Granite Chief wins the Mileage Award in Hoof Boots - 2000+ Miles and Still Going!
by Karen Chaton
Reprinted with permission from The Horse's Hoof. Click here for subscription information.
Chief and I completed the “Rides of March 50” on March 18, 2006 in Reno, Nevada. This was the same ride that Chief completed the year before—right after having his shoes pulled. In the last year, he has completed more than two thousand miles using Easyboot Epics or Bares over his unshod feet. He is the first horse to win the AERC Mileage Championship without using nailed-on shoes, as well as the first horse to do more than two thousand miles in a single year that way.
At the AANHCP (American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners) conference in March, 2006, the founder, Jaime Jackson, asked me why I chose to go barefoot with a horse that had not been having any problems being shod. (Chief had won the National Mileage Championship the year before, too, while being shod in plastic shoes). That answer is really easy — I chose to give barefoot a try because I wanted to see if I could do better by my horse. After completing this last ride season, I am excited to say that I am quite certain that the choice to try barefoot has worked out better than I anticipated. It has benefitted Chief, and as a result of his success, my other horses are all now barefoot, as well.
Chief now has over 5,000 miles of competition, and has never been pulled for a lameness. He also has not returned from any ride and been sore or lame the next day. I told myself when I made the choice to pull his shoes that if he came up sore, or had any problems, I would put shoes back on him immediately. Now that I have seen how much better off all of my horses are from being barefoot, I realize that was really a pretty naïve way of thinking about the whole topic. I’m sure it helped that Chief was never shod until he was almost 7 years old, and we used plastic shoes. Because I used Epics on Chief’s feet for the 50 mile ride he did over a year ago, he was able to make the transition to barefoot without batting an eye. The boots worked incredibly well on him; they fit great and stayed on, no matter what. I rode the entire ride season on him without ruining a single gaiter, or losing a single boot. At first, they were work to get on. Then, after a couple of uses, they became a lot more flexible and easy to use. Soon, I began making modifications to see if I could make them work better and be easier for me to apply at 5 a.m.—when it was 25 degrees and dark.
Here are some of the things I learned about using the Epics and the Bares:
1. Train the gaiter to fold back, so it is out of your way when you put the boots on. The best way I have found to do this is to wet the gaiter down, then fold it back as far as you can get it, and allow
it to dry that way overnight.
2. Keep the boots where they will stay warm. That makes them easier to work with.
3. Epics: Loosen the cable from the center where it feeds up, so that you have more slack, and can pull the sides of the boot farther apart when you go to put it on the horse’s foot.
4. Bares: For the first time or two, use the loosest setting, or use on a hind (if it’s narrower) foot or another horse with a smaller foot. The boots become much easier to work with after a couple of uses.
5. If you have any rubbing from the gaiters (I have not, with three horses on rides of 50 miles or longer), use a vetwrap type material, and wrap from the bottom of the hoof all the way up to about four inches above the fetlock. It should not be applied tight, but rather like a sock.
When I first started going to rides with a barefoot horse, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I would usually ask the ride vets how they wanted me to vet in—barefoot, or with boots on. They generally allowed me to make the choice, and, at first, if the footing in the vet area was rocky at all, I would put the boots on. Otherwise, I would vet barefoot. By the end of the season, I could trot Chief out over rocks barefoot, without any worry at all. I also have seen a few ride vets become more accepting of barefoot horses competing in endurance!
I brought a Hoofjack and a rasp to rides with me, and, at first, I spent a great deal of time making sure the edges of his hoof walls were smooth, and that everything looked good. Over time, his feet got better and better. Now, I have gone to multiday rides for a week at a time, and not even touched the rasp—and we have no chips or rough edges.
My horses have all done hundreds of miles of barefoot conditioning rides. I use the Epic or Bare boots on all four feet when I compete. I do that because the horses are comfortable in them and I think having four boots on keeps them moving even and keeps their confidence up in all kinds of terrain. We are the ultimate all-terrain vehicle this way! They do pretty good barefoot, too, but mine all seem to do even better with boots on. I don’t know how to explain that, other than maybe it’s similar to how I do in some terrain with hiking boots.
On training rides, I ride barefoot at least half of the time, and use boots the other half, so that the horses continue to be used to them. I compete in endurance in as many, or more, rides than almost anybody else in the country, and by using the boots, it keeps my horses sound, and it keeps me from missing any rides due to any sort of lameness problems. The one thing that I am not willing to do is risk having a horse come up footsore and THEN put boots on—my philosophy has always been to prevent a problem before it occurs. Once they are sore from something, whether it’s from too many miles on hard terrain or poor saddle fit or a girth that was too tight, it’s too late to undo it or fix it, and then I know I failed my horse.
Chief lives at my home with my two other horses. They have a bit over an acre of turnout area along with a small pasture. They are usually only allowed to graze in the pasture after returning from a ride as it isn’t big enough to actually support them; just add a little variety. He gets fed free choice hay, which is mostly grass. I don’t feed any grain between competitions at all. During competition, I feed beet pulp and complete feeds. I make sure that he doesn’t get anything with a lot of molasses, or that is high in protein, and I also give him a good vitamin that has biotin and organic selenium.
I check his toe length and his angles every couple of weeks myself, and when he needs to have anything done to his feet, my farrier husband takes care of it for me. Due to the amount of movement Chief gets, and the amount of barefoot riding he has had over this last year, we never had to use the nippers on his hooves. I know his feet grow fast, all of the nail holes from the shoes he had worn completely disappeared within 3 weeks of having the shoes removed, just from being turned out. I have puta GPS on him when turned out, and we estimate that he goes between 12 and 20 miles per day, usually herding the other horses.
I have not had any problems due to keeping Chief barefoot, and feel that there have been a lot of benefits—such as, his working heart rates have improved even more. You would not have thought that would happen with the amount of competition mileage and training he’d already had prior to competing barefoot, but it did. He comes out of a long trailer trip home after completing multi-day after multi-day, and looks like he never left the property. His legs will be tight and cool, and it is just remarkable how much stronger he has gotten this year. I am riding my other barefoot horses more in competition now, too, and they are doing great!
About the author: Karen Chaton lives in Gardnerville, Nevada, and is an endurance rider with over 18,000 miles. Karen and her Spanish Arabian TBR Granite Chief+/ have won the AERC National Mileage Championship two years in a row. Chief was also awarded the Arabian Horse Association Distance Horse of the Year Award for 2005, as well as receiving honors as an XP Gold Medal horse and the Wendell Robie XP Horse of the Year, also for the second year in a row. Karen was awarded the XP Horseman of the Year, and just received the 18,000 mile patch from AERC!
Visit Karen’s blog at