Scoot Boots in the Dressage Arena
This article was written for the media platform of the Horse Riding Clubs Association of Victoria (HRCAV), following their pioneering decision to allow the use of hoof boots for horses ridden in dressage competitions. The HRCAV formed in 1981 and is a large affiliation of 251 club members and currently has 5,169 members total.
Advocating for Change; Making Hoof Boots Work for Dressage
Kudos to the HRCAV for sanctioning the use of hoof boots in dressage competitions! This is a most progressive change in equine hoof care and has the potential to increase the athletic longevity of many dressage horses.
Those members who prefer to keep their mounts barefoot now have access to the same competitive edge as heavy steel shoes, but with the bonus of full and flexible solar protection that is removable after their ride.
This way, horses get the best of both worlds; comfortable hoof ware under the saddle and barefoot in the paddock!
That’s all good news, but hoof boots are not ‘set and forget’ like nailed-on shoes and they need to be done right. Nobody wants to see a flying hoof boot - minus its horse - saluting the judge!
Compliance of Dressage Rulings
The new ruling states that hoof boots are allowed in dressage as long as they do not “protect the soft structures of the hoof, such as the heel bulbs and the coronet band” (Chaff Chat, 2020).
As such, compliance totally affects the choice of hoof boots for dressage competition. It appears the only hoof boot model that currently fits these criteria is the Australian Scoot Boot, which in fact, has been added as a permitted item of equipment (please refer to Appendix 9 of the Dressage Rules (Saddlery and Equipment for Dressage Competition Summary of Recent Rulings, 2020)).
Choice? Yes, you can use any boot you like, as long as it's a Scoot Boot. And you can have any colour you want, as long as it’s back, however, not quite; there are a variety of brightly coloured straps that can be purchased from the parent website if you must have bling!).
Fortunately, Scoot Boots (known hereafter as ‘Scoots’) are quite universal and can be made to fit most hooves, they generally seem to be up to the task of dressage.
Are Hoof Boots Even Needed for Dressage?
Dressage arena surfaces aren’t exactly like the rocky road to Mars, so the need for hoof protection may not be all that obvious.
In terms of dressage performance, the most common issue with a barefoot horse, as opposed to one that is traditionally shod, seems to be an inferior cadence. There are at least two reasons for this;
Firstly, many barefoot horses shorten and lower their stride to protect themselves because they are sensitive to the repetitive pressure and abrasion of pushing into the arena surface (yes, even on sand). They either have an inadequate sole thickness or poor structure around the heel bulbs (such as underrun and collapsed heels) or both. In regards, hoof boots provide comfort and therefore confidence for sustained optimum strife.
Secondly, the relationship between the weight of shoes and movement is well established. Heavy shoes force a horse to put more effort into moving, which has the effect of creating more lift and momentum, hence an exaggerated expression of movement. This is why dressage horses are usually shod ‘heavy’.
A barefoot horse does not have this competitive advantage, but hoof boots are quite the panacea!
Just Front Boots?
Some dressage horses will need hind foot protection as well, mostly due to the collapsed, underrun and sensitive heels. Fortunately, the slim-shaped variant of Scoots is suitable for most hind hooves.
So, Does Your Horse Need Hoof Boots for Dressage?
Sometimes, the only way to find out is to put some hoof boots on and see how much the horse’s stride improves. You might be surprised.
Rather than committing to buying an expensive pair of new boots just to find out if you need them, you may get lucky and find a pair of old hoof boots you can borrow (most HRCAV clubs seem to have a couple of those crazy barefoot and booted folks generous enough to lend a pair of pre-loved hoof boots).
It wouldn’t have to be Scoots, you could try on any style of hoof boots to check for stride improvement.
If the Glove Fits…
Nothing sticks to a hoof quite like a nailed-on metal shoe. A hoof boot is - at best - a glove and it needs to fit like a glove; tight enough to stay on the hoof and in the right position, but not so tight that it rubs. Not too loose, not too tight, just right.
Trouble is, hooves come in many different sizes and shapes, and Scoots come in many different sizes and shapes (at last count there are at least 25 different size Scoots) and for each hoof, there are usually 2 or 3 different size Scoots that will suitably fit. But which one is the best fit?
