Hoof Boots: Crutch or Tool?

By Thorsten Kaiser, Institute for Barefoot Equine Management

On the Barefoot journey with our horse, many of us have asked the question: Are we still Barefoot if we use hoof boots? The answer is not a simple yes or no, however. This article will clarify the different aspects to consider.

When we look around and see the hooves of successful barefoot horses, we see tough hooves that have nice concavity, tough frogs, no white-line issues, and strong hoof walls – they just look great. Those horses seem to be confident and sure-footed over any terrain without any hoof protection. However, in many cases those hooves have not always been so healthy. In order to get where they are now, they had to go through two phases: Transitioning and Conditioning.

In the Transitioning phase the unhealthy hoof, stimulated through movement and a style of trimming that restores hoof function, will change to a healthy situation and grow stronger. The photos show the comparison of a hoof at the beginning and end of transition. At the start the hooves display flare in the hoof wall, underslung heels, bars that are long and pushed forward over the sole, distorted/curved coronet, thin soles, poor concavity, and contracted heels. All these symptoms are the result of incorrect lever forces acting on the hoof, causing distortion and reduced horn quality and quantity. Simply applying a hoof boot to this situation without addressing the underlying problems will not lead to long-term success. While correct trimming aims to remove those lever forces, the horse needs time to heal and grow a healthy hoof. In response, the horse moves carefully and sensitively over slightly rough or lumpy terrain. The horse, in order to control the impact and loading of the sensitive parts of the hoof, often chooses a toe-first landing over the desired heel-first landing of a sound horse. These incorrect impact forces have negative effects, directly, to the hoof suspension and, peripherally, to muscles that get used unnaturally which add to the horse’s discomfort.

Properly fitted hoof boots create a firm but yielding environment with no lumps and bumps that can cause excess pressure to the transitioning hoof. The horse quickly gains confidence in putting the foot down and using it correctly. As a result, you get a happier horse that moves more correctly and therefore transitions to a healthier hoof a lot faster. You also get a happier horse owner who now will ride the horse more often, and the increased movement will also speed up the Transition to Barefoot. At the end of the Transitioning phase we have a horse that has developed healthy hooves and is sound on the terrain it lives on.

In order to get the horse sound over gravel roads, rocky tracks, riverbeds, etc. it now has to go through the Conditioning phase. This means gradual and consistent exposure to these types of grounds so the hooves have a chance to get tougher. Ultimately, the goal is to ride your horse over a variety of terrain without any hoof protection. However, depending on where you live and how much time you have for riding, it may not be possible to truly condition the hooves properly for the rougher terrain. In this case the use of hoof boots will allow you to access more challenging terrain without compromising the important heel-first landing.

Hoof boots, when used in conjunction with trimming that restores proper hoof function, can be a helpful tool to speed along the Transitioning phase and can be essential to keeping healthy hooves moving over rougher terrain when Conditioning is not possible.

Proper boot fit is very important to your success. Feel free to contact us as we can point you in the right direction.

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