Whether it’s a pared-out foot abscess, stone bruise or a lost shoe, sooner or later you’re going to need a hoof boot. If it’s been awhile since you used one, you probably remember clunky, unwieldy devices that looked more like instruments of torture and were a nightmare to get on, only to have the horse get them off in record time. Fortunately, they’ve improved.
While the requirements for your “dream boot” may vary a bit depending on why you need one, a good fit is a must for any use. It won’t do you any good if it won’t stay on. A good fit is a snug fit, without causing rubs or pressure on sensitive structures.
A good boot is durable but not heavy. It helps if it provides good traction and, depending on the use, if it breathes. Ease of cleaning is a plus, since we’re anticipating poultices, packings and medications, especially with “rubber” boots. If the boot is used for therapeutic purposes, such as protecting a bruised sole or cushioning for laminitis, we also want it to be soft and comfortable.
As with your own shoes, there’s no substitute for trying on your horse’s boots before purchase. Manufacturer size charts help (see sidebar at end of story), but they’re not foolproof. If you’re lucky enough to have a nearby tack store, it’s worth your while to take different styles and sizes home to try.
To protect the boot from damage/dirt, clean the foot well and then pull a large men’s tube sock over it. This doesn’t add enough thickness to give a sizing error. Stand the horse on an empty feedbag or sheet of cardboard to avoid scuffing up the bottoms.
You shouldn’t break a sweat trying to get the boots on, but it shouldn’t be too easy either. Expect a little more difficulty than if trying to put a pair of rubber boots over your own shoes (remember kindergarten’). The acid test is to have the horse move around in them for a few hours, but this won’t be possible if you plan to return them. Once on the hoof, you shouldn’t be able to twist the boot from side to side or move it up and down at the heels.
If you can’t try the boots ahead of time, follow the sizing charts carefully. If you have a barefoot horse or a horse with the typically rounder feet usually found on barefoot horses, Easyboot will probably work better. For horses with a more elongated foot, or those with narrow heels, the Davis boots may be a better fit.
For best results when ordering through the mail, trace the outline of your horse’s foot — do both front and back if using boots all around — cut it out and send it in with your order, requesting the supplier to check the cut-out inside the boot for proper fit.
A snug fit is necessary for the boot to stay put, but when coupled with waterproof materials that don’t breathe, it can spell trouble in terms of over-softening and microorganism growth.
Before applying a boot, the foot should be meticulously cleaned or, better yet, freshly trimmed and then cleaned and dried. Try to leave the top of the boot open enough to allow air to circulate at the heels and coronary band. Check these areas carefully, as well as the pasterns, after the first eight to 12 hours of wear to make sure there is no skin redness, softening or irritation/rubbing. Protect any suspicious areas with a light bandage or layer of Mole Foam applied to the boot in that area. Use a hoof pick and visual inspection to carefully check the frog clefts each day for thrush.
The black Davis Manufacturing Barrier Boot is an all-purpose, one-piece, waterproof, molded polyurethane boot, with a “tongue” in the back to aid application and an adjustable webbing strap for a snug fit. It retails at $20 per boot (more for X-large). It has a horseshoe-shape ground surface, with no contact at the center and with grooves/ribs for traction. The interior is smooth and flat. The front and sides cover the coronary band and extend slightly up the pastern. And, while not designed for riding, we found it secure enough to get your horse home comfortably in the event of a mishap, tough enough to take turnout and adjustable enough to accommodate a bandage or poultice.
Davis Horse Boot
The Davis Manufacturing Horse Boot ($25) is a fetlock-tall one-piece boot with a bright blue lightweight “upper” molded onto a one-piece boot with a triple-layer black bottom and a securing/tightening strap at the top. It resembles a tall pair of galoshes. The boot has multiple small projections of the same material on the ground surface. The ground surface is concave at the frog, convex on the inside of the boot at the frog.
This boot was the toughest to apply and size properly, although the extra height did make it difficult for the horse to get it off. The bottom is somewhat less rigid than the Barrier Boot, but we didn’t like the Horse Boot’s contouring, which we felt may put upward pressure on the frog.
