There are now so many horse hoof supplement available - many of which claim to improve the condition of the hooves offering an almost overnight improvement. But are these claims true? And how can you tell if your horse really needs a supplement?
Let's look at it in a logical fashion. The most visible part of the hoof, the outer hoof wall, tends to grow on average about 1cm (3/8") per month. This growth originates at the coronary band at the top of the hoof and works it's way down to the ground, taking approximately 9 months to grow an entirely new hoof. So logically, if there is any improvement from feeding a horse hoof supplement it is only going to show up in the new growth and you will need to keep feeding it for at least 2-3 months before you will really see if it is working or not.
The easiest way is by studying the outside of the hoof - as the outer hoof wall is a great indicator of hoof health. If it is smooth and solid looking then you probably have a pretty healthy hoof, nutrition-wise, so a horse hoof supplement is not required.
However if you have wrinkles, ridges or cracks then this is the hoof's way of telling you that you need to look deeper into the nutritional needs of your horse.
Poor hoof quality is often a direct result of the horse not getting adequate amounts of the essential nutrients it requires. But how do you find out what is lacking? Well, first you need to look at what you are feeding your horse. Is it biologically correct, ie is it the types of food that the horse has evolved to eat? Horses have evolved to be foragers and need to eat small amounts almost constantly so their ideal diet is grass or grass hay - click here for more information on meeting your horse's biological needs.
However, grass can vary greatly in it's nutritional composition as it is dependent on the minerals available in the soil. So if your soil is deficient in a certain mineral then the grass will also be deficient. See www.safergrass.org (opens in a new window) for lots of great info on the subject of grass.
The best way to find out what your grass or hay contains is to get an analysis done at www.equi-analytical.com (opens in a new window). Read the "Taking a Sample" info on that site and request the (603) trainer package which is $49, to get a full breakdown for your hay.
Once you have the results you will then have a much better idea of what nutrients your horse is currently getting and you will be able to make an informed decision on the appropriate horse hoof supplement to give. If you don't get your grass or hay tested then you have no idea of what might be lacking and you will more than likely end up wasting lots of money (as most of the horse hoof supplements are very expensive) and not getting any positive results.
Once you have your analysis you then have two choices. The first is to find an "off the shelf" horse hoof supplement that provides the missing nutrients. This may be easier said than done as a lot of supplements don't contain the correct ratio of minerals. If the ratio balance between minerals is incorrect the body won't be able to use them properly and this could lead to other problems.
The second choice is not quite as simple but it is the most cost-effective and will ensure that your horse gets everything he needs and that is to design a custom mineral supplement. You can either do this yourself or there are companies like Horsetech (opens in a new window) or Uckele (opens in a new window) who will do it for you.
If you do decide to do it yourself please make sure you fully understand the calculations and order the correct amounts of each mineral as the wrong figures could seriously harm your horse. To avoid this you can use the services of Dr Kellon (opens in a new window) who, for around $100, will do a consultation for you.
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