The Hoof Boot Report
The word “report” brings to mind images of white paper, statistics, lab coats and, yawn, boring facts. This is not that kind of report. Rather, it’s the account of what Julia Carpenter and I learned after spending 32 days on the road with 3 mules and 3 different kinds of hoof boots. This may be the muddiest report you’ve ever read.
Here are the 3 boots we’re going to review.
About Hoof Boots and me.
I’ve traveled both ways across America with hoof boots (27 months) and then across Newfoundland (5 months). I’ve written 2 books and produced a TV series about these journeys.
My work includes:
– “Too Proud to Ride a Cow”: the book of my Atlantic to Pacific mule ride
– “Woody and Maggie Walk Across America”: the kid’s book about my Atlantic to Pacific mule ride
– “The Lost Sea Expedition”: the 4-part Public TV series about my barefoot mule voyage from Canada to Mexico.
Early in my mule travels, I switched from steel shoes to barefoot. I found it healthier for the animal’s feet. Also, like many people, I wasn’t comfortable driving nails in to my animal’s hoofs. Instead I focused on becoming a competent barefoot trimmer and learning how to fit hoof boots correctly.
Hoof boots let me combine the benefits of barefoot travel with the extra protection I could add as needed. This let me take complete control of my animals’ hoof care instead of relying on others.
Over the years I’ve learned that with proper guidance, this is a system anyone with a bit of skill and interest can master.
This report IS:
– an account of 2 folks, 3 mules and 3 brands of hoof boots undertaking a month-long, barefoot saddle ramble in western North Carolina and the Virginia High Country.
– an endorsement of bare foot hoof trimming. We’ve had great success making the transition from steel shoes to hoof boots and our latest trip just reinforced that decision.
This report is NOT
– a scientifically conducted comparison of hoof boots. It was not conducted under controlled lab conditions. It is not, in the words of statisticians, “robust”.
– an endorsement of any hoof boot company. Different boots work for different folks. We would have been happy taking any of the 3 boots tested on a long ride. The trick is to know the strengths and weaknesses of each boot.
On August 31, 2018, Julia Carpenter and I tacked up our mules, put on their hoof boots and rode out our front gate. This report is how our hoof boots fared after 32 days on the road in all conditions from muck, mud and asphalt to a hurricane’s advance.
From our farm in Lenoir, North Carolina, we rode the western North Carolina back roads, highways and trails to Damascus, Virginia and on to Grayson Highlands, home of the famed wild ponies.
From Grayson Highlands, we rode home. On October 6, having camped in 15 different locations, we walked back in the front gate with the same sets of hoof boots still on every mule.
This report is what we learned on the road with our hoof boots. Since the results apply to horses and mules, I use “horse” and “mule” interchangeably.
The Mules and the Boots They Wore
The mules we used are:
– Polly: 23 y’old mare mule. Pack mule. Walked in hoof boots across America and Newfoundland with me. Featured in the “Lost Sea Expedition” Public TV series (stream on Amazon)
– Brick: 6 y’old mare mule. Saddle mule. Green broke.
– Dusty: 20-something horse mule. Saddle mule. Borrowed from Ronald Hudson.
All of our 3 mules traveled barefoot, relying on hoof boots for protection.
Here is what each mule wore:
Dusty: EasyBoots and Renegades
How we Reviewed Our Boots
When we got home our ride, we put together a spread sheet listing the strengths and weaknesses of each boot.
This report isn’t an endorsement of any particular hoof boot. If it’s an endorsement of anything, it’s of letting your horse or mule go barefoot most of the time and having the option to put on hoof boots when more protection is needed. While some people still prefer steel shoes, we feel hoof boots are a healthier, practical alternative for the majority of the riding we do.
We rode in our boots 5 to 10 hours per day over a span of 32 days. We took them off at night.
This may vary from most users who will use their boots:
– 1 to 4 hours on the weekends
– for one-off, long distance events
– a few hours a day
Keep this in mind when your read our findings.
For our rating system, we listed various criteria, from how easy the boot was to put on to how much it chafed the animal. We rated each criteria on a scale of 1 to 5 then explained our decisions.
