“Hi Stacy. I have a question for you. I am a reasonably new horse owner and my 18 year old quarter horse has flat feet. At this point she is bare foot. We have her on a good nutrition routine and regular farrier visits. But I noticed that she avoids gravel at every chance and I took her out trail riding last week and it was a struggle to keep her on the path and off of the grassy area on the side where she was running me into the trees. Of course the suggestion is put shoes on her. But I am reading that shoes are not that great full time on a horse. So I am considering rubber boots that I would put on her when she is out in the pasture. I am interested in your opinion boots or shoes?” -Laurie A.My barefoot horse has sore feet on gravel…shoes, rubber boots, suggestions?

From your description it seems fair to say that your horse is trying to tell you that the gravel hurts. It also sounds like this was an issue for you when you were trail riding…but then you also add considering boots for her when she is in the pasture also. Is there gravel or hard ground in your pasture? Or do you have a reason to believe that she is sore in the pasture also?

I mention this because it may change some of the comments or the way that you make your decision. For example, I have owned horses that I kept barefoot. Some of them were sensitive going across gravel, but gravel wasn’t part of their normal routine so it was easy to work around it. They were fine in the pastures, arenas and dirt trails. As long as I avoided blacktop with loose gravel on top or rough gravel they were fine.

There are many options out there and many opinions of what works and what doesn’t. I think that it is wise to consider that each horse is unique as are the situations that they will be put in. Those are questions you need to answer. For example, I show in reining and to slide the horses need sliding shoes. I leave all my horses barefoot in the front as long as I can…some of my horses stay barefoot in the front year-round…others end up with front shoes on. It depends on the horse. I do pull shoes off and leave horses barefoot during any downtimes that we have, for example if we are not showing over the winter then they are often barefoot and turned out.

I know that EZ Boots for horses have come a long way over the years. I met a woman who rides competitive endurance rides wearing EZ Boots…which means that they can work well in tough conditions. She did tell me that they worked best on horses with a very ‘normal’ shaped hoof. Horses with longer, narrow shapes for example were more likely to throw the boot off (from what I was told). I haven’t heard of someone leaving these boots on in the pasture. I would be concerned with holding moisture against the hoof, plus most of mine would probably try chewing them off for fun. I am hoping that some people who use them will leave comments. If I were looking to mostly trail ride and my horse was fine barefoot in the pasture then I would probably try the EZ boots and skip shoeing.

If you wanted to try shoes you could do that also. It is completely possible to put shoes on for a few months and then change your mind. When I was a kid we kept the horses barefoot almost all the time. The exception was around August when the ground got dry and hard, we were riding a lot and the horses would get a little foot sore. We were riding the same trails we had been from April until then but they still got tender. We would put shoes on to finish the summer and fall and then when the weather got rainy, school started and we rode less…we would pull the shoes off. The two or three times we would ride a week didn’t bother them and they usually didn’t see shoes again until late the next summer.

I think this question will depend mostly on you and your horse. Is keeping her barefoot and avoiding the stones possible? If so then consider it. If she is even getting sore in the pasture then you may need to consider something else. If she is only ‘ouchy’ on gravel when you ride…consider trying the boots. Or if you have a good farrier don’t be afraid to try shoes also.