Hmmm...so where was I? Oh! Talking about feet.
The next step up (well, in my mind anyway) is boots. There are a ton of different boots available for your horse. Some are rated for higher mileage than others and some are toted for ease of putting them on. In the end, I think which boot you chose will be based on what features you like and which are deal breakers for you.
The benefit of boots in my mind is the ability to keep Gem barefoot when in the pasture and when riding on soft ground (like the arena in the evenings or on trails I know are easy on the feet) and still allow me to protect her feet for those trails that are rough. Research shows that the boot allows the hoof to expand and contract unlike a shoe and won't impede the health of the hoof overall. This makes sense to me especially since she wouldn't be wearing them 24/7. They also aid shock absorption and give traction. And some come in pretty colors that would make her look spiffy and match our red and black motif.
What's the negative to boots? For me it is cost. This is a hot debate when this topic shows up on forums and such. The initial outlay for the boots is expensive and like all things being used in high demand situations, they wear out and need replaced. How often depends on how often the are used and on what type of terrain. Most pro boot people claim it is cheaper in the long run to boot because you usually either pay just a barefoot trim or learnt o do it yourself and shoes need done more frequently and at higher cost. This may be true for people who shoe every 6 weeks year round and pay a lot for it, but my $35 every 10-12 weeks is way less than the cost of boots.
Another negative for me is that with boots you need to trim way more frequently, like every 4 weeks or so. The boot needs to fit very snugly in order to stay put and the hoof needs to be the correct size for your boot. So you need to keep it trimmed. If you are using the boots every time you ride, the hoof won't naturally trim itself with those miles so you have to either pay your farrier to do it or do it yourself. Some suggest purchasing two pairs of boots (more $$) with one a slightly larger size than the other so that when you don't trim it still fits. Seems like trimming would be better.
Last I always worry about anything being put on my horse. I don't know how some endurance people get away with it, but some pictures I see the horse in loaded down with packs and spare boots and water bottles and more packs. Personally the less on Gem the better for me because that is less chance of rubbing and sores. For her feet, the boots can twist, can get sand or mud in them, can rub on her legs etc... It is just another thing to worry about during a ride. Loosing a boot would be less traumatic to the hoof during a ride than loosing a shoe and if I happened to have a replacement boot I could put it on myself. If not, I could remove the matching boot (so she would have two missing fronts or two missing backs and not three on and one off) and finish up the ride.
If I do decide to go with boots, my eyes are fixed on the Renegades or Renegade Vipers. In red up front and black in the back. I would want the backs a different color so it would be less likely that I would mess them up. There is a lot that goes with boots. My hope is that I can sell my WISE saddle for what I'm asking (anyone want to buy it???) and that will pay off the new Advantage saddle. Then if I can sell my Wintec (how about this one???) which is also up online then the sale of that would buy my first set of boots.
Don't worry - there is a part 3 tomorrow!!