Product Review: Woof Wear medical hoof boot

I was out of town at Dressage Finals last fall when Johnny texted me that