When it comes to hoof conditioners and supplements, even among the most respected equine care professionals, controversy abounds. Whether hoof conditioning and supplementing are worth it is a decision only you, the horse owner, can make. Most philosophies regarding hoof care are open to a great deal of interpretation.
Conditioning or dressing hooves has been a point of contention for many. Some are resolute in their argument regarding the use of any topical solution, claiming it serves only to interfere with the ability of the hoof to naturally become immune or adapt to any environmental stress and climate change.
Conversely, other schools of thought subscribe to an approach aimed at controlling moisture content, derived by the horse's surroundings. The idea is to routinely apply dressings that can retain or repel moisture as needed. This will require daily observation of your horse and a keen eye for identifying the characteristics of the perioplic region.
Typically referred to as the coronet, the periople changes according to various conditions/climates. Its appearance can be helpful in determining if the hoof wall is lacking or over-exposed to moisture. In extremely dry conditions, the periople becomes flaky or scaly. In wetter extremes, it will become sappy or sticky in appearance.
Environmentally friendly hoof dressings (whether commercial or home remedy) may contain:
- pine tar (preservative free)
- fish oil
- tea-tree oil
- wheat germ oil
- avocado oil
- jojoba oil
- apricot oil
Environmental foes are primarily any alcohol-based or formaldehyde-based ingredients used in abundance or in high concentrated doses, such as:
- mineral or lactol spirits
- isopropanol alcohol
Natural, but NOT healthy: extracts or traces of juglans nigra (black walnut), oleander, bracken fern, milkweed, St. John's wort, red maple (wilted), cherry (wilted), most hemlocks.
THE INSIDE-OUT THEORY
Proponents of this approach believe the only way to improve hoof quality is by supplementation; any products used topically on the hoof are simply cosmetic.
Certain vitamins are said to play an important role in the health of hooves. Vitamin A is necessary for epithelial integrity (hoof wall strength). Most vitamin supplementation centers around a water-soluble additive called biotin. Before adding a vitamin supplement, most nutrition experts will suggest you alter your feeding approach, starting with a basic diet that is higher in soluble fibers and lower in carbohydrates (starches).
At a 1996 Laminitis Symposium, Stephen G. Jackson, PhD, of the Kentucky Equine Research Center offered an opinion that remains relevant today: "there is no easy fix. Being realistic about the state of the science of nutrition, I must say, there are still a great many unanswered questions?The main thing we must remember is that nutrition is a complex series of interactions and it is indeed rare that curing a deficiency of a single nutrient is going to solve the problem at hand."
WHERE DO YOU STAND?
Ultimately, the decision lies with you. As new conditioners and supplements are introduced, they will claim to have the answer to all your hoof care needs. Perhaps, some will. However, these "answers" must agree with the particular questions your horse's situation may pose. In light of all that we have learned and continue to learn about the marvels of the equine hoof, one thing is certain: the controversy will assuredly continue.
Understanding the Equine Foot, Fran Jurga
Equine Laminitis, Chris Pollitt, BVSc PhD
Horseshoeing Theory and Hoof Care, Leslie Emery, Jim Miller, Nyles Van Hoosen, DVM
Hands-On Horse Care, from Horse & Rider, Karen E.N. Hayes, DVM, MS
The Principles of Horseshoeing (P3), Doug Butler, PhD, CJF, FWCF, Jacob Butler, CJF
www.horseshoes.com , Anatomy of the Inner Hoof Wall, Chris Pollitt, BVSc PhD
www.anvilmag.com , Nutrition & The Equine Foot: Some Things to Think About, Stephen G. Jackson, PhD
Bryan S. Farcus, MA, CJF, is a Certified Journeyman Farrier who also holds a certification in Equine Massage Therapy. He is the creator of a select line of "Farrier-FriendlyTM" products and currently authors a series of "Farrier-FriendlyTM" articles that appear in horse magazines throughout the US. Bryan can be reached at FARRIER-FRIENDLYTM Services, Athens OH, www.farrierfriendly.com or firstname.lastname@example.org