USEF rule DR 121.7 now states that “Shoes with or without cuffs, that are attached with nails or glue, and that do not extend past the hair line of the hoof are permitted” in Dressage competition. That is progress, in that the USEF is recognizing that some horses do not tolerate nails in their feet. Modern Technology has prompted the development of shoes which can be held on to the horse’s foot either by gluing directly to the bottom of the foot, or by affixing material or rubber cuffs to the shoe and then gluing the cuff to the dorsal wall of the horse’s foot. The acceptance by the USEF of horse hoof protection other than nailed on iron is a good thing.
However, science, technology, thinking horse caretakers, and an increasingly educated and concerned horse owning public, have evolved beyond the idea of attaching toxic substances (glue) and tissue invaders (nails) to horse’s feet 24/7. It is old and common knowledge that nails in the foot, peripherally placed pressure to the horse’s foot (any type of horse shoe) and glue (the same stuff that causes nail fungus in women who apply glued on fingernail extensions) all eventually damage the physiology, structure, and function of Nature’s perfect work –the horse’s hoof. Hence, the popularity of the barefoot movement among horse owners who want to optimize their horse’s health.
For as long as hoofcare professionals have been debating the virtues of barefoot versus the necessary evil of horseshoes, their writings usually agree that barefoot is the best way for a horse at rest to heal its shoe-destroyed feet. The problem, also acknowledged by most advocates of barefooted horses, is that not all would-be performance horses can perform barefoot. Only certain genetically sound horses in certain environments with certain soil types and ground, performing in certain disciplines, can perform completely barefoot.
So, for those performance horses which cannot perform barefoot, and which cannot tolerate nailed or glued on shoes, the question is, how are they supposed to be able to compete in dressage? The USEF now allows glued on shoes, but they do not allow removable boots which are held on with gaiters above the hairline of the coronet.
Ironically, removable boots are the only sensible method of protecting a horse’s feet so that it may engage in its performance discipline. Removable boots allow the horse to spend its non working time rehabbing and conditioning its feet barefooted. For the one or two hours (or less) work required of it as a dressage horse, the horse can wear its lightweight and non bulky hoof shoes or boots, whatever you want to call them. The hoof shoes, especially when fitted with 6 to 12 mm pads, actually work to properly cushion and stimulate the internal workings of the horse’s foot, creating better circulation, and thereby developing stronger “insides of the hoof” which are reflected in a healthier outside hoof wall and shape.
Horses which cannot work barefoot, and which cannot stay sound in nailed or glued on shoes, will be sound and be able to perform in dressage, with absolutely no alteration in the horse’s movement, in removable hoofboots which have appeared on the scene in only the past 2 years or so.
The current economy has resulted in fewer numbers of entries at dressage shows. The ever increasing bans on NSAIDS and other analgesics for sore horses has resulted in fewer entries at dressage shows. What is the greatest culprit in the unsoundness of horses? The feet. The horse’s foot is the number one cause of lameness in the performance horse. The lameness may originate within the foot, or it may be due to an injury higher up in the joints and ligaments of the leg because of unhealthy structures in the foot. A foot sore horse will certainly guard its movement by contracting its back, and eventually sore backs will result from sore feet.
So what is better? Giving a sore horse NSAIDS so that it can compete and hope it won’t be drug tested? Not competing at all because the horse can’t remain sound in anything other than hoof boots? Generating less money for the USDF and USEF because of fewer competition entry fees? Or allowing a horse to compete in certain types of removable hoof boots which are currently on the market, and more of which will certainly come into the market as their benefits are more widely disseminated to the horse owning public?
The next installment, Part III, will show you photos of horses in hoofboots and give you links as to further educate yourself on the advantages of barefoot and hoofboots.