Thursday, 26 January 2012

Hoof boots and why I don't use them(!)

Someone emailed me recently asking what sort of hoof boots and pads I use for rehabilitation and I am afraid the answer is none :-)
Before I go further, I should say that I have nothing against (proper!) hoof boots, and there are of course situations when they are very useful BUT I think they need to be used with care and (as with everything) with awareness of their drawbacks, and thats the reason for this post.

When not to use boots

When rehabilitating a horse who has had long term lameness, I need to know precisely what that horse's feet are capable of.  If I simply slap a pair of boots on a horse with weak feet it would be easy to over-estimate how sound they are and therefore over-estimate what work is appropriate.  Without boots I can see and feel if a horse is genuinely comfortable and landing correctly or not, and adjust what we are doing accordingly.

There are also several practical reasons behind my dislike of boots.  They don't always fit terribly well - and some of the ones which DO fit well are difficult to get on and off.  Boots have a tendency to twist on horses who don't move perfectly straight and can rub if they aren't a good design and a close fit.  Some designs, particularly the older ones, have poor traction and can be downright dangerous on the sort of wet, slippery ground which is common with us.

With rehab horses particularly, their feet often have angle changes and wall deviations which are not factored into the design of the average boot.  Most boots are made with a symmetrical hoof in mind but many rehab horses simply do not have this type of hoof, making well-fitting boots nearly impossible.

There are physiological drawbacks too, as working horses in boots results in less stimulation to the hoof.  Stimulus is essential for strengthening the feet so working without boots will tend to result in a stronger hoof.  Its essential with rehab horses for the frog and caudal hoof to remain as strong as possible and roadwork without boots is a good way to ensure this.

Last but not least, boots (in both horses and humans) reduce proprioception but actually do not provide much additional shock absorption.  Without awareness of a hard surface (ie: proprioception) stride length increases and so does concussion.   Using boots on a hard surface can therefore increase concussion without increasing shock absorption - trotting on tarmac is not necessarily a better idea just because your horse has boots on.

When boots can be a good idea

By using the tracks and surfaces here, I can usually ensure that horses can move comfortably even when they have weak feet and I don't need to work them on tougher surfaces until they are ready.  However if you have no choice but to work on tough surfaces but you have a horse whose feet aren't able to cope with that, then booting is a better option than not working at all.

Similarly, if you have a horse with hooves which are weak because of circumstances outside your control (for instance a metabolic problem or illness or simply being on a yard where there is too much grass) then boots are a good way of boosting what that horse's feet are capable of even when you can't improve the overall health of the hoof.


Michelle Jensen said...

Hey I see your point. Boots use to be a bother and a hassle, but some people in Norway have stepped up the game. Tjeck out Equine Fusion jogging shoes.
1. Its a soft boot ie no rubbing, seriously no rubbing what so ever.
2. Soft bottom wich means hoof sinks in and get stimulated, more like soft terrain.
3. Very forgiving on hoof form, so even a high heeled contracted hoof can get a pair that works.
4. They dont fall off...
5. Fairly easy to get on and off, straps can be a little fickle in the frost but no biggie.

When the hoof is just out of shoes, have bad frogs or whatever and they land toe first, recovery is slower if they scramble along on sore feet. I see toe first horses who emmidiately start landing flat or even heel first when using these, wich means a quicker recovery. Frogs develop better.People report back that hooves change for the better when using these. Even those whos horses, in their owners opinion, didnt have any real problems. They are the only type i use and recommend.

Nic Barker said...

Hi Michelle,

I was asked to try those boots a year or so ago but I am afraid most of my caveats about boots apply equally to those ones.

Its good that retailers are spending time and effort on better boot development but there is still no substitute for a healthy bare hoof, and the best way to strengthen one is still unbooted mileage ;-)

jenj said...

Having used hoof boots extensively, I'm in agreement with you, Nic. My horses are perfectly happy stomping along on surfaces that are similar to their track, without boots. However, my track doesn't have any rocks on it. Since they are not used to rocks, the boys tend to have a harder time barefoot over rocks (and no, I'm not hauling in rocks on my track!). If I know I'll be doing a lot of riding on rocks, I'll boot.

I also agree with Michelle - if a horse is sore, putting boots (with pads for sole stimulation) can really improve their ability and way of going on multiple surfaces. It's like... a horse might feel fine barefoot on sand, but tarmac is too much. You want to get them moving to help improve the foot, but access to sand surfaces is very limited while access to tarmac is endless. Booting with pads and then doing easy walks on tarmac really does seem to improve things faster. But as you said, you cannot think that the horse is magically sound and go crazy with the workload! As with everything, it's moderation and paying close attention to your horse.

And I love the picture of the pony in people boots! Too cute!

AMC said...

Great post! I think I (like a lot of people, possibly) focus too little on environment. My navicular mare, living in a soft sandy pasture, was not developing a stronger foot no matter what type of boot I used.

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

It's like you literally wrote this post for me. I'm struggling SO much with my darling OTTB, who came back from a terrible toxic laminitis two years ago. We've been barefoot for two years, have gone through 3 trimmers, I have a really good one now, but I still find him tenderfooted and sore (yes, I've adjusted all diet, he is not IR but he eats grass hay, low starch diet, is out 24/7 on 6 acres-I board so no track unfortunately) With our mild winter, it was quite muddy for a long time, and then froze rock solid recently. His feet (shown on my blog) have all sorts of red bruising, along where we removed bars and at heels, so now I'm nervous about balancing (and I'm reading all your posts on balancing currently). I did opt to Easy boot him. I'm NOT a fan b/c of creating wet thrushy feet, however, he seemed so comfortable in them I did put them on overnight. His feet still have some flares and are odd shaped (hinds is where he rotated, not fronts) and I'm dealing with hoof walls that are uneven due to slow growth and previous trimmer leaving overlaid bar which damaged sole, etc, so with time it's growing down. It's a struggle between how much to let him hobble around on ouchie feet and when to offer him support. He does have the choice to stand in a matted, bedded open 3 stall, but he chooses to be out with his herd of 2. How I wish I was in the UK, instead on Michigan where my resources are limited. In your book; does it help the horse owner understand trims/balance, etc. My hope is to own my own barn but that is a few years out. Thanks...sorry for the million questions.

Val said...

I thought it was an interesting point that boots can encourage a longer stride, but do not really protect against concussion.

The picture is hilarious!

amandap said...

Yes, I found the point about concussion especially interesting. I just assumed boots would reduce concussion quite a lot. I suppose boots can lead us into a false sense of security and lead to too much too soon in horses needing rehab.

Nic Barker said...

Kristen, have a read of today's post as well - I've come across a number of horses who "need" what looks like a flared hoof wall - if you remove it they are uncomfortable and worse on uneven ground, so the "flare" is clearly providing some medio-lateral support.

Sounds like you are doing everything you can for your boy so stick at it and you will hopefully find some answers!

PS: Exmoor currently freezing, wet and slushy - not so nice!