You Aren't Quite What You Eat:
Nutrition for Barefoot Horses

Nutrition for Barefoot Horses
Todays post is all about nutrition for barefoot horses with sore feet. Of course you’ve already read the previous two articles in this series and have a much clearer idea as to whether your horse has got weak hooves or sensitive feetand you’re ready for the next step…

If you missed the first 2 posts, you’ll find them here:
Part 1: In Good Condition
Part 2: A Sensitive Situation

If you’re thinking that your horse has both sensitive and weak feet and you’re wondering what to do, I’d advise you to always address the sensitivity first. When the feet are sensitive the internal structures are compromised. It’s the internal structures that grow the hoof capsule, so if they’re not happy, there’s not much you can do to make them grow better hoof. Sensitive structures first.

I suspect you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting to find out what kind of conditioning work will produce the results you’re after… Well I’m getting there. There’s just 1 more important thing we need to cover first.


Sometimes I refer to it as Nutrition, Nutrition, Nutrition! Other times as NUTRITION!!!! Yeah I bang on about nutrition a lot!

Now here’s another well known saying that I don’t completely agree with ‘You are what you eat’. You see, that’s not strictly true. It would be more accurate to say, ‘you are what you digest’. There’s a big difference between what you eat and what you digest.

Ask anyone with a thoroughbred who has to eat twice as much as a horse half it’s weight and still looks a bit skinny. Half of what they’re feeding is coming out the other end without having been digested. It makes for a better quality fertiliser I’m sure, but it’s an expensive way of producing fertiliser.

When Is A Balanced Diet Not A Balanced Diet?

The gut has to be functioning properly to be able to digest the food going into it. The gut transit time has to be right. The horse’s gut works a bit like a compost heap. If the food isn’t in there long enough, it doesn’t have enough time to break down and be absorbed.

If it’s in there too long, it’s going to fester and go rancid, producing toxins that will be absorbed into the bloodstream. So it’s a little like a fairy tale, not to slow, not to fast, it has to be just right.

The liver is really important! It’s unfortunate that I’ve seen the liver missing from more than 1 diagram of the equine digestive system. Infact the liver has multiple functions in digestion. It produces bile to help with the breakdown of food and it processes the nutrients absorbed from the small intestine by turning them into the various chemicals the body needs to survive.

It processes protein and synthesises amino acids, stores sugar, and that’s just a handful of the cool stuff it does. It’s also vital to hormone balance, blood pressure regulation, and detoxification. It’s’ the largest internal organ. The clue is in the name LIVEr. In short, it’s important (I think I already said that!).

I think you get the idea here, if the digestive system isn’t working well then even if your diet is perfectly balanced in the bucket, your horse isn’t absorbing a balanced diet. But lets assume that your horse is digesting properly and look at what’s in the bucket.

What’s In Your Bucket?

Figuring out what’s in your bucket isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Feed companies don’t always put a complete list of ingredients on the packets, because they don’t have to. Even if they do, have you ever noticed that your chaff changes colour across a year?

Sometimes it’s quite golden, other times it’s a lot more green. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but how come the nutritional information on the packet doesn’t change, when the product inside the pack clearly does? It’s all worked out on averages. That’s ok, I’m not complaining about that, I’m just pointing it out. We don’t always know exactly what we’re feeding.

What about the breakdown of nutrients. Certain vitamins are very fragile. They can break down under manufacturing and packaging processes. It may have been in the ingredients, or in the feed at the time it was analysed for nutritional content, but it may not be in your feed bucket.

Often when you get a nutritional breakdown of a feed, it may tell you what elemental minerals are in there, but not what form. Some compounds are easier for the horse to absorb than others. Having 5g of magnesium oxide is a whole different thing to having 5g of magnesium chelate, or citrate, pincolate, chloride, lactate or others, they’re just the ones I remember off the top of my head.

In addition to bucket feed, don’t forget that the grass and hay intake in a horse’s diet dramatically outweighs the quantity of feed. The feed may contain more mineral content, but the bulk of what’s going through the gut is forage (i hope!).

Why is Nutrition for Barefoot Horses So Important?

The hooves are always growing, always regenerating new material. The only thing the foot has to build the hoof capsule out of is the nutrients it’s supplied with. So what your horse is digesting has a direct effect on the quality of the hoof horn. The Circulation.

The food is the raw materials, the gut is the factory that processes them into building blocks. The circulation is the transport system that gets the building materials to the foot, and the foot is the work men who builds the hoof capsule. They all work together.

If you have the issues causing sensitivity under control then you have good circulation to the foot, that means you can finally get your building supplies to your builders. If you have the digestion sorted then you’re getting the right nutrients through. Then, and only then, will exercises to strengthen the foot be beneficial.

Strengthening a hoof capsule is exactly what it sounds like. You need supplies with which to build a stronger wall, or to thicken a sole, strengthen a digital cushion or a lateral cartilage. If there’s nothing there to build it from, you’ve got builders without anything to build with. It would be like them going through the motions of building a wall without any bricks. They might as well be drinking tea and telling rude jokes!

What do you think?
Put your 2 cents in and tell me in the comments below or on the Facebook or Twitter page.


Want to read the rest of this series?
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

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