Gemmie needs hoof protection for the rides down here and yet I was slow to pull the trigger. For starters her hoof shape doesn't really match well with either the Renegade/Viper or Easy lines. For seconds: the boots make no sense to me. I am going to briefly step up on my pedestal here:
I love her being barefoot and I am a big proponent that the less we monkey with the better. If you need shoes or boots or whatever that is fine and a personal choice. Who knows? I may someday put shoes back on her or have a horse that needs them. But....I am very proud of her incredibly tough hooves and ability to crunch over rocky terrain without an issue. When you go putting a super rigid, thick hunk of plastic all around your horse's hooves you are no longer riding anything anywhere near barefoot and quit claiming you do! The plastic boots completely take away any natural function of the hoof, do not stimulate the hoof at all and are basically just a temporary way to shoe your horse minus the nails. So when people who boot for every single ride they ever take look down on those who shoe, I want to poke my eyes out with my pencil. You are doing the same thing!
Ok....back down now.
So...I was hesitant to purchase boots. I finally ruled out both versions due to trying them and the fit being suboptimal given her hoof structure. My last resort was glue on shoes, but man what a pain in the butt they seem to be. The gluing on seems like only half the battle since getting them off is even more annoying. I would do it if I had to, but I fervently hoped I wouldn't.
In a last ditch hail mary attempt to find something I could live with I googled one final time. And found the Fusion Jogging boot. This boot is completely different in every way, shape (well...maybe not shape it is still going on the same hoof) and form. And I was thrilled.
How is this so different??
The whole entire concept of this boot is to allow the hoof to still function as if barefoot while providing some protection from rocks and some shock absorption. The entire boot is so flexible you can (supposedly) roll it into a ball. Nothing rigid, nothing static. As the hoof hits the ground, the heels are allowed to expand, the ground comes into contact with the hoof sole thus providing stimulation and then glory of all things...the boot flexes in the toe to allow the break over to occur at any time and along any point of the hoof. No more forced break over points where the boot is trimmed down.
Think about it like this:
You hurt yourself in the foot and are put into a stiff soled boot (or if you can't picture that think of walking in wooden soled shoes). You lose all proprioception with the ground. The sole of the shoe/boot is rigid and therefore when you step on a rock or root the entire thing must tilt around it putting more stresses on your ankle joint. But you also lose any sharpness from rocks or roots etc...
But walk around in your tennis shoes and while you can now still feel all the lumps and bumps, you are still able to get some support while the entire shoe flexes and bends along with the terrain.
That is what these do. The sole is rubber and concave like a hoof and therefore when you step on a rock it will still put pressure into the sole of the hoof thus creating stimulus for growth and function, but the sharpness and potential for a bruise is limited. The hoof can move and break over at any region thus allowing the whole extremity to function normally.
I was sold.
They are made in Norway and the website has some fantastic graphs and pictures and the physics behind fulcrums and strains and stresses along tendons to prove the point. I will let you check it out here if interested. It is really worth a look and even the most skeptical should come away from all the information scratching their heads a little bit. They are used a lot as everyday turnout boots, trail riding, and I see plenty of pictures of jumping and dressage.
There are some other great features including how easy it is supposed to be to put them on (unlike other boots that either require a mallet or large rock to force it on or playing with cables and wires and pulleys) and they are completely machine washable. Throw them in the washer and dryer and they come out good as new.
There are three models and I was confused as to the purpose of each. From what I could gather the Ultras were first (I think) and then improved on in the Performance with a sturdier upper material and stronger tread. Then the Ultimates came out with different uppers and lost the straps for just Velcro closer, but kept the same sole as the Performance.
I really wanted the Ultras because they are red and black, but given the high mileage and terrain the Performance were recommended. They also suggest the dampening pads to increase the life of the boot.
They come in sizes per length of hoof and after measuring Gem like 20 times I got size 12 all around. The only hiccup was the fact that her rear feet are so narrow. The company was concerned that she was too narrow and the boots would spin. So I ordered 2 pairs of size 12 Performance boots and hoped for the best, but entered into it a little worried about those hind feet of hers.
There are a few things I am concerned about:
1) Durability. The plastic boots are pretty darn durable. The other companies claim upwards of 500+ miles out of a boot. And that makes sense. It is a rigid plastic so you'd have to go pretty hard on pretty rough terrain to wear that down. But this is rubber. A specially formulated tough rubber, but rubber nonetheless. I asked the company this and they came back with 300-600 miles depending on terrain. Since I am only planning on using these to get her used to them and then for the longer races we do, I think I am ok with this. If I can't get at least 400 miles out of them, they won't be worth the price tag.
2) Stickability. Yup, that's now a word :) Everyone who uses boots loses boots. Its a given. The question is how often, in what terrain and what happens to the boot when you lose it? I like the way it attaches because in my mind if it does come off it is coming off in one unit. There isn't anything for it to get stuck on her leg and flop around freaking her.
That's about it. I know I am losing some things by going with these versus the normal plastic boots such as complete protection. The rubber, flexible sole allows pressure to still occur which is the entire point, but that still allows pressure to occur which may be harmful in the end at 50+ miles. We will just have to wait and see.
The company sent me the boots and gave me the ability to ride in them on two 1 hour long trail rides with a full money back guarantee if they don't work out.