How we Got Our Boots
EasyBoots: purchased from manufacturer. *
Cavallos: gift from manufacturer. **
Renegades: purchased from manufacturer.
*EasyCare, maker of EasyBoots, sent me a few boots for the “Lost Sea Expedition” wagon journey across America.
**Cavallo, maker of Cavallo boots, also included pastern wraps and gel support pads. We used the pastern wraps but not the support pads.
The Results: How the Boots Performed
1) Stay on Hoof
Whether the boot stayed on the hoof was the most important factor for us. We were impressed with how well all the boots stayed on. We rode through sucking mud, wet grass, rivers and sand. Our mules stepped over endless cinder block sized rocks, jumped over logs and clip-clopped over railroad trestles and bridges. At one point, we dodged an oncoming hurricane. We also rode many miles of oily smooth asphalt, rocky cement and freshly graded gravel roads.
During the whole trip, we only had 4 hoof boots come off. Two of those incidents happened when the mules spun on asphalt. In the other incident, a mule reared on asphalt while traveling down hill and slid out of both hind boots. We never lost a boot where we would have expected: in the sucking mud and slippery rocks.
Cavallo: very secure. Never fell off.
Renegade: very secure. Never fell off.
EasyBoot: the only boot to fall off during our trip. This happened three times. Each time was under severe strain (mules spooking and rearing in traffic). Even though the boots came off the hoof, they remained attached to the pastern by the Velcro enclosure. The EasyBoot model we used (Glove) was the lightest of the boots used. We were pleasantly surprised they held up in the heavy going as well as they did.
Whether or not a hoof boot chafes a horse’s feet is almost as important as whether the boot stays on. A boot isn’t a good match for your horse if, after an hour of riding, it’s rubbed the hair off your horses’s pastern or heels.
Keep this in mind, though. Just because a boot chafes your horse doesn’t mean it’s not a great boot on someone else’s horse.
Maybe your horse isn’t built right for that boot. Maybe he’s not trimmed optimally. Maybe you’re not putting that boot on correctly. The manufacturers of all 3 boots we used had great written and video instructions on how to measure and fit your boot. Heed that stuff. When in doubt, call the manufacturer. We’ve spoken, person to person, with all of them on the phone. They were friendly and talked us through all our questions.
I’ve had fine luck with boots that others swore were useless. And vice versa, I’ve heard from folks that had great luck with boots that didn’t work so well for me.
The conditions you use your boots under also determines how much chafe you may or may not experience.
The way we tested our boots was extreme. We encountered 3 factors that most users won’t face all at once.
– Extended wear
– Picketing at night
Rain: It rained almost half the days we were out. At night, the mules stood in wet grass. This made the mule’s feet soft, making them more susceptible to hoof chafe.
Extended wear: When they wore their boots, they were on a long time. They wore them 5 – 10 hours at a time through grueling conditions: mud, creeks, rain, asphalt and gravel. We took them off at night. In the final days of our mule ramble, our mules walked 9 consecutive days – 7 of those in hoof boots.
Picketing at night: Grain is heavy so we didn’t carry much. To ensure our animals had enough to eat, we picketed them out at night. This system worked really well as it allowed the mules to browse whenever they weren’t working. There is a downside. Walking around all night with a hobble on a foot can rub the same hair that, during the day, is exposed to the hoof boot.
I will repeat, our ride took place under unusually rainy conditions. To put this in to perspective, I had more issues with hoof boot chafe in my 32 day mule ramble than both my cross-country mule journeys. Not that any of the chafed spots lasted very long. After giving our mules’ feet a few days to rest after the trip was over, we could have slapped their boots back on and hit the road again.
We never lost a day of travel because the animals were too sore to travel. Most folks aren’t going to use their hoof boots that intensely. Keep all that in mind when you look at our findings.
EasyBoot: Minor chafe after extended use in wet conditions, primarily on the pastern just above the hairline.
Renegade: Some skin irritation after extended use in wet conditions, primarily on heels.