Horse owners can purchase Scoot Boots online by following their simple two-dimensional measuring guidelines and if the stars align, then horse and hoof boots will be married at first sight!
However, the author’s ongoing experiences suggest that it is rarely that simple…
It seems there are simply too many nuances hidden within the three dimensional and ever-changing ‘plastic’ hoof that is attached to the end of a long leg with all of its torsional pressures.
When fitting Scoots for your horse, there is a greater chance of sustained success if you involve the services of a professional hoof care provider who is trained and experienced in the subtle art of hoof boot fitting.
Experienced hoof boot fitters don’t rely on two-dimensional measurements alone. Instead, they put actual boots on actual hooves to check for a three-dimensional fit. This way they can swap sizes up or down, checking for overall suitability until the best right answer for each hoof has been determined. A bit like Cinderella, only the other way around.
Round or Slim?
Scoot Boots come in two different shapes; the self-explanatory regular and slim.
A surprising number of hooves fit well into Slim Scoots. Some hooves are simply contracted and unhealthy, but many hooves have such a well-developed frog and heel bulb area that they effectively measure extra-long from heel to toe and fit into a larger sized Slim hoof boot than measurements would indicate. An experienced boot fitter can judge this.
Hoof Boot Fittings Begin With the Trim
Hooves need to be set up correctly to wear hoof boots. The hoof walls need to be kept straight with no flaring and the breakover balance to be kept reasonably short.
There doesn’t seem to be any further specific trimming requirements for using Scoots. They should be able to be matched to your horse’s normal barefoot trim style so long as the above mentioned universal parameters are adhered to.
Scoot Boots should then be measured to fit a freshly trimmed hoof. The manufacturer recommends that measurements for determining fit should be taken no longer than 10-12 days after trimming.
Regular Trimming Maintains Hoof Boot Fit
A great feature of Scoots is that they are elastic enough to accommodate a growing hoof. However, many ‘performance’ horses have hooves that grow more forward than downwards, which means that the boots get pulled tighter at the heels.
On hooves like these, a boot that fits snug immediately after a trim will likely be too tight after 6 weeks of growth, but for a hoof boot to still fit after 6 weeks of growth it is likely to be too loose on a freshly trimmed hoof.
If it is best to fit a boot snug to a freshly trimmed hoof, then maybe the horse owner can pick up an old rasp and maintain the growing edges of the hoof (which is not much harder than picking up hooves and giving them a good clean with a hoof pick). That way a horse’s hooves never get too big for their boots, right up until when the hoof care provider comes back to tidy things up.
Of course, not all horse owners are willing, or even able to pick up and push a rasp (which is fair enough, they didn’t sign up for that when they got their first pony all those years ago); but there may be other solutions.
Using Anti-Slip Shims
A handy extra for Scoots in an Anti-Slip Shim, which is a small sheet of soft rubber that slips into the front of the boot and takes up any slack between the boot and the hoof.
If a slightly bigger Scoot has been chosen so it doesn’t become too tight towards the end of the trim cycle, an Anti-Slip Shim can be used on the freshly trimmed hoof and then removed after a couple of weeks when the growing hoof begins to tighten the fit of the boot.
Two Pairs of Scoots or One?
What about having a pair of Scoots that fits freshly trimmed hooves and another slightly larger pair that hits the hooves are 3-4 weeks?
This idea is not as indulgent as it may sound. The economy of using hoof boots instead of horseshoes is very favourable indeed. It only takes a couple of shoeing cycles to break even and thereafter, begin saving a lot of coin with ongoing hoof care costs.
Fine Tuning the Fit
If necessary, the shape of the hooves may be altered to better fit into Scoots, either by following the contour of the sole plane through the quarters to decrease overall width, or to trim a flatter ground surface through the quarters to increase overall width. Either way, the vents at the bottom of the Scoots can be used to lock onto a hoof in the quarters (for anyone not familiar with farrier speak, the quarters are that section of the hoof wall adjacent to the length of the frog; the sides of the hoof when viewing the ground surface).
