I’m not adamantly on team shoes or team barefoot (for horses, I’m definitely team shoes for humans), but I do see the benefit in pulling a horse’s shoes off when he isn’t working hard to allow his feet to adapt to life without shoes. This can strengthen the hoof wall and some research indicates that barefoot trimming can help horses who have underrun heels (a common problem amongst off track Thoroughbreds). One research article even indicated that a shod horse going barefoot for even a few weeks led to a hoof with characteristics that are known to improve soundness
Jaguar has been without shoes since his retirement, with the only exception being when he tore his hoof from the sole up to the coronet band and required a bar shoe while it grew out. Coco cannot be without shoes because she has a slight club foot and needs to support of the shoe. Simon requires at least front shoes during hunt season for no reason other than he’s tender footed on rocks. He’s got lovely hooves, especially for an off-track Thoroughbred, but his soles have always been quite sensitive. Hunt season generally goes from November to March so he’s shod from September to April. 5 months hasn’t been long enough the past 2 summers for him to be barefoot and have his hooves actually acclimate to being barefoot.
Enter coronapocolypse. Hunt season ended prematurely (early March) and the trips I had planned to go hunting outside of Texas also were canceled. This could be the PERFECT summer for Simon’s feet to really acclimate to being barefoot! I had my farrier pull his shoes on March 21. Typical for Simon he was quite sore for a few weeks. Our property is fairly rocky and he noticeably avoided the rocky areas. I put Seashore Acres Sole Paint on his feet every evening when he came in for the night to help build toughness in his soles. By late April he was starting to seem a bit better.
In May we went trail riding with friends a couple times and on one particular ride his feet took quite a beating on some very rocky ground and I felt like a big jerk! I knew I couldn’t continue to go on trail rides and not offer his feet at least some sort of protection.
Enter, hoof boots. I listen to a daily podcast called Horses in the Morning and there is a monthly episode about Endurance riding. I’ve never really wanted to try Endurance riding, but I really enjoy the episodes and one of the sponsors is Renegade Hoof Boots. I’ve heard for years how great these boots are for endurance rides and how easy they are to put on the horse, so I thought maybe this could be a solution to protecting Simon’s feet while allowing him to remain barefoot for the summer. So, I ordered a 2 boots! I measured his hooves according to the detailed description on the website and selected some black ones (I’m a hunter after all, no crazy colours for me!) in his size. They come in singles, which I could see being nice if you had a horse with different sized feet (like Coco).
Simon is quite tolerant of all the things, but I wasn’t sure how he’d react to his new hoof boots. He can be a bit klutzy so I was worried the hoof boots would make that worse which might scare him, but I was pleasantly surprised. I tried them on him and they seemed to fit great and were VERY easy to get on and adjust to his hooves. The directions were straightforward and simple. They definitely aren’t going to win him any show hunter cool kid points (and are probably dangerous for jumping), but they aren’t offensive.
For the first ride we just walked and trotted a tiny bit around the property. I specifically took him to a few extra rocky places so he’d know he could walk over those rocks and nary a rock would bother his tootsies (well, at least the front ones). He did great and I could tell he started to figure out that his feet were in fact protected and he got braver about walking right through rocky areas that he usually avoids. The only minor issue that he seemed to have was overreaching and clipping the boots with his hind feet. I posted in a Facebook group after that ride and got advice to go ahead and use bell boots the next time he wears them, which makes sense since he usually needs bell boots with his regular shoes.
A few days after that first ride the Renegades made their maiden voyage on a trail ride, but this time with bell boots. It had rained quite a lot the night before the trail ride so the trails were very muddy and I was a bit concerned the mud might suck the boots off his feet. The only issue he had with the boots all day was at the beginning of the ride he spooked at a fawn that jumped up and went running through the trees. He pivoted away on his front feet when he spooked which seemed to cause one of the boots to twist around his hoof. I got off, straightened the boot back, and adjusted it quite a bit tighter than it had been. And let me tell you that mounting block (or in this case tree stump) training is very important when you are out on a trail ride and have to get on a 16.2h horse with no real mounting block. We rode about 8 miles the rest of the morning and the boots were perfect! We went through lots of water and mud and grass and they stayed on perfectly. The trail was quite rocky in a few places so I was glad he had good hoof protection. We are officially now hoof boot devotees.
We are off and running on all the trail rides for the rest of the summer, or at least until it gets unbearably hot in Texas! I highly recommend the Renegades both for riding a barefoot horse as well as having around in case your horse pulls a shoe. These things are tough and they fit really well.