Monday, 26 September 2011

Hoof Boot Guide Part I: Not All Boots Are Created Equal

There's no other item quite as useful when having a barefoot horse than a good hoof boot.  There is, however, more to selecting the ideal boot for your horse than you might think.  There are a wide variety of brands and types of boot on the market today, and which one you choose should be determined by two important factors: your horse's hoof shape, and your intended activity. 

The first factor has to do with the shape of the sole of the boot and it is important because some boots are designed to fit round hooves, while some fit wide hooves best, and others fit petite hooves.  To some extent, if you have an 'average' hoof, it will fit reasonably well regardless of the type, but - and this is especially important for those of us with pathological hooves to think about- if the hoof is mis-shapen (by abnormal growth or injury) or in the process of rehabilitation you may have to change boot types a number of times as and when the foot shape changes.  For example:  If your horse developed severely under-run heels and flared quarters (as this picture demonstrates) then you will need a boot which will accomodate as wide a foot as possible (as well as a pad), but as the foot rehabilitates you will soon find that a more round-shaped boot will do the job nicely. 

Perhaps just as vital is what you plan to do with your horse- whether it be endurance rides across rocky ground or carriage driving on asphalt roads, each discipline will suit a particular style of boot.  This is where we will consider the types of fastening and upper materials.  Included in this consideration is also whether your horse is being booted as part of an ongoing rehab (where, I'm afraid your choice may be limited to the accomodatingly roomy trainer type boots) or if you just need a bit of extra insurance if and when your horse may be a bit tender (in which case there are many sleek and stylish options open to you). 

Okay, so you've decided what your horse needs based on the shape of his foot and the demands placed upon him- now you're ready to get matched to the appropriate boot.  We'll start with the first and most versitile category- the trainer type hoof boot.  This type has one or more flaps that wrap the whole hoof above the level of the coronet band and fasten with velcro or buckle fasteners on the front of the boot (the most common types are the Old Mac - see pic - and the Cavallo hoof boots). They are the most commonly used boots for rehabilitation because they are spacious enough to fit in a generous pad to cushion and support the pathological foot.  This, combined with their ruggedness makes them extremely versitile and if you can only afford one set of boots, I'd recommend these every time.  They are also more forgiving with odd or mis-shapen hooves.  The downside is that they can be fiddly to put on/take off until you get used to the fastenings (this is especially true of Old Mac boots).  For this boot type: wide hooves suit Old Mac's; round hooves suit Old Mac's G2, Cavallo and Cavallo Sport (though there tends to be a larger size step in this brand) and Easyboot Trail.  I don't recommend the Boa hoof boot for any use as the fastening device can allow the unsuspecting owner to overtighten the boot and compress the coronet band, producing bruising and chafing (the device uses a ski-boot type dial using thin wire which can quickly create an alraming degree of compression).

The next mainstream boot type is that which fastens to the hoof by a compression mechanism (ie various types of clamp).  Of these, the oldest and best known is the original Easyboot (pictured).  The rear of the boot generally grips around the heel while the front grips and clamps to the hoof wall.  I like this type a great deal  as they generally come in a wide variety of sizes and sit entirely below the coronet band, minimizing the risk of compressing the coronet band or soft tissue rubs.  However, there is little scope for fitting a pad of any real theraputic value and I mainly recommend these for otherwise sound horses who need extra protection for rocky trails or the occasional bout of footiness.  Many of the soles are cast for quarterhorse feet so you may not have much luck finding one which fits your horse if he has wide feet.  The downside is that, unless they fit snugly they will not stay on well so an accurate fit is essential.  Easycare do, however, do a fit-kit which provides you with a range of soles to try on your horse and a good set of instructions for judging the fit- I highly recommend using it.  All these boots I would recommend for 'normal', round shaped hooves only.

An additional branch of this type is the 'glove' type boot which fits by interference fit onto the hoof and has the benefit of being very light and easy to put on (pictured is the Easyboot Glove).  These aren't quite as rugged as the other compression fit types, but work brilliantly if you desire a bit of added protection from rocky trails or wear protection if you're doing alot of tarmac mileage.  They have no real theraputic value so unless your horse has healthy feet I'd recommend these purely as an addition to a good pair of trainer type boots.  As with those listed above, these tend to really only fit 'normal' or round feet- but there is a new Easyboot Glove Wide which promises to be a more versitile fit for wide hooves.  An important side is the Hoof Wings boot which is a custom-fit glove type boot which is a viable option if you have difficulty finding an appropriate fit.

The final main offering is another hoof-fastening type which incorporates a dynamic fastening around the pastern or heel.  The most notable is the Renegade hoof boot (pictured).  As with the glovetypes, these are purely for horses who have otherwise healthy feet that require a bit of added protection for trail rides or abrasive surfaces.  The heel cup system employed here is one of my favorites and virtually eliminates any possibility of bruising of abrasion of soft tissues.  They are also as robust as the compression-fit boots but super light- I highly recommend these type of boots for trekking or heavy-duty trail riding as you get all the advantages of the gloves but a more secure, robust fit).  Again, these tend to be sized for 'normal' to round feet only and have little theraputic use as no pad of substance can be fitted.

Next up: Part II:  Sizing Your Hoof Accurately

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