Hoof boots have become one of the fastest-growing accessories in the equine marketplace since their inception nearly two decades ago.
Even at that time the most primitive of hoof boots fashioned with duct tape and inner tube and/or Styrofoam cut-outs were found to bring a high level of comfort and functionality to horses with sore feet. Hoof boots are now recognized to be an invaluable service to horses for medicinal purposes such as in cases of solar abscesses and laminitis, rehabilitative purposes for the hoof and/or foot, and for protection in rugged terrains.
Well-chosen hoof boots offer physical protection to tender hoof structures while allowing the hoof to cycle through its natural contraction and expansion dynamic upon weight bearing and thus complement the elastic nature of the hoof.
This natural dynamic is crucial to engaging the proper biomechanics within the hoof capsule. As a result, blood circulation and fluid hydraulics within the foot are optimized. Fluid hydraulics driven by proper hoof mechanics play a major role in absorption of concussive forces upon loading of the foot. A properly applied hoof boot can play a pivotal role in rehabilitation and healing of a horse’s hoof or hooves.
Horses will often compensate for discomfort, tenderness and weaknesses in the back part of the hoof by landing toe first at footfall (the opposite of the proper heel-first landing). Toe-first landings skew the natural, supple movement of the horse, putting strain on the joints, tendons and ligaments, concuss the coffin bone and start a negative cycle in the hoof itself.
The healthy heel-first landing is crucial to the stimulation, development and strengthening of the structures at the back of the hoof such as the frog, digital cushion and lateral cartilages and provides important feedback to the horse’s nervous system.
As a result, the comfort offered by hoof boots to the back of the foot can play a critical role in allowing the horse to relax into a comfortable heel-first way of going. Once the horse returns to its proper footfall sequence the internal structures of the hoof can begin to develop and return to health. This seemingly small adjustment in footfall can be instrumental in successful hoof rehabilitation for many horses.
But it can be challenging to navigate the hoof boot market — successful selection often requires research, patience, observation, utility ‘tricks’ and networking with fellow horse owners and/or professionals experienced in their use.
After discerning the design of the hoof boot necessary to meet a particular need the next step is fitting the boot to the hoof.
For example, the hoof boots designed to act as a hospital boot for abscess treatment or laminitis will be functionally different than the hoof boots that service the tender-footed horse over rugged terrain. Hoof form varies significantly in size and shape from circular, to oval and even potato shaped if the hoof capsule is grossly deformed. Hoof form also varies with the stage of the trim cycle and degree of flare on the hoof wall.
Most hoof boot manufacturers have detailed guidelines for measurements and/or tracings to assign a boot size. It is generally necessary to regularly trim the hoof every two to four weeks to address overgrowths and wall flare in order to maintain a good fit for the original boot size chosen.
Stable fastening systems for the boot can include simple velcro straps, hooks and eyes, or more complicated mechanical levers and cables.
Many hoof boot designs come with the ability to be fitted with insoles and/or pads which can further aid in the comfort of the tender-footed horse. The density and type of insole can make a significant contribution in the horse’s willingness to fully engage the hoof upon weight bearing and move with the proper heel-first landing. This nuance can be an important factor for a successful outcome when boots are used as a means to rehabilitate and develop the back and/or caudal aspect of the foot which is necessary for gravel-crunching soundness.
With exception, it is best to avoid prolonged use of or turnout in hoof boots as complications such as chaffing at the pastern and opportunities for fungal infections such as thrush and white line disease tend to increase with longer durations of wear. Hoof boot hygiene is critical.
Despite their management challenges, hoof boots can be an extremely effective tool for either bringing the horse’s hoof back to health or providing temporary protection.