Feeding the Equine Hooves ... naturally!

This is a reprint of an article I wrote back in 2014 for The Horse's Hoof.  I am constantly seeing, more and more recently,  the effects of poor diets ... even when the owners are feeding expensive, specialty feeds. ... The horses may be being 'maintained' but their hooves are not healthy. I truly believe that many horses, though being fed that which is considered 'high quality' feed and are on this supplement or that supplement are, in reality, suffering from nutritional deficiency disease ... and their hooves are the truth keepers.

Read on ...

The Equine Foot is a marvel in design and construction. The mere fact that such small bones and apertures can withstand 10’s of thousands of pounds of force during locomotion makes it amazing but clear that the idiom is true: no hoof means no horse.

In order for the equine digit to operate in full health, it must be fed properly. Just like a human’s hair and nails tell the overall health of humans, and can even identify specific diseases of the human, the horse’s hoof can tell the same.

A hoof that is shelly and soft tells of a diet that is too rich in sugars and simple carbs. A hoof wall that has rings tells of current or past laminitic episodes. A hoof that harbors black, foul smelling, tarry exudate (pus) tells of bacterial infection. One that holds white, cheesy smelling exudate between the heel bulbs tells of yeast invasion. While all of these conditions can be improved with proper trimming and topical attention, they also need to be treated through a “whole horse” approach. One can sometimes mechanically “fix” a hoof with proper trimming or orthotics, but the root cause of the issue is not always addressed. Therefore, the condition will reappear, only to be battled again to the unfortunate detriment of the horse.

It is believed that 80% of the immune system lies within the gut. In fact, the intestines contain more immune cells than the entire rest of our body. “There’s an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation is breaking down.” (Oregon State University, “Gut Microbes Closely Linked to Proper Immune Function, Other Health Issues”) While most of the studies done have been with regard to human immune systems, Equus caballus is not much different. The health of the immune system regulates the health of the hooves, as well as the rest of the horse. And just like humans, disruptions in the body’s homeostasis gravitates to the feet—the hooves of the horse.

So, let’s take a quick look at what constitutes a natural horse’s diet... that’s a simple one, isn’t it?


In the wild, the horses eat nothing but forage. Trees, bark, branches, bushes, grasses, flowers, herbs, cacti in arid areas, sea grass along the shore, wild fruits and berries, roots (yes, they do paw down for roots), leaves—whatever forage is afforded in the individual’s environment. The variety of forage in the environment allows for self-medication, as instinctual wisdom dictates when needed. Many wild forages are anti-parasitic, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, calmatives, etc. Each plant, each tree, each herb, each forage holds its own unique properties for the benefit of herbivores. Horses are herbivores. Naturally. They learn, early on by example from other herd members or from trial and error, what is safe to eat, what makes them feel better, what is naturally healthy for them. They are not “designed” to eat processed, artificially-enhanced wheat middlings, soy hulls, and the like. More so, horses are not designed to eat just two or three heavy meals a day. Gut acid is produced 24/7, whether or not there is food in the gut. That gut acid, Hydrochloric Acid, will burn a hole in marble. Just imagine what it does to the unprotected upper stomach if it’s sloshing around in an empty gut.

Processed, simple carbs, are digested very quickly in the upper gut, while forages are partially broken down in the upper gut and then are transported to the hind gut, where the body pulls the rest of the nutrients from the food for “whole health.” Feral/wild horses forage 18 out of 24 hours a day... a little bit at a time. So there is always time for the digestive process to take place, with the acid breaking it down. The digestive process provides internal heat, as well as nutrients to the body. All of the “good stuff” from the food feeds the other systems in the body, including the hooves.

Hippocrates (ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) stated,

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Such a profound statement, if one takes the time to “digest” what he was saying. Given what the recent studies show—where 80% of the immune system lies within the gut—Hippocrates’ statement is even more profound when viewed in the order of overall health of the horse. [edited to add:  studies now show that many "diseases" can be rectified simply by eating fresh, organic, RAW foods at least 75 - 80% of the day's meals. This for us humans as well as for our animals.] 

A “salad” fed just once a day, or even every other day, replacing the offers of commercial feeds will reap astounding results in the hooves (and whole body) within just a few weeks.

If your horse(s) suffer from hoof issues such as thrush, yeast, white line disease, impaired horn, laminitis, canker and other disease of the equine digit, take a close look at just what you are feeding your horses. Is it fresh, clean, live forage, as Equus caballus is meant to eat? Or is it “fake,” processed foods produced in a factory and enhanced with artificial preservatives, toxic herbicides, pesticides, artificial vitamins and minerals and colors? Is it “enhanced” with molasses for “palatability?” Does it contain sugars? How is the hay that you are feeding cured? Chemically and artificially, to ward off mold and keep it “green?” Does it hold hundreds of different wild grasses, flowers and herbs so the entire body, including the hooves, are fed? Or, is it 100% Timothy or Brome or Coastal or other grass or legume hay? Take a moment to t.h.i.n.k.... would my horse be eating JUST this in the wild? What would your horse be eating in your “neck of the woods,” if feral?

The hooves are only as healthy as the body grows them. What are YOUR horses’ hooves t e l l i n g you? If you think hard enough about it, you might be surprised. Very surprised!

A “salad” fed just once a day, or even every other day, replacing the offers of commercial feeds will reap astounding results in the hooves (and whole body) within just a few weeks. After three or four months, you’ll notice hooves that are hard as steel—as long as other hoofcare parameters are tended correctly (good hoofcare by the owner, proper balancing and trimming by the hoofcare provider, and, most importantly, lots of movement).

The “base” salad ingredients can be found here: http://www.thepenzancehorse.com/BASICDIETHANDOUT.pdf

 Other things can be added to that, such as healing herbs or other vegetables, fruits, nuts, or seeds. For a horse without any health issues, it’s always good to mix up seasonal vegetables such as the horse would find in the wild. This time of the year in New England, for instance, reaps fields of pumpkin and winter squash, along with late season greens and cool weather cole crops. Summer months harbor melons, summer squash, beans and other seasonals, while fall is loaded with apples, peaches, pears and the like. A little bit goes a long way—just one of a few select fruits with green leafy vegetables, a handful of sprouts or seeds, with some infused olive oil and a glub of apple cider vinegar combined with plenty of time turned out (preferably 24/7) in “un-enhanced” pastures with lots of weeds and other natural-growing plants is all that is needed.

Add this once-a-day salad to free choice offering of mixed grass hay, free choice salt & minerals, good mixture of pasture weeds, grasses, trees and the like, and you’ll find your horse not only improves hoof quality, but his entire body will blossom and shine. 24/7 turnout for lots of movement + fresh forages + good husbandry and hoofcare = STRONG, HEALTHY HOOVES. More information on feeding horses for strong hooves can be found on www.thepenzancehorse.com)


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. You can email to Gwen -- gwen.santagate@gmail.com or telephone in the US (23)-573-9687. For further information please click here:  www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf 





1 comment

My two mares discovered a pile of recently-cut aspen logs, leftover from when the power company cut down a tree that was too close to power-lines. They spent days nibbling on the bark, pushing the logs around and having a generally grand time working them over.

Heidi September 03, 2019

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