A soft, crumbly equine hoof is the bane of any horse person's existence. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural ways to strengthen horse hooves, consisting primarily of supplements, hoof ointments and conditioning. Your horsekeeping methods also have a great effect on the quality of your animal's feet. Your horse needs regular visits from the farrier to keep his feet in good shape.
The Right Conditions
It's important to keep your horse's feet dry. Too much moisture softens feet, but even worse is a constant wet/dry cycle, causing hoof expansion followed by contraction. There's nothing you can do about the weather and sometimes relatively little can be done regarding pasture conditions, but you can avoid soaking your horse's feet after a ride in warm weather. Instead of hosing him down, use a sponge so his feet don't get wet.
Exercise aids in hoof strengthening. That means both regular work and turnout, so his feet receive stimulation.
While it's important to keep your horse's feet dry, there's a problem if the ground is so hard it's like standing on concrete. In that case, it may help to run a hose near the water trough so the area around it becomes muddy. A little exposure to mud every day during the dry season can prevent hoof soreness from constantly walking on hard ground.
Even if your horse eats quality hay and feed, he might require a hoof supplement for strengthening. There's certainly no shortage of hoof supplements on the market -- figuring out the best one for your horse is the challenge. Look for hoof supplements containing:
- Biotin, a B vitamin, at about 20 milligrams per dose.
Ground stabilized flaxseed, available at most feed stores, is another supplement aiding the hooves and coat, and most horses like the taste. Other supplements, such as zinc or calcium, can help strengthen hooves, but require balancing with other minerals. Your vet or veterinary nutritionist can help you find the right supplements for your horse's needs.
There's also a plethora of hoof hardeners on tack store shelves, but most of these don't fall into the "natural" category. One product used for generations and still common today is pine tar. This natural resin helps maintain internal hoof moisture -- a good thing -- while sealing the outer hoof to protect it from harm. Hoof conditioners containing tea tree oil also help seal and protect the foot.
Always read the product ingredients carefully in any hoof hardener or conditioner. One of the most common ingredients in many such products is formaldehyde.
For some horse people, barefoot hooves are akin to a religion. In fact, some horses will need shoes because of poor hoof quality or the job they do, but many equines can benefit from going without shoes. The key to successfully transitioning your horse to barefoot consists of finding a good barefoot trimmer and allowing the horse time to adjust. Barefoot advocates claim that natural is better, because it restores the hoof's natural symmetry. Hoof boots are available if you're planning to work your horse on rocky or otherwise difficult terrain, but unlike shoes, they come off once the work is over.