How can you best support hoof health during the winter?
Over the colder winter months, looking after your horse’s hooves is particularly important, as they have to deal with adverse condition such as wet, muddy fields and hard frozen or snow covered ground. Whilst some horses’ hooves cope, others can develop problems such as foot abscesses, white line disease, thrush or cracks. Often this damage may be undetectable until it is too late, so prevention is key!
It goes without saying that to help keep your horse’s hooves healthy over the winter they will need regular visits from your farrier and you should pick out their feet at least twice a day to remove any mud/ wet bedding material and check for any abrasions or issues. If your horse is living out, or spends a lot of time turned out, it can be a good idea to try to create a dry standing area by using gravel or mats, so they can get out of the wet mud for at least part of the day. Equally, if your horse is stabled make sure that their bedding is kept clean and dry; prolonged contact with dirty, wet bedding will weaken the hoof horn.
Nutrition plays a very important role in hoof quality. Deprived of nutrients, the hoof will grow more slowly and the horn that is produced will be weaker and of poorer quality. A number of nutrients including protein, vitamins and minerals all play an essential role in hoof health, so a balanced diet is essential – find out more here.
One of the nutrients most commonly associated with hoof health is biotin, which works mainly because of its role in the production and deposition of keratin. Although biotin is important, to be fully effective it needs to be provided in conjunction with other nutrients such as methionine and zinc. All Connolly’s RED MILLS Care feeds contain our Pro Balance Vitamin and Mineral package, to ensure your horse receives a fully balanced diet. In addition, all our Care feeds also contain nutritionally significant levels of biotin to help support hoof health. Alternatively, Foran Equine’s Hoof Aid, which is available as a liquid or powder, can be added to your horse’s diet. These scientifically formulated supplements contain high levels of biotin, plus zinc, calcium, phosphorus and methionine, to target the common deficiencies associated with poor hoof growth.
Bear in mind that, although improvements in hoof growth and quality should be apparent within 8-10 weeks, it takes 9-12 months for a complete new hoof capsule to grow. So, for horses with poor hoof quality it is often essential to continue feeding high levels of biotin all year round.
The hoof is believed to be strongest when it has a stable moisture content of 25%. However, this is extremely difficult to maintain, especially in wet and changeable climates. When the hoof is exposed to excessive amounts of water, moisture molecules flood the hoof structures, weakening the hoof horn. It is not surprising therefore, that shoes are easily lost, especially in heavy-going.
To help prevent the hoof from absorbing excessive moisture and damaging ammonia, urine and urea we recommend Carr & Day & Martin Cornucrescine Daily Hoof Barrier. This creates a one-way barrier that waterproofs the hoof, whilst still maintaining breathability and allowing the hoof to expel excess moisture. As a result, the hoof is protected from the damaging effects of stabling and wet, muddy winters. Cornucrescine Daily Hoof Barrier also contains an anti-bacterial agent to protect the horn and, if used regularly, will prevent damage to the hoof capsule. Ideally, Cornucrescine Daily Hoof Barrier should be applied to clean, dry hooves before turn out or exposure to wet conditions. Simply use the integral brush and apply a layer to the hoof wall, sole and frog; avoiding the coronet band. Allow the product to dry and then turn your horse out as normal.
Many factors can affect hoof growth and quality, such as exercise, genetics and the environment. However, good nutrition and daily care can help maintaining hoof strength throughout wet, wintery conditions.