A growing number of people are turning to hoof boots instead of traditional horseshoes. Boots allow the horse’s hoof to function more like a barefoot horse, but they provide more protection and shock absorption.
Boots are also used for better traction over steel shoes (all the ones we tested offer excellent traction) when working and shipping, and the high boots protect the coronary band and heel bulbs. Boots may even save you money compared to metal shoes, taking about three times longer to wear out with heavy use, lasting for up to several years with light use. A critical aspect to their use is fit. If the boot does not fit properly, it won’t stay on and the horse will move awkwardly. Poorly fitted boots are also more likely to rub. All the manufacturers provide detailed fitting instructions. You should measure your horse for boots right after a good trim. Be sure you take the time to read them carefully and follow fitting instructions precisely. If you’re not sure where the weight-bearing surface of the hoof ends, or where the widest part of the foot is, stand the horse on a piece of paper and carefully trace the outline of the foot at ground surface, then make your measurements from that. These outlines can be sent to the manufacturer.It’s particularly important to match the front-to-back measurement to the boot so that you get a snug fit. The boots should take a little effort to get onto the horse at the heel. If a particular brand does not fit your horse well, try another.If you’re not familiar with the brand you’re ordering and whether it will be right for your horse, read the return policies carefully before purchasing. Some companies will accept boots back after a short period of use, while others require that the boot be returned in mint condition. When trying on your horse’s boots, stand the horse on a clean, nonabrasive surface, such as a rubber mat, and clean the hoof meticulously or use a layer of plastic wrap over the hoof before placing it in the boot. Of course, always keep your receipt for the return. Like any change, boots can alter how the horse moves. The lighter the weight and better the fit, the less likely you will notice any significant changes, but it’s best to allow the horse to become used to the boots by trying them for short periods initially, hand walking, then progress to turn out or actual short rides.Boots may look too clunky to use when riding your horse, but in the correct boot, most horses show little, if any, change in how they move at all gaits. However, most people prefer not to use them for high-speed work, especially when tight turns are involved, or for jumping. Boots for riding were initially designed for endurance, and they’re excellent for trail riding.Our TrialWe checked these various off-the-shelf boots at a walk, trot and canter, on smooth and rough surfaces and, where indicated, left them on the horse for turnout as well. We did not test these boots under conditions of heavy mud or with heavy exercise to fatigue. Almost any boot can be pulled off in deep going or if the horse takes a really bad step. We recommend using a safety strap or gaiter in mud and when going long distances. Some experienced boot users also like to put some bright paint on their boots to make them easier to find if they do happen to lose one.Bottom LineDespite the fact they’re a little more difficult to put on, the nod goes to the Easyboot Epic. The addition of the gaiter adds stability (our escape-artist mare that pulled off the regular Easyboot on turnout couldn’t get these off), and we love the virtually rub-free design. If you already own regular Easyboots, these can be converted to the Epic by purchasing the gaiter separately. For those that want more protection offered by a high boot, we really liked the Boas. We especially like the ground surface shape of the Boas. If the Boa heel is too narrow for your horse, consider The Simple Boot, which was a close third in this trial. Remember, hoof boot manufacturers make frequent changes in accessories and boot design. Check stores and web sites for the latest information and designs.
PUT IT TO USE
• Get your horse trimmed before measuring.
• Use moleskin to ease any initial, minor rubs.
• Avoid jumping and speedwork when using hoof boots.