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• Proper Physiological Horseshoeing
• Nutrition As It Relates To The Hoof
• Building a Foundation of Foot Care in Foals
Proper Physiological Horseshoeing
by Stephen E O'Grady, BVSc, MCVS !so"rce# Presented at
Horse$an's %ay &''& (
There may be no other routine procedure performed on a horse that has more influence on
soundness than hoof preparation and shoeing. The goal should be to promote a healthy
functional foot restore and maintain biomechanical efficiency and pre!ent lameness. "ach horse
should be e!aluated indi!idually the optimal trimming and shoeing approach for that horse being
dependent on the horse#s si$e hoof and limb conformation mo!ement patterns and athletic use.
%hile methods may !ary the basic ob&ecti!es 'hen trimming and shoeing are to facilitate
brea(o!er protect the sole and pro!ide ade)uate heel support.
Brea(o!er is the phase of the stride bet'een the time the horse#s heel lifts off the ground and the
time the toe is lifted. *uring this phase the toe acts as a pi!ot point +fulcrum, around 'hich the
heel rotates. Changes in toe length hoof-pastern a.is and hoof angle all affect brea(o!er.
In general brea(o!er is significantly delayed 'ith the presence of a long toe and a lo' hoof angle
+angle bet'een the front of the hoof 'all and the ground surface,. The long toe acts as a long
le!er arm re)uiring more time and effort to rotate the heel around the toe. In addition e.cessi!e
toe length can result in tearing of the attachment bet'een the hoof 'all and the coffin bone at the
toe 'hich 'ea(ens the 'all and may lead to hoof 'all distortion.
/hortening the le!er arm facilitates brea(o!er. *epending on the horse facilitating brea(o!er may
in!ol!e trimming the foot to decrease toe length +the distance bet'een the ground and the top of
the hoof 'all at the front of the foot, and0or applying a rolled- toe roc(ered-toe or s)uare-toe
The function of the sole is to protect and support the underlying structures +primarily the coffin
bone and the net'or( of blood !essels that supply the sole and 'all,. The sole also bears some
'eight around the perimeter 'here it meets the hoof 'all. The sole should be conca!e +cupped,
and firm on thumb pressure. 1oss of conca!ity +i.e. flattening of the sole, and ha!ing some 2gi!e3
or spring to thumb pressure should be considered abnormal.
A good depth of sole is necessary to maintain the conca!ity of the sole and to protect the
underlying structures from in&ury. Inade)uate sole depth is the most common cause of chronic
sole bruising. /ole depth can be maintained simply by trimming the hoof 'all appropriately and
remo!ing !ery little if any sole at each trimming. If a regular shoe does not pro!ide sufficient sole
protection a pad can be placed bet'een the sole and the shoe.
It is important to pro!ide heel support because of the great forces placed on the heels during the
landing and 'eight-bearing phases of the stride. The heel is a commonly o!erloaded part of the
foot and is thus prone to chronic bruising and shearing of the 'all and its attachments. Abnormal
hoof4pastern a.is greatly contributes to o!erloading of the heels and chronic heel pain.
A normal hoof4pastern a.is is one in 'hich a line dra'n along the front of the hoof 'all is parallel
to the pastern. In this situation each of the bones of the lo'er leg are in normal alignment. A lo'
hoof angle creates a bro(en-bac( hoof4pastern a.is 'here the angle of the hoof 'all is lo'er
than the pastern angle. This configuration is commonly caused by the long-toe0underrun-heel foot
conformation. This abnormality contributes to na!icular syndrome chronic heel pain coffin &oint
inflammation )uarter and heel crac(s and interference during motion.
A high hoof angle creates a bro(en-for'ard hoof4pastern a.is 'here the angle of the hoof 'all is
higher than the angle of the pastern. This abnormality also contributes to coffin &oint inflammation
and pain in the na!icular area and to sole bruising.
In addition to trimming the hoof to normali$e the hoof4pastern a.is it is important that the 'eight-
bearing surface of the 'all e.tends as far bac( as possible. Ideally an imaginary line dropped
do'n from the center of the cannon bone should land right 'here the heel ends +not 'ell behind
the heels as is often the case,.
