8 Alternatives to Metal Shoes
I’m not a fan of metal shoes. Yes, I used to put them on my horse because that’s what everyone seemed to do–but the more I’ve learned about hooves, the less desirable I’ve found them to be. Sure, some hooves need added protection at times, but there are other and better options available in this day and age.
The hoof is a flexible structure. A metal shoe is not. It’s meant to protect, and most can agree that it does to some degree, but it also prevents the hoof from flexing, contracting, and expanding. If the hoof can’t expand and contract with movement, then blood flow is affected. This can set the stage for a host of problems.
So rather than applying metal shoes to your horses’ hooves, here are 8 alternatives:
1.) Traditional Hoof Boots
This is my go-to form of hoof protection and there are dozens of brands and styles available. You may have to try a couple different types before finding one that works best for your horse, but the good news is that used boots are fairly easy to re-sell (as long as they’re in good condition). I did this post a while back on hoof boot options.
2.) Glue-On Boots/ Slippers
The glue-on boots are a good option for short-term use and seem to be more popular for endurance or other long-distance trail riding. They are said to stay on better and can be left on the hoof for up to five days. Examples include the Renegade® Pro-Comp and Easyboot Glue-on. Another option (which comes in shoe or boot form) is Easy’s Slipper®. These products appear to be designed for longer-term use.
3.) Clip-On Shoes
A little newer to the market are a cross between a shoe and boot which clip onto the hoof– Megasus Horserunners. These can be used similarly to hoof boots, taken on or off when needed.
4.) Rubber Horse Shoes
Everyone knows that rubber is extremely flexible, and it’s also a great shock absorber. So it’s no surprise that several companies have come out with rubber horse shoes as an alternative to metal. These are a good option for horses working on cement such as carriage horses. Examples include Öllöv Softstep (Sweden) and Smooth Walker.
5.) Polyurethane (Plastic) Shoes
Created to flex with the hoof and usually applied with glue, polyurethane shoes can also make a good alternative to metal shoes. Examples include EponaShoe, Flexx®shoes, Terraflex™Shoes by Blue Pegasos®, Happy Hoofwear™ and Equiflex.
6.) Fiberglass/ Poly-Cloth Casts
This idea is very similar to casting used for broken bones, only it’s somewhat more flexible and meant to protect the hoof. It’s often used for therapeutic purposes (white line disease, navicular, laminitis, etc.) and casts can be left on for up to several weeks. Options for hoof casting products include Equine-Cast and Orthohoof.
To learn more about hoof casting, I recommend reading this article by Pete Ramey.
7.) Hoof Armor/ Equi-Pak
There are also products such as Hoof Armor and Equi-Pak (by Vettec) which are a gel-like substance you apply to over the sole. They harden and provide flexible protection. This seems like a good option for the transitioning barefoot horse or one who needs a little added protection on a trail ride.
And of course, there is barefoot itself! Many horses do just fine with no shoes or protection of any kind. I won’t go into my usual spiel (You can read that here or here!), but it surprises me to learn just how many people don’t even consider barefoot to be an option. With the right framework, it certainly can be.
So if you’re new to horses or if you’ve just never considered alternatives to metal shoes, I hope you’ll give one or more of these options a shot. I think you might be pleasantly surprised! And your horses hooves will definitely fare better for it.