Hoof boots – not that simple

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.

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15 thoughts on “Hoof boots – not that simple

  1. I’ve been through the booting woes too. I tried the Easyboot Gloves and the darn things just flew off his feet whenever we trotted. I’ve got two kinds of Cavallos but those things are so clunky they threw off his stride. I finally said “to heck with it” and just ride him bare. The only place he minces his footing is on gravel driveways where there are lots of little sharp rocks spread around randomly. Large stones he doesn’t have a problem with.

    I know one person who says “if you’re gonna ride barefoot, you just have to ride that sucker barefoot!”

  2. I love that attitude, and I suppose it is the only way to really get your horse barefoot.
    The problem here is the roads, they are tar and chip, and usually that means a lot of loose chips lying around and they are sharp. If I want to ride out, most of it is going to be on those roads, otherwise I won’t get to ride at all. If the ground is good I can ride in my fields, but that is not often, because it’s clay, so a couple of rain showers is enough to soften the ground too much for riding.

    I was hoping the boots would give us a good alternative, you read so many positive stories of people doing endurance rides in boots. I’ve had shoes that gave me blisters when they were new, and they were grand after a while, but I have no idea if it would work like that for horses. I just don’t know enough about it and the last thing I want to do is cause irreparable damage.

    • Thanks Shannon, I had a look at those boots. I wish all these companies would offer the option to try out their boots and accept a return within a week for instance instead of having to buy them and find out they don’t suit your horse. I guess I’m just going to ride that sucker barefoot!

  3. I’ve always wanted to try boots, but I’ve always thought they looked terribly awkward. I’m guessing that some horses are also probably really hard to fit–just like people.

    • I always liked the look of the Renegades compared to most hoof boots, especially because they come in all those colours. Cassie is more or less in between boot sizes, which makes it hard. As a matter of fact, I’m in between sizes too, and I’m always more comfortable in the winter because I can wear thick socks. Otherwise I have the choice between pinch or slide.

  4. I know this is an older post, but when horses get sore in boots it can very well be the trim. The Renegade boots are made in a rather hard material, and too tall quarterwalls, bars or even frog can make all the difference in comfort. When the horse is trotting, more weight is placed on the hoof with ech step, and the flexing of the hoofcapsule causes the solepart of the hoof to “bottom out” (as it should) and if the bars are a tad high it is like running with stones in your sneakers. To tall/or not scooped quarter walls is also a problem when the hoof needs to dissipate weight, and the tearing of the lamella in the quarters is painful. All this is easily remedied with some tweaking to the trim, and should be considered before tossing out the boots 🙂

    • Hi Siri, thank you for your comment. I agree that one of the first things you have to look at is the trim. However, in Cassie’s case I don’t think that that was the issue. I still think it was largely due to the fact that Cassie was right on the border between sizes. In that case Renegades recommend that you go for the larger size, which I did, so she had the biggest size available at the time on her front feet, 2WW. Most horses who do really well in Renegades are in the smaller sizes of 00 and 1, but when you look at the size chart on the Renegade webside they have very different dimensions compared to the larger boots. From an engineering point of view, you can only enlarge up to a certain point before a design doesn’t work anymore, so it does make me wonder if the larger Renegades work as well. I certainly have heard a lot about twisting and bruising on heel bulbs in the larger sizes. I never had a problem with Minnie in her Renegades size 2, they stayed on perfectly and I was happy with how she went in them.

      Since I wrote this post a year ago, I have come to the conclusion I really do need boots for Cassie and I am currently looking at my options. I wish I could make the Renegades work, but they are just not right for her.

  5. Have you tried the easy care back country boots. Im also having problems with boots twisting and have recently bought renegades in size 4WW for my large footed cob. only worn them once but had to get off to untwist them once during the ride. Same happens with the back country by the way but only in canter, then they twist horribly!

    • Hi Carol,
      I seriously considered getting the easy care back country boots, but a friend of mine has the gloves and she finds them very hard to put on, and she often needs to give a quick rasp before they will go on. I don’t know if the same applies to the back country, but it was mentioned in their demonstration video that you may need a hammer to put them on properly and that didn’t appeal to me at all. I have found that my horses’ hooves actually seem better if I don’t trim them too often and it does seem a bit like making the hoof fit the boot.
      I have just bought the Equine Fusion boots and I will do a post on them as soon as I have given them a decent trial, but of course I hope they will do the job otherwise I have just added more useless tack to an already abundant over-supply of never to be used again stuff!

