Dress for Success: Hair Coat and Hoof Quality

Roy A Johnson, Cargill Animal Nutrition, Nutrena

August 30, 2012

The appearance of a horse's hair coat and hoof wall tells a great deal about the care and management of that horse. The best grooming products in the tack shop cannot produce the same look as a healthy, well groomed coat and solid hoof walls. Grooming products can enhance the appearance of hair and hoof, but are not a substitute for a quality hair coat or a good foot.

Hair and hoof quality starts with nutrition. Both are comprised primarily of protein. Adequate high quality protein is essential to the growth of hair and horn (the outer covering of the hoof is called the horny wall). The sulfur bearing amino acid methionine appears to be required for the production of healthy fibers. The exact methionine requirement for horses is not yet known, but noticeable improvement has been reported when methionine is added to diets which appear to otherwise be adequate. Protein deficiency may result in slow hair growth and shedding, and slow hoof growth with increased splitting and cracking, as well as other symptoms (Equine Clinical Nutrition, Lon D. Lewis, DVM,PhD, 1995, p. 19). Biotin, one of the B vitamins, has also been used to improve hair and hoof quality. Biotin with methionine is more effective than biotin alone. Maintenance levels of biotin appear to be 1-3 mg per head per day. Therapeutic levels are much higher at 15-30 mg per head per day.

Horsemen have for many years added vegetable oil to a horse's diet in order to help shed hair in the spring without understanding why it helped. Research has demonstrated that essential fatty acids are required for healthy skin and hair. Vegetable oils are sources of linoleic, linolenic and arachadonic acid, three of the essential fatty acids. Corn oil is a particularly good source which has been widely used by horse owners. If a feed which does not contain added vegetable oil is being used, adding 2-4 oz per head per day may be very beneficial.

Copper and zinc are also essential for healthy hair coats. Deficiencies of either or both can produce dry, faded-looking hair. Harsh sunlight can also produce fading, particularly in black, bay and chestnut horses. Unblanketed show horses should be turned out only in the early morning and early evening to prevent sun bleaching and split ends.
Metal grooming tools and harsh shampoos can also cause hair damage, and should be avoided. If a horse needs to be rinsed frequently, lukewarm water will do less damage than soap. It takes a nice horse to stand still for a cold bath! A cooler should be used, and the horse should not be allowed to stand in a draft. The horse needs to be groomed properly after bathing to restore the natural oils to the hair coat. Elbow grease is still one of the best tools for developing a hair coat.

Excess sanding of the hoof wall removes the periople, the natural shiny varnish covering the hoof wall. Sanding, polishing and polish removal with harsh agents has ruined many a good hoof wall. For some breeds, it is considered a necessary show requirement by many people.

For more tips and advise on how to keep all your animals healthy, visit Nutrena's website at www.nutrenaworld.com.

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