Cavallo: Chaff was an issue with the Cavallos. This was primarily caused by the boots’ rounded top cuff. Without the protective neoprene pastern wraps, we found the boots chafed the hair along the side of the pastern. The boots did not chafe the heels.
This cuff chafe was especially pronounced in wet weather. Using the boot in conjunction with Cavallo’s neoprene pastern wrap greatly reduced the issue of chafe. With the pastern wrap, the Cavallos chafed no more than the EasyBoots or Renegades. The only problem with the pastern wraps is they were time consuming to put on and needed mending after approx 100 miles (7 riding days) of use (see Durability, below).
The good news is the boots we tested were, for the most part, really tough. The soles on all 3 brands of boots we used, even after 150 miles on asphalt highways, gravel roads and rocky trails, showed minimal wear. Every boot we used still has hundreds of miles of use left in it.
Where we saw more wear was on non-sole parts like garters and Velcro closures. Fortunately, most of these parts are replaceable or repairable. Cavallo and Renegade included spare Velcro straps with their boots.
One thing we noticed on all our boots is that the Velcro attachments became less effective after about 150 miles of use. That’s largely because we used them in hard going – lots of grass, sticks, water and muck. Just the sort of stuff that gums up hook-and-loop closures.
This didn’t make any of the boots unusable. Because we didn’t carry spare boot parts with us, we simply tied the Velcro closure closed with a piece of bailing twine.
Had we done more riding on clean, dry surfaces, this would have been less of an issue.
Renegade: Very durable all around. Breakages were minor:
-a few rubber keepers
-the end of one Velcro strap
-Velcro became clogged. Repaired with bailing twine
-stitching on one strap broke
These were minor breakages and were easily solved on the trail with a few lengths of bailing twine and dental floss.
To be fair, Renegade includes these spare parts with their new boots. We just neglected to bring the spare kits with us which we should have.
Cavallo: the boot itself was durable. The pastern wrap, which we needed to use inside the boot to prevent chafe, was not. The stitching and material began to tear at about 100 miles of use.
Boot breakages were relatively minor:
-Velcro became clogged. Repaired with bailing twine.
The pastern wrap needed re-stitching after around 100 miles of use. Pastern wrap is made of stitched neoprene. These stitches failed but were repaired with dental floss. These might have been repaired once more, after which a new set would have to be purchased.
EasyBoot: more durable than its light construction would have us believe. The lightest built of the boots we used, only a few parts failed including:
-Velcro became clogged. Repaired with bailing twine.
-screw fell out of the neoprene garter: The neoprene garter, which helps secure the boot to the hoof, is connected to the boot’s sole with 3 screws. One of the screws that secures the side of the garter fell out. Lacking a spare screw, we duct-taped the boot in place. This allowed us to continue using the boot.
EasyCare, maker of EasyBoot, stocks replacement screws. We had spare screws back home. We just failed to bring them on our trip.
4) Ease of Putting On
This factor is more of a skill than design issue. The more you put hoof boots on, the more you you understand which boot needs a tap on the toe or an extra careful tug on the heel strap.
EasyBoot: the easiest boot to put on. Open the Velcro on the neoprene garter. Fold the garter back. Slip the hoof in to the boot. Make sure it’s on straight. Tap in place. Secure the Velcro. You’re good to go.
Renegade: easy to put on but takes a bit more time to put on than the EasyBoot. Instead of one Velcro closure, it has two.
Cavallo: the most time consuming boot to put on because we needed to put on the optional pastern wrap almost every time we used the boot. Even after a proper breaking in period, without the pastern wrap, the Cavallo boot consistently chafed the pastern right above the heel (see Chafe). Putting on the pastern wrap and the boot took twice as much time because we were putting twice as much gear on the hoof. The few times we used the Cavallo without the pastern wrap, it went on as quickly as the EasyBoot.
5) Speed of Putting On
How quickly you can put on a hoof boot isn’t a major criteria unless you have to put on quite a few of them – as we did. With 3 mules (12 feet) to boot up each morning, the difference between 30 seconds per boot and 3 minutes per boot adds up.
EasyBoot: quickest boot to put on. Once we got the hang of putting them on, we could easily slip one on in 30 seconds or less.