A commonly used principle is to trim the heels to the 'idest part of the frog +i.e. ensure that the
'eight-bearing part of the 'all at the heels e.tends bac( as far as the 'idest part of the frog,.
Ho'e!er 'hile this approach may be appropriate in many horses it may not be ad!isable or
e!en possible in horses 'ith lo' or underrun heels. "!en though it may be possible to trim the
heels to reach the 'idest part of the frog it may ha!e to be done at the e.pense of the hoof4
pastern a.is. %e may ha!e 'orsened the bro(en-bac( hoof4pastern a.is in the process of
trimming the heels to the 'idest part of the frog5
If the heel cannot be trimmed to pro!ide optimal support at the bac( of the foot the branches of
the shoe can be e.tended to compensate and optimi$e the bearing surface area. In this 'ay the
re)uirement for ade)uate heel support is met and the integrity and function of the hoof are
In summary regardless of the horse#s breed si$e hoof shape limb conformation or use
applying these basic principles in a moderate common-sense 'ay ma.imi$es the chances of
restoring and maintaining strong healthy fully functional feet.
posted6 70809::;. 1ast updated6 70909::;.
)"trition As *t elates +o +he Hoo,
by By Scott -ing, %.V.M. co"rtesy o, P"rina Mills, //C.
Common factors influencing the )uality of the hoof are genetics en!ironment farriery and
nutrition. The horse<s hoof is made up of or affected by all components of the e)uine diet
including protein fat carbohydrates !itamins and minerals. /ince there is no one nutritional
panacea for hoof health balancing these components +based on the horse<s age and lifestyle, is
important for the o!erall health of the horse and its hoo!es.
It is also important to re!ie' the research that has been conducted on ho' different nutrients may
affect the gro'th of the hoof. And to understand ho' nutrition can help or hinder the hoof it is
essential to understand ho' the horse digests and absorbs different components of its diet.
The horse has e!ol!ed as a continuous gra$ing non-ruminant herbi!ore although it has a
significant capacity for digesting cereal grains. Its digesti!e trac( is 'ell adapted to small high-
fiber meals due to the continuous microbial fermentation that occurs in the cecum and colon. The
fact that man has domesticated the horse and increased its energy demands has brought about
the need to supplement their diet 'ith higher-energy 'ell-balanced concentrates.
The digesti!e tract of the horse can be bro(en do'n into t'o systems. The first system including
the stomach and small intestine is !ery similar to that of man and dog. The second the hindgut
of the horse has many similarities to the foregut of the co'.
The stomach of the horse has t'o functionally different sections. The non-glandular s)uamous
mucosa and the glandular region. The non-glandular region has a population of lactobacteria
'hich ha!e a small capacity to hydroly$e starchs to lactic acid. =nce the ingesta reach the
glandular region the microbial action is halted due to the presence of stomach acid. This gastric
acid mi.es 'ith the ingested feed and aids in digestion. Food remains in the stomach for
appro.imately 9: minutes. This region of the digesti!e tract has recei!ed much attention recently
due to a large number of performance horses that ha!e been found to ha!e gastric ulcers. It is
thought that those horses 'ho are allo'ed to eat multiple small meals a day and (eep something
in their stomach to neutrali$e the acid 'ill ha!e fe'er gastric ulcers. There is increasing e!idence
that intensely e.ercising horses are sub&ect to gastric compression 'hich may push acid into the
s)uamous region of the stomach. This may be another reason 'hy performance horses de!elop
gastric ulcers in this region +>erritt A?@R 9::9,.
The small intestine is the site of en$ymatic digestion. /ince the horse has no gall bladder these
en$ymes are continuously released from the pancreas. Proteolytic en$ymes brea( do'n protein
into amino acids. Protein is used for muscle tissue gro'th and regro'th and is not considered to
contribute to the e.citability of horses. /tarch is bro(en do'n by the amylolytic en$ymes is
absorbed as simple sugars +blood sugar, and stored predominantly as glycogen. /tarch can be
supplied from oats barley and corn. =!erloads of these grains can lead to laminitis. Alycogen is
the primary energy source for short duration high-intensity anaerobic e.ercise.
The efficiency of starch digestion is e.tremely important in the horse. If the small intestine is
o!erloaded 'ith starch from a large concentrate meal then that starch passes though to the
hindgut 'here it is hydroly$ed by bacteria and results in lactic acid being produced in the cecum.
