So obviously when we glance at these hooves, we can tell that something isn’t right. Hooves should not look like this.

nasty hoof

But the regular horse owner has been trained to start putting some type of hoof dressing (or used motor oil) on this type of hoof. Or to treat for white line or thrush. While dressing the hoof can help to a certain degree and the thrush and/or the white line does need to be killed off, these hooves are telling us that the horse is really lacking something internally.

Hoof tissue is highly metabolic, which means that it is very responsive to diet and systemic occurrences such as illness and exercise. Poor hoof quality is one of the most obvious outward signs that your horse is not healthy on the inside.

So what are some of the most common deficiencies that are lacking in our horses’ diets that lead to health problems and poor quality hooves? This explanation from an Australian veterinarian is pretty easy to understand.


Skin, coat and hooves are all made of the same major structural protein, keratin. Keratin, like all proteins in the body is made up of a strand of amino acids, some of which are non-essential (alanine and glycine, the horse’s body can manufacture these from within) and essential (cysteine – produced from methionine, the horse can’t make these, it is ‘essential’ that they are included in the diet). Therefore, poor quality protein with imbalanced essential amino acid profiles, may lead to hoof structure problems.


The hoof wall contains a variety of fats and waxy substances that provide a barrier against the outside world. They also help to contain moisture within the hoof wall. Like a waxy layer of skin, they keep the water out and the moisture in.

These waxy, oily substances fill the microscopic spaces between the keratin proteins, they give the hoof wall it’s shiny, sleek look.

Generally, horses on predominantly pasture in very, very large pastures, will have no need for additional fats. Horses who are on restricted diets, are fed lots of grain, don’t have much access to pasture or who mainly get fed hay, may need supplementation.

When supplementing fats in the horse’s diet it’s extremely important to keep the omega 3 to omega 6 ratio around what it would be in the horse’s natural diet. The omega 3s are known to be anti-inflammatory – in other words they help resolve inflammation in the body. Whereas the omega 6 is known to be pro-inflammatory, meaning they can worsen inflammation. Therefore a ratio of between 4:1-6:1 is ideal. The best way to do this is to feed ground linseeds (flaxseeds) as they have the closest to ideal ratio of omegas. Between 100-180g per day would be a standard dose.

Horses that are being fed products that contain high levels of omega 6 will also need supplementation to balance out these ratios. Some feeds that are high in omega 6 would include corn, rice bran, canola and vegetable oil and black sunflower seeds.


Vitamin E is important as an antioxidant to protect the fats in the hoof wall. As are the B vitamins, with Biotin receiving the most attention due to some positive research.


Calcium is important for the activation of enzymes involved in the production and binding of the keratin cells of the hoof wall.

Zinc is also essential for hoof wall tissue as it is involved with the production and multiplication of these same keratin cells as well as being involved with cell growth and proliferation. Therefore zinc deficiency could show up as poor quality and thin hoof wall, slow growth rate and poor connection.

Copper is another extremely important trace mineral when it comes to hoof horn quality. It is essential for the production and activation of enzymes that help form and hold the hoof wall cells together.

Selenium, involved with the formation of hoof horn and acts as an antioxidant to protect the fatty protective layer.

Balancing the Ratios

Not only is it important that the minerals in the diet are present in adequate amounts, it is just as important to ensure they are there in the correct ratios. This is because some minerals interfere with the absorption of others. For example, too much zinc has been shown to reduce copper absorption. An excess of iron does the same thing.

If the hoof wall is weak at a cellular level, it will be weak at the physical and structural level. This leads to the breakdown of the cell structure and a weakening of the waxy, fatty barrier. Micro cracks and weaknesses can occur letting microbes and infection into the hoof.”

What is frustrating for many horse owners who just love a quick fix, is that changing the diet to fix the hoof takes at least 2 months and often 4-6.  To get an entirely brand new hoof can take up to a year.  So when they change a horse’s diet, they drop it quickly because “it just isn’t working”.

We want to encourage you to stick with it. Wait it out at least 6 months and then reevaluate the condition of the hooves with your farrier. In most cases you will see a pretty good change after 6 months has gone by.

Also, a word about horses kept stalled or in small pens with muddy conditions. These hooves are much harder to keep healthy. A horse was meant to move around free will about 20 hours per day. They were meant to experience a wide variety of terrain that allowed their hooves to expand and contract and stay supple with good blood flow. Restricting the movement of a horse to small areas with one type of footing has really hampered the healthy growth of the hoof. If your horse must be kept in this way, then frequent (daily) hoof picking and spraying and dressing is going to be on your agenda and it will be doubly important for your horse to be consuming things that promote hoof health.
(some examples of healthy hooves)

At Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue not only do we want to save and adopt out horses but we also want to equip owners to take care of the ones they currently own better and as economically as possible.  As partners of The Right Horse Initiative we believe that the horse in transition can be Just the horse that you are searching for.  But we also believe in being here for our adopters and page followers with practical advice, pragmatic horse husbandry ideas and practices, and sharing our experiences so that you, the follower can learn from them.  Together with the #righthorse it is our goal at Heart of Phoenix to grow a community of knowledgeable horse people and potential adopters who make Great homes for horses looking for their new address. We want to spread the word about good horse care, good equine collaboration, and the viability of a horse in transition as a terrific option for your new friend.