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  • Kathryn Hulland

Hoof Care information


So I spent today learning all about horses feet, and what a lovely day it was - pouring down outside with flooding so I was quite pleased to be inside talking horses for a change.

The event was organised by Catherine Warren DEP MEPA (UK) her website is http://www.fitforaqueenie.co.uk/

I have written a small glimpse of what I picked up below but don't rely on this, it was just a one day workshop and I may have misremembered something or misunderstood so though I am pretty sure it is correct don't follow any of the below without looking into it further!! ;-)

Jayne Hunt is a member of the Equine Podiatry Association and teacher of future EPAs was giving the one day owners workshop. I used an EPA some years ago when my horse had laminitis, she had been barefoot and she was becoming footy, I called my farrier who trimmed her and he advised putting shoes on and wanting to do the best for my horse I agreed, he put them on and she quickly took a turn for the worse being unable to walk and had a full blown laminitis attack, I got him back out as soon as he was able to take the shoes back off and started looking in to other options, this is when I discovered the EPA. Of course I had the vet out and followed standard procedure, I won't go any further in to the laminitis journey as you can read all about it on a blog I wrote if you are bored enough! I would add this was a few years ago and I would do things differently now, though I like to think I would now know enough not to end up with a laminitic horse (although with Cushing’s, insulin resistance and so many other factors that can cause laminitis you can never say never). To read my laminitis blog click here

The EPA I used helped me hugely, not only did he take care of Lily's feet he educated me along the way, he advised on nutrition and how to manage her recovery; he explained to me the different parts of the hoof, what he was doing during a trim and why he was doing it. I always like to know why something is being done, rather than just have someone out to do a job I do tend to ask a million questions! Lily's frogs were almost non-existent, I hadn't realised this wasn't really normal and that hard chemicals for thrush could actually in turn help feed the bacteria that caused it and so I was then educated on the use of Red Horse Products and wow what a discovery, I still swear by them. It may take a little longer to see the effect than using peroxide (hasten to add I never used that) but the result is much more long term.

I became obsessed​​ with horses feet but must admit my obsession dwindled once there was no more need to be so obsessed and especially when I had no horse or pony to obsess about.

And so I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting today's talk was and how much I learned along the way, in particular the diet side of hoof care. I know a balanced diet is what is needed for the whole horse including healthy feet but I have learned a bit more intrinsic detail of a horse's requirements in the UK. We also got to have a look at some real pedal and navicular bones which was really interesting as normally we see this via cross section so they look very different.

The most interesting bit for me was the diet and learning a bit more about what is in feeds, grass, hay, what we are deficient in in the UK and what we may have too much of. Some information I knew but much was new to me.

Diet

I am going to summarise a little on the diet in the UK as others may find it interesting.

The main diet for a horse should be fibre, the best source of fibre is hay, and it is in fact better than grass. We shouldn't be feeding our horses grains or bran and many pellet foods contain bran as this help bind the pellets and is a filler. Grain can kill the good bacteria in the gut and horses really need a healthy gut!

For laminitics short grass is bad, it has little benefit and is generally high in sugar so those grazing short grass are far better off that and on hay. The best type of hay is meadow hay, beware of chemicals used to grow hay, this isn't so much of a problem in the UK. Soaking hay is not necessarily a good thing, a soak of 20-30 minutes is ok as this will help remove potassium and starch however any longer and you breed bacteria. When a hay net is soaked of 12 hours it sits in water that are filled with bacteria which shouldn't really even go down the drain, you don't want your horse eating that. It also gets rid of all the nutrients and when a horse is fighting an illness their body needs nutrients.

Something I used with Lily was a mix of hay and oat straw to ensure she got enough forage but not too many calories. If you try this introduce the straw slowly, and do not use wheat straw.