This change in pH can be !ery detrimental to the horse. It has been suggested that no more than
9g of starch0Bg of body 'eight be fed to a horse in one meal. Corn has appro.imately C:D starch
and complete feeds +those 'ith the forage portion built in, ha!e about 9:D starch +N/C,.
"!en though the adult horse did not e!ol!e consuming diets 'ith higher le!els of fat it does ha!e
a great capacity for fat digestion and absorption once the system has adapted to it. +It must be
(ept in mind that mare<s mil( is 8ED fat on a dry matter basis.,
Fats are bro(en do'n by lipolytic en$ymes and absorbed into the lymphatic system or some are
absorbed directly into the blood. Fat is then stored as body fat. The dietary fat-soluble !itamins A
* " and B are also absorbed in the small intestine in association 'ith dietary fat.
*igestion and absorption in the cecum and colon is dependent upon microbial fermentation.
*ietary fiber undergoes fermentation in the large intestine and results mainly in the production of
!olatile fatty acids +@FAs,. The ma&ority of these @FAs are absorbed and con!erted to glucose or
fatty acids and stored as body fat or glycogen. Propionates being the only @FA that can go
through gluconeogenesis and ultimately become glycogen. This path'ay is not as efficient in
energy production as starch digestion in the small intestine. Ho'e!er fiber is a significant source
of energy for the horse and should not be thought of only as bul( for a healthy intestinal
Protein not digested in the small intestine 'ill enter the hindgut 'here it is predominantly utili$ed
by the bacteria to perpetuate bacterial synthesis. @ery little is utili$ed by the horse. This is
important for foals broodmares and performance horses because they re)uire high-)uality
protein in their diet and 'ill need to be fed a ration formulated 'ith a specific amino acid profile.
/tarch that enters the hindgut is hydroly$ed by lactobacilli and lactic acid is produced. This acid
en!ironment can decrease the fiber digesting capacity of the hindgut and possibly predispose the
horse to impaction colic. If the pH drops enough it can also set the horse up for laminitis.
The other important nutritional e!ent that occurs in the hindgut is the synthesis of the 'ater-
soluble B-comple. !itamins +including biotin, by the resident microflora. The body tissues produce
@itamin C. High starch diets can result in impaired fermentation and therefore be detrimental to B-
comple. !itamin production. %ater-soluble !itamins are not stored in the body of the horse. This
re)uires a constant source of !itamin production in the hindgut. This is significant because some
horses may re)uire supplementation if hindgut function is suboptimal. B-comple. !itamins are
thought to affect appetite and therefore horses 'ith impaired hindgut function may ha!e poor
appetite and need B-comple. supplementation.
No' 'ith a basic understanding of the digesti!e functions of the horse 'e 'ill re!ie' the (ey
elements of e)uine nutrition that are critical to the de!elopment of the hoof.
Horses re)uire four basic nutrients in balanced amounts6 protein !itamins minerals and energy.
".cesses or deficiencies of these four basic nutrients can affect absorption and utili$ation of
The element that can change most dramatically is energy. The daily calorie re)uirement for
horses ranges from 8F::: cal0day for maintenance to more than ;::::cal0day for lactating
broodmares and some performance horses. The life stage or 'or(load 'ill determine the amount
of dietary calories re)uired.
The type of e.ercise the horse is performing 'ill determine 'hat the horse utili$es as energy. In
horses aerobic e.ercise performed for a long duration at lo' intensity typically results in a heart
rate of less than 8E: beats per minute +BP>,. Anaerobic e.ercise performed for a short duration
at high intensity results in a heart rate of greater than 8E: BP>.
Horses also ha!e three fuel tan(s from 'hich to dra' energy6 fat glycogen and protein. Horses
can fill those fuel tan(s from four sources6 soluble carbohydrates +starch, insoluble
carbohydrates +fiber, fat +!egetable oil, and protein +amino acids,.
/tarch is the main source of energy for anaerobic metabolism. Absorption of starch results in
ele!ated blood glucose and is sometimes associated 'ith a 2hot3 or 2high horse.3
Fermentation of fiber +insoluble carbohydrates, in the hindgut results in @FA production. A diet of
fiber alone cannot support ma.imal 'or(loads especially anaerobic 'or(. The horse cannot fill
the glycogen fuel tan( from hay alone. A horse performing intense e.ercise may need a hay-to-
grain ratio of 7:6F: percent to meet its energy demands. Horses should al'ays be fed at least
one percent of their body 'eight in roughage to maintain proper gut function.
