Have you ever considered the substantial influence the health of our horse’s hooves and joints have on one another? For example, can poor hoof quality negatively impact joint health? Can a joint injury add extra strain to the hoof? It is easy to look at our horse’s health from a narrow perspective, only considering the problem at hand. When it comes to the longevity and comfort of the horse, we need to look at the whole picture. The horse’s joints and hooves function together in its movement and balance. When one is afflicted, the other is often affected as well.
Effects from offloading, poor nutrition, hoof balance, terrain, and body condition accumulate over time, weakening the horse’s extremities and creating real problems in the horse’s locomotion. These influences become even more important for older horses, who are more susceptible to joint pain, arthritis, and hoof problems such as laminitis. In part one of this blog, we will discuss the impact that body condition and nutrition have on the health of the hooves and joints.
Overweight Body Condition
Obesity continues to be a growing problem in the horse community. Approximately 50% of the horse population in the United States is considered overweight. It is almost guaranteed that an obese horse will eventually develop hoof and/or joint problems. The additional weight increases the strain and pressure heaped onto the hooves and joints. The excess weight will also boost the risk of problems developing when combined with unbalanced hooves, frequent exposure to hard terrain, and offloading. In addition, most of these horses also do not receive enough exercise or balanced diets. This sedentary lifestyle does not provide the needed exercise to maintain joint strength and quality. Providing an imbalanced diet only adds to the problem. Nutrient and caloric excesses in the diet are typical in overweight horses and can have many consequences on the health of the hooves and joints. Common problems that can occur in obese horses are:
- Hoof “pancaking”
- Joint inflammation
- Hoof Abscesses
- Joint related injuries
- White line separation
- Poor hoof and joint quality
- Sore joints
Overweight Body Condition: What to Do?
The most impactful move horse owners can make to reduce their horse’s body weight is to return to the “basic diet” of the horse. Remove all complete feeds, sweet feeds, and treats from the horse’s diet. Utilize grass and hay as the cornerstone of your horse’s feeding program. We also recommend including a quality hay and pasture balancer, such as Barn Bag®, for nutritional support. This approach allows horse owners to control the number of calories their horses receive while still providing the essential nutrients the horse requires. Adding regular exercise to the horse’s daily regime is also extremely important. Start slow and allow the horse to build up to the new activities. The last thing you want to do is cause an injury by pushing your horse too hard and too fast.
Nutrition & Supplementation
The health and quality of your horse’s hooves and joints are reliant on proper nutrition and a balanced diet. In fact, poor hoof quality is one of the first signs of poor nutrition. The hooves, skin, hair coat, and ligaments supporting the joints are all made of connective tissue. If the hooves are impacted by poor nutrition, all other connective tissues of the horse will suffer, including the joints. Although nutrient imbalances can develop in any horse, overweight horses are highly susceptible to imbalances and the resulting hoof and joint issues.
Nutrient deficiencies and excesses in the diet will hinder the development of hoof and joint quality. One example is a deficiency in Vitamin A which creates a hoof wall defect where the hoof wall “flakes” away. Another perfect example is sulfur. A deficiency of sulfur-containing amino acids could lead to structural weakness of the ligaments, tendons, joints, and hooves. However, too much sulfur in the diet can have a negative effect on connective tissue strength. When hoof and joint quality are poorly affected by nutrition, we can expect:
- Higher risks of thrush, white line disease, and microbial invasions
- Hoof abscesses
- Deteriorating joint health
- Joint inflammation
- Variations of poor hoof quality
- Risks of injury
- Hoof defects and deformities
Nutrition & Supplementation: What to Do?
Providing a balanced diet supported with essential nutrients will have one of the most significant impacts on your horse’s hooves and joints. Adding a quality hoof supplement to your horse’s feeding program will also benefit all dermal tissue of the horse, including the hoof and the connective tissue of the joint. A hoof supplement will build, improve, and support hoof quality to make it more resilient to many hoof problems.
Horse owners can also utilize a joint supplement to support joint health further. Although, feeding a hoof supplement with a separate joint supplement can have risks of sulfur over-supplementation. To avoid over-supplementing, utilizing a combo product to support hoof and joint health, such as Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint, is highly recommended. Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint is balanced to support the hoof and joint without the risk of over-supplementation. Starting horses on Farrier’s Formula® DS Plus Joint from an early age is also a great preventive measure.
Prevention Versus Treatment
Preventing a problem is always better than treating a problem. Protecting and building quality hooves and joints begins at conception. Waiting to tackle a problem until there is a problem can be time-consuming, costly, and have lasting effects on your horse’s health. The key to prevention and extending the longevity of your horse begins with:
- Utilizing proper nutrition with supplementation
- Regular exercise
- Daily horse management
- Maintaining a proper farrier schedule
Although nutrition and weight management are major factors in hoof and joint health, there are other factors that still need to be considered. In part 2 of “Correlations Between Equine Hoof and Joint Health,” we will dive further into this subject to discuss offloading, terrain, and unbalanced hooves. Contact us if you have any questions about this article or the supplements mentioned. Consult with your farrier and veterinarian immediately if you believe your horse has a hoof or joint problem.