Snow, ice, mud and frozen ground present obstacles for even the most sure-footed horse. Hoof boots increase traction and protect the hoof wall from damage, but the wrong type of boot can cause serious injury. A good pair prevents the horse from slipping on ice or mud but does not impede the horse's natural movements through the pastern and fetlock.
The larger and deeper the tread, the more traction the boot provides. If a boot provides too little traction, the horse might still slip on icy or snowy ground, but boots with too much traction alter the horse's gait and might cause joint or ligament damage. The horse's pasterns absorb shock as the hoof hits the ground, and it is important to permit normal movement of the lower leg.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions when sizing horse boots. A poorly fitting hoof boot might rub against the horse's coronet band, cut off circulation above the hoof or destabilize the leg upon impact with the ground. Measure the horse's hoof before purchasing the boot, then read the manual to learn how to tighten it properly. Some hoof boots fasten with hook-and-loop fasteners, while others use buckles, snaps or metal clamps. Examine the heel bulbs and coronet band for abrasions after every use. If you notice sores, discontinue use and call a veterinarian for a consult.
Some horses balk or exaggerate their steps when they first wear hoof boots. Before winter riding, lunge the horse in the boots for 15 to 20 minutes to acclimate him to his new footwear. You can also turn him out in the boots for an afternoon. Horses can wear hoof boots when turned out in a paddock or field or while on the trail. They are not designed exclusively for riding. To ensure the horse's comfort and good health, though, remove the boots for at least a few hours each day. This allows the hoof wall to breathe and drains the boot of moisture.
Similar to cleats on sports shoes, studs provide additional traction against slippery ground. They screw into the horse's shoes, and resemble nuts and bolts. If you want to use studs, look for hoof boots designed for pairings with studs. They have holes on the base of the boot, and usually accept either four or six studs per hoof. Since studs lift the base of the hoof off the ground, the boot's traction pattern no longer matters. The boot still protects the hoof from the elements.
Since hoof boots change the way the horse moves under saddle, pair them with splint or sports medicine boots to protect the pasterns, fetlocks and cannon bones. These boots improve shock absorption and discourage hyperextension. Choose splint or sports medicine boots made of neoprene so that snow and rain will not diminish their performance.
- Horse Hoof Care; Cherry Hill and Richard Klimesh
- Knack Leg and Hoof Care for Horses: A Complete Illustrated Guide; Micaela Myers and Kelly Meadows
- Knack Grooming Horses: A Complete Illustrated Guide; Jessie Shiers and Moira C. Harris
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Laura College is a former riding instructor, horse trainer and veterinary assistant. She has worked as a writer since 2004, producing articles and sales copy for corporations and nonprofits. College has also published articles in numerous publications, including "On the Bit," "Practical Horseman" and "American Quarter Horse Journal."