Renegade: almost as fast to put on as the EasyBoot. With practice, we were able to put them on in about 30 seconds.
Cavallo: we found the Cavallo slow to put on because we used the Cavallo pastern wrap almost every time we used the boots. These wraps go around the pastern and heels like a sock or bootie. Each wrap is secured with 2 Velcro straps and take a bit of tugging and adjusting to apply smoothly. Each boot is secured with 2 Velcro flaps and one Velcro strap. This wrap needs to be secure to the boot once the boot is in place. Twice as much to put on (boot + pastern wrap) meant we spent twice as long putting these boots on.
(The higher the number, the sleeker the boot)
This may or may not be a factor of concern. In general, a heavier built boot (heavier straps, metal buckles, double straps) will be bulkier than a lighter built boot.
This could become an issue depending on a horse’s gait and job.
Some horses scrub their hind feet together when they walk in boots. If the back hoof boots are bulky, they will rub together as the horse walks. This will lead to premature boot wear and possibly unnecessary chafing of the animal. Bulkiness could also become an issue for certain high performance horses.
Sometimes it’s the owner that has trouble with bulkiness. Some people think a bulky boot is ugly. Others don’t care what the boots look like as long as they work.
EasyBoot: the sleekest of the boots we tested.
Sleekness was a factor with mule Dusty. He travels really close together behind. When walking in the EasyBoots, they did not make contact with each other. The Cavallo and Renegade boots, when worn on Dusty’s hind feet, scrubbed together when he walked. Interestingly, when worn on his front feet, the same boots did not make contact.
Renegade: the middle of the road in terms of sleekness.
Cavallo: bulkiest of the boots we tested.
7) Customer Service
To make sure we were putting the right sized hoof boot on our animals we called each of the manufacturers for guidance. They all provided great phone support, talking us through measuring our animals’ hoofs and helping us choose the boot that fit. In all cases, the size of boot they steered us to was the correct one.
8) Suitability for mules
In general, a mule has a narrower hoof than a horse. Whereas a horse has a “C” shaped hoof, a mule has more of a “U” shaped foot. Still, given 3 different mules, you’ll probably find as many different hoof shapes. Mule Polly, our stocky pack mule, has almost horse-like feet. Dusty, our borrowed saddle mule, has much longer, narrower feet (more donkey like), especially his hind ones. Brick, our saddle mule, has feet somewhere in between.
This didn’t really matter when it came down to hoof boot fit. We found enough adjustment flexibility in each boot to make it work.
Still, there will be mule hoofs that are hard to size to a hoof boot. To that, I say the same goes for horses. Horses, just like mules and people, have feet of all different shapes and sizes. Finding a hoof boot that fits a mule’s particular needs can often be resolved by contacting the manufacturer to see what options are available.
Cavallo: when we spoke with Cavallo on the phone, they suggested the “Trek” model, saying it was slightly narrower and therefor probably better suited to a mule’s hoof. They were right.
EasyBoot: from traveling both ways across America in EasyBoots, I knew they would fit my mules.
Renegade: from traveling across Newfoundland in Renegade Boots, I knew they would fit my mules.
9) Country of Origin
Some people care if their products are domestically made. Some don’t. Here’s where the boots we used were made:
The tabulated results
Hoof Boot Thoughts
I start talking with folks about hoof boots and they ask, “how far can you go in them?” Or they want to know, “how many miles can you get out of a pair?”
That’s the wrong measure.
What’s more important is how far and often your horse can be ridden WITHOUT hoof boots.
It’s been my experience that when a horse goes barefoot (as opposed to being shod with steel horse shoes), the more the horse is used, the tougher the hoof gets. In the example of a long journey, say a month long ride, as each week progresses, the horse will rely less and less on hoof boots. Sure, there are exceptions like rainy weather and extra-abrasive surfaces. But by and large, the longer a horse travels barefoot, the tougher the sole of the foot becomes.
Think of it this way. If you spent your summers as a kid running around barefoot, the first few days, the bottoms of your feet were tender. But as summer went on, the soles of your feet got tougher and tougher. By the time school got back in, you could walk fine on gravel.