  6. I just had a HORRIBLE experience with the Renegade hoof boots. The horse I tried them on has very round feet, so I had to go up one size to get them wide enough. I talked to the folks at Renegade before I bought the boots, and that is what they recommended. I tried the boots a couple of times for short, easy rides, without too much trouble. Last weekend, I went horse camping in far SE Oklahoma, where it is extremely rough and rocky. The boots repeatedly caused my horse to trip. They actually pulled off multiple times, with his foot going through the strap 15-20 times. No matter what I did, the boots either came completely off, or wound up backwards around his pasterns. It is a miracly my horse didn’t get seriously injured. I wound up having to call a farrier in horse camp and have shoes put on so that it didn’t ruin the rest of our trip.

  7. What a terrible experience you and your horse had! And like you say, it could have ended much worse with your horse injured. I think Renegades are probably only suitable if they are a perfect fit. When you’re in between sizes or have a round hoof shape, they are trouble. It is hard to find good hoof boots that suit your horse, which makes it difficult to keep your horse barefoot if you have to deal with rough terrain. My horses live on soft, generally wet ground. No matter what I do, their hooves will never be truly rock crunching and unfortunately that means I need boots. Not Renegades though, I just don’t trust them anymore. Do you think you will give barefoot another shot or will you keep your horse shod?

  8. Hmmm, booting seems to be fraught with problems doesn’t it? I think that in the end it will always be better to be able to go without them completely as any kind of extra addition to the foot is essentially unnatural and therefore can cause problems. Unfortunately my thoroughbred is incredibly sensitive on her hinds as well as her fronts, even after 2 years in boots and I don’t know whether she will ever go completely bare as I would love her to be. I have found that easyboot gloves twist and end up facing backwards, cavallo simple and sports are incredibly dangerous on wet grass and mud even when new with plenty of traction on the bottom and are also clunky to wear. I have had about 3 very nasty accidents as a result of this so far and am very wary of hacking out after any rain.The gloves are fiddly to get on as are the cavallos. So far I haven’t tried renegades as I have always been put off by the cost, and after reading your blog, probably won’t bother, so thanks for the heads up. I just hope that with enough careful transitioning on tarmac roads I can get my sucker to go fully barefoot too!

  9. I am also going through a learning curve with barefoot horses. Some of the things we discovered is I don’t think we can ever go completely barefoot not because of sensitivity, my girls can go over most any terrain without being ouchy, but just simple hoof wear. Foe example I tried going on a little 25 mile ride which had a lot of gravel road miles and at the end it had worn the hooves down terribly short and I think that if we had gone barefoot on the next ride which was a 30 mile it would have lamed her so I put on boots and had no problem. So far I have had the best luck with Easyboot Gloves we ride hard and fast over sometimes very rough rocky terrain and I have only had one on the hind foot twist once. I have also gone through water and mud up to her knees and never sucked one off. I think that most problems with boots is hooves trimmed too upright ( more than 54 degrees) or simply not fitting tight enough, I fit the Gloves very tight. I see wnere Renegade is coming out with a new model called the Viper that looks promising too. IMHO any of the ones that just fit around the foot without anything around the pastern are just for casual trail riding as they cause rub sores and usually twist or come off if you do speed or really rough steep trails. Just my 2 cents.

  10. I am currently in my third year of completing a Diploma in Equine Podiotherapy so have a huge amount of experience barefoot trimming. I purchased the vipers, tried them on both fronts and hinds. They twist, not too badly but I wasn’t happy. The horse didn’t seem overly worried. I would rate them 6-7/10. Tried the Old Macs, big, heavy clunky, out they went – sold. Rating 4/10, Next – Easy care Epics, have never twisted, I find them easy to apply, have used different thickness of pads, used on both hinds and front. Have had the occasional time when one of the fronts have come off when cantering (too be honest, on these occasions I did not have them on tight enough). Have used them in deep sand and in the ocean. Didn’t come off but the sand got inside the boot and caused rubbing on the heels – end result sore horse. For road riding or trails brilliant, Very easy to take the gaiters off when they need to be replaced. Rating 8/10. Now when I want to ride on the beach I will float down and ride the horse barefoot or ride down to the beach barefoot when he is due for trim. At this stage his walls are longer and he is off his soles. Barefoot he is fine on the grass verges, tarseal when on his soles/frogs, not fine on sharp loose gravel/metal, hence the boots. Hopes this helps anyone considering boots.

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