must test the forage!

Excess calcium could also make magnesium less available to the horse. [The symptoms of inadequate magnesium are the same as those of excessive ionized calcium. These include irritability, hypersensitivity, muscular symptoms from twitching to spasm, with a potential for GI symptoms and heart irregularity when severe. Horses with moderate magnesium deficiency are often misdiagnosed as EPSM. Other magnesium responsive clinical symptoms I have seen are gait disturbances, including stilted gait, base wide gait behind, difficulty controlling the hind end when turning and reluctance or inability to canter. The magnesium deficient horse is not a happy camper! Eleanor Kellon, VMD]

Salt is another very common deficiency I see everywhere I go. Most horse owners think that if they provide a salt block, the horse's sodium needs are met. In truth, horses do not receive adequate levels of sodium by licking a salt block. One sedentary horse would have to consume over 2 pounds (an entire stall sized brick) in one month. If he was working, he might need 2-4 times more than that. Salt is ideally provided in a loose form. Most horse owners don't realize how critical it is for their horse's sodium needs to be met. [Sodium is essential for absorption of many nutrients, as well as their entry into cells (including glucose), essential for the normal functioning of all nerve and muscle tissue. Sodium is also the major regulator of water balance in tissues. In addition to "holding" water in the tissues, sodium is what the brain "reads" in determining when to trigger thirst and when to regulate the amount of sodium, and therefore water, the body excretes in the urine. If sodium intake is too low, the kidneys will actively excrete potassium and save sodium, even if blood potassium levels drop below normal. This is a very, very common mistake made when supplementing performance horses.

Insufficient sodium inevitably leads to some dehydration. The brain reads sodium levels in the cerebrospinal fluid. The cerebrospinal fluid in turn is a filtrate of blood. Blood levels of sodium will be maintained by "stealing" sodium from the extracellular fluid. This leads to the decrease in skin elasticity that is familiar sign of mild to moderate dehydration. The rule of thumb is that as little as 2 to 3% dehydration can lead to a 10% drop in performance. However, excessive intakes need to be avoided. Eleanor Kellon. VMD] Again, actually testing and supplementing specific amounts is optimum.

These are only a few small examples of many. Horses need to consume each nutrient in adequate amounts and usually in balance with the amounts of several other nutrients. This is not just about growing healthy hooves, either. Balanced nutrition profoundly effects attitude, immune function, strength, endurance, recovery; actually every aspect of health and performance. If your horses are having problems of any kind, you can bet there is a nutritional component. So far, every time I have had troubles growing healthy feet and have tested the forage, I have found significant mineral ratio problems and/or deficiency- every time. The nutrition balance may be all or part of your horse's problem, whether you are concerned about a training issue, recovery from an illness or carving 2/10 of a second off your lap time.

The best news is that feed testing, balancing and supplementation saves most horse owners a considerable amount of money (Now why haven't the feed companies told us about this?) but you will be required to think, rather than just blindly throwing your money away. When I tested the grass and hay in my area, along with the bad news [no Zn or Cu] I got some great news: The grass was completely covering ALL of the other nutritional needs- my customers with pasture can meet NRC guidelines of every nutrient (including protein) for pennies a day. Too many horse owners spend hundreds of dollars a month to keep their horses constantly on the brink of laminitis by feeding buckets of feed and random supplements "just in case" the horse is missing something in his diet. Why not find out exactly what he is missing and just buy that?

 

Here's how to do it:

·        Take samples of your hay and grass. Send them in for testing to www.equi-analytical.com (read the directions for sampling on that site). Your analysis will be emailed to you in a few days. Choose the 601 package for $35 as a start for most situations (a more comprehensive package is available for $79).

·        Now what? You will get back a long list of nutrients that will probably look like Chinese algebra to you. Here are some options: 1) (good) Join the group www.ecirHorse.org . This is actually the best thing you can do if your horse is insulin resistant or PPID/Equine Cushings. 2) (better) contact Dr. Kellon www.drkellon.com. She does consultations for $100- a real bargain if you ask me. 3) (best) Enroll in the NRC Plus course ($210) and learn to do it yourself.

·        Once you have designed your custom supplement, you can order each ingredient separately for maximum cost saving. Local mills that actually mix their own feed, or general livestock supply stores, can often get you bags of the most commonly needed minerals. For instance, a 50 pound bag of magnesium oxide for around $10 will likely outlive your horse. For smaller amounts, you can try Uckele Health and Nutrition, www.uckele.com (or call them at 800-248-0330), or Gateway Products has many single ingredient products available www.buygpdirect.com . It depends on what you need, but most horse owners are reporting a total cost of 20-30 cents per day. Another option that saves you time and labor, and still will reduce your overall supplement costs, is to have the minerals you need custom mixed for you. www.CaliforniaTrace.com, Uckele (above) and Horse Tech, www.horsetech.com, will do this service for the individual owner.

