Should You Get Horse Boots Instead of Shoes?

Are you thinking about getting boots for horses instead of shoes? Can horses with shoes wear boots? Or asking yourself, how do i know if my horse needs to wear boots?

Then you probably have tons of questions about them and how to use them. 

Fortunately, we’re here to talk about everything you need to know about boots for barefoot horses.

Just keep on reading. 

Should You Get Boots for Horses Instead of Shoes?

Many people shoe their horses without giving it a second thought because they believe that they’re doing the right thing for their animals.

However, shoeing a horse without doing research is a common mistake that owners make when buying their first horse.

Shoes have cons, especially for horses with hoof sensitivity and other chronic conditions.

The best dressage horse boots might sound silly to you or look funny, but they have gained popularity in recent years.

Many barefoot horse owners use them for hoof protection. 

To help you make a decision, we’re going to talk about the pros and cons of traditional horseshoes and hoof boots.

But first, let’s discuss if horses need shoes/boots of any kind. 

Do Horses Really Need Shoes/Boots?

Wild horses still exist worldwide, and they don’t have owners or farriers who take care of their hooves.

That might get you thinking if horses really need shoes or boots of any kind.

Horse hooves constantly grow, like human fingernails.

Without regular hoof trims, hooves grow long and might reach such a size as to prevent your horse from walking normally. 

pair of horse shoes to use instead of horse hoofs

In the wild, horses cover a lot of ground, searching for food, so they trim their feet when walking. 

The regular trimming and movement also thicken and harden the hoof walls, protecting the feet from injuries.

On the other hand, domestic horses spend a lot of time in stables and their hooves can’t build the same sole protection and are prone to injuries. That’s one of the main reasons why do horses need horseshoes

Moreover, riding or using a horse for farm work puts extra stress on the hooves and increases the risk of damage.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ride your horse or do other activities besides riding but you have to take good care of your animal’s feet. 

Some horses also need shoes/boots for additional traction on slippery, snowy, or muddy terrain.

Others require corrective shoeing because of poor hoof shape or medical conditions, such as navicular disease.

Still, as long as a horse has a good hoof formation, forages for food, and doesn’t work heavy jobs, they can do fine without metal horseshoes.

Instead, boots can be used whenever the horse requires additional hoof protection during riding, working, or transportation. 

However, you should consult with a professional farrier before deciding to go unshoed to ensure that your horse has healthy hooves. 

Check out this video to know more why horses need shoes.

What Are the Cons of Traditional Horseshoes?

People have been using metal horseshoes for so long that it’s hard to imagine that shoes aren’t the best option. 

While horseshoes offer protection and support the hoof, they have several disadvantages that might negatively affect your horse’s feet. 

For starters, horses should have their feet trimmed every four to six weeks and their shoes replaced.

Shoeing/trimming is expensive, and it might be difficult to find a good farrier to work with. 

Moreover, hooves have a complex structure, meant to flex and expand when the animal moves.

Nailing a metal shoe can cause the hoof wall to become rigid and interfere with the normal hoof function.

Shod horses also place their weight entirely on the hoof’s wall. That’s called peripheral loading and can cause deformities and sensitivity over time. 

Metal shoes also affect blood circulation in the hoof, while nails damage the hoof walls and surrounding tissue. Poorly shod horses are also in danger of lameness. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Does Nailing a Horseshoe Hurt the Horse?

Benefits of Horse Boots

One of the best things about using boots for horses instead of shoes is that they don’t interfere with the hooves’ natural movement and allow normal hoof expansion.

Close up of shiny brown and white horse hoofs after shower

As such, boots can protect soft soles until they harden and thicken enough to handle different types of terrains without compromising the hooves’ structure. 

Other benefits include:

  • Better shock absorption and improved blood circulation
  • Improved traction on aggressive terrains
  • Eliminate peripheral loading and promote heel-first landing instead of toe-first landing.
  • Tendon and ligament support
  • Prevent tears, abscesses, and other injuries to the soft tissues
  • Contusion and brushing prevention
  • Extra cushioning during transportation

Unlike horseshoes, horses shouldn’t wear hoof boots all the time but only when you’re riding, working, or transporting your animal.

As such, boots don’t wear as quickly as horseshoes and won’t have to be replaced so often. That’s good news since boots tend to be expensive. 

Unless your horse loses a boot, a durable boot might last for years. So, while boots for horses might be expensive, they are cheaper in the long run.

Boots are also a perfect choice for chronic pain and can help during the rehabilitation process.