I learned much more about the make-up of nutrients available to the horses, good and bad. For example they only need 0.4% of potassium daily yet our grass contains up to 7%. This isn't necessarily a problem by itself, normally sodium will balance potassium levels however we don't have much sodium, when this imbalance occurs it then means the body is unable to do other things like metabolise magnesium and so then they become magnesium deficient. We need to remember it's not just about adding magnesium to the diet but also the nutrients that allow the body to take up this magnesium. Salt licks are great but horses may still not get enough and when potassium is really high the horse loses its ability to self-select salt and realise it needs it. For that reason it was recommended adding salt to the feed. It would take a lot of salt to overdose a horse, the recommended daily intake in feed is 1 tablespoon, and rock salt is best. Table salt for example appears to contain very fine glass and sand as fillers! Sea salt is high in Iodine which can upset the thyroid so rock salt it is - I can see my own table salt changing now too!

If a horse is foot sore, or extra jumpy it may be suffering from a magnesium deficiency. It is safe to add magnesium to the diet and see if it has an effect, you should use Magnesium Oxide Light (available from Red Horse Products) and you should see a change in about 6 weeks. I used Magnesium when Lily had laminitis, she was always quite a stressy on edge mare and magnesium had an amazing effect on her, she chilled out a lot more!

Iron is something horses will rarely be deficient in, if there is an issue it's more a problem with the body's inability to use stores of iron rather than an iron deficiency, something to be aware of if a horse diagnosed with anaemia.

It was very interesting to learn that some horses are very sensitive to Alfalfa and can get footy, something to bear in mind if you are feeding it and something isn't feeling right.

Vitamin E helps with cell renewal, hay loses vitamin E.

Micro linseed and black sunflower seeds were recommended as a form of vitamin E and a safer supplement to use to help weight gain.

Beware of feed labelling! Just because it says it is for laminitics or good for hooves doesn't mean it will fix everything. For example hoof supplements often contain biotin but if your horse is not lacking biotin it won't help, the horse's diet needs to be looked at as whole and if this is done correctly extra biotin is not needed.

A horse only needs 20 minutes a day on some fresh grass to get most of their daily intake of vitamins and minerals so just a 20 minute in hand graze of some verges and hedges will be beneficial if you are short on grass (as many of us are during this very wet winter!)

A breakdown of the main vitamins:

Vitamin A: A horse will get enough of this after a 20 minute graze

Vitamin B: is contained in the bacteria in the hind gut hence it is very important a horse has a healthy hind gut and as long as enough fibre is fed a horse will have its own production of Vitamin Bs

Vitamin C: This is made in the horses liver, so if the liver is ill this will reduce production. If supplementing vitamin C needs to be fed fresh as it is lost in processing.

Vitamin D: Obtained through sunlight - consider this if a horse is kept inside a lot. There is talk a horse can take it in even through the eyes.

Vitamin E: Fresh grass

So really as long as your horse has the right fibre and diet naturally no supplementation is needed. We rely a lot on balancers these days and we do need to be careful not to overfeed, Jayne pointed out an overall balancer is not going to fix an imbalance as it is feeding all the vits and mins, you need to know what is lacking and up this, or what is too much and lessen it, if you just up the intake of everything the imbalance remains the same.

Minerals are a little more tricky as we have lots of deficiencies in our soil. Zinc, copper, magnesium and sodium are ones to look out for. Selenium is also one but you can over supplement selenium. So be very careful with supplements, too much of something can cause issues, be careful of iron too.

Probalance by Progressive Earth is a balancer that was recommended.

A couple of tips for the very good doers who can't have too many calories were given. Feeding organic Oat hulls (ensure they are organic as it is the hulls that will contain chemicals) and split peas are good fillers that just go through the system to make what they need to eat more palatable. Also black sun flower seeds.

Ulcers

And so the discussion then went on to ulcers which I found very useful as this is an issue I come across in horses. It has become clearer more and more horses have ulcers especially in high performance horses but even our happy hacking horses can have them. Signs of ulcers include the horse looking tucked up, failure to thrive and put weight on, girth area is sensitive, sensitive in the rib cage - hip area, sensitive behind the saddle, picky eater, standing a bit "goat on a rock" like, sometimes you may find with the right hind leg they snap it up when picking it up and are slow to put it back down.