Same goes for horses and mules. Sure, some have tougher feet. But by and large, the more they go barefoot, the tougher their feet get. And the tougher their feet get, the longer they can go without hoof boots.
Proper Hoof Trim
Proper hoof trimming is vital for proper hoof boot fit. I trim my mules’ feet regularly. I employ the mustang roll and find the bull-nosed shape a great complement to proper hoof boot fit.
This is vital. The person that expects to cram an overgrown hoof in to a hoof boot successfully is going to be disappointed. They’ll fail at whatever brand they use. Worse yet, that person will bad mouth whatever hoof boot they tried to shove on to their overgrown animal’s hoofs.
Listen to the manufacturers’ suggestions on proper trim for hoof boots. I found Ramey’s book “Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You” a great guide on how to trim your animal’s feet.
What about Donkeys?
Could these hoof boots fit donkeys? In many cases, they might. Since a donkey has an even narrower hoof than a mule, it would certainly be worth contacting the manufacturer for suggestions. Remember, aside from the 3 hoof boots we’ve mentioned, there are lots of other brands out there we haven’t mentioned. Some could work well for donkeys.
If you’re handy, you could probably even retrofit your hoof boots to make them narrower. This might void the manufacturers warranty. I’ve done it with good results to make a hoof boot narrower for my mule.
Just my Experience
There are thousands of individual hoof boots out there successfully protecting horses’ and mules’ feet every day. There are Cavallos, EasyBoots and Renegades. There are Davis Boots, Old Macs and Scoot Boots. There even some folks that tried to make boots made with duct tape and inner tubes. Okay, that would be me.
The thing to remember is that for every model of boot out there, there’s someone who loves that boot. And someone who hates it. There’s someone who will tell you how that boot sored up their horse while another person will tell you it’s the only boot their horse can walk in.
And of course, there are some folks that don’t think ANY hoof boot is for them because, in their minds, steel shoes are the only way to go. Or they’ve tried hoof boots and they didn’t work out for them.
Fine. I understand hoof boots can be a contentious issue.
The spirit of this report is simply to tell you what Julia, our mules, our hoof boots and I experienced on our 32 days on the road.
Applied individually, these tips can improve your hoof boot experience. Taken as a whole, they can spell the difference between success and failure.
– Follow the directions that came with your boots.
-Pick out the hoof before putting on the boot.
– Before putting on your hoof boot, check the toe. Often, it will be packed with mud, seeds or hardened debris, making the boot hard to put on.
– Wash your boots as soon as you can after they get muddy. This really saves the Velcro fasteners.
– Make repairs early. A bit of bailing twine wrapped around a loose velcro strap can prolong that strap’s life greatly.
– If one brand of hoof boot doesn’t work for you, even after you’ve tried all the tricks to make them work, don’t write off hoof boots. Try another brand. We are currently using 3 different brands of hoof boots successfully.
For long, slow distance travel (ex: trail riding or a month long saddle or wagon trip) I would choose a heavy-duty, easily repairable boot, I would choose:
For shorter, faster travel (ex: endurance event) I would choose a lighter, lower profile boot. I would choose:
Having said that, we own and use 3 different brands of hoof boots. All work fine in most conditions.
I hope you found this report informative.
While this may be a report on how our hoof boots performed, it’s also a testament to how far hoof boots have come in the 2 decades I’ve used them. I want to congratulate all the boot manufactures, EasyCare (makers of EasyBoots), Cavallo and Renegade, for putting their money, time and effort in to developing their products. Kudos to them for getting them in to horse peoples’ hands so they can take control of their animals’ hoof care.
Julia and I sure enjoyed riding in all 3 hoof boots we used. We enjoyed traveling the land knowing our mules’ feet were moving and flexing and pumping blood as they were designed to. It was great knowing that, at the end of a long day on the trail, their feet weren’t bound by steel shoes.
That felt great to us. More important, it felt great to our mules.