·        Feed the supplement to your horse daily. This is usually easy if the horse is also on feed- the actual volume of the supplement is usually very small. If the horse is only on hay or grass, you might have to get creative. Mixing the supplements into a spoonful of unsweetened applesauce or in a small amount of beet pulp mash and oats will usually do the trick.

Now you have all the tools.... Just do it- yesterday!

"I highly recommend that if you take the 'NRC Plus' course, have your own forage analysis in hand (or for hoof professionals, the analysis of your customer with the worst hooves). That way it is not just a mountain of science and theory. I was floundering with the information overload until I started balancing the diets for real horses that I knew personally. Then it immediately started snapping into focus."

Once you start testing, you will probably find that your pasture and/or hay is providing ALMOST everything your horse needs- including calories, fat and protein. This may surprise you, but understand that tiny "holes" in the overall nutrition profile can throw everything out of balance and make it seem like the horse is getting almost nothing from the hay and grass; or too much (The "starvation" your horse is sensing can lead to overeating). Constant access to forage, and detailed mineral balancing should be the starting point for every equine diet. From there (depending on the individual and the work load) you may have to add or take away from that, but it should be done scientifically- not at random as we were all taught. Why doesn't every horse owner know this? There's no money in telling you.

 

Kellon cheat sheet

"I have also recently completed the 'Nutrition as Therapy' and 'Equine Cushings/Insulin Resistance' courses. They too were worth every penny... Looking forward to the rest of the courses when I can find the time."  Pete

My “Poor Folks Cheater Diet” is inferior to custom balancing, but will make a dramatic difference anywhere in the world for pennies per day. Per 1,000 pounds (450kg) body weight, feed daily 450 grams of poly zinc, 150 grams of poly copper (double these two if iron is high in ground and water), plus 2 tablespoons of plain white loose salt. If the horse is eating hay instead of grass as the primary forage, add 2,000 iu of human vitamin E oil pills and a cup of fresh ground or stabilized flax every day. If the horse is having uncompensated sugar problems (splat-footed horse on green pasture, etc.) add 10 grams (less-than-level tablespoon) daily of magnesium oxide.


2013 Edit:

While feed testing and custom balancing continues to be the best you can do, a new product California Trace Plus  (877-632-3939) is covering most of the key nutritional problems in most areas of the US. It is a well-crafted concentrated supplement, with high copper and zinc, no iron, decent E levels, antioxidants, an impressive amino acid load, high A, high biotin, and (optional) probiotics added. It has quickly become my go-to supplement, and I have seen excellent results in my area and all over the US.


 

Added 8-3-18: copied from the pinned post on my Facebook Group, Hoof Rehab Help – there’s a lot of the same info as above, but also some updated information on supplements available in other countries and my current feeding program at home.

 

General Nutrition Advice from HoofRehab/Pete Ramey

If your horse is showing any symptoms of laminitis or other nutritional issues (prominent growth rings, red stripes on the wall, flared walls, hoof capsule rotation, brittle or shelly wall quality, wall cracks, wall separation, white line disease, thin soles, weak frogs, persistent thrush, abscessing, obesity, failure to gain weight, failure to shed, poor coat quality... the list goes on), I will first be advising you to go to work on the diet. No trimming or shoeing advice can truly fix a nutritional problem.

There are two ways I do this -- best, and distant second best:

Best -- particularly if you suspect insulin resistance, PPID, any other medical/nutritional issue, or just recurring spring or fall laminitis issues:
Join 
https://ecir.groups.io/g/main and follow their feeding and veterinary program to the letter.

This will likely include grass, hay and specific blood testing, but it works considerably better than guessing.

Test your hay and grass at http://equi-analytical.com/ . Be sure to follow the sample-gathering instructions. It's cheap and easy to do -- you mail grass, they email results. It actually saves most people a lot of money. We were programmed to feed horses all this expensive stuff, carb-overloading them in the process "in case the horse is missing SOMETHING," when in fact, horses on grass/grass hay diets will generally be missing only a few key nutrients, which varies from pasture to pasture and by region. These holes are cheap and easy to fill in, and it has the added benefit of less carbs, fillers and chemicals being fed.

