If we’re totally honest, we can all admit that there are some horses out there that just, for one reason or another, can’t be conventionally shod. Either its foot crumbles at the sight of a nail, its brain crumbles at the sight of a forge and anvil, it never grows enough foot to nail anything to or its hoof wall is so thin it simply can’t hold the shoes on.
If you own one of these treasures, or have the good, good fortune to have it on your client roster, there are still some options for you to be able to give that foot some support. Glue on shoes have come a long way, but there are some drawbacks, mainly moisture. If your horse is turned out, or if you ride in damp conditions, that can impact a glue on shoe’s staying ability. They also tend to be more expensive and less easy to fit to the horse. Boots are another option, but how do you know if and when they’ll be the most useful option?
What They’re For
People use hoof boots for a number of reasons. Some people use them especially for tough trail rides when they know the terrain is going to be uneven. The idea is to provide some extra traction over rocky or unstable ground and to keep the horse’s sole more comfortable if the ride is going to be long and hard. They’re especially popular with endurance riders who have to travel crazy long distances through water and over varied footing.
Probably the most common reason to use them is therapeutic. Horse owners will put them on to address lots of different issues: abscesses, navicular, laminitis, thin soles, bruising, founder, lower limb injuries that benefit from additional support and a range of other chronic hoof problems. They’re also useful for keeping the hoof clean and dry when it’s recovering from injury.
And of course, people use them for horses that can’t seem to keep shoes on their feet when it’s muddy or wet. Rather than risk a horse tearing its hoof up every time it pulls a shoe, some owners will opt for a boot in the spring and fall when paddocks are at their worst. At the very least, boots are bigger than shoes and therefore easier to find in the field.
What Their Manufacturers Say They Do
Hoof boots, like every technology related to horses, are evolving at a rapid pace. The older models that fit sloppily, rubbed, weighed a ton and fell off at the first sign of mud have made way for next generation models that are designed to be lightweight, easy to put on and take off, and most importantly, easy to keep on.
The biggest benefits manufacturers claim are greater stability in the foot and greater support. They’re usually designed to fit snugly around the horse’s foot while providing a cushion for the sole. Hoof boots are supposed to allow the foot to expand and contract, which manufacturers and hoof-boot supporters say is better for the horse because that allows the hoof to function as it would while barefoot. Makers argue hoof boots provide a more even spread of pressure in addition to greater shock absorption.
How to Take Care of Them
Most hoof boots are made of high-tech synthetic materials that are easy to hose down and clean. Obviously the cleaner the fasteners are, the more they’re going to be able to… fasten. If you have the boot on for therapeutic purposes, it’s a good idea to remove it daily to check for rubs, uneven wear and tear, and to make sure nothing too foreign has gotten lodged down in there. Manufacturers sometimes suggest covering the straps with duct tape if the boots will be worn for a long time, too, to ensure that no industrious horses (or, again to be totally honest, ponies) remove the boot on their own.
Which One Would Be Right for My Horse?
There’s a range of makes, models and manufacturers out there to choose from. A simple internet search will turn up the most common ones. Each boot model will fit differently and have its uses. The fit will depend not just on the size of the foot, but the general shape and the angles. Some models will be taller, and risk rubbing if your horse has low hoof walls, for instance. Some models of boot have rigid bottoms, while some offer a more flexible sole that moves with the horse’s movement, so you’ll need to decide how much stability your horse needs and how its foot is best supported. Your best bet is probably to read up on the different possibilities on online discussion forums and then try them out one by one until you find a boot that’s a perfect fit for your horse.
by: Cindy McMann
image 1: Pixabay; image 2: contemplicity (Creative Commons BY)