High Performance Hoof Care - Hoof Trimming and Rehabilitation by Vickey Hollingsworth
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Hoof Boots - The sound alternative to conventional horse shoes

Easycare, Inc., Easyboots
Photo courtesy of Karen Chaton and her 100 mile horse, Granite Chief +/.

If you decide not to shoe your horse, but still need some type of protection on rocky trails, or during the transition period, then you'll most likely find hoof boots to be the best option. Before I go into the details of hoof boots, I want to make an important point that I hope you will take special note of. It is never acceptable to work your horse beyond the limits of his spectrum, using hoof boots as a "bandaid." In other words, if your horse has issues with his feet that indicate he should be in a rehabilitation program developing healthier structures, you don't want him out on the trail in boots doing a 5 hour ride "just because you can."

I personally use and recommend the Easycare boot line, particularly the Epics, Bares, and Old Mac G2s. I have found these boots to be reliable, affordable, safe, and effective. I've been using these boots for about 5 years, and am very happy with the results. There are other types of boots available, and I've listed some of them on this page, but their reviews are mixed, or there isn't much information available about them. Easycare Inc. by FAR has the BEST website of all the boot manufacturers. There are hundreds of charts, images, and articles detailing every aspect of nearly all their products. I don't feel that any other boot manufacturer comes close to providing the level of professionalism and product support that Easycare does.

Sometimes no matter how great the foot is on our horses, the foot just can't compete against the rockiest of trails. Especially if the horse will be on those rocks for an extended period of time (such as during an endurance ride, or long trail ride). Sometimes the horse may have great feet, but the rider is heavy, and wants to do a long ride. Common sense tells us that the work we demand of our horses sometimes exceeds their natural abilities. This is fine, if we can provide adequate protection which doesn't compromise the horse. It doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the horse! It simply means that we are asking the horse to do more than what nature ever intended him to do. Nature never intended a horse to travel at a working trot and canter over 100 miles of challenging footing in 11 hours. But we ask this of our horses when we compete in an endurance ride. I want to make it clear that I am NOT against working horses hard. Not at all! But we must know that if we choose this type of work, we have an obligation to protect our horse - whether it is their back, their mental health, their legs, their metabolic stablity, or their hooves.

There is no shame in using hoof boots on your horse! Too many times I read in forums, or articles that if a horse is "barefoot" that he should be truly "BAREFOOT" meaning no boots. Nonsense!! Please do NOT use the boots as a bandaid to cover up poor structure, but do recognize that sometimes what we ask of our horses is above and beyond, and we need to provide protection. It is not a badge of honor to say "My horse covered 25 miles of the rockiest trail you've ever seen totally bare - no boots!" Sure, if your horse can do that, good for you and the horse. But if not, there is no shame in it. I don't believe in risking stone bruises or damage to the lower limb by running a horse over rocks to prove a point.

When I hit a rocky trail that I will be on for a notable amount of time, I always boot. Maybe my horse "could" trot and canter 20 miles over ragged terrain and big sharp rocks, but I won't chance a stone bruise and subsequent abscess just to prove it is possible. The absolute LAST thing I want is to be stranded 20 miles out of camp with a lame horse and no way to get her out! There are too many unknowns and risks when you chose this type of riding as it is. To purposely put my horse in a position to very possibly be injured and stranded out in the woods would be foolish and downright neglectful.

The beauty of hoof boots is that once the ride is finished, you pull the boots off, and you have healthy, bare, unharmed feet. Even shod horses have no protection for the soles, unless they are wearing pads as well. The problem then becomes thrush between shoeing cycles because the pad cannot be removed to clean the hoof, or allow air and sunlight to penetrate. There is no reason to use shoes if hoof boots will suffice.

And my final comments on the subject - Please do not EVER compromise the safety of your horse or risk his soundness just to prove a "barefoot" point. Also, you will never hear me trying to talk you out of horseshoes. Horseshoes sometimes are the best answer for the situation at hand. It is up to YOU as the owner to decide what's best for your animal. If you want to try the shoeless and hoof boot method, I will be happy to work with you and determine if this is a good route to pursue. If you just can't get yourself to pull those shoes, then please take some time and consider it thoroughly. At the end of the day, YOU have to be happy with the decision you make.

Click for full sized photo:
My endurance horse wearing four Glove hoof boots with pink power straps. Arabian mare, Padrona Auventera, wearing Easyboot hoof boots at an endurance ride
Calypso in her Old Mac's G2 hoof boots Monster wearing four Old Mac's G2 hoof boots on a wintertrail ride. One of my mares in her Easyboot Epics hoof boots

So just what is the attraction to hoof boots?
  • No nail holes in the hoof
  • Only worn when needed - as much or little as necessary
  • Doesn't create excess concussion
  • Greater traction
  • Owner has freedom to make changes on their own
  • Protects entire hoof wall and sole
  • MUCH cheaper than conventional shoes
  • Outlasts shoes 4 to 1, or more!
  • Allows hoof to flex and distort naturally
  • Padding inside boot can be customized as needed
    **Frog supports come in different heights and firmness levels
Please contact me if you need help sizing your horse for boots, fitting them, or want any other general information. I recommend Easycare Inc.'s line of boots as I've found them to be high quality, and the best fitting boots available.