The biggest advantage these boots offer is if you have to turn your horse out in wet, deep mud conditions or frequently soak the hoof. The boot is tall enough to hold enough water to get the job done without the hassle of trying to keep your horse standing in a tub.
The EasyCare Easyboot is an all-purpose, one-piece, molded polyurethane boot that is available in red or black (colors vary depending on size). It sells for $37 each or four for $136.
The boot’s ground surface has a circular exterior groove, interrupted at the toe, with deep longitudinal grooves at heels and along the sole for traction. It’s smooth at the toe with a bevel for easy breakover. The interior sole has nubs to hold the foot slightly up and provide air space.
Three downward pointing, metal prongs grasp the hoof wall to hold the boot in place or can be flattened down if desired. The boot has a low-cut heel with an interior strap that fits under the bulbs and generous bulb room in the outer boot.
The boot closes with a cable system across the front, which easily accommodates different hoof shapes. The entire boot sits below the level of the coronary band/bulbs.
To improve the performance of Easyboots being used on active performance horses, the company offers a variety of optional products to adjust fit and traction: dirt skirts ($9.50/8) are thick urethane sheets that provide an extra snug fit and keep dirt out of the boot; studs ($10/dozen — you need three per boot) for traction; foam adhesive ($14) for the bottom, sides and back of boot after application can be used for a more secure fit, extra cushioning and to keep out dirt; wedge pads ($5.50 each) are available as flat (1/2” thick all the way around for extra sole protection) or elevated at heel (navicular, tendons, underrun heels) or toe (laminitis).
The Easyboot’s new system eliminates a major problem with riding your horse in boots: coronary band and heel rubs. Even a well-fitted boot can start to chafe when sweat and dirt accumulate.
We liked the boot’s beveled toe, and the rounder shape, which makes it work for both barefoot horses, which tend to have rounder feet, or for horses with the slightly more elongated foot of a shod horse, since the cable system can compensate for a somewhat narrower foot.
No boot is going to stay on 100% of the time on 100% of horses, but we found t he Easyboot design is secure, and we love the available options, especially the added security of the adhesive foam and removable studs for especially treacherous terrain.
Bluegrass Equine Slipper
The Bluegrass Equine Products Slipper ($34.95) is an extremely lightweight and flexible boot with a blue Cordura upper, a foam-padded cuff at the pastern, with adjustable, two-wing Velcro closures for an easy, snug fit and a leather bottom. Your impression of it is definitely that of a “slipper.” It’s not designed for turnout, although confinement in a small paddock might be OK. It’s most useful as an outer protection for feet that are being medicated (e.g. pared-out abscess that is packed or a hoof-wall resection) and need to be kept free of environmental contamination and dirt.
The Sabre Sneaker ($59.95 each) is a molded, one-piece boot with foam uppers, covered in gray Cordura with a rough-finish plastic bottom and a large front tongue. It opens and goes on the foot like a sneaker with laces up the front, making it easy to apply. It’s quite well-cushioned and comfortable for the sole. Sabre Sneaker is durable, holding up well to walking and limited turnout. It’s also lightweight and flexible. Custom sizing is available.
For a medication/cushioning boot, the Bluegrass Slipper nips out the Sabre Sneaker as we find it breathes better, which lessens the likelihood of skin problems/infections when treatment is prolonged. It’s also about $25 cheaper. However, we’d add a layer of Mole Skin if we wanted more cushioning in the sole of the boot.
For riding, the Easyboot gets an “A-plus” for the effort the manufacturer obviously put into its design and the options available for improving fit. The Easyboot is also well priced at $37, earning our overall top recommendation for a hoof boot for riding and all-purpose.
If you just need a boot on hand for those odd emergencies, get the $20 Davis Barrier Boot, our Best Buy. This would also be our choice for most poultices, as its all-rubber format makes it easy to clean.
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Davis Manufacturing, 920/346-5815, www.davismanufacturing.com; EasyCare Inc.,800/447-8836, www.easyboot.com; Bluegrass Equine Products, 859/381-9242; SabreEquine,203/322-9002 www.sabresneaker.com.