If there are localised areas where the fit is too tight (usually at the arches of the boot around the lateral cartilage and heel bulbs), Scoots are thermoplastic and can be locally altered by heat shaping. This involves applying a small heat torch directly to the area to be reshaped until it is pliable, then changing to the required shape and holding it in that position whilst dunking it in water to cool down and regain its rigidity. Simple but effective.
Are There any Potential Issues with Scoot Boots?
It is a Fine Line Between Too Tight and Not Tight Enough
Too loose and Scoots twist or come off. Too tight and they rub.
This is the frustrating aspect of hoof boots in general and Scoot Boots in particular. Even though the inventor has successfully fitted many horses with boots, he still doesn’t always get it right the first time, every time and unfortunately, hoof boots simply won’t work for every horse on the planet. Some hooves just don’t conform. Please sir… can I have my anvil back…
If a hoof boot is too easy to put on, logic suggests it would also be too easy to come off. This is why, with hoof boot application, a grunt is always needed.
Fortunately, out of all the hoof boots on the market, Scoots are up there with the easiest, and quickest to put on, but the horse’s rider still needs to bend down to ground level and connect the two straps at the front of the boot.
This is best done with two hands; one to stretch the strap across the front of the boot and the other to push the strap on the catch. It is more about technique than strength. But if your aged or arthritic fingers find it too hard to pull the securing straps across the hoof, then pliers or a hoof pick make this task quite easy.
These techniques are demonstrated live when purchasing boots from a trained fitter (a service you obviously can’t get via the online world).
The top Pastern Strap doesn’t need to be used in a dressage arena, which is a bonus.
Hoof Boots That Twist
Some horses have a twisting action which puts a large amount of torque through the hoof-boot-ground interface, resulting in a boot twisting on its hoof.
With dressage, this is usually only an issue on firm grass arenas.
If a hoof boot is twisting on its hoof, the first thing to check is the tightness of the fit by seeing if you can rotate it on the hoof with a firm hand. If it does rotate, then a change down in size or maybe even to a Scoot Slim style boot could be the solution.
The Anti-Slip Shims now come with a central rib that bonds the boot and the hoof which may be enough to stop the twisting.
There is also a more secure strap (known as the Mud Strap) that can be attached if the twisting persists; good out on the trail but may contravene the minutiae of the new ruling.
Oddly Shaped Hooves
A surprisingly large number of horses have different sized front hooves. Instead of having one that is too tight and the other too loose, a horse may need two different sized boots. Scoot Boots can be purchased individually for this purpose.
Clubfeet can also be hard to fit around the heel bulbs and may need an experienced operator to significantly heat shape the boot (if indeed it can be done).
Hooves with low heels can be accommodated by inserting rubber wedge pads that lift the heels to a better position within the back end of the boot.
Some badly deformed hooves (such as contracted or collapsed hooves) may simply be too far off the measuring chats to fit into any form of Scoot Boots.
The grip is reasonable in Scoot Boots, but it may need to be enhanced when working on grass arenas that are short or frosty.
Just about anything that can be screwed into a regular horseshoe to increase grip can be screwed into a hoof boot. The only difference is that Scoot Boots need threaded metal collars (also called T-nuts) inserted as a receptacle for grass studs.
Hooves Changing Size
It’s not unusual for hooves to change size in the months after coming out of shoes.
They can either get larger or smaller, depending on whether they tighten up through a previously stretched laminar connection or expand in a contracted caudal hoof. Good luck to anyone who can guess in advance the extent of such changes!
Amy Blair’s TB, Coogs, hooves 6 weeks into his barefoot transition (Blair, 2020)
For this reason, boot fitting should be delayed for about a month after removing shoes, for the freshly unfettered hoof to reveal how it is going to change.
Hoof size can also change after switching to a new hoof trimmer. This can be especially so when switching between a traditional flat ‘farrier’ trim and a modern contoured ‘barefoot’ trim. A hoof can be significantly narrower when trimmed to the contour of the sole plane (barefoot style), but wider when trimmed flat-front front to back (traditional style).
Rubbing can occasionally be an issue with Scoot Boots in dressage.
