A horse's hoof is one of the most important parts of its body – no hoof, no horse. Nutrition and conscientious hoof care are essential. Good hoof maintenance during the winter months is a precursor to healthy hooves during warmer riding weather.
The strength of the hoof wall is maintained by daily supplementation of key nutrients; biotin, methionine, lysine, zinc, copper and MSM. These nutrients are essential for proper hoof health and are commonly found in pastures, hay and grains. Extensive farming, improper fertilization and poor storage of hay quite often lead to deficiencies in these nutrients. This is especially a problem in the winter months when the pastures are covered in snow and premium hays may be protein and mineral deficient due to poor cutting practices and extended storage. Daily supplementation of these nutrients ensures that your horse will have all of the nutrients needed to have healthy hooves year round.
So how do you make sure your horse receives the right nutrients on a regular basis? Supplements include everything your horse needs for healthier hooves: biotin, a water- soluble vitamin not easily stored in the body; copper and zinc, essential for hoof wall strength (zinc also stimulates enzymatic activity and supports a healthy immune system); methionine and lysine, building blocks for protein synthesis (lysine also stimulates growth, helps maintain nitrogen balance in the body and appears to help absorption and conservation of calcium); MSM, a natural anti-inflammatory that helps keep skin, coat, and hooves healthy.
These supplements can be fed as liquids that can be top dressed, drizzled on hay, fed in the water or administered with a dosing syringe - powders and crumbles may be mixed with the moistened grain or beet pulp ration. Trimming hooves every six weeks regardless of the season is recommended. Overgrown hooves on icy conditions are a recipe for cracked or chipped hooves. In most parts of the country, winter tends to bring less activity around the barn; hooves are cleaned, trimmed or picked out less often than in warmer months. In the winter when horses spend their days standing in stalls it is especially important to take the time to care for and maintain their hooves. Standing in stalls with dirty feet can lead to disease and infection, something that could take months to heal. Remember, it takes nine months for hoof to fully grow out! Nutrition, maintenance and prevention are the keys to proper hoof health and winterizing your horse. Otherwise, February and March may bring trouble that could last until fall.