Barefoot, Booted or Shoes — Which is Right for Your Horse?

I would love it if my horses could go barefoot. But living in New England where there often seem to be more rocks than dirt, it just hasn’t worked out for me. At least, not entirely. I know some people believe that you can keep any horse barefoot with the right trim, but it’s just not been my experience. I think whether you can go barefoot depends on:

  • The natural quality of your horse’s hoof. I think that hoof quality can be improved with good nutrition, but some horses just have better feet.
  • Terrain. Where you ride your horse has a lot to do with its comfort barefoot.
  • The horse’s job. I could take one of my horses barefoot if I didn’t foxhunt, but galloping over hard ground and sometimes rocky terrain is just too much for him.
  • A good barefoot trimmer. When it comes to barefoot, not all farriers are created equal. I think it really helps to use one who specializes in barefoot trims.

I’ve had my Trakehner gelding barefoot behind for the past seven years. He’s got good strong feet which hold up reasonably well under most circumstances although he’s always had flat front feet and experienced slow growth. When I started foxhunting, however, I found that I needed more protection for him to be comfortable. At that point, he started to get painful bruising and the occasional abscess so I added pads to the front and shoes behind.

That worked fine until he managed to pull both hind shoes off in the mud during a 24 hour period when I was out of town. I came home to find that he had swelling in one leg and not enough horn to nail shoes to on either hind foot!

In desperation, I turned to hoof boots. I wanted to keep him fit and I needed to keep him comfortable. I’d always had the spare Easyboot around for those times when I needed to protect a hoof until a farrier arrived, but had never had any luck with keeping them on for any riding or real work. So armed with a measuring tape, a pencil and pad, I started tracing his hind feet and trying various hoof boots.

First I tried the Easyboot Epic, which comes with a gaiter. Within 72 hours he’d broken both of them; on one the gaiter ripped, on the other the latching mechanism snapped off. Good thing they come with a warranty!

Next, I tried Old Macs. Now I know they’ve changed them since I bought my set, but the older ones were huge and clunky. They stayed on okay, but they were not something that I felt would work well over the long term. Since then, they have introduced the G2 design which looks better — not so large and with a lower profile, so I can’t comment on how they might work.

I bought Boa boots to replace the Old Macs, but had similar issues. I did like the mechanism for tightening the boot and they were very easy to put on, but I found them to be clunky and heavy, and they rubbed my horse.

Cavallo Simple Boots looked great and they truly are simple to apply. However, they simply didn’t fit. My horse’s hind feet are more oval than round and after 10 minutes I took them off so that I could resell them on eBay.

The winner in my book is the Easyboot Bare. They are a difficult to get on the first few times (see my review) but worth the effort. These boots are a lower profile boot that sit close to the hoof and are supposed to flex and stretch like a natural hoof. There are very few moving parts, so there is less to break, and if one does, all pieces can be ordered as replacement parts. I’ve been using my pair now for about a year (I only use them once or twice a week as terrain demands) and they have held up very well. I gallop in them, go through mud and water, and even jump without any problems.

There are some boots that I’d like to try. Renegade hoof boots get good reviews and come in cool colors. There are HorseMocs, Horse Sneakers, Soft-Ride, to list just a few. The bottom line is that not all boots fit all horses. You must measure carefully and choose a boot that is shaped similarly to your horse’s hoof. You also need to measure front and hind hooves separately; not only are the often different sizes, but they are usually different shapes. Rear hooves are typically more oval, while front hooves are rounder.

In short, I think that hoof boots are an excellent product. I know that some folks use them to help take their horse barefoot, and I can see how it would help a horse make the transition while minimizing soreness. They are also ideal if you have a horse that needs additional hoof protection for some parts of its job, but is fine barefoot with others. Hoof boots are an economical choice compared to shoes as they last a long time. They also eliminate the issue of nail holes — and if you have a horse that exhibits slow growth, like I do, you don’t want to put shoes on for just part of the year as it will take months for those nail holes to grow out.

I am usually the only foxhunter out there with hoof boots (and bitless) and they are certainly not something you would see in the show ring. However, I think if you look at endurance riders, you’ll find that hoof boots are both acceptable and durable. It’s a shame that they haven’t extended their use to other disciplines as well.

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