It was re-assuring to know that we were in charge of our mules’ feet. We didn’t have to call in a farrier if a traditional steel shoe got sucked off in the mud. Our mules were traveling bare foot. If a toe was long, we could trim it. If the road ahead was rocky, we could put on hoof boots. If the road ahead was grass, we could let them go barefoot.
What’s this Report Worth?
Did you gain something of value from this report? If so, please consider making a donation to the “Lost Sea Expedition” Public TV series. Just like hoof boot makers don’t pay us to write hoof boot reviews, Public TV does not pay us to show the series. We have more expenses coming. You can make a gift right here on the LostSeaExpedition.com Donate page.
Now boot up and go for a ride!
Links / References:
ConsideringAnimals.com Julia Carpenter’s take on our mule ramble
LostSeaExpediton.com Barefoot wagon voyage from Canada to Mexico
Stream the “Lost Sea Expedition” series on Amazon
easycareinc.com (maker of EasyBoots)
Pete Ramey “Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You”
My books and DVDs are available in the RiverEarth.com General Store
Those boots were made for walking! And they walked all over the place. I can’t believe what kinds of conditions they stayed on in. Truly unbelievable.This trip sealed my conversion to barefoot and boots forever. So my future and present mules and horse kick off your steel shoes, everybody gonna be footloose from now on.
thank you SO much for this report! I am wanting to use boots on my mule AND my mammoth donkey!! I’d heard that Easyboot “Back Country” model were more narrow and fit well, so I’m happy to read that Easyboot fared well in your report.
I SO envy you the courage to take a trip like this!
Hi Jan, So good to hear you found the report interesting. You should do fine booting up your mule and donkey, especially if you find a boot that fits your animals’ feet. Sounds like the “Back Country” might work for you. Let us know how it goes! Regards, Bernie
After trying various boots over the years, my results pretty much match up with yours. Great article.i may have missed it but I think it’s worth mentioning that the shape of your horses hoof has a lot to do with the boot you choose, as boots vary in shape. The easyboot is a bit more round than the renegade original, although renegade has added better sizing with their new viper. I like the versatility of the renegade as you can adjust the boot with hoof growth, I like the softer rubber sole, and lightness of the easyboot glove. I found the renegade longer lasting and less likely to come apart during a ride. I found both boots come off at full gallop, mostly hind, but eastboot strap keeps the boot on the leg where as we’ve spent alot of trail riding time looking for renegades. Be sure to buy sport orange. I have both.
Hi Diane, Great comment. It’s really cool to hear you’re having really similar results with Easy Boots and Renegades. A lot really does come down to hoof shape. Day in day out, I use Renegades. Not as sleek as the EasyBoot Gloves but since a lot of our riding is in rocky, hilly footing (western NC) at a walk, they’re my #1 pick. They also last seemingly forever.
The only place I part ways with you is sport orange. I guess I’m just not bold enough to break away from tried and true (read boring) black. Maybe it’s a sign I should eat more cayenne peppers and do some knife throwing behind the barn… I’ll be sure to keep mule Polly well away.
Hi Bernie and Julia,
I really enjoyed this article. My thoughts are that whatever seems to work well of the rider or teamster is what they should use. This is a good article that explains the best and worst of each boot for different reasons. Personally, I shoe horses so that works for me. I use shoes with drilltex on them (tungsten carbide). When pulling a heavy wagon (7000 to 9000 pounds) down the road, I get 10 weeks out of a set of shoes (5 weeks of wear with one reset). If I used straight steal shoes, they would only last for three days. While pulling a wagon around America for 10,000 miles, I never had a lame horse. This worked for me. It sounds like you had a great experience with boots, so this also sounds like a good way to keep an equine sound. Very good report!
Your friend Bob
Hi Bob and Stephen,
So glad you found this report interesting. Bob, I’m of the same mind that it’s important to find out what works for you. What I always find helpful is having access to the pros and cons of a few different ways of doing things. Then I choose the one that works for me.
I don’t necessarily view steel shoes as “hoof coffins”. Using carbide tipped shoes on your wagon was clearly the way to go. After all, you did put in 10,000 sound wagon miles.
We’ll discuss the finer points of clinching and booting over our next biscuit!