The maturity of hay greatly affects the digestibility. 1ea!ing grass gro'ing e!en an e.tra 9: days
'ill decrease the digestibility significantly. Also if the hay is cut !ery early the fiber content can be
!ery lo' and can cause problems for the horse<s digesti!e tract. The !itamin content of hay 'ill
also decrease 'ith storage time.
Fat is a !ery energy dense source of calories. It is added to the ration of the horse in order to
meet high-energy demands 'ithout running into starch o!erloading. @egetable oils are !ery
palatability and also impro!e the hair coat. Fat is the primary source of energy for aerobic
Protein is a metabolically e.pensi!e source of energy. Horses re)uire certain amounts of protein
for different stages of life not certain percentages. Adult performance horses re)uire 7:g
protein0>cal of energy. Aro'ing horses re)uire E:g protein0>cal. >ost straight grains 'ill be
deficient in specific amino acids li(e lysine. 1ysine is necessary for proper gro'th in foals so it
should be added to balance a feed. Protein re)uirements increase 'ith e.ercise but the protein-
to-calorie ratio does not. Protein is used to repair and build muscle.
/pecific Nutrients Affecting The Hoof
There are se!eral nutrients that can influence hoof gro'th and )uality. There is !ery little
e!idence to suggest that the addition of e.tra nutrients to an already balanced diet 'ill promote
hoof gro'th in the normal horse.
"nergy has been sho'n to affect the gro'th of the hoof in gro'ing animals +Butler G Hint$ 8HCC,.
The energy inta(e 'as restricted in one group of gro'ing horses 'hile the other group 'as fed ad
libitum. A reduced rate of hoof gro'th 'as seen in the energy-restricted group. It is possible that
anything that restricts body 'eight gain 'ill also restrict gro'th rate of the hoof.
The hoof is predominantly (eratin 'hich is an insoluble protein. Protein deficiency can ha!e the
same effect as energy deficiency. The hoof gro'th of 'eanlings fed 8:D protein 'as only t'o
thirds that of 'eanlings fed 87.ED protein. In!estigators ha!e failed to sho' an effect of specific
amino acid supplementation on the gro'th of hoo!es. Although if a horse is fed a diet deficient of
a specific amino acid and balancing that diet promotes 'eight gain then it may also promote hoof
gro'th +Hint$ Current Therapy 8HI;,.
The amino acid concentration has been sho'n to be different 'ithin the horn of good )uality
hoo!es as compared to that of poor )uality hoo!es +Coenen 8HHC,. The essential amino acid
methionine is thought to cause depletion of iron copper and $inc if fed in e.cess. This can lead to
incomplete (eratini$ation and is thought to be associated 'ith crumbling horn and 'hite line
Fats are needed by the hoof to create a permeability barrier. Intercellular lipids are essential for
creating the permeability barrier in the horn 'hich also assists in cell-to-cell adhesion +Bempsen
and Campbell 8HHC,. Permeability barriers help pre!ent bacteria and fungi from penetrating the
horn. *iets containing ade)uate le!els of fat can therefore be beneficial to the hoof.
A proper balance of minerals is also important in hoof gro'th and )uality. /elenium is important
as an antio.idant in the protection of cellular membranes. It is also important in many en$yme
systems. ".cess selenium in the diet can lead to substitution of sulfur in the (eratin fibers 'ith
selenium resulting in little to no structural integrity +Bempson 8HHI,.
>any supplements as 'ell as commercially manufactured diets contain added selenium. There is
the possibility of selenium to.icity from o!er-supplementation. /elenium accumulating plants +e.g.
