By Tabatha Stratton, Amy Teta, Georgia Myers, Audrey Barnett, Autumn Miliner and Dr. Jennifer Gill — Department of Agriculture, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY 42101

The goal of a hoof care program is to avoid serious foot problems and limit the progression of damage to the hooves.

Some owners desire to keep their horse barefoot because of the inconvenience of losing a shoe and being out of work, weak or brittle hoof walls, nail sensitivity or cost limitations. Barefoot horses housed or ridden on rough terrain may be predisposed to increased cracking, chipping or solar bruising, leading to irreversible hoof damage. Hoof boots may provide a means for hoof protection for the exercising horse.

The objective of this study was to determine the effect of Cavallo TREK hoof boots on the number of hoof cracks and chips compared to being barefoot when exercised on different riding terrains. Five horses (Avg. BW: 1246 lbs., Avg. age: 16 yo; stock type mares and geldings) were used in the study from Oct. 16 to Nov. 29 at the Western Kentucky University Agricultural Equestrian Unit in Bowling Green, Ky. Horses were exercised on a lunge line, three days per week on three different riding terrains: grass, sand arena, and crushed stone fines, at a walk and trot. Every-other-week, horses wore Cavallo TREK regular hoof boots, for a total of three weeks booted and three weeks barefoot during exercise.

Measurement of cracks and chips were recorded in millimeters using a flexible measuring tape pre- and post-exercise. Five views of the hooves were photographed pre- and post-exercise. Data were analyzed using a repeated measures design, blocked by horse, using SAS software (Cary, NC). A p-value of <0.05 was considered significant and <0.1 was considered trending effect. Over all terrains, the number of chips (P=0.06) and cracks (P=0.08) tended to be lower when booted than barefoot, respectively. Additionally, there was no significant difference in the number or size of hoof cracks and chips before or after exercise each day. However, the number of hoof cracks and chips was significantly greater (P<0.001) at the end of 6 weeks than at the beginning, meaning that the hooves progressed in wear over the 6-week period.

Overall, the study results appear to favor the use of hoof boots during exercise. Additionally, the study indicates that the majority of hoof damage did not occur during exercise, but while horses were at pasture. Thus, the development of a hoof boot that can withstand more permanent use on the barefoot horse that encounters rough terrain during turnout may be warranted.