13 May 2022 Nutrition Red Flags – Hoof Issues
One of the most common, but often overlooked symptoms of a Nutritional Red Flag are hoof issues. Especially given how in our community it is often looked upon as “normal” for horses to have low heels, cracks and abscesses happening frequently, and horses that “have to” wear shoes because their feet are too worn down and sore.
But this is NOT normal! Let’s break it down…
In the Wild
Horses are made to move up to 25+ miles in a day! And these miles are not on specially-formulated fiber arenas or on fluffy grass pastures either. Wild horses run over a variety of hard and abrasive areas, such as rocky formations, sand, and gravel-like barren ground.
Usually, wild horses have to travel great distances to eat a day’s worth of food in these conditions, where the grass is sparse and far between. Compare this to our modern day horses, who have soft, picturesque rolling green hills to graze on.
How is it then, that wild horses who travel much farther and on much harder surfaces, don’t need to wear shoes – while horses that are kept in thickly bedded stalls and turned out on soft pastures for only a few hours a day seem to “need them”?
If you ride your horse a couple days a week in an arena, do you think they’re “wearing down” their feet more than a wild mustang out on the range?
So then, if the surfaces under our horses’ feet isn’t what’s causing them to be weak and worn down – what is?
Fixing Things from the Inside Out
With horses (as in all other areas of life) it’s best to resolve problems from the inside out and look past the symptoms to the underlying cause.
You are what you eat, and your horse’s hooves are a reflection of the food you feed them. I would say that diet is the #1 cause of hoof-related issues. Most chronic cracking, flaring, or abscesses can be solved by re-evaluating what we’re feeding our horses and what lifestyle we give them.
Cracks and Flares
How can nutrition help prevent cracks and flares? Horses are massively heavy animals perched on top of relatively small sized hooves. There is a LOT of weight being placed on the structural integrity of your horse’s hooves every time they take a step, run, or jump.
If you think about it like a building, engineers have to build bridges strong enough to not only hold the weight of the bridge, but also the cars and other vehicles that will be added later. Similarly, there’s the story of a new architect who built a beautiful library which almost immediately collapsed. They had forgotten to account for the weight of the books inside.
The walls of your horse’s hooves are like any building – they need the internal integrity and strength to bear the load.
Improper or unbalanced nutrition can, over time, cause the hoof wall to become weaker and start to bow or crack under the stress. This is where you see flares and cracks starting to appear, and these are signs of your horse not being able to support their hooves nutritionally under all that pressure.
Similarly, abscesses can be traced back to nutritional issues. An abscess is nothing more than the body trying to expel a bacterial infection or inflammation through pus that builds up until it pops. Basically, it can be an immune response. If your horse is able to fight off the bacteria within their body, through their natural immune response, an abscess will be prevented or fought off before you might even be aware of it. Weakened hoof walls can lead to cracking which will allow those bacteria to enter and fester under the hoof wall where an abscess can then start brewing.
By supporting your horse’s natural immune response here, you can help limit the number of abscesses your horse experiences, and potentially eliminate them all together.
Remember, it is NOT normal for horses to get abscesses and hoof infections regularly. Diet and lifestyle are the problem, and luckily, you are in control of them
The Role of Shoes
Horses with shoes are all over the place now, from endurance horses running 100 miles races, to jumpers, to backyard trail horses. It’s become “normal” that if you have a horse, you need to have shoes on them. Yet why do they need them when their wild ancestors survived without them?
It’s important to know that putting shoes on your horse’s feet actually inhibits some level of their normal blood flow to the foot. Whenever an unshod horse steps down, the foot actually flexes slightly with the help of the frog (that’s what it’s there for.) The frog has been likened to a “mini heart” for your horse. Each time they step down, the frog compresses and pushes blood back up the horse’s leg. Imagine the impact of this when a horse is galloping. This little action reduces the stress and pressure put on a horse’s heart and allows them to do all the amazing athletic things they are known for.
Obviously, with a shoe on, the horse still gets blood to their hooves, but the hard metal frame reduces the amount of flexing the hoof can do with each step, and reduces the amount of blood pushed up, especially if the shoe prevents the frog from touching the ground. Over time, reduced blood flow like this can cause major issues, as blood transports everything in a body, from nutrients to oxygen – everything a horse needs to keep their hooves strong and healthy to bear their weight.
If you have a horse that you’ve been told needs shoes to correct some issue, or has to wear them for the rest of their life, maybe take another look at those assumptions, or set out to see what a natural and healthier diet plan could do for your horse.
Have questions of how this works? I’m here to help support you and your horse’s wellness! And a consultation phone call is always free, so don’t hesitate to reach out!
Finally, I’ve seen it time and time again when I help people switch to real, whole foods ingredients to feed their horses – hoof issues just disappear. Frequently, people come to me for non-hoof issues, such as a recent metabolic diagnosis or change in their horse’s weight and personality. And once we’ve changed what their horse is eating, they call me back and say that their horse that has always struggled with underrun hooves, are now growing out straight and strong!
By supporting your horse from the inside out, you make it possible for your horse to grow their hoof up to the standards they were made to naturally – enough to withstand the pressures of rigorous competition or roaming on the range.
If you’ve read this far and your horse has any sort of hoof defect or issue, I encourage you to reach out to me with your questions! Because I’m here to help horses, my initial consultation is 100% free and I’m eager to support you and your horse’s wellness!
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