Hoof Boots

The term 'horse boot' can be used in two ways:

  • To mean a boot designed to fit over the hoof of a horse and to protect the hoof (also known as a 'hoof boot'). It is often used as an alternative to horseshoes, serving much the same function of protecting the hooves. It is also sometimes used with horses wearing horseshoes, to provide additional protection. This is the meaning which is used for this article.
  • The term is also used in a broader sense to describe protective covers not only for the hoof but also for the leg. For explanations and photos, see Horse Hoof Boot Types.

Hoof boots are usually made of plastic or rubber, with clips or straps which allow them to be quickly fitted and removed. Unlike horseshoes, they are not nailed or otherwise physically attached to the hoof, as adjustable straps give a tight fit which holds them on. Since the bottom of the hoof is larger then the top of the hoof, adjusting the top of the boot to fit around the top of the hoof prevents the boots from slipping off. The following photo shows a boot, with the metal clip at the front being used to shorten the wires around the top to the required size for the horse. The boot is first put on with the wires loose (as otherwise the boot will be too small to fit over the base of the hoof) and the clip is then used to tighten the wires to achieve a snug fit.

horse boot

Like horseshoes, boots can be put on all four hooves, or just the front two (as in the following photo), or just the back two. One would never put a boot on one side of the horse but not the other side as this would result in a lop sided gait.

horse boots

Both photos courtesy Wikipedia

There are many different reasons that a horse boot may be used, including:

  • They provide similar protection to horseshoes but are much less expensive over the long term, as the cost of buying the boots once is much less than the cost of a farrier and new horseshoes every 6-8 weeks.
  • They allow the horse to go barefoot most of the time, which many horse owners consider more natural and better for the hooves than horseshoes.
  • They are more shock absorbent than metal horseshoes and consequently provide greater protection from impact on hard surfaces (although not necessarily better than rubber horseshoes).
  • They can be used in combination with horseshoes to provide additional protection, which is of particular benefit if the horse is required to travel over unusually hard or uneven surfaces (e.g. a rocky path).
  • They can be used as a temporary substitute for a lost shoe, if a farrier is not immediately available to replace the horseshoe.
  • They have a number of medical purposes. These include covering a punctured hoof to keep it clean, holding a poultice or other medication in place on the hoof, taking pressure off of an injured part of the hoof (e.g. abscess in sole)
  • They can be used in circumstances where it may not be possible to use horseshoes (e.g. hoof badly split or chipped, hoof inflamed due to laminitis).
  • Some horses have the problem of injuring themselves by kicking one hoof with another or hitting part of one leg with the hoof of another. This is more often found in horses which have gait issues or whose hooves are very overdue for trimming. Protective horse boots can be used to reduce associated injuries until the root problem can be identified and corrected.
  • Kicking boots are padded at the base to reduce the impact of a horse's kick. They may be used on horses during mating (in particular, on the mare's hind hooves) or when introducing new horses to an established herd.

Types of Hoof Boots

Hoof boots vary greatly in terms of cost, design and materials. Following are some variations to consider when deciding on which type of hoof boot is most appropriate for you.

One consideration is materials. One can opt for a basic shoe made from rubber or hard plastic, which is relatively inexpensive and requires minimum care (see following photo left). Alternatively, one can opt for a somewhat more attractive combination of materials and appearance, although additional care may be appropriate (see following photo right).

Basic hoof boot image Quality hoof boot image

The boot can be attached in various ways. These include gluing (for longer term attachments), cables which can be levered tight (see above left photo), velcro (see below photo left), screw (see middle photo below, with detailed photo on right). Some boots have internal metal grips (see above left photo) so that they hold better, although care and periodic checking is appropriate to avoid such metal grips damaging the hoof; others use hard plastic instead of metal (which may not grip quite as well but have less risk of hoof damage) and some boots rely on a tight fit around the hoof (tightened using velcro, cables or other method) to hold them on.

Velcro attachment hoof boot Screw attachment hoof boot image Detailed attachment hoof boot image

Some boots will use a combination of these methods, for example the above middle photo uses velcro and a metal screw tightening mechanism.  We've even found a boot which uses a twist knob to tighten (fasten) the boot on, shown in the following photo.

Hoof boot with knob attachment

The height of the boot varies. Boots intended mainly for trail riding will cover the bottom portion of the hoof. Some boots are slightly higher, covering the sensitive coronet area; these boots are desirable where the upper hoof could be damaged (e.g. during polo, where the close movement of horses sometimes results in one horse stepping on the hoof or coronet area of a hoof and damaging it). Some boots may extend up the lower leg, either for additional protection or grip (see photo of screw and velcro attachment earlier in this section for example).