You can even use boots for navicular disease and laminitis, common disorders that cause lameness.    

READ MORE: Types of Horse Boots

Which Are the Best Horse Boots?

The best hoof boots have several notable characteristics that you should know if you’re planning on using boots instead of shoes.

TRY READING: Ice Boots for Horses

#1 Durability

Low-quality hoof boots are going to wear quickly, especially if you’re trail riding or walking your horse on rough terrain.

You need boots made of durable material with high-quality tread to ensure that it’s not going to tear in a few days.

Leather is always an excellent choice, but other synthetic materials also work out well. 

#2 Shock Absorption/Traction

To prevent hoof injuries and concussions, boots should absorb shock well when the horse walks/runs.

They also should provide adequate traction on different surfaces to prevent slipping.

Look at what the sole is made of. It should be a material with excellent shock-absorption abilities and won’t slide on muddy, snowy, wet ground.

#3 Natural Movement

Boots should allow the hooves to flex and expand, improve blood circulation, and eliminate peripheral loading.

So, look for boots that won’t hinder your horse’s natural movement and will provide adequate protection and prevent hoof pain.  

#4 Easy to Put On 

If you look at a hoof boot and don’t know how to put it on, it’s not the best option.

Boots should be easy to apply or remove, and the process shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

Some models are made especially for horses that don’t like wearing boots, and you can put them on even with the hoof down.  

#5 Snug Fit 

Finally, the best boots for your horse should provide a snug fit for maximum support, protection, and comfort. 

A good fit also reduces the chances of your horse losing a boot at the wrong moment. 

5 Tips for Using Hoof Boots

While using horse boots isn’t rocket science, there’s a couple of common mistakes to avoid that you should avoid.

black horse running with hoof boots on

Otherwise, you might do more harm to your horse than good. 

#1 Give Your Horse Time to Adjust

Many owners think that they can remove the shoe and start using boots immediately. However, horses need time to adjust to wearing boots.  

Specialists recommend that you have short 15-20 sessions with boots on and slowly increase the duration.

You can use comfort pads to make the transition easier and ensure that your horse isn’t in pain when wearing boots. 

#2 Learn How to Measure the Hooves

Hooves come in various shapes and sizes, so you must measure your horse’s feet before you purchase them.

Ill-fitting boots might trip the horse and increase the risk of injuries: 

  • Measure from the buttress to the toe and don’t include the heel bulbs.
  • For the correct width, you have to measure the hoof at its widest area.
  • Measure each hoof because they might not be the same shape. 
  • Check the size charts to see if the manufacturer has a suitable fit.   

#3 Trim Regularly

Using boots instead of horseshoes doesn’t mean that your animal doesn’t need regular trimming.

If you let your horse’s hooves grow too long, the boots won’t fit as well, and that be too tight.

Plan on having your horse’s hooves trimmed every six to eight weeks. Also, don’t measure for boots before you’ve had the horse trimmed! 

#4 Have a Spare

Usually, owners get hoof boots for the front feet since they carry most of the weight and are prone to injuries.

However, it’s smart to have an extra boot in case your horse loses one. Even a short run without protection can damage a sensitive hoof and its tender sole. 

#5 Talk To Your Farrier 

If you’ve decided to get horse boots, your should discuss with your farrier how suitable boots are for your horse. A professional farrier knows your animal the best and can advise you on the matter. 

Unsound horses might benefit from boots, but it depends on their condition and what causes the lameness. 

Check this webinar to find our some mistakes to avoid in using horse hoofs.


So, should you get boots for horses instead of shoes? Yes!

Metal horseshoes aren’t the best option for keeping your horse’s hooves healthy and protected, despite popular opinions.

Boots are an excellent alternative because they support the hoof, reduce discomfort, and provide better traction.

Moreover, hoof boots are great for reducing injuries during transportation and can be useful when a horse is recovering from an injury. 

Close up shot of grey horse legs wearing protective boots trotting on light coloured footing.

What do you think about boots for horses instead of shoes? Have you ever used hoof boots for horses? Share your opinion with us in the comment section. 

Grigorina S
Grigorina S

Grigorina grew up surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, cows, goats, sheep, and horses and that has shaped her into what I am today – a crazy cat lady who always has a place for one more cat (or a dog). She has two female cats – Kitty and Roni, and two tomcats – Blacky and Shaggy, but she also feeds her neighbors’ cats when they come for a visit. I just can’t say no to them. Follow her on FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM
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