Duwell Winter Health Checklist


Part 1 - Hooves


DUWELL Winter Health Checklist
Winter time can be very challenging with damp and cold conditions putting added stress on our horses and us too! 
Over the next few months our Winter Health Checklist will be highlighting ways to overcome common health issues that show themselves at this time of the year. We highlight what symptoms to look out for that lets you know your horse’s diet needs a little tweaking and what measures you can take to treat common issues. This time we look at hooves. 
Horse’s hooves have evolved (without shoes!) over thousands of years to deal with all-weather types including very wet to very dry and everything in between. 
However problems can arise with sudden changes, for example sudden wet to dry or vice versa or when nutrition is not where it needs to be to support the growth and performance of a healthy hoof.  
It can take time for the hoof to adjust to sudden changes in weather but a healthy hoof will adjust much more quickly than those that are compromised. A horse with uncomfortable feet makes us feel for them and it often doesn’t fit in with our work plans for them.  
Last winter we had very wet conditions then within a very short time, a matter of a few weeks in spring, from memory, it was hot and dry. Many barefoot horses were "footy” even if they have been without shoes for many years. The solution for me was time and using hoof boots until the horse’s hooves had adjusted to the now hard ground. This transition can take a month or two. Some prefer to add shoes which can be a good solution for many horses but shoeing has its own downsides including reduced hoof growth, degradation of hoof quality, slow resolution of abscesses, all due largely to a sizable reduction in circulation caused by the rigidness of the metal shoe. All points worth thinking about when deciding which solution suits your horse. 
A bit about Iron (sorry about the pun!)
Nutrition is key to the integrity of hooves. The strength of the wall and thickness of sole are negatively affected by lack of correct fibre levels and nutrients in the diet, in particular minerals copper and zinc and the main essential amino acids. In some cases over supply of a mineral can also compromise the hoof. Iron is one such mineral. Horses all over the world can suffer with too much iron in their diets. Common feeds stuffs like beet pulp are high in iron. Look for mineral supplements that don’t contain any iron as your horse will most likely have more than enough already. Can we test for iron? There is only one testing machine in the world that is correctly calibrated for testing blood iron levels in horses (Ref: Dr Eleanor Kellon). Once iron is in the horse there is no known way to remove it. 
So how do we deal with this? Answer - Feed good levels of Copper and Zinc. These minerals counteract the effects of high iron and need to be fed together for correct absorption. It is essential, if you are wanting to achieve great hooves on your horse, that copper and zinc levels in the diet are assessed. 
The recommended daily intake –RDI is 250 ppm for copper and 500 ppm for zinc from all sources. These levels are set quite low and much higher levels have been reported without toxicity. Seek the advice of equine nutritionist if you are not sure how to go about assessing this. We can also give you ideas how to go about this. 
If a horse appears to be anaemic or has a bleached or faded coat colour, low copper in the diet can be the culprit. It is best to discuss this with your vet or equine nutritionist.
Amino Acids 
Are another vital part of healthy hooves. These are termed essential as the horse cannot produce them themselves so they have to be supplied in the diet. Methionine in particular if deficient can lead to poor hoof quality and foot soreness. Lysine, threonine and taurine are also important essential amino acids. We have a new product out soon – Amino 4 - that will supply these vital amino acids in very good levels. This will mean healthy hooves and excellent muscle and topline building.  
Fibre is another vital ingredient in healthy hooves
Horses have evolved to eat high fibre diets containing low levels of protein, starch and sugars. When I'm talking about fibre I'm talking about hay as this is the most cost effective and healthy source of fibre to provide for your horse. I avoid soy products as they have undesirable side effects. 
So often we horses in completely the opposite way – short fast growing grass that by default is low in fibre, high in sugar and nitrates and often extremely high potassium especially when it’s frosty. All of which are counterproductive to healthy hooves and a healthy horse for that matter. 
Helpful reactions
During the digestion of fibrous material, of the many chemical reactions that occur, two are really helpful to us humans in the process of caring for our horses. The first one is the production of Biotin, a vitamin essential for the growth of health hoof horn. Biotin is produced by bacteria in a healthy horse’s hindgut when digesting fibre, which is then made available to the horse. No hoof supplement needed! 
The second very useful side effect of fibre digestion is the production of heat. Your horse can literally eat himself warm! 
Ensuring your horse is well supplied with quality horse friendly hay and high quality absorbable forms of minerals, vitamins and amino acids over the winter and in fact throughout the year goes a long way towards ensuring you horse stays healthy and problem free.