Top Tips for Horn Growth
Category: Horse Health
Hooves - The Inside Story
We rely on the hooves to play many roles for our horses, and farriers know better than anyone that Mother Nature has created a minor miracle of engineering to do that. The hoof capsule encases bones, tendons, ligaments, a hugely complex matrix of blood vessels and the delicate laminae – all working together to aid propulsion, traction and absorb concussion by acting as a shock absorber. The hoof can truly be said to be the starting point of performance in the equine athlete, so ensuring quality horn growth is key to success in any discipline.
Slow growth may be due to a number of reasons but the lack of new hoof wall means that new nail holes are too close to the old ones so weakening the wall. In other cases, the rate of growth is fine but quality of horn is poor. Whether slow or poor growth, or a combination of both, the hoof is left cracking, crumbling and prone to having chunks missing out the bottom. Without healthy growth it becomes difficult for farriers to manipulate the shape of the hoof for performance, he or she is left just focusing on keeping the new shoe on. So a vicious circle ensues:-
Factors affecting Hoof Condition
Working on surfaces is ideal for the horses’ joints, if possible, but sand can be very abrasive for the hoof surface. Other factors such as temperature and weather will also have an effect though, perhaps, moisture has the greatest influence. Hoof moisture has a direct link to hoof quality and is continually evaporated from the hoof wall, meaning it must be replaced or compensated for. This is done in the first instance internally through the blood and lymph systems which can replenish moisture in the horn cells. However the wall can also draw moisture from it’s environment, which depending on what the British weather is doing can be a great help or a hindrance!
Experienced farriers will advise providing daily external moisture for hooves, reducing effects of those environmental changes that may dry the hoof and lead to cracking. Access to a ford or river crossing will help, but also consider a daily topical application of a water based moisturiser. On the opposite end of the spectrum excessive moisture like standing in mud through the winter can distort the hoof structure internally and it's likely this is why we see such a rise in abscesses in winter.
Fuelling Hoof Growth
Hoof growth, like all systems in the body, can be hugely influenced by the right diet. If we’re putting the right things in we should see good strong growth. The best known nutritional support for hooves is biotin (Vitamin H). Naturally biotin is synthesised in the horse’s own gut through bacterial fermentation of fibre. Therefore horses on high fibre based diets should produce their own biotin requirements. If we see compromised hoof growth, it may be a sign that not enough fibre is being fed, or, that that horse is not absorbing efficiently what is being produced in the gut. This is particularly true of the modern performance horse, who may be on a high cereal diet, or have compromised gut function. In these cases supplementing with biotin to support the body’s own supply, is recommended.
If supplementing, ensure the correct level of biotin is being supplied for the size. We would advise 15mg biotin for ponies, 30mg per day is ideal for horses such as Cobs and Riding Club types, up to around 45mg per day for larger breeds such as Warmbloods and heavy horses. However, just as nothing works alone in nature, targeted nutritional support for hooves should go beyond biotin alone for best results. Look for a supplement which includes good sources of bioavailable sulphur, such as MSM and methionine, as the hoof wall is rich in sulphur. In fact it’s the sulphur that gives hooves that characteristic smell of hot shoeing. Trace elements such as manganese and zinc are also indicated for hoof health, and are a useful addition to any hoof health supplement.
Lastly look for support of the whole system. Hooves are part of the ‘dermis’, the largest organ in the body, and therefore the first to show the signs of the physiological stresses of performance training, travel and regular competition. Look for the antioxidant vitamins C and E with herbal support such as rosehip, omicha berries, marine algaes like chlorella and sources of natural fatty acids such as linseed, to ensure that your chosen supplement is supporting all aspects of hoof health for your team.
If there is quality growth, from a sound diet and good management, then the farrier job in maximising equine performance, is made so much easier.
This article has been written and supplied by NAF, our thanks to them -