If rubbing occurs, the first thing to do is check the boot isn’t too small. As previously mentioned, hooves can change size.
If the boot does seem to fit correctly but still rubs, this may be solved by taking off the Pastern Strap and the screw fitting that attaches the strap to the boot (it’s not needed in the dressage arena anyway).
Otherwise, heat shaping to stretch any of the tight spots may be required.
On rare occasions, a hoof is simply not the right shape around the lateral cartilage to accommodate a Scoot Boot and will rub unless a special Endurance Gaiter is used. But…
Gaiters and Compliance
Scoot Boots come with a removable Gaiter that sits around the top of the heel bulbs as protection against rubbing, but for rule compliance, it seems that Gaiters are unable to be used.
In sandy arenas, Scoot Boots actually perform better without Gaiters anyway, with less pooling of sand where the Gaiter forms a ‘reservoir’ with the top of the heel bulbs.
Does Sand Collect in the Boots?
Scoot Boots are the best hoof boots for sandy arenas because most of what goes in comes straight back out through the various openings around the boot at ground level.
There can, however, be some pooling of sand behind the pastern above the heel bulbs, especially if the sand is a bit ‘sticky’. This is primarily an issue when Gaiters are used, but as mentioned earlier, Gaiters are likely not compliant with the new ruling and are probably not needed in the dressage arena anyway.
This article is primarily concerned with the use of Scoot Boots during dressage competition, but we should consider that the healthiest and most well-adjusted dressage horses are those regularly ridden away from the arena. If a horse needs hoof boots for dressage, it will need them for the harsh trains. Sometimes hind boots may be needed as well.
Keeping Scoot Boots in their place can be a problem when horses are ridden at a pace out on muddy or rough trails or when they shy or spin on solid surfaces such as bitumen. To counter this, they have optional extras such as Mud Straps for better security and Endurance Gaiters for better rubbing protection in tough going; both excellent options.
Safety With Hoof Boots
Any discussion of hoof boots needs to be accompanied by the obligatory safety spiel.
Simply put, underneath a horse is not the safest place for a human head. When putting boots on hooves be sure to keep your head to the side of the horse, well clear of the kick and strike zone (and the knee-to-the-head zone).
Also, whilst most horses are fine with Scoot Boots from the moment they are first put on, it is wise when trying them on a horse for the first time to walk it in hand until it appears to accept them. As well all know, some horses don’t need much of an excuse to go troppo, and all of a sudden these little black gremlins are clinging to their hooves… it’s best to always be cautious.
But wait… there’s more!
There is far more that could be discussed concerning optimising performance with Scoot Boots. There are numerous ‘corrective booting’ options available such as Pads, lateral wedges and orthotics.
But it’s a brave new world - hoof boots and dressage - so we best keep that story for another day.
Andrew Bowe is a career master farrier who specialises in bare hoof care – keeping horses barefoot and using only sustainable hoof protection that doesn’t adversely affect hoof function – aiming to achieve equine performance and longevity.
Having over 30 years’ experience (with both traditional shoeing and bare hoof care) he is often called to help horses suffering from chronic lameness or hooves that are proving difficult to transition away from metal shoes.
Nowadays, Andrew spends much of his time educating horse owners to maintain their own horses’ hooves as well as training aspiring professionals, lecturing for the Australian College of Equine Podiotherapy.
He is also a qualified scientist and part time journalist and writes hoof care related articles.
BibliographySaddlery And Equipment For Dressage Competition Summary Of Recent Rulings. [pdf] Horse Riding Clubs Association of Victoria Inc., p.Appendix 9. Available at: <https://hrcav.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/D9_-DRESSAGE-EQUIPMENT-RULINGS-280220.pdf> [Accessed 23 October 2020].
Blair, A., 2020. @Crazyredchestnut. [online] Instagram. Available at: <https://www.instagram.com/crazyredchestnut/> [Accessed 28 October 2020].
Chaff Chat. 2020. Chaff Chat: Horse Riding Club Association Of Victoria. [online] Available at: <https://hrcav.com.au/chaff-chat/> [Accessed 23 October 2020].