Transitioning to barefoot is a long process and it is not without its ups and downs. To begin with there is hoof maintenance. Barefoot is still the exception here, most horses are shod and farriers show little interest in barefoot horses or learning about a barefoot trim. As the nearest professional trimmers are hours away from where I live, I had to learn how to trim myself. Since the shoes came off last September, I have been – and still am – on a steep learning curve.
I was lucky with Cassie. Cassie had in essence good feet, and she coped well with going barefoot. Walking her in-hand on the road wasn’t really a problem for her. She might pick her way a bit to avoid treading on too many loose stones, but on the whole it didn’t seem to bother her. It was different when I was riding her. With the added pressure of my weight, Cassie seemed more aware of her feet and she was not striding out as freely as I would have liked. In trot she was more inclined to stumble and a rising trot seemed to throw her off-balance.
Minnie was far more sensitive on the road than Cassie, so I bought front boots for her. After a lot of research and weighing up all the pros and cons of the different types of boots, I settled on Renegade hoof boots. The boots made a huge difference to Minnie. I was happy with the boots too. They were easy to put on, Minnie didn’t object to them at all and they come in a range of funky colours. Another reason I chose the Renegades was that they were developed for Endurance riders, so they are designed for intense use. They stay well below the coronary band, so there is no chance of damage through rubbing there, the heel captivators are properly padded and they are adjustable. Some boots are only suitable for light hacking, but I wanted something a bit more versatile. In the end, I didn’t get to do a lot of riding with Minnie, but Máire had bought Renegades for Ben too and they did a lot more mileage in them than Minnie and I. Ben was doing fine and he seemed happy in his Renegades.
I wanted to bring Cassie on, but I was not sure if she was able for more work and I didn’t want to push her if her hesitancy was caused by the fact that she was feeling her feet. As I have mentioned before, there is not a lot of off-road riding here, the forestry has some very stony tracks and the roads are pretty rough too. Eventually, I want to do long distance rides with Cassie, so I decided to order her Renegades too, for both front and hind feet.
The boots arrived a couple of weeks ago. I tried them on, Cassie didn’t mind them at all, so off we went. That first ride I had to dismount several times because the boots were twisting. I didn’t enjoy the experience, and checked the Renegade website to see if there was anything I could do about that. The website’s solution for twisting boots is to use a filler, but it states not do make adjustments too quickly because the boots can take a couple of rides to settle. That sounded plausible, so I decided just to tighten them slightly and try again. The front boots stayed perfectly in place, but the hind boots continued to twist. This may be caused by the way Cassie uses her hind feet; she tends to turn her toes out a bit. Whatever the reason, I found a small rub on one of her heel bulbs, so I decided not to use boots on her hind feet anymore and we continued with front boots only.
Cassie went very well on front boots only, in fact it didn’t make any difference that her hind feet were not booted. That makes sense, since most of the weight is carried by a horse’s forehand, so front boots will have a bigger impact on how the horse goes than hind boots. The little rub I had found on her hind heel bulb had made me a bit apprehensive though, and I examined her feet thoroughly after every ride, but all seemed fine. Then one day I asked Cassie to trot uphill. At first she seemed to want to canter up the hill, but then I realised that she was uncomfortable. We tried a trot again on the flat, but she was just not right. We walked home. I scrutinised her heel bulbs, but there was nothing to see.
Cassie is crooked to the left, and I have been working on getting her to go straight, so it was possible that she was a bit stiff from the exercises. I gave her a couple of days off. There was no trace of lameness or stiffness, so I decided to take her for a short hack, without boots this time. Cassie seemed fine, she was a bit hesitant to go into trot, but I let her pick her own speed and she was not lame. The following day we rode out with Máire and Ben. I decided to try the front boots again. At this stage I was already worried about the boots, so I paid a lot of attention to the fit. I made sure the heel captivator was in the right position and that the straps were not too tight. Cassie was fine in walk, but when I asked for a trot it was obvious that she was very uncomfortable. We turned around and went home. I checked her feet again, but there was nothing to see, no sign of rubbing.
The following morning Cassie pulled back when I was cleaning her right front hoof. That is unusual, because she is very good about holding her feet up for me. I picked her foot up again and pressed into her heel bulbs. Cassie tried to snatch her foot away. I tried her left front and although there wasn’t such an obvious reaction, she was definitely tender. As there is nothing to see externally I can only conclude that her heel bulbs are bruised inside.
I have now completely lost my confidence in the boots. I followed all the fitting instructions although it is possible that I initially fastened the bottom strap a bit too tight. Perhaps the Renegades just don’t suit Cassie, or maybe they don’t work as well in the bigger sizes. All I know is that I don’t want to use anything that could potentially harm my horse. When her heel bulbs are not sore anymore, I’m going back to riding Cassie bare foot. If that means if have to get off and walk her through the rougher areas, then so be it.