That said, the extra amino acids, vitamins and prebiotic found in premium supplements like California Trace Plus, help tremendously, so I learned the hard way to use good supplements like this as a base when I do custom mixes (Sally Hugg and I were both Dr. Kellon students, but I quit in the 4th grade -- why not take advantage). 
http://www.californiatrace.com/catraceplus.html

Another smart base for custom supplements is HorseTech Nutramino. https://horsetech.com/nutramino

Once you get your grass and hay analysis done, there are several options of how to put this information to work. You can take the online interactive course NRC Plus at drKellon.com, and learn to balance the diet yourself. Or you can use the services at https://uckele.com/hay-mineral-analysis.html or https://customequinenutrition.com/products/vermont-blend or www.CaliforniaTrace.com to tell you what to supplement based on your forage analysis results. And the best deal in the entire equine world – Dr. Kellon does consultations for $100 drKellon.com and works through your local veterinarian to optimize care for your horse. This is particularly useful when cases get complicated with disease, assorted blood tests and nutritional issues that most mortal veterinarians can't sort through.

 

Distant second best:

Educated guessing based on NRC Daily Values and a general understanding of local regional grass and hay averages.

Even though this is inferior to customizing the diet per testing, it makes so much difference to the hooves (and thus probably the strength of ligaments, tendons, bone, all connective tissue....) that I have lost all interest in working on horses that aren't getting at least this.

There is a new breed of hoof supplements that are dramatically superior to the over-the-counter supplements most people are familiar with. They provide much higher levels of key nutrients, and have little or no iron (as iron-induced insulin resistance and/or iron competition for absorption of other nutrients are widespread problems).

The key problem with supplementing without forage testing, is that aside from mineral deficiency, we often face problems with mineral imbalance -- certain minerals work together and need to be in specific ratios with other minerals. So if the forage is imbalanced, we need to feed an imbalanced supplement to correct the problem.

That said, high quality general supplements can make a big difference. My personal favorite is California Trace Plus pellets (except for horses living on the range in high selenium areas). [Edit: now they make a no-selenium version]. Every day, for 1,000 pound horses, I also add 3-10 grams of magnesium oxide depending on the location, 2-3 tablespoons of loose white salt, and if the horse is not grazing live green grass (hay diet), I also add an additional 1,000 iu human vitamin E capsule and sometimes a cup of ground stabilized flax.

If the horse is showing any of the symptoms listed above (or not), I am also usually trying to cut carbs. I am a fan of smart grazing (understanding how sugar levels vary throughout the day and in different weather patterns) and grass hay as the lion-share of the diet. If this proves to provide inadequate calories or protein to an individual, I like Timothy pellets or low starch feed instead of grain and molasses. I like pea-sized sliced treats instead whole apples, carrots, etc. (horses can't measure -- at all -- try it.)... I'm always looking to cut another carb and replace it with something better.

I also look for ways to cut iron in most geographic locations -- water filters instead of straight well or creek water, white salt blocks instead of red, elimination of feeds and supplements with added iron...

You'll find me recommending all this to your rehab horse, as I think it is almost always the most important aspect of rehab. But l also recommend this type of feeding to healthy horses, as I think it is the most important aspect of PREVENTION of so many hoof, skeletal, ligament, tendon, and general health issues.

As for the new breed of supplements, California Trace Plus is not the only one I like.

California Trace (regular, not Plus) is cheaper. Its nutrition profile is almost as good as the Plus -- the key differences are its lack of probiotic yeast and fewer amino acids. I like the Plus better, particularly for problem horses, but the "regular" is a great way to economize for the long haul as prevention.
http://www.californiatrace.com/

California Trace is also very competent to advise you and make recommendations or custom mixes based on your forage analysis.

Horse Tech Colorado Mix is good for range horses in high selenium areas, as most other top-notch supplements are adding selenium. https://horsetech.com/colorado-mix

Horse Tech Arizona Copper Complete (can also be special ordered without selenium) is a great choice. The included 5 gram dose of magnesium is a good thing, but since magnesium takes some getting used to, this supplement can be a challenge to get in the horse, particularly if you are also trying to cut carbs. https://horsetech.com/arizona-copper-complete

Quality supplements and custom mixes:
https://customequinenutrition.com/products/vermont-blend

In the UK, I like:
http://forageplus.co.uk/

This is my favorite product they sell: https://forageplus.co.uk/product/laminitis-support/

Forage Plus will make competent custom mixes using your forage analysis.

Down Under:
https://www.balancedequine.com.au/

My favorite for most horses is the Hoof Rescue
+SE, combined with their Amino+ supplement.
They are also very competent to make recommendations and custom mixes based on your forage analysis.

Canada:
Mad Barn -- AminoTrace+ Pellets

https://www.madbarn.com/ca/product/aminotrace-pellet/

 

Most of the problems I listed above have been classically blamed on genetics. It's true, some horses are more blessed than others. But until you optimize the nutrition for an individual horse, you have no idea what his/her genetic potential is. Food for thought.