Rehab Hoof Protection

My rules of thumb for protecting hooves for rehab is #1, that the horse needs to move better with the protection than without it, and #2, that less is more.

I use a variety of different tools for protection... various boots, changed or checked daily, are my favorite option.

Glued on boots, simple casts or casts with Superfast soles, casts with glued on shoes and glued on synthetic or Epona shoes are some of the options.

Another tool that can't be discounted is the use of Hoof Armor  to protect the sole and accelerate the accumulation of a thick, protective layer of sole.


Each "tool" has strengths and weaknesses, so the tool I choose depends on

  • the individual horses feet
  • the ability of the owner to be supportive of that application
  • the activity level of the horse
  • the environment the horse lives in.


Time off from work is also an important component of rehab unless the feet look ideal when the shoes come off. The horses may be moving much better barefoot or in boots than in shoes, and its easy to continue the level of work that a horse was under previously! That's appropriate under most circumstances, but we need to me aware of the potential impact on the horse. I suggest watching the walls carefully for signs of an inflammatory response to work, most notably, stress rings on the walls.

How much time off? It really depends! If a horse has a healthy foot and some wall beyond a fully developed sole, maybe just a few days. If there is pathology (thin soles, sore heels, inadequate wall at the ground), several weeks may be appropriate.


If a horse with pathology lives in an environment that is - because of the pathology - extremely uncomfortable for him, I suggest that the owner consider moving the horse for a month to a barn or rehab facility with softer footing and a better environment. An environment that is fantastic for a marginally sound horse can be very uncomfortable for a horse with significant hoof pain!

Soft dirt footing under shade trees can be wonderful for a rehabbing hoof,,, soft pasture is also great if the horse isn't IR. Many of our horse environments are great for a sound horse but hard on a horse with pathological feet.

Boots and Barefoot

The first thing I try to choose is NO protection in the living environment with boots available as a backup. Horses feet heal fastest when the horse is comfortable barefoot and boots are reserved for use on terrain like paths and roads where there is gravel.

When I'm considering this, I have the client walk the horse in the areas the horse typically travels and watch the movement. If it looks good, I or someone else walk the horse and explain what I'm seeing, and ask the owner to check the horse over the next few days to make sure the quality of movement / comfort level stays the same, and if not, to use boots for turnout or 24x7 for a few days for relief.

If the horse can be in an environment where they can be very comfortable barefoot, healing seems to occur faster.

Boots 24x7

My favorite 24x7 boots are EasyCare Rx Boots, Old Mac's or Soft Rides. Epics and Gloves work for some horses. They must be checked daily, and should be removed for a few minutes daily.

I use this for recent founders, recent de-shoeings with thin or poorly developed sole or wall, tender feet or horses with navicular syndrome.

Depending on the case, I pad boots with a soft, cushy pad 1/8" deep. This is particularly important with founder or navicular.

I use Gold Bond Powder in the boots and clean the feet daily, using a wire brush or plastic scrub brush to gently remove any debris, loose frog and sole.

If the horse develops rubs, a strip of Duck Tape or Athletic Tape across the heels to protect the tender skin usually works. I do not put the tape around the hoof, I put several overlapping strips from the side off the wall over the heel bulbs, just enough to protect them.

Hiking socks can be used over the hoof (with Gold Bond).

The advantages are that the feet can be checked daily and padding can be changed.

Glued On Boots

Glue-on boots retain moisture and heat, but are a great way of providing sole protection. I've glued on Glove and Renegade boots, both work well. Holes can be cut in the sole to provide airflow, but you need to be aware of the fact that debris may get up there and cause a problem. It hasn't yet for me. I use a dremil to add 3/16 inch holes throughout the sole region.

Casting Pros and Cons

When the horse has active inflammatory states (stocks up daily and has fluctuating sheath / eye edema). I strongly suspect that these horses walls actually expand and contract - their feet swell - and that the casts are too rigid. I have pictures of one clients horses hoof when it swelled over the top of a cast during an inflammatory state. Scared me!

Casting with a Shoe (aluminum or steel) to Preserve the Cast

When the horse lives in a dry concussive environment. I think that hard footings for horses are like hard footings for people... standing around on concrete all day for us is extremely hard on our bodies! If you put something soft on the foot - a rubber boot or even a cast on Epona, they relax visibly.

When the horse won't be in hard work and is on soft footing, I feel metal shoes glued to a cast work fine. If the horse is on hard footing, I prefer a synthetic shoe or other non-concussive material.


When it comes to casting laminitic feet, its a real juggling act.... casting can be fantastic because it protects the sole and helps to stabilize the wall, BUT it constricts the wall, and if something happens that causes hoof expansion, like a laminitic event, the cast needs to come off fast.