Astralagus spp, in selenium-rich soils can be to.ic if consumed by horses. /elenium to.icity can
occur 'hen the le!el in the diet reaches 9mg0(g +NRC 8HI:,. Chronic selenium to.icity can result
in hair loss coronitis and bleeding of the coronary band as 'ell as sloughing of the hoof and e!en
laminitis. A shortage of selenium inta(e is not associated 'ith the de!elopment of hoof problems
Jinc has been sho'n to be important in the normal (eratini$ation hoofK therefore inade)uate
le!els can lead to compromised hoof health and )uality. Horses 'ith insufficient hoof horn
strength had less $inc in the hoof horn and plasma than did horses 'ith no hoof horn damage
+Coenen 8HHC,. Jinc deficiency has been associated 'ith reduced gro'th rate and para(aratosis
in gro'ing foals +Harrington et al. 8HC;,.
Calcium and phosphorus and their ratio to each other are related to normal hoof de!elopment.
Calcium is needed for cell-to-cell attachment in the hoof horn. Calcium is also important in the
metabolism of the intercellular lipids. ".cess phosphorus can bloc( the absorption of calcium
from the small intestine. This can result in a calcium deficiency and a disease called Bran
*isease. Bran *isease causes 'ea( and abnormal bones. Calcium deficiency can affect cell-to-
cell attachment and metabolism of intercellular lipids. Commercially manufactured feeds are
balanced so that 'hen fed 'ith good )uality hay the proper Ca6P ratio 'ill be achie!ed.
There has been a plethora of in!estigations into the effect of biotin on the gro'th rate and )uality
of hoo!es. Biotin is a 'ater-soluble !itamin that is normally produced in the hindgut of the horse.
Controlled studies ha!e had !arying results on 'hether or not biotin supplementation has an
effect on the gro'th of hoof horn. Reilly +8HHI, Bains +8HHE, and Buffa et al. found that biotin
supplementation increased hoof gro'th. Aeyer and /chul$e +8HH7, and ?ossec( et al. +8HHE,
found no difference in gro'ths rates and *ittrich et al. +8HH7, sho'ed a decrease in hoof gro'th
during biotin supplementation.
*espite this confusion many horses are supplemented 'ith biotin in hopes of impro!ing their hoof
gro'th or )uality. It is generally accepted that biotin impro!es the )uality of hoo!es and many do
belie!e that it 'ill shorten the 2rene'al time3 of the hoof capsule.
*osages for biotin range from C.E mg0day to F: mg0day for a mature horse. The amount of time
re)uired for supplementation in order to see results in the hoof also !aries from fi!e to nine
months. Biotin deficiency has not been reported to cause a problem 'ith hoof de!elopment. No
controlled studies ha!e been published to establishing a dietary re)uirement abo!e that 'hich is
produced by intestinal synthesis +NRC 8HIH,. %hile biotin supplementation may help some
horses it is not re)uired by most of the population. Commercially manufactured feeds utili$ing
)uality ingredients 'ill contain naturally occurring biotin. /ome feeds formulated for senior horses
that may ha!e impaired hindgut function 'ill ha!e added biotin.
@itamin A is a fat-soluble !itamin that plays an important role in cell differentiation and integrity.
Inade)uate le!els may result in hoof dryness.
To determine if your horse has a good balance of protein !itamins minerals energy and
nutrients a body condition scoring system can be applied.
Body Condition /coring /ystem
A good method to determine 'hether or not you are meeting your horse<s energy demands is by
using a body condition scoring system. This system ran(s horses from 8-H based on the amount
of stored body fat and s(eletal muscling. A score of 283 is an emaciated horse. A score of 2H3 is an
obese horse. A score of 2E3 is considered ideal for an athlete.
Horses that are not 'or(ing or reproducing may get all the energy they need from good )uality
hay or pasture to maintain a body condition score of E-C. Ho'e!er they 'ill not get their mineral
needs met from this aloneK therefore they 'ill need a mineral supplement. A trace minerali$ed
salt bloc( is HID salt and 'ill not meet the mineral re)uirements. A horse on pasture alone 'ill
re)uire a real mineral supplement in bloc( or loose form. A plain salt bloc( should be a!ailable at
all times also.
%hen trying to balance a horse<s diet it must be (ept in mind that straight grains alone are going
to be deficient in se!eral nutrients. =ats for e.ample are a good source of fiber but are !ariable
in protein and inade)uate in trace minerals and !itamins. And feeding horses by !olume instead
of by 'eight is a common mista(e. A coffee can of oats corn and a commercially pelleted feed
'ill all 'eigh different amounts.
