Many barefooted horses will benefit from wearing hoof boots, especially through the transitionary phase after de-shoeing, and sometimes beyond, for example if extra shock absorption is required over challenging surfaces.
So, what are their origins? There’s little published documented material about the use of hoof boots throughout history, however we do know from the book ‘A Handbook to Life in Medieval and Early Modern Japan’, by William E. Deal, that a type of straw hoof boot was widely used by the Japanese military in the 19th Century Orient, to give traction.
In Europe, the Romans are widely acknowledged to have used strap-on, solid-bottomed sandals called ‘hipposandals’ to protect feet from wear, but the more conventional, covered hoof boot that we know and love seems to have made its first appearance in Europe in the 19th Century, when farm workers and draught horse owners tasked saddlers to create leather hoof boots to provide traction for working horses who were farming the land.
The Museum of Leathercraft in Northampton has some large hoof boots in its collection that “Promoted healthy hooves, while allowing for expansion and contraction of the hoof. They were used to increase grip over all types of terrain, and on uneven and slippery surfaces such as cobbled streets.
Museums also document so-called 19th and 20th century ‘lawn boots’, that were used by horse and pony owners to protect their lawns from churning hooves, or for donkeys to wear when they pulled a lawn mower. This suggests that after buckled boots found success with heavy horses, they were utilised for smaller riding horses and donkeys as well.
While leather was a strong, accessible and long-lasting material, it wasn’t until the late 1960’s that nuclear physicist DR Neel Glass invented the first modern hoof boot as we know it. They became available to the public in 1970s and since then the phenomenon has really taken off, notably thanks to manufacturer EasyCare, which pioneered the earliest modern hoof boots, and utilises many different polyurethane blends in its manufacture.
Today, many barefoot horses will benefit from the use of modern hoof boots, especially through the transitionary phase [after de shoeing] and sometimes beyond. Modern hoof boots are used to increase weight distribution over a wider area on a hard, flat surface - they provide shock absorption on concussive surfaces and are used by many horse owners just through the transitionary process - e.g. when the horse is de-shod, until he is comfortable and has strong, conditioned feet.