So what are the causes? There appear to be many, stress is no doubt one and what stresses your horses out may vary, for some it may be being stabled for too long, not having a friend in the field, pain when being ridden etc. Other causes that have been shown to cause ulcers are Bute, a horse going without feed for 4 hours (remember they are designed to eat continuously), it is a good idea when tacking up to allow your horse a munch on a hay net this will ensure the acid in the stomach isn't splashing around during exercise (obviously don't overfeed). I am sure there are many other causes out there and it is something we are still learning more about and only recently realising what a problem they are for so many of our horses.

What can help ulcers? Charcoal is something that has been recommended in the past but I learned a bit more about this today, charcoal will pull out toxins but that's it really and should only be used for 10 days at a time for that reason, it can also pull out good things with it. Gastro guard helps by reducing acidity in the stomach but does not cure the cause. One of the best options if you suspect ulcers is Hilton Herbs Gastri X. It contains slippery elm which helps by producing a mucus which protects the gut and helps the PH balance which encourages friendly bacteria. It is good to try as feeding it is not going to hurt and who knows it may help! It was recommended that if ulcers are bad feed this on a full dose for 3 months then halve the dose for 3 months, you should see an improvement within 6 weeks. Friendly bacteria to ensure a healthy hind gut is what is really needed, you may find your horse is very bloaty and farty if he has an unhealthy hind gut; so a high fibre diet of course will help, regular forage, Thunderbrook balancers are good as is Protexin as a probiotic boost. Turmeric is talked about a lot at the moment I take it myself but we were warned to be careful as it can irritate the gut - remember every horse is different so what works really well for one may not work so well for others - Alfalfa is another example of this as previously mentioned above.

Hormonal imbalances

And then we went on to discuss hormonal balances such as Cushings and insulin resistance. There is so much information out there about these conditions but still so little is really known, I will briefly run over what was discussed:

Symptoms of cushings include thirst, more frequent urination, loss of top line, crest, fat pads, longer coat, inability to shed out the coat which can cause sweating which is thought to be the cause of the curly coat, it is important to clip so the horse doesn't get too sweaty. Cushings is caused by the miscommunication in the body regarding cortisol production. The message from the pituitary gland to stop doesn't get through and so the levels get higher and higher.

With insulin resistance the horse tends to get fat pads and you may well be able to see the ribs.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome is when a horse keeps weight on and is fat despite lower calories, it seems to be those that can live on air, increasing movement is very important, starvation is not an option though, many people use this strategy but it will only make the horse more hungry and possibly eat quicker - so if they have restricted turn out they eat as much in an hour as they otherwise would in 3!

Cracks in the hoof wall

Later we talked about the hoof and cracks, different products put on to "help" and bedding. Often we see cracks in hooves in the summer and start trying to apply hoof moisture or something. This won't help and it is usually the case the cracks were there in the winter just we don't see them as in wet conditions the hoof is a bit more expanded and hides them. We were reminded with cracks that these open up a feeding ground to bacteria to get through so we should manage what is around there feet. It has been shown that horse poo is particularly bad for breeding bacteria in feet and horse urine is surprisingly not very bad. So be careful if your horse messes his bed up and tramples his poo all around it! Shavings and paper bedding also help to breed bacteria. Rubber matting is good as a cushion but you should provide bedding as well.

It is amazing how many people still use hoof oil which is actually really bad for hooves, I am always shocked it is still so widly used.

Biomechanics

Remember the feet balance is relative to the rest of the horse, if something is out in the body you may find this will affect the balance of the hooves, one hoof may take more weight and so grow more. If there is imbalance in the hoof the whole body needs to be assessed, a chiropractor, a saddle fitter even a riding instructor may be needed to help - it could be the way you ride and distribute your weight that causes the problem.

We must always look for the root cause not just try and fix the problem with a rebalance of the hoof.

And so I will leave it there. I picked up a few interesting nuggets of information and was reminded of much I already knew which is always useful and really enjoyed the day. We did also take a quick visit to a couple of horses up the road to look at their feet, but it was raining, a lot!

Jayne's website is http://www.healthyhooves.co.uk/

On it she has lots of useful information sheets:


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