In summary the balance of protein !itamins minerals and energy is more important than
supplementation of &ust one of them. The re)uirements of the basic nutrients 'ill !ary bet'een
the life stage and or 'or(load of the horse. The horse should be fed good )uality roughage at a
rate of no less than one percent of its body 'eight along 'ith a balanced concentrate. These
should be fed at a rate to (eep the horse at a body condition score of E-C. If this is done then you
'ill consistently meet the nutritional needs of the horse 'hile pro!iding for healthy hoo!es.
posted6 ;0F09::;. 1ast updated6 ;0F09::;.
B"ilding a Fo"ndation o, Foot Care in Foals
by Stephen E. O'Grady, %VM, MCVS
/tephen ". =#Arady *@> >RC@/
Among the many factors that determine the success of a foal as a sales yearling or a mature
athlete are management decisions about its feet and limbs during its first four months of life.
Because a solid foundation for performance in the future begins 'ith foot care in the foal many
leading breeding farms use programs that combine the s(ills of a !eterinarian +'ith an interest in
podiatry, 'ith the s(ills of a farrier. This &oint !enture allo's an earlier and more accurate
diagnosis treatment and prognosis of foot problems. Although this type of pre!enti!e program
may be time-consuming if it corrects a foot or limb problem and increases the athletic potential of
e!en one animal it is a 'orth'hile in!estment.
"!aluating the foal
Careful obser!ation and record-(eeping begins at birth and continues throughout the foal<s
de!elopment. The physical appearance of a foal<s limbs and feet at birth should be recorded
along 'ith changes that occur as he or she gro's. %hen e.amining the feet and limbs an
imaginary dot system 'or(s nicely. /tarting at the ground surface of the foot an imaginary dot is
placed on the toe coronary band fetloc( top of cannon bone (nee top of (nee and top of
forearm. By connecting these dots 'ith an imaginary line it is easy to see if and0or 'here a
deformity e.ists. In the ideal situation the dots should form a straight line 'hen !ie'ed from the
Ne.t !ie' the foal from the side. Chec( to see if the coronary band is le!el or parallel 'ith the
ground and if the hoof and pastern angles are the same--not bro(en for'ard or bro(en
bac('ard. Also any s'ellings of the limb or &oints should be noted.
Finally 'atch the foal 'al( to'ard and a'ay from you. Because this can be difficult as they
seldom 'al( straight 'al( the mare along a fence or 'all and let the foal follo'. This part of the
e.amination chec(s for any lameness that may be present the arc of the foot flight ho' the foot
brea(s o!er at the toe and especially ho' the foot contacts the ground. Foals should be obser!ed
'al(ing each time their feet are trimmed.
Trimming the foal
Lnless your !eterinarian suggests other'ise foals should ha!e their first trim around one month
of age and remain on a monthly schedule. In these first fe' months of life more attention should
be paid to the structural integrity of the foot +its si$e and mass, than to its cosmetic appearance.
The goal is to promote the gro'th of thic( durable hoof 'allK ensure ma.imum sole depth to
protect the 'hite line and coffin boneK and establish a strong heel base. These three factorsM
strong hoof 'all ade)uate sole and solid heelMare !ital for future soundness.
In most cases all that is necessary to trim foals that are (ept on a monthly schedule is a hoof pic(
and rasp. The frog is left untouched to ser!e as a protecti!e mechanism absorbing and
dissipating concussi!e forces. /ince the sole in a foal is e.tremely thin it is also left untouched to
pro!ide protection to immature de!eloping structures in the foot. Remo!ing as little hoof 'all as
possible and simply shaping and smoothing causes it to become thic(er and more durable.
The ob&ecti!e in trimming foals is to achie!e balance that is to encourage the foot to land flat or
contact the ground e!enly. Careful thought should be gi!en before using correcti!e trimming
procedures on a foal 'ith a limb deformity. /ince the problem is generally a conformational
deformity of structures abo!e the foot changing the balance of the foot may lead to other
problems. Careful e.amination of a foal<s limbs at birth and throughout its first fe' months--along
'ith accurate record-(eeping and a good 'or(ing relationship bet'een you your !eterinarian
and your farrierMare the (eys to a sound athletic horse in the future.
posted6 F08F09::9. 1ast updated6 F08F09::9.
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