How to support healthy hoof growth

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If you’ve been anxiously waiting for a crack in your horse’s hoof to grow out, you may need to be a little more patient in the months ahead. Hoof wall is typically produced at a much slower rate in the fall and winter months than in summer. That doesn’t mean you can’t support healthy hoof growth during this period, though. In fact, it may be more important than ever. Here are four ways to improve the quality of your horse’s hooves in the months ahead.

1. Provide as much exercise as possible. Movement increases blood flow, encouraging growth and providing “feedback” for the horn that does grow to come in strong. If you ride less often in the winter, remember that turnout is just as beneficial---and with proper blankets and shelter, even a clipped horse can stay warm in frigid weather.

2. Keep his nutrition on track. Most commercial feed products provide the necessary nutrition for average horses and those at specific life stages or activity levels. If your horse is on a primarily forage-based diet, buy the best quality hay you can find to replace the nutrition lost when grazing is no longer available. If you are unable to consistently secure good hay, talk to your veterinarian about using a “balancer” pellet that can provide needed nutrition without unneeded calories.

3. Consider a supplement. The nutrient biotin has been shown to encourage hoof growth and improve horn quality. Many biotin supplements are available. Look for one with a comprehensive ingredients label and contact information for the manufacturer in case you have questions or concerns.

4. Pay attention to footing. Ground that is too hard or too soft can adversely affect hoof health. The ideal is dry and firm---but forgiving---soil, which can be difficult to find during the fall and winter. Improve drainage in turnout areas if you can and be mindful of riding a horse too fast over frozen soil---it can be just as harmful as speeding over parched soil in summer. Finally, try to be patient. Even with ideal nutrition and management, it takes about a year for a horse’s hooves to grow out from coronary band to the ground. Results from changes you make today may not be visible for weeks or months.

This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #480)