Easycare, Inc. Boot Lineup:

Easyboot, Easycare, Inc.  Boa Boot Easyboot Epic Old Mac's Generation 2 Old Mac's Easyboot Grip Easyboot Bare Easy Soaker Soaking Boot Easycare, Easyboot Glove hoof boot Easycare, Easyboot Edge hoof boot Easycare, Easyboot Glue On hoof boot Easycare, Easyboot Therapy hoof boot Easycare, Trail hoof boot Easycare, Glove Back Country hoof boot

Recently I've read some talk about hoof boots being inferior to shoes because they cannot provide the same traction. People are concerned about horses slipping on ice or while traveling fast over wet grass, and so forth. There are two ways the boot manufacturer addresses this - The Easyboot Grip, and Studs, which can easily be applied to most boots. I have found riding in Studs to provide excellent traction, even on glare ice.

Easyboot Studs to aid in traction on wet grass, mud, or snow and ice.

Boot Modifications

There are plenty of modifications you can make to hoof boots to customize them for your particular horse, and situation. Shown below are two Easyboot Bares, both size 0. The boot on the left has been heavily rasped to enhance breakover. The boot on the right was NOT rasped, but worn on a horse twice. You can see the difference in the red lines. The lines indicate where breakover is situated on each boot. The second set of photos shows how the front clip can be removed to reduce the toe profile, and reduce weight of the boot.

Modification to Easyboot Bare Modification to Easyboot Bare
Modification to Easyboot Bare Modification to Easyboot Bare

More Resources:
Endurance Musings - The BEST blog for everything you ever wanted to know about hoof boots!
Easy Care, Inc. (Easyboot Epics, Bares, Grips, Boa Boots, Old Macs Generation 1 and 2, Gloves, Glove Wides, Trail, Glove Back Country)

The Importance of HOOF PADS!

I *ALWAYS* use EVA foam pads inside my hoof boots and have found them to be absolutely vital to hoof health, proper loading, energy transfer, and proper stimulus for growth. Pete Ramey said it best when he said that - hoof boots and pads are a real breakthrough in healing. Using boots without pads is fine, but for optimum results, pads are a must. The sole surface of the boot interior is hard and flat and offers no stimulation or support to the sole and frog, but only the hoof wall. Adding a set of pads equalizes load across the entire solar surface, as nature intended.

There are three main options for hoof pads that I am aware of: Easycare's EVA foam pads, Hoof Wraps' EVA foam pads, and Thinline's hoof pads. I have used both the EVA varieties and can highly recommend them. I also highly recommend the Thinline pads. They make horses very comfortable, though they are firmer than the EVAs. If a horse is in acute pain from laminitis or navicular pathology, the EVAs may be the better option. However, Thinlines seem to encourage horses to step out more freely, and show more confidence in their footing and stride. Whichever type of pads you choose for your boots, you can be assured that they'll perform just as you hope!

Easycare Comfort Pads come in three densities - soft, medium, and firm. Easycare Comfort Pad System with frog support Easycare Dome Pads Thinline Hoof Pads

Easycare EVA Comfort Pads
Thinline Pads - "Make them sound, Keep them sound."

Energetics Brand Perfect Hoof Wear

Energetics Brand Perfect Hoof Wear System   Energetics Brand Perfect Hoof Wear System
Photo courtesy of www.equinepodiatry.org

From the Perfect Hoof Wear Website:

Used in place of conventional shoeing, the PHWSTM supports the theories and principles of AEP, the science of holistic hoof care. With the increased interest in natural horsemanship many horse owners want to keep their horses barefoot. The PHWSTM aids in the transition of those horses just out of shoes, and in many cases there is no down time. Visit the Perfect Hoof Wear website to read more.

Equicast Hoof Casting System

Equicast Hoof Casting System
Photo courtesy of www.equicast.us

UPDATE: (6/20/08)

I have applied several applications of Equicast now and have to say I am really impressed with the performance and results. I did NOT use any adhesive to apply the casts and I have not lost one yet. In fact they are pretty darned tough to get off again!

Right now I'm experimenting with Equi-Pak CS (copper sulfate treatment for thrush) underneath Equicast on a laminitic/thrushy horse. The horse was IMMEDIATELY much more comfortable after the applciation than prior to it. So far I am very hopeful. Pete Ramey has been using this protocol for quite some time now and has finally published an article about it. He too is getting excellent results on painful horses.

The Equicast is relatively easy to apply. I say relatively because there is a slight learning curve. It was much easier than I imagined it to be though! I applied the cast, and THEN wet it. It sets up just the same and you get a LOT more working time. I use a pile of shavings mounded up on the floor to shape the bottom of the cast. Simply set the foot down on the shavings, wet thoroughly, then hold up the opposite leg for 2 minutes or so.

Also I am careful to look for any uneven or high spots on the bottom of the cast once it has cured. These can easily be rasped flat. I like the 2" casts best as the horse I've been using them on has Size 1 feet. The last round of casts was with 3" and it was more difficult to apply and ended up covering the entire sole. That's not a bad thing, but it wasn't how I intended it. I think the horse likes it though.

Any excess casting material not needed can easily be trimmed with a sharp hoof knife, or even scissors. Just be VERY CAREFUL not to go high on the heel bulbs, or up to the coronary band and you'll eliminate yourself a TON of work and heart ache. The better you apply the cast, the easier and better you'll find the whole experience.

I have used numerous applications of Equicast now and my overall observation is that is one more tool to have in your toolbox should your horse need it.

Equicast Hoof Casting System    Equicast Hoof Casting System     Equicast Hoof Casting System

From Dave Richards' Equicast Website:

Equicast restores stronger healthier hoof walls. ETSS is a revolutionary product for hoof wear protection. The solution for hoof lameness (wall failure) ETSS restores healthy walls, by adding support to the whole hoof capsule restoring healthy walls, soles and frog. Unlike conventional methods ETSS does not overload the hoof wall. If you can wrap a hoof with duct tape or vet wrap you can effectively apply Equicast casting tape. Visit the Equicast website to read more.