Nutrition is never the whole story when it comes to improving poor feet in a horse but it certainly is responsible for part of the puzzle.

The overall condition of a horse’s feet is governed by many factors, including farriery, nutrition and genetics. But, there is no one golden cure for feet problems and a well-balanced diet is the only real way to improve a horse’s feet nutritionally.

Hoof Structure

Studies into the composition of the hoof wall show that it is around 93% protein on a dry matter basis.

The composition of this protein is mostly keratin, which is the same structural protein as in our own nails.

The sulphur bearing amino acids, of which one is methionine, are important for the structure of the hoof wall. Hoof wall also has a high proportion of zinc at 136 parts per million (ppm).

Looking at this, it is easy to understand why the majority of hoof supplements contain methionine and zinc.

Unfortunately, there is more than one amino acid that makes up the structure of the hoof and a deficiency of any of them can cause problems.

General Health

The hoof is an extension of the horse’s skin and as such any improvement made to one will be made to another.

If your horse has a naturally shiny and healthy looking coat, the chances are that he also has good feet and vice versa. If your horse has problem feet, the first thing to assess is that his diet is not deficient in any way.

This includes energy. Studies in the US have shown that horses that are in energy deficit have poor hoof quality and retarded hoof growth. A huge difference can be made to the quality of the hoof horn by making sure that the diet is sufficient in energy.

The majority of horses in the UK have no issues with energy supply! As mentioned, the horse’s foot compromises of 93% protein, so it should come as no surprise then to hear that the biggest culprit when it comes to poor hoof quality is a lack of quality protein.

Protein has, generally speaking, been given bad press but it is crucial for healthy coat and hooves. It is the quality of the protein that is important and by that I mean the provision of amino acids or ideal protein (eg lysine, methionine, threonine etc).

Quality protein can be provided by synthetic amino acids, hipro soya or linseed meal and, preferably, a bit of both. If you were ever in any doubt as to the effect that ensuring the correct provision of protein has on your horse’s feet, just look at the effect of spring grass; hoof growth increases and quality of horn improves and horses take on a general bloom. The effects of 'Dr Green' are mostly down to the protein content of spring grass.


For healthy hooves and skin, it is crucial that the horse is not deficient in any trace elements, major minerals (calcium, phosphorus and magnesium) or vitamins.

A deficit of any of the trace elements can affect hoof quality and therefore mustn’t be overlooked. The first step if your horse has poor hoof quality should be to ensure that all his mineral requirements are being met by feeding him a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement (eg Harbro One Scoop) or appropriate balancer pellet. This is often all that is required.


The majority of research has focused on biotin as a cure all for hoof issues.

If the horse’s hindgut is working correctly then the microbes in the gut will produce biotin. Any disturbance in the hindgut will lead to a reduction in the production of biotin or the absorption of it from natural food sources.

The NRC recommendation for biotin is 2-3mg/day for a 500kg horse. Studies have shown that some horses with poor hoof quality can benefit from supplementation with biotin at 20mg/day; where an improvement is seen in hoof strength and growth after 4-5 months.

Zinc methionine has also been shown in studies to benefit some horses when supplemented. One can only hypothesise that the reason that the results of using a supplement containing just biotin, methionine and zinc are so variable in reality is because the boxes haven’t been ticked for all the other trace elements and vitamins (not forgetting protein and energy too).

If everything else is checked off as being ok then use a biotin (plus zinc methionine) supplement, as it does show improvements in many horses, and may especially benefit those which have hindgut function and/or absorption problems.

The Whole Story

It seems then that in order to improve your horse’s hoof health the best route is to improve his general health by making sure that he is not deficient in anything.

What is the best way to do this? The best way to ensure you provide all that your horse requires is to select a fully supplemented feed that is appropriate for the level of work and feed it at the recommended level.

If you cannot feed the full recommended level then ensure that you top up with a vitamin and mineral supplement or your horse will be deficient.

If your horse gets fat on a good view then your best plan of action would be to feed a good quality balancer, they will provide all the vits, mins and proteins your horse requires, without providing too much energy. Many feet improve just by putting them onto a feed balancer.

If all this still doesn’t improve your horse’s feet then it is time to look to the biotin based supplements as an addition.

The most effective way to improve your horse’s feet long-term is to take an holistic approach and ensure that he is not deficient for energy, protein and vitamins, minerals or trace elements.