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Brittle hooves and biotin

From: Ejnar Kirk

Hi Jessica!

One of my Islandic mares has brittle hooves, could/will the biotin you suggested in another hoof related question be helpful in treating this situation? I have shoes on all 'round on her (Kefla) now, but she is a head-strong 16 year old who gets into pretty ugly spats with her pasture mate--an 8 year old Islandic mare. Kefla is not one to back down from a fight, and many times challenges Black Stone, and it usually ends in a fight. They have "known" each other since June when I bought Kefla. The fights early on were quite ugly and terrifying, especially since I had never seen any of the horses we had when I was young fight, or even act like they wanted to. I learned to go out and shout at them (even at 2:00 a.m.) to get them to stop, but by the time I got to them, it was literally, all over but the shouting (me). The classic duel consists of, rearing up on the hind legs, biting-heads, necks, back, hind quarters, then the kicking with back legs begins. Kefla usually gets the worst of it because she is the smaller of the two, but with her extra added weapons on her back hooves, I am afraid she will really do permanent damage with her shoes. The farrier said Kefla really does need shoes on all four hooves. Black Stone only has shoes on the front hooves. Am I just being over protective of them? And again will the biotin help, or is there something else you would suggest? I use "hoof fat" (That's what it's called her in Denmark, I don't remember the term for it in English anymore), but that doesn't really seem to do much good. Help!

Patti Kirk

Hi Patti!

You are right to worry about what could happen in a fight -- is there no way that you could keep Kefla and Black Stone separated? If there are just the two of them in a field, could you put a fence down the center of the field? They would still have the social benefit of sharing the field -- the reassuring company of another horse -- they would only lack the dubious social benefit of being able to KICK the other horse!

Normally, horses that kick are turned out with other horses do not wear shoes behind, if they wear shoes at all. If they normally wear shoes all around, their hind shoes are removed before they are allowed to mix with other horses. Horses that continue to kick, even without shoes, and horses that need to wear shoes on all four legs (even if they are NOT known to kick) are usually turned out ALONE, in a field adjoining other horses.

Kefla is VERY likely to cause permanent damage to Black Stone if this sort of fighting continues, and the only safe solution is to keep them apart. A hard kick to another horse's hock can break the hock, and it's been known to happen, especially if there were shoes on the kicking feet! Try to find a form of fencing that will allow you to separate them. There are some newer electric fences that enclose the wire in a highly visible plastic tape; perhaps that would work for you. Talk to your veterinarian; he may be able to make helpful suggestions.

Biotin is usually not a problem for horses that are turned out in a field all day, because they get biotin in the fresh grass. It's more likely to be lacking in the diet of a horse that lives in a stall and is fed dry hay and concentrates. It's true that some horses may have a higher requirement for some nutrients, and for that reason it might be worth trying a good biotin/zinc/methionine supplement for a year. It certainly won't hurt Kefla! Talk to your vet and your farrier -- between them, they should be able to give you good advice about supplements and hoof care.

Because of the way hooves are constructed, applying hoof fat to the outside of a horse's hoof is not actually very helpful, although it can make the hooves look shiny and pretty. The only way to improve the quality of a hoof is by improving the nutrition of the horse -- and some horses, in spite of everyone's best efforts (vet, farrier, owner), will always have weaker, more friable hoof walls than other horses. It may be genetic rather than nutritional -- in which case, you can try to get Kefla to grow the best hoof that she CAN grow, but Black Stone may still have better hooves!

Talk to your vet before you invest in any supplement (and before you buy any more hoof fat), but first of all, talk about separating your mares before something happens that can't be fixed.

Good luck, and please let me know what happens!


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