Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Your Mileage May Vary: Thoughts on Hoof Boots

You can say this about most topics in endurance: Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). But there are some people in this sport (as in all great passions) for whom the answer is My Way or the Highway (MWOTH). 

There is no single right answer for electrolytes, conditioning schedules, nutritional supplements or behavioral training. With any method, YMMV.

He's gotten a bit pudgy over the winter. We are two of a kind.

So you gotta feel bad for the newbies. Some poor 19-year-old posts to your Facebook group “Which is better, hoof boots or shoes?” and the entire board braces for impact as the MWOTHers come out to play.

When I read the passionate responses, nay, declarations, of the MWOTHers, I can’t help but think how lucky they have been to find a solution that works so well for them they are willing to pretend it’s the only possible one. Because I will tell you something about my experience with horses: They are all really different. 

Blue is in boots because shoes didn’t work for him. That is the only reason. If I thought I could put him in shoes tomorrow and not immediately have problems, I would sooo do it. Why? Because boots are a  &^$&@#$-ing hassle, pure and simple. They are fussy and inconvenient—just one more thing to worry about on the trail… where I have enough to worry about already, thanks very much.

My conditioning ride this weekend was a perfect example of why boots might not work for some people. All I can say is thank goodness I was riding alone.

Every little thing he does is tragic. Oh, horses. Do they ever stop hurting themselves? 


Had Blue been in shoes, this little scrape (looks much worse than it is—it was basically a glorified rug burn) would have required nothing more than a smudge of Neosporin. Because he is in boots, and the boots have a gaiter, and the gaiter sits exactly on top of this scrape, a bit more elaborate booting protocol was needed.

That’s athletic tape on top of vetwrap on top of gauze on top of desitin on top of Neosporin. No big deal. And PS: It barely budged through our whole ride, including through miles of fetlock-high mud and two trips though a stirrup-high water crossing.

The aftermath: filthy, but still quite functional.

Trial and (plenty of) error. As part of the ongoing thrush drama, I decided to try padding Blue’s front boots to give him a little more cushion and support. I am not convinced they make a significant difference in his comfort level or his way of moving, but I will tell you one thing. They sure change the way the boots fit.

Or don't.

You wouldn’t think that 6mm of soft padding would cause such a fuss. At least, you wouldn’t if you were me. And then you would be surprised by just how much fuss it was as you kept having to dismount to put the boot back on.

Are they still on? 1-2-3-4 GO! Something that I never did in my shoe days was stop and check that all four shoes were still nailed on after a tricky obstacle. Now I do it every time. And when I say “stop and check” I mean STOP and check. I don’t know how else to confirm the boots are there than to stop the freight train, lean over in the saddle and count to four.

Steady-state riding. What’s that? In his book 4th Gear Endurance, Dennis talks about steady-state riding, which basically means asking the horse to go at a consistent pace that is right on the threshold of his ability. For Blue that is a sustained 10mph trot. And we might have been able to do that this weekend if his footwear had been nailed on. That same front boot kept popping off, so finally I took it all the way off to get a closer look. As is turns out, it wasn’t a problem with the pad at all. The heel hardware on the gaiter had pulled through the rubber part of the boot and was basically just flopping around.

I wasn’t carrying a spare, so it was time to improvise. I washed the boot off in a large, deep puddle. (Plenty of those around.) I had my truck key tucked into my shirt, so I used it as a screwdriver to take the whole thing apart, realign the pieces and tighten it back down. 

All told, this probably took 5 minutes to fix, but it was long enough for me to feel the chill wind and decide it was time to stop bushwhacking head back to the trailer. 

I guess the moral of the story is this: Boots are not for you if frequent stops drive you crazy. You need some flexibility in your conditioning plans to allow for boot malfunction under normal circumstances. And during the transition/learning curve period, you might as well plan on not having a plan. 

We still did 13 miles of worthwhile riding on Saturday, but they were not the 13 miles that I had planned. If you have a plan and a schedule you really must keep, the boots will derail you every time.

So which is better: Boots or shoes?

Eh… no comment.


  1. you used a truck key to screw it back together? wow. i have one sitting in my kitchen now that had the same problem but i'm not sure it's fixable. the gaiter screw in the back pulled through the rubber of the boot, and i'm not sure how to fix it. i suppose if it pulled through once, it will pull through again. is there a website that shows how to repair easyboots? i don't ride hard enough to be destroying them dangit, so this should not be happening.

    i truly hate the hassle of booting, and if i were losing them with any regularity i'd go to shoes, but so far so good. losing a steel shoe is way worse than losing a boot, i recall.

    1. What was weird was that it pulled through, but it didn't actually make the hole any bigger. So I took out the screw, the washer, and the thing that the screw screws into (?), washed everything, and then lined the hole in the gaiter up with the hole in the boot.

      The truck key was too fat for the phillips head screw, so here's where I felt clever. I fit it into the little notches on the screw receiver thing inside the boot and basically did it in reverse.

      I've got a boot maintenance day coming up soon. Need to replace a power strap and check all of the hardware before we REALLY start riding. :)

  2. Boots, meh. Tried 'em. Wanted 'em to work. But no. The Dragon's feet are too tender--despite my preferences (to keep her barefooted/booted), she is not comfortable without shoes AND pads.

    And if the Dragon ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

    The checking/replacing boot thing is also a gigantic hassle. Renegade boots STAY ON, at least--no kind of Easyboot ever would, and I tried several types AND got fitting help from Garrett Ford. No matter--three or four strides of Dragon's Big Thang trot and those suckers would fly off into the blackberry brambles. (She also managed to completely annihilate a Renegade boot with what the rep calls her "epic overstride.")

    And then there's the issue of her being very tall and me being very short, and climbing up and down being quite impractical (especially given my hip problems).

    Solution: Dragon wears shoes and pads. For us, it works. YMMV. :-)

  3. I'm with Aarene, Tried boots on my 15hand mare and liked them, but not all the hassle. Also, on the muddy, hilly trails I ride they didn't offer the same grip/traction as a shoe- they'd twist under a strain. Got a nasty sore on the back of her pastern after a 10 mile ride and went back to shoes.

    I wouldn't even attempt boots with my 16.2 hand boy- no way, no how! Plus he goes with Eventers for traction and full pads all around (my version of 4WD!)

    If I lived in a dry climate I might attempt it again, I certainly respect the idea.