People being wrong on the internet. I mean, let’s face it. Mostly they are not creating Third-World poverty, planning genocide, world domination, or dissing The Lord of the Rings, or anything else that ought to be a capital offence (were obviously capital punishment not a thoroughly bad thing too). Unfortunately, they are still jolly irritating. I spend FAR too much time being irritated. Usually, it’s at bad nutrition advice being doled out by yard experts to owners of insulin resistant/EMS or Cushings horses, but no doubt I will be posting about that later on. It needs a rant in itself, possibly multiple rants. No, today’s source of irritation is: The Hoof Boot.
Or rather, people’s attitudes towards hoof boots. I should know better than to lurk on various discussion groups I suppose, because you come across gems like: ‘I’ve never really approved of hoof boots but my sister’s horse has gone really sore footed this last few weeks and she is thinking about buying some. What are the best sort to buy please?’ And then everyone leaps in to recommend their Boot du Jour. Buy Equine Fusions, buy Renegades, buy Gloves, buy Epics, until one lone voice suggests maybe the horse needs to be shod, and everyone leaps on her instead.
To be fair, I’m being a miserable git. People want to help by sharing what they know works, she was trying to make the right decision to help the horse, and at least now, increasingly, boots are becoming a first line option. All good. However….
Let’s look at what that statement REALLY says (and why it got my back up). ‘I’ve never really approved of hoof boots…’ Why not? Because a horse in boots isn’t a ‘proper barefoot horse?’ Because someone told you they rub/slip/break/come off ? Or because you are lucky enough to have a horse (probably just the one horse) that you could feed on sugar bombs and ride over needles and it never flinches, so you don’t see why everyone else can’t manage? Well, step out of smugville and into my world for a minute. Ask yourself why a horse might need a boot. Mostly, it’s because its feet are mechanically weak. Management that sets them up to succeed–good trimming, plenty of movement and stimulation to fitten up the feet, low sugar forage, high nutrient supplementation–will generally grow you a decent hoof. While you’re still growing that perfect hoof capsule, using a boot and an appropriate pad to compensate for weak structures in the feet will let the horse move comfortably and properly, even over aggressive surfaces, and the increased stimulation will get you results much faster. It’s hard to see why anybody wouldn’t ‘approve’ of a useful bit of therapy like that, unless, of course, they hadn’t got a clue what they were talking about.
Sometimes, however, manipulating diet and environment won’t work. If that horse has a disease or systemic problem that’s giving it sore feet regardless of normal good management, you need a diagnosis. Irritation point no 2: why is the horse sore? See, sore feet aren’t actually a normal horse thing, even a normal barefoot horse thing. Healthy feet do what they’re supposed to, you know, allow a horse to run away from predators (and people with a halter), lark about, walk for miles in search of lunch, in short, be an efficient horse-ground interface. If a horse’s feet hurt, it either a: has rubbish feet that need fixing (see Irritation Point 1 above), or b: has something wrong with it. Now, before I put a boot on, or a shoe, I’d rather like to know whether I’m dealing with unfit feet or life threatening disease symptoms. You can use a shoe and indeed a boot to make a sore horse pretty comfortable, but no amount of booting on earth is going to stop the progress of Cushings, or laminitis. Sore feet aren’t always a farriery problem, or a hoof-fitness one: they can be a medical matter too. You need to know what you’re dealing with before you decide what to do about it.
Which brings me to Irritation Point no 3. What is the best boot to buy? Well, what’s the best human shoe to buy? Personally, I would be going for a nice pair of Iron Fist platforms. They’re vegan, generally sparkly, sky high and I LOVE mine. Obviously, they are also ideal for misshapen or sore feet, cross country running, and mucking out….oh. No. Hang on a minute. You mean I can’t run next year’s London Marathon in them? *looks stunned*
OK, chances are that somebody–probably dressed as a six foot high carrot raising money for Foot Deformation Awareness–already has, but you get the point. Horse boots, like human shoes, have a defined purpose and are often designed for a specific sort of foot. Basically, if you have a desperately sore unresolved Cushings case, you’re going to need a different approach and a different boot to someone who has a fit endurance horse who needs to do 50km over rocky trails that it’s not trained on or used to. It’s the difference between buying Easyboot RXs and pads, running bloods, getting a diagnosis and starting medication and diet changes, and tapping on well fitting (say) Easyboot Gloves, and heading for the start line. Orthotic slippers v. barefoot running shoes. And this is why listening to yard experts on the internet can be such a bad idea. What worked on their round footed TB may not be such a great idea for your slipper footed Section A, for a start, so do ask specific questions. And if you take a recommendation, or just order something online you like the look of (red and sparkly is NOT a selection criteria here!), don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work as well as you’d hoped. Do more research. Talk to your trimmer. Make sensible choices based on fit and function. There is plenty of information on the manufacturer’s websites, and most retailers will help you out as well.