The grip on the base can vary from light (see below left) to heavy (see below right)

Hoof boot light grip Heavy grip hoof boot

Aside from the various riding hoof boots, there are a number of hoof boots for specialty purposes, including medical. In particular, there are hoof boots intended to hold medication (powder or liquid) in place on the hoof (or lower leg), as well as boots intended to hold liquids so that a hoof can be soaked (see following photo). An equine veterinarian can advise as to when and how such boots should be used. In some cases a pad can be of medical benefit (see section 'Accessories' below).

Medical hoof boot

Most of the above photos are reproduced here with the very kind permission of Easy Care Hoof Boots, who retain the full copyright to the photos.

Choosing a Correctly Fitting Boot

In addition to choosing the boot type (see above section), it is absolutely important that the boot fits correctly. An incorrectly fitting boot can cause discomfort to the horse and may injure it, just as an incorrectly fitting shoe can hurt a person's foot. 

The first consideration is the boot size, which is determined by the length and width of the hoof. The sellers of boots generally provide a table which gives the correct size for given length and width. Given the choice of a boot which is a bit too small and the next size up being a bit too large, it is better to go with the one that is slightly too large.

The next consideration is shape. Some horses have hooves that are longer (hoof front to back) than wide (hoof side to side), some have the opposite with hooves that are wider than long, some have rounded hooves that are approximately the same length as width. Like a person wearing a shoe, it is important not only that the size is correct, but also the shape. Before buying a shoe, ask the seller which hoof shape the shoe is designed for and make sure that this corresponds to your horse. Remember to ask before telling the seller the horse's hoof shape and if they say that the hoof fits all shapes one should be wary. If your horse has a hoof shape which is extreme (this can happen as a result of laminitis, injury, incorrect or inadequate trimming, or other reasons), it may be best to deal direct with one of the major specialists to discuss the requirements. In addition to unusually shaped hooves, a hoof with low heels or long heels can be more difficult to fit, so one should discuss with the boot supplier. If dealing with a specialist, they may be willing to accept photos in addition to measurements in order to advise which of the boots in their range would fit best. 

A boot should be snug when you put it on, before tightening it. If you can turn or twist the boot, the fit is not correct (except in the case of rounded boots on a rounded hoof, in which case some turning or twisting may be possible). After tightening, there should be a close fit, with no large gaps between the hoof wall and boot. If the boot does not meet these tests, it is best to exchange the boot or request a refund, rather than risk injuring the horse with a poorly fitting boot. 

In summary:

  • Use the supplier's measuring and sizing chart to choose the correct boot size.
  • Check that the boot you are selecting has a shape that matches the shape of hoof
  • When fitting the boot for the first time, make sure it fits correctly.

Accessories

In addition to carry bags or storage containers, two accessories or particular note are studs and pads.

Some boots can be fitted with studs to provide additional grip. These can reduce slipping (and associated risk of injury to horse and rider) on uncertain ground (e.g. mud) or smooth surfaces (e.g. highly smoothed concrete). However, incorrect use of studs can also result in injuries (e.g. if doing a hard stop on solid ground), so one should take advice from a professional experienced in their use before installing them.

Flat pads can be inserted into the bottom of a boot, either singularly or in a stack. The reasons for this include:

  • To raise the hoof slightly, to provide a better fit.
  • To provide additional cushioning and thereby reduce impact, which is of particular benefit when travelling fast over hard surfaces.
  • For medical reasons, to reduce pressure on the hoof or a particular part of the hoof. If in doubt, discuss with your equine veterinarian.

Special Care

Horse boots are not intended to be worn full time; they are normally put on just before the horse is ridden and then removed after the ride. When being used for medical purposes, it may be necessary to leave them on for longer periods. 

If they are left on for longer periods, the hoof and lower leg should be periodically and carefully checked for rubbing or abrasions. A thorough check will require removing the boot so that covered portions of the hoof can be examined. When fitting boots to a horse for the first time, or when changing boots, one should do such checks very frequently for the first few rides; if there are no issues one can confidently ride for longer periods with checking.

Worn or damaged hooves should be replaced, as they may fail to provide adequate protection or may result in injury (e.g. if cable straps become exposed and start rubbing, causing abrasions).