Transitioning Your Horse:
Choosing and Using Boots And Pads For Rehabilitation
Hoof boots are a great way to give a bare hoof some protection while you’re transitioning your horse from shod to barefoot, and used in conjunction with therapeutic pads they can even help strengthen the internal structures.
They can however be a bit of a challenge to fit if you haven’t done it before, and determining what kind of boot you need for your horse is tough if you haven’t seen them up close, so let’s break the problem down and see what you need.
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What do boots do?
Boots fix temporarily to the outside of the hoof, and provide some protection to the hoof from over stimulation. As they cover the sole completely they provide protection from any point pressures caused by stones, they also prevent wear on the hoof capsule.
They allow the hoof to distort in 3 dimensions just like it would do as a bare hoof. This means the heels not only move in and out towards each other but also up and down independently. This distortion is one of the basics of hoof function that keeps the internal structures healthy.
Depending how solid the sole is, the boots may or may not prevent too much distortion of the hoof capsule and depending on your horse’s hoof you may or may not want that.
Boots don’t provide extra structure in the way a nailed on shoe does. A shoe reduces the distortion of the hoof capsule, only allowing the heels to move in and out towards each other.
Just remove the shoes and ride as normal using boots?
I often hear that advice given out and it’s pretty rubbish advice if I’m honest. IF the hoof is strong enough you’ll be able to do this, if it’s not, you’ll find the boots don’t give the same useability to the hoof that shoes did.
The difference is the internal soft tissues won’t get stimulated to heal and strengthen in shoes, but they will in boots, you’ll just have to reduce your horses workload to meet their capability while rehabilitating their feet, using boots as pads as necessary.
What do pads do?
These pads are amazing, they’re made of a closed cell foam which allows them to provide the correct amount of pressure to the hoof to stimulate correct growth.
They squish down well which allows good pressure on the frog, sole, collateral grooves and bars where it’s needed, and help absorb extra concussion for hooves that aren’t quite up to the job yet.
The way they shape to the hoof also means they can be helpful in reducing twisting of boots etc.
Which weight of pad?
The 4lb pads are for ponies.
They’re also good for laminitic horses who are very sore. I find they won’t last a horse very long, sometimes only a few days if the horse is big and sore, but they tend to make them so much more comfortable you don’t much care how quickly they go through them. Along with dietary interventions I find you can usually switch to the 7lb pads after a week or so.
I’ve also found some horses (usually Iberian or Quarter horses) who have a very weak frog and a good sole with reasonable heel height do better in these pads. They really don’t need a pad for their sole, and the 7lb pad just doesn’t squash down enough to give frog contact, which is the main thing you’re trying to achieve.
7lb pads suit most horses.
Most horses and laminitic horses will do well with the 7lb pads. Like I said above, the very sore laminitics might want a 4lb pad, but after the really painful acute stage the 7lb pads work well and last longer.
9lb pads are for BIG horses.
What will these pads help with?
A quick note on a toe first landing…
A toe first landing means the horse is landing on the boney part of the foot, not all that lovely flexible soft tissue in the heel. This causes a lot of extra concussion to go through the whole body, particularly the shoulder.
These pads are amazing at reducing the negative effects of that concussion, while simultaneously helping to strengthen the heel structures. Actually many toe first landings turn into heel first landing as soon as they’re put on.
Pads are not an instant cure all!
These pads don’t magically fix the feet. Please remember this. They do tend to make the horse significantly more comfortable and it’s easy to think that this means they’re better. But they’re not.
If your horse was lame 5 minutes before you put the boots and pads on, you still have all the same problems in the feet. Yes they’re more comfortable, and that’s great, that means the rehabilitative exercise you’re going to do will be much more effective, but the heels are still underrun (or insert your particular hoof pathology here).
They’re a brilliant tool for rehabilitation, but don’t be so impressed you forget the problems you’re healing.
If you’re just using them for maintenance or to help with boot fit then go ahead and work as normal.
How long do they last?
Usually a few months. With a toe first landing you’ll go through the pads far more quickly. Personally I’d rather see the wear and tear on the pads than my horse’s shoulders. I have had a client make a pair of pads last a year, though she took exceptionally good care of them.
There are many types of pads on the market, some of which really don’t do much to improve the hooves as far as I can tell. They can help improve the fit of boots which can be helpful, but if a pad is too soft you may find it does nothing to stimulate stronger hoof growth.