Which brings me to JJ. On the face of it, he isn’t at all difficult to boot. Most hoof boot makers are American, most American horses are QHs, so he fits into the normal demographic. His feet aren’t flared, bizarrely misshapen, 12 inches across–in fact, unless you knew what you were looking for, you’d probably think they were OK feet. As a result,
we can fit him into pretty much anything and we’ve pretty much used everything on the market. Every boot, we found, was good at something, and not so great at something else. Original Macs (which were about all there was when we started out) had to work as serious therapy boots: there was a four size difference between JJ’s hoof length and his hoof width when we took his shoes off and discovered he couldn’t actually stand up. The Macs, for example, ended up customised with sewn- in side padding, and they held up to shuffling round the yard, made pretty good poultice boots, padded up well, but were obviously a bit bulky for walking out and tended to come off in mud. They also tended to rip in half, but we had the local cobbler trained to put them back together again (it cost £2.50 a boot and he confessed that while he’d had to sew people’s bondage gear up, he’d never fixed a horse shoe before). Renegades, we found, were made of hard plastic and were awkward to pad–though we did it–but they were probably better suited to a horse that needed boots to prevent wear and was already sound over everything but the roughest terrain. Cavallos were fabulous to pad but were like boats, little quarter horse legs rattled round in them and they came off too easily (though they made very good slippers and poultice boots). The general best bet, for JJ, was actually Easyboot Gloves: he never liked bulky boots, and these were absolutely form fitting. Plus, we could pad them with a 6mm pad. Once they wore in and stretched a bit, you can use them for White Lightning treatments too–cotton wool soaked in WL, packed around the frog and heel, cling film and the boot over the top. For anything needing a poultice or on the rare occasions the poor chap was very sore, it was RXs, normally reinforced with a bit of duct tape.
This last year though, the Gloves have been less than ideal. We have pretty rough terrain here–he works and lives on flinty, shale covered forest tracks. And the last year has taken its toll on him as well. Last autumn he was riding 50 miles a week. By spring, he was being walked out 6-10 miles every day. By the time we finally got a Cushings diagnosis and a prescription two months ago, he was walking down the lane in hand for a mile or so, booted, and looking uncomfortable doing that. The Prascend has helped, but still the difference between comfort and unhappy really is a couple of haynets of hay that hasn’t been soaked long enough, or in enough water. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not crippled. The terrain here is pretty harsh, and even a sound horse without JJ’s issues would struggle on it, I think: unbooted, he seeks out softer terrain and is careful. He is sound barefoot on concrete, and its only his expression that gives him away when he’s walking out. Boots help him out but basically, we can’t pad the Gloves enough to make him 100% comfortable on rough terrain, and if we use a bigger size and a bigger pad, they come off. Since we are resurfacing the tracks right now and they’re even rougher than normal, he really needs something for turnout too, that ideally he can’t rip in half.
We could go back to using Macs, or Trails, but neither really fill me with enthusiasm. Equine Fusions, I’ve never been convinced they have enough grip and the last thing he needs is a flexible sole that will enable him to feel the ground. What he does need though, is to be comfortable enough to move, because his feet are clearly getting worse and worse through inactivity and being a couch potato won’t keep the insulin resistance under control either.
So, what is the best boot to buy? We decided to wait it out until the new Easyboot Transitions are available. On the face of it, they tick all the boxes–suitable for turnout, suitable for exercise, a decent Glove-style tread (that means decent grip, folks), unlikely to be ripped off or torn in half, can be used for minor White Lightning treatments, and are specifically designed, sole wise and padding wise, for remedial feet. On the downside, they’re not vegan, I’m slightly worried that being part fabric, they will saturate and rub, and they might be a bit bulky, particularly since JJ’s feet are rather longer than wide. But we will see. He copes fine in the RXs (though can take them off) and the Transition looks to be the upgraded riding version, so I am hopeful. If it can cope with our terrain, and make any difference to the world’s most awkward horse, then it’ll be worth knowing about. They are set for a Hallowe’en launch by the looks of it, so check back early November to see if the boot turned out to be a trick or a treat!