I remember the first time I ever saw a hoof boot some twenty or so years ago. My mom, a competitive endurance rider at the time, bought an Easy boot (probably the Old Mac style) and kept it on hand for when her horse would throw a shoe out on the trails. I remember thinking that it was a handy little thing, but I never thought of the boot as being more than a temporary shoe-replacer though. Boy, how my views have changed!
Hoof boots are a must-have if you’re transitioning your horse to barefoot and plan on riding much. Some might ask why? What’s the purpose of taking the shoes off if I’m just going to use boots instead. I’d like to answer that question (and maybe more) in this post.
Most horses who are transitioned to barefoot will only need hoof boots (usually only on the front feet) temporarily as their hooves become accustomed to not having shoes. After all, we can’t expect a horse who has spent a lifetime in shoes to be completely comfortable barefoot at first. As the feet toughen and callous (with proper trimming, correct diet, and movement), the boots will hopefully become unnecessary. Or they might only be needed only under certain circumstances (i.e.–riding on extremely rocky terrain.)
But there are some horses that may continue to need the boots. I have one mare–Kady–who is insulin resistant, has hoof damage from an old injury on one foot, and is not ridden much (she’s my kids’ horse.) If we take her anywhere that does not have soft ground, she needs her boots which also have pads in them.
Even if your horse continues to need the boots, they are still better than metal horse shoes in many ways. The boots can be taken on and off easily. They allow the hoof to expand and contract naturally with movement (unlike the shoe.) Plus, they can be re-used! And think about it–which would you prefer to wear on your feet: metal, nailed-on shoes or rubber slip-ons?
There are many, many styles of hoof boots available these days. So far, I like Cavallo’s best–they seem to stay on the foot well and they don’t rub. Hoof pads to go inside the boots are often necessary. You can buy these or make your own pads out of a spongy, rubber material (such as floor matting or thick yoga mats.)
If you’re put off by the price of hoof boots at first, just consider the cost of shoes (which have to be re-set every 6-8 weeks). Hoof boots are the better deal, by far.
The Hoof Boot Swap Page is a great page for information on various hoof boots as well as a place to buy and sell used boots. When I accidentally bought some boots in the wrong size, I listed and sold them on this page.
Whichever boots you decide on, make sure to use the company’s hoof measuring system to get the proper fit. And you may have to buy a couple of different sizes as your horse’s hooves change over time (for example, contracted hooves may widen and become rounder with barefoot trimming.) But in the end, boots are still cheaper and far better than shoes for your horse’s hooves.