Hoof boots can be a lifesaver for rehabilitating a sore horse. Know their benefits and challenges.
As a professional trimmer, I often encounter sore horses. Many have problems such as abscesses and founder. Hoof boots and pads can make sore horses feel instantly better, and can literally be a lifesaver in founder cases. Long-term booting does present challenges, but I greatly prefer it over more permanent options such as glued-on composite shoes or casts. I will share with you the boot/pad combinations that have given me the most successful outcomes in horses that needed to wear boots for extended periods.
I can’t claim to have tried every boot on the market, but over the years I have experimented with many different options. When dealing with foot pain, I have multiple goals: giving the hoof a break from compression forces with the ground, offering support and possibly protecting any open sores. As I don’t manage a client’s horse on a daily basis, I also have to think of the owner or barn manager, so ease of use is an important consideration.
In most cases, my boot of choice is among the Cavallo brand. I love their boots for many reasons. First, they’re easy to use. No matter how good a boot is, if the owner can’t get it on or off easily, they won’t use it, especially if the horse is sore and struggles to lift his feet. Second, these boots allow for a lot of padding, which is the key to relieving a sore horse. Third, they stay on incredibly well. Should one ever pop off the hoof, the entire boot comes off, unlike models that have a strap around the pastern. This strap can be dangerous for a horse that is turned out unattended. I have experienced cases in which a boot was pulled off from the hoof but the pastern strap stayed attached. This can cause the horse to panic, risking further injury and destroying the gaiter, which is costly to repair. Never turn out a horse with boots that attach around the pastern.
Cavallo boots come in two widths (regular or slim). For front hooves, any of their models work fine, but my favorites are the Trek or ELB. They open wide across the front and are very easy to secure in place with their large Velcro closure. Best of all, they stay on. I prefer the Sport model for hind feet as the upper seems to be better adapted to their angle. Finally, Cavallos are affordable, extremely durable, safe for unsupervised turnout, and once the founder or abscess is resolved, they can be used for riding.
If the hoof has a very abnormal shape, with significant deviation at the toe combined with high contracted heels, as we may encounter with severe founder, I work with the Cloud boot model made by Easycare. It has loads of room for padding and is very easy to apply. The downside is the boot can be less stable on the foot, and tends to rotate. Easycare just introduced a new model, the Stratus, which they say will address this issue with a built-in stabilizing strap. I have not had a chance to try it. The Cloud is a pure rehab boot, so it’s rather clunky and not designed for any type of riding. As many horses require hoof protection, at least for a little while following a bad abscess or founder, owners will need to purchase another pair of hoof boots for riding, increasing the overall cost.
Over the years, I have tried many different pads, from dollar-store floor pads to various saddle pads that I cut into shape. In the end, I always come back to the Easycare comfort pads. They are very durable, maintain their shape and retain some ‘’bounce’’ for extended periods, even when hoof boots are worn 24/7. They come in three different densities and varying thicknesses. For sore horses, the thicker the better, so the 12mm is my pad of choice. I have found the medium density (black pads) seems to please almost all horses.
Why hoof boots?
Boots allow access to the hoof at any time, thereby allowing frequent trims to correct a badly foundered foot, or soaking in the case of an abscess. Studies by Dr. Robert Bowker, a leading researcher in hoof function, have shown that compression and decompression of the hoof are key factors in the promotion of healing because they increase blood circulation. Hoof boots and pads allow for this as the horse lifts his foot; they therefore play an important role in rehabilitation.
Challenges with long-term hoof boot use
Problems can arise when horses wear hoof boots for extended periods. Rubbing at the heel bulbs or excessive moisture buildup can cause fungal issues such as white line disease or thrush. The best way to counter this is by adding baby diapers and powder to your boot management regime. Wrap the diaper around the hoof and use its Velcro attachments around the pastern to keep it in place. A bit of masking tape overtop can help as well. Be certain you don’t wrap too tightly; you should be able to insert a finger behind the tape. Size five diapers accommodate most hooves.
The diaper wicks away moisture and will keep the foot dry while protecting the sensitive heel bulb area from rubs. It will also keep the foot clean, which is very important if you’re dealing with an abscess. You can see if the abscess is still draining, as any pus will stain the diaper. Once you have ascertained the boot fits correctly, you can generally change the diaper every second day unless the horse has been out in very wet conditions such as deep snow or rain. When the turnout environment is wet, sprinkle the bottom of the foot and heel bulbs with baby powder or an anti-fungal powder (such as Gold Bond) before applying the diaper. You can also add a thin layer directly in the hoof boots. All this takes less than ten minutes once you and your horse have the routine down.
Booting your horse is an important part of his rehabilitation. When he is more comfortable, he will move more, promoting blood circulation and speeding up the healing process. Should you need to care for your horse after an abscess or founder, following these guidelines will help him get back on his feet.
Take a look at the Equine Wellness library for more information on using boots for purposes other than rehabilitation.