By: Susan Kauffmann
Protect your barefoot horse’s hooves from rugged terrain with well-fitting hoof boots.
With the popularity of barefoot hoof care continually increasing, there has been a veritable explosion in the number of hoof boots on the market. The best way to go about making the right choice is to find a reputable barefoot hoof care provider who is familiar with various brands of hoof boots, hire that person to assess your horse’s feet and your needs, then ask what boot he or she would recommend. But, whether you consult with a professional or decide to make the choice on your own, there are a number of factors that should be taken into consideration:
What shape are your horse’s feet?
Hooves can be upright, long and low, or any shape in between. Some brands of hoof boots are designed to fit a healthy, average bare foot, and they simply don’t work that well on feet that have a less ideal shape. For example, certain boots are more likely to slip off if your horse’s feet are fairly upright, and some won’t fit properly on a long foot, or a foot that is wide compared to its length. Knowing your horse’s foot shape will allow you to research this important aspect of boot selection.
What kind of riding do you do?
The boots that tend to be the easiest to put on and the most forgiving in terms of fit are often not the best choice for hard-core, technical trails or riders who go for long distances. If you mostly mosey around on easy trails for a couple of hours at a time, you don’t necessarily need the type of low-profile, close-fitting boot that an endurance rider might choose.
How important is ease of use to you?
Hoof boots range quite a bit in terms of how easy they are to put on and take off. Some fit a bit more loosely and thus slip over the foot easily, while closer-fitting boots can take a little more fussing to get on. Some have simple hook-and-loop (think Velcro®) closures, and others have more complicated closures such as cables and levers. If you struggle to bend and work with your horse’s feet, or your horse is the impatient type, you might need to stick with an easy on, easy off style of boot.
Do you want to be able to put pads in the boots?
Horses with tender feet often benefit from having pads in their boots, but some boots have open designs that don’t accommodate pads as easily as totally enclosed styles.
In terms of figuring out what size boots your horse needs, each manufacturer has their own instructions
on how to measure your horse’s feet for their specific brand of boots. In most cases, you will need to measure how wide the hooves are, at the widest point across the bottom of the foot, and how long the hoof is from the front of the toe to the back of the heel buttresses, which is the furthest back point of weight-bearing on the heels, but does not include the heel bulbs. Most manufacturers recommend taking your measurements immediately after a trim. However, if you tend to go more than five or six weeks between trims and your horse’s feet grow quite a bit in between, you may want to ask the manufacturer if it would be better to take measurements after some growth has occurred, especially if the boot is a close-fitting style.
One last thing you may want to consider is that there are now also quite a few options for non-metal shoes and cuffs, which can be a good choice for people who want some hoof protection and like the idea of allowing the hoof to flex more naturally, but don’t want to deal with boots. Some of the non-metal shoes and cuffs are glued on, while others can be nailed on like a traditional shoe. If you do want to look into these options, I would once again suggest talking to a good hoof care professional familiar with their use to help you decide the best fit for your horse.