Sneakers for Horses

The question I get asked the most about my horse when people see I don’t have her in metal horseshoes has to be:

What are hoof boots and why do you use them?

Though hoof material is generally tough, horses can get sore feet due to genetics or improper care; and those who don’t struggle with tenderness can still wear down their hooves over time unless they are in very light work.

For centuries humans have dealt with this issue in domesticated equines by using metal horseshoes. All around us technology has come so far it seemed unlikely to me that we couldn’t do better than thousand-year-old hoof protection.

As horse owners are learning about the negative effects of metal shoes, hoof boots are becoming more common and there are more hoof boots on the market today than ever before.

Hoof boots are removable just like your own gym shoes, so horses can live barefoot in the field most of the time and for the few hours ridden their feet are protected. I tried a couple different styles early on in my horse’s training and no matter what I did with sizing and fitting and tweaking advice from the representatives they would not stay on reliably so at the time I gave up.

My farrier assured me that once I went with metal shoes like the majority of horse owners, my horse would move better and I would have less problems- so out of frustration and impatience I had him put on a set of metal shoes and began to compete in endurance riding.

At first she seemed to improve, but she was still sensitive on rocky ground so my farrier recommended adding pads to the shoes. Again she was better for a short term and then became sensitive. I could see that the hoof quality was diminishing.

I began to question if this was truly the best route. Upon losing a metal shoe in mile 4 of a 100 mile ride, I decided to opt out of the ride and pull the metal shoes in search of a new direction.

The more I searched, the more the evidence became clear and fell in line with my personal experience: over time metal shoes do more harm than good. I believe now that many horses are successful in spite of metal shoes, not necessarily because of them.

The horse’s heart is relatively small for its body, the hoof and frog act like a pump and are key in pushing blood back through the horse’s large body, and when a metal shoe and metal nails stop the ability for the hoof and frog to expand and contract like a pump as they walk, the blood flow decreases, which will over time diminish the strength and health of the hoof as well as the legs.

Frog and sole right after removing shoes and pads June 2017

There are other issues such as impact from landing on metal mile after mile and loss of the ability of the horse to feel varied terrain and learn to move through it efficiently with less injury. Shoes and pads can allow the horse run through rocky terrain but at what cost? Over time there is less blood flow, less feeling, less acute proprioceptiveness, and poorer hoof quality. This can lead to injury from stone bruises, abscesses and tendon damage as the horse has less ability to navigate the footing naturally.

Other advantages I’ve found using boots vs. when we had metal shoes are:

  • I don’t have to wait an entire trim cycle to make small adjustments to her feet. This is better for the horse than making big adjustments every 4-6 weeks.
  • Better blood flow through the legs and hoof have led to better hoof quality
  • If I have a boot issue I can quickly adjust and fix myself- even on trail, if I pulled a shoe in the past I need a farrier visit.
  • My boots have lasted me over a year of rigorous endurance training in rocky terrain- considerably less expensive than new metal shoes every cycle.

A truly successful transition does take some patience. Over the year of rebuilding a better hoof from the damage done in metal shoes, I had to give time for the hoof to regrow stronger and to intentionally condition the hoof to varied terrain over time. This time however, Scoot Boots were working for my horse- they stay on for about 90% of my riding in varied terrain with most training rides (often up to 20 miles) having no issues at all.

The process is simple. Before I ride, I pick up my horse's foot, pick out any dirt and rocks as usual, then slide on the hoof boot. Once the foot is back on the ground I secure two rubber toe straps and a pastern strap over a metal knob hook. It’s that simple.

The things I appreciate most about Scoot Boots:

    • They are the easiest to get on and off.
    • No velcro! (Velcro weakens over time, also can accumulate dirt or snow)
    • No attached cloth parts that can tear away from the boot.
    • No wires or cables to break or adjust.
    • Very easy to clean.
    • Easy to clip a spare on the saddle with just a carabiner and saddle ring.
    • They have great breakover for natural movement which I find ideal for endurance riding.
    • The design allows for good drainage; they don’t accumulate water weight or debris.
    • They are a lightweight flexible material and allow the horse more proprioceptiveness and flexibility on varied terrain in the hoof itself like barefoot natural movement would.
    • The straps come in highly visible colors so I can see if they are still on in a quick glance.


Building a Supportive Barefoot Community

The team at Scoot Boot believe passionately in the barefoot horse and strive to build a supportive community of barefoot horse lovers.

Find more information about using Scoot Boots here.

Jaime McArdle is a violin teacher and endurance rider in rural Virginia (US). In 2007 Jaime moved from San Francisco, CA to join the Garth Newel Music Center staff in a county without a single traffic light. She began riding horses for the first time and leased-to-own her first horse at age 33. Jaime discovered a passion for horses and discovering lonely corners of the vast national forest and wilderness of her new home on horseback.  Her blog journals the adventure of taking her second horse, a 4-year old semi feral mare (Khaleesi) from unstarted and minimally handled to a single-day 100 mile endurance race.