Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hoofcare Book Recommendation and Magnificient Magnesium

Back in May, while shopping on I stumbled across the book Feet First: Barefoot Performance and Hoof Rehabilitation by Nic Barker and Sarah Braithwaite.  Actually, I think Amazon recommended the book as "something I might like".  Great choice Amazon!  After looking through the book a little bit I discovered that one of the authors, Nic Barker, is the same Nic who writes the Rockley Farm blog.  I ordered the book and excitedly waited the two months required to ship from the United Kingdom.  A beautiful, hardcover book arrived in July.  I read the sections intermittently, because there is a lot to take in, but now that I have completed the book I can wholeheartedly say that Feet First is worth the wait and the read!

An Excellent Addition to my Library

When I say there is a lot of information in this book, it is still an understatement.  I recommend this book to anyone who owns a horse (donkey, or mule) and I wish for all veterinarians, farriers, and barefoot hoofcare specialists to read Feet First: Barefoot Performance and Hoof Rehabilitation.

Feet First made me think about many aspects of my horse's care.
Here are three important themes that stand out in my mind:
  1. Trimming is only 10% of the healthy hoof pyramid suggested by Barker and Braithwaite.  Diet (65%) and environment/exercise (25%) are mostly responsible for the success of a hard-working, domestic horse going bare (p.128).
  2. Paddock design, including food and water placement, should foster movement on a variety of surfaces as pioneered by Jamie Jackson (114-119).
  3. The importance of a high fiber/low nonstructural carbohydrate diet with mineral supplementation (Chapter 7, p. 82-106)
The Importance of Magnesium
    The section on minerals literally blew my mind.  I put down the book and started researching minerals and supplementation, especially regarding magnesium.  Much of what I found online suggested that magnesium is an often overlooked yet essential mineral in a balanced diet for horses.  Magnesium levels are low in comparison to calcium in common horse feeds such as alfalfa and unmolassed sugar beet.  There is also plenty of reading which suggests that magnesium deficiency may be common in humans, too.

    I have read about calcium and phosphorus ratios before (2:1), but calcium and magnesium (also 2:1) was a new one for me when I read this book.  If the horse does not have enough magnesium, his body may not be able to use calcium properly.  Magnesium will be leeched from the bones, like calcium, if the diet is not meeting the needs of the nervous and muscular systems.  The hooves will also suffer if the horse is magnesium deficient, the first of the symptoms being sole sensitivity.  Magnesium is also required for basically all enzymes to function properly and the use of ATP, the energy transfer molecule of living organisms.  In addition, a magnesium deficiency may be tied to insulin resistance.  If that is not enough, magnesium is so important in photosynthetic organisms that it is the central atom in the chlorophyll molecule!  The central atom! 

    I really should not be surprised, since magnesium is very reactive chemically.  Pure magnesium bubbles in water forming hydrogen gas.  A bright white light is emitted when burned, which produces magnesium oxide as the metal reacts with oxygen in the presence of heat.  Have you seen sparklers or stunning white fireworks?  That is the beauty and reactivity of magnesium in action.  Now I appreciate this mineral on a whole new level!

    Um.  Harley is not a picky eater.

    Magnificent Magnesium And My Horse

    I evaluated Harley's diet and supplementation and discovered that magnesium is not supplied in quantities which even approach a 2:1 ratio with calcium.  In addition, he consumes wet beet pulp at each meal, which is high in calcium.  This was recommended by our vet to help him maintain weight.  For all the calcium he is taking in, it is possible that his body is not able to utilize this mineral due to a lack of magnesium.  Phosphorus uptake can also be affected by high levels of calcium.  Is your head spinning yet?  Mine is.  And this is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the importance of minerals.

    A mineral analysis of our hay would be required to determine the nutritional content of his forage, but I board at a small farm which probably receives shipments of hay too often to make hay analysis practical.  I could be testing the hay and adjusting his supplements every month!  We recently changed to the same hay supplier as our veterinarian, which makes me very happy, so hopefully we are in a good place forage-wise.

    Magnesium deficiency is tied to nervousness and muscle tension in horses.  I wish that I had read about this when I first bought Harley.  He was a serious ball of tension especially for canter work.  His diet is very different now than it was in the early days and he has years of training under his "girth", but I still cannot help wondering if I was trying to train away a mineral deficiency.  He is very sensitive, but I would not call him a tense horse now.  He comes down from excitement pretty readily, however, this was not the case four years ago.

    So I have decided to supplement Harley's diet with magnesium oxide.  His current behavior and lovely feet do not make me think that he is seriously magnesium deficient, but he is a hardkeeper.  If magnesium may help him maintain condition and improve his overall health, I would like to give it a try.  The levels that he will be receiving are low.  In fact, I am not sure if he will be getting enough to show a difference, but I like to approach diet changes with caution.  I will be looking at his hooves, movement, overall condition, and behavior for any changes.  Of course, he is under the care of a fantastic veterinarian who is aware of his diet and lean body type.

    I am so glad that I ordered and read Feet First.  A book that makes you think is always a success!

    Related Links:

    Rockley Farm
    Feeding the Hoof by Pete Ramey
    Balanced Equine Nutrition: Mineral Ratios and Deficiencies/Excesses
    Natural Barefoot Hoof Trimming: Feeding for Strong Hooves
    The Feed Room blog
    Feeding Magnesium to Horses
    Chemistry Daily
    Chemistry Comes Alive!
    The Importance of Magnesium to Human Nutrition


    1. Lovely photos of your boy, Val, and thanks so much for the great review - its wonderful when people enjoy Feet First and find it useful :-)

    2. Wow! Who knew magnesium was so important and overlooked by so many. I wonder how horses in the wild get their magnesium, Im sure they do and have for eons, I was just wondering what food source they are getting it from. My thinking being, instead of supplements, find the mineral from the source, it may be easier to digest and use efficiently. I'm thinking out loud...sorry.
      Harley may not be a picky heater, but he is certainly a "picking" eater.. He he (my bad).

    3. It's a great book (and blog) - reviewed it over on my blog. We're very fortunate to have a great chiropractor/vet/endocrine specialist who's been on the magnesium hunt with us for a while now - our horses that have foot issues also get chromium in their magnesium supplement. Mag. oxide is the most absorbable version - I get mine from HorseTech - and it also has value as a calming supplement.

    4. Nic- The pleasure was all mine. I loved your book. Thank you for visiting my blog!

      Mary- Feel free to think out loud. It is very interesting. Forage should have magnesium since it is an essential component of chlorophyll. Commercial agriculture uses chemical fertilizers which replace potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus to the ground. I do not know why magnesium is not part of the mix.

      A plate full of spinach would do the trick! Popeye had it right. ;)

    5. Kate- When I saw your review of Feet First I literally had the book on my lap. That made my brain flip-flop. It was so neat!

      Thanks for the tip about HorseTech. I am using SmartPak to try and keep it convenient for my barn owner.

    6. Mineral deficiency is a huge issue for horses. In my area most are lacking in selenium, zinc and copper. I'm still trying to find the right supplement for my two.


    Leave a comment or add to my memoirs with some of your own.