Soft pads can help a horse’s comfort if they’re very sore, but if I can squash a pad between my thumb and forefinger I have to wonder just how effective that pad is when you stand a 500kg horse on top of it.
What does your horse need?
I split boots into 2 different main categories. Boots that are good for rehab and boots that are good for more intensive work. The needs of a hoof in rehab are totally different to the needs of a healthy functioning hoof that just needs a little extra protection from wear.
When the hoof is in the rehab stage it is going to change shape quite a lot. The hoof may get wider as the internal structures develop, or narrower as the flare is reduced. The heels may get taller as they get stronger, or get shorter as the bones come back into alignment.
Laminitic feet can change dramatically fast, I’ve seen them grow 4mm of heel in a week!
You may also find that boots can rub if they’re too loose or rub if they’re too tight.
You’ll have trouble with boots twisting if your horse brushes or dishes a lot or if they twist their feet when they land or break over. It’s common for people to blame the boots for not fitting, but even the best fitting boot will struggle with some gait issues. It’s always worth addresses gait issues where possible.
Most boots stay on just fine, don’t let me give the impression they don’t. You may hear the complaint of boots coming off a lot, but that's mostly because no-one mentions every time they use their boots successfully because... well.... they're just getting on with their life 🙂
A boot that’s less close fitting often gets called ‘clumpy’ by horse owners. I very rarely find horses who have a problem with them though. While boots best suited to rehab aren’t always perfect for 3 day eventing, that really doesn’t matter, because you’re not eventing, you’re doing corrective exercise.
If you have great hooves but you’re doing a lot of miles, a close fitting hoof boot will be perfect for your needs.
Which style of boots?
It feels like there’s a new boot on the market every other week at the moment. It can be hard to keep up. I’m not complaining, it’s great that we have more options, however this great range of choice does seem to increase the confusion for horse owners who are new to the idea.
Boots for Rehab
In my opinion Cavallo boots are the best for hoof rehabilitation. They’re quite forgiving for hooves that aren’t quite the right shape, they work really well with EPS pads and they’re one of the cheapest on the market. The treks are worth the extra if you can afford it and the simple or sport boots are still really good if you can’t.
Other boots that work well with EPS pads are Equine Fusion, Old Macs G2’s and Boas (though I’m not sure they make them anymore. I may be showing my age!)
Boots for harder work
A more close fitting boot will have a much smaller size range. Some boots only fit within a few mm. These will be great for a fully transitioned hoof that’s up to hard work. If you’re still in the rehab stage you may find the hoof is changing shape too often for these boots to fit for more than a few weeks at a time, and chances are they won’t fit at all anyway if there's hoof deformity and/or pathology.
Evo boots can be heated up and moulded to fit the hoof shape. They’re an amazing boot in my opinion. If you’re having trouble with boots twisting, this will be your best chance of getting something that works for you.
There aren’t a huge amount of options for hooves more than 1cm narrower than they are long. It’s a shame really as it’s not an uncommon hoof shape. The Flex Hoof Boot seems to be the best option for a narrow foot, though they’re quite new to the market and I haven’t seen them in action yet. If you’ve tried them let us know in the comments!
Aren’t Boots Expensive?
Well… not really. Yes they’ll cost somewhere between £100-£200 for a pair but they last for years so they’re really pretty cost effective. As your horse gets sounder hooves and movement you’ll also find you need them less, or not at all.
You can usually get them cheaper if you buy them second hand and they hold their price pretty well for selling too (as long as you don’t trash them).
How to measure for boots
Measure the length and width of the hoof after a fresh trim.
I believe carpenters say ‘measure twice, cut once’ and while you probably want to leave out the cutting part of that advice, measuring twice is a good idea. Don’t just measure to the nearest cm, measure to the nearest mm.
It could be worth measuring the hoof before the trim too. The before trim measurement isn’t to help decide on boot size, but it will give you an idea of how much the hoof changes size between trims.
You may find you your horse needs trimming more often. Not to make boots fit, but ideally you don’t want the hoof getting overgrown as that can put more pressure on any pathologies you have.
The best fit
The best boot is the one that fits the best, so compare your measurements to a variety of sizing charts. Most hoof boots suppliers have sizing charts all on 1 page which is helpful. I tend to use Equine Podiatry Supplies because… have I mentioned the EPS pads?!!
I'd love to hear about your experiences with hoof boots for rehab in the comments below.
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