Polo Players Edition


Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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Page 17 of 67

16 POLO P L A Y E R S E D I T I O N E Q U I N E A T H L E T E BY HEATHER SMITH THOMAS HAPPY FEET W hat we eat affects our health, and the same is true for horses. Proper nutrition is important for every function in the body. Diet is one of the important factors that affects hoof health and growth in horses. Stephen Duren, PhD (Performance Horse Nutrition) says there has been a lot of good research over the years regarding dietary needs of livestock and horses, and some of the research has looked at hoof health. "The exciting thing about nutrition is our new knowledge about nutrigenomics and how something as simple as biotin can turn on a gene in the animal that codes for increased hoof growth, for instance," he says. "When we encounter a horse with poor hoof quality, we try to change a number of things in an effort to improve it. We try to manipulate and modify the environment—and keep him out of the mud. We make sure his feet are trimmed and shod frequently. You don't want to let his feet go too long and have a shoe come off. We also try to modify the diet," says Duren. "There are certain nutrients needed for hoof growth. There is good research data on the basic nutrients that provide building blocks. The three we think about first (as being limiting—in other words the hoof won't grow very well without them) are biotin, methionine, and zinc," he explains. "There is some good data not only on the effectiveness of biotin (one of the B vitamins) but also what the dose rate should be. If you are adding biotin to the horse's diet, you don't need more than the effective dose." If you feed more than a horse needs, it won't hurt him (it's safe, and not toxic), but it also won't have any more benefit; you are wasting your money and the horse just passes the excess on through, in the urine. "Studies have identified a threshold level that is therapeutic for those horses but beyond that it isn't any more helpful," Duren says. Protein Dr. Amy Gill, an equine nutritionist in Kentucky, says there's a balance of nutrients that must be fed in specific amounts every day for new protein to be made. "The hoof wall is mostly keratin, which is protein. In order to make that protein the diet must have amino acids, vitamins and minerals—not only in the right amount but in proper ratio to one another. If one is missing, the body can't make good quality protein. If you are lacking just one amino acid or zinc or biotin (which are co-factors in the process of making keratin), the horse's body won't make sufficient hoof horn," she explains. "The protein associated with hoof growth is made up of sulfur-containing amino acids," says Duren. "The most important one is methionine. This is one of the ingredients in a good hoof supplement." Feeding extra methionine won't hurt the horse; it is just as safe as biotin. But you don't need extra. Protein synthesis depends on all the amino acids. "If you are missing just one, the protein won't be formed. We think methionine is the limiting one, but we also need to make sure the diet contains enough good quality protein. A diet consisting of only 4 to 6 percent protein (like mature timothy hay) is not adequate. You need to feed either a protein supplement or a grain concentrate (which has a higher protein level) to horses on that kind of forage diet," he says. Trace Minerals The third critical ingredient for hoof health is zinc. "This important trace mineral is involved in all the reactions of enzymes that actually form the protein," says Duren. In other farm animals a deficiency in zinc will lead to dermatitis (skin lesions). Skin and hair are modified protein, just like hoof horn and human fingernails," he says. Connie Larson, PhD, ZinPro Corporation, says most of their research is with cattle, but her company has done some equine studies looking at the influence of trace minerals on hoof health. "Zinc has the largest impact, in terms of minerals; it has many different How diet affects hoof health Nutritional imbalances can cause cracked hooves, disrupted hoof growth and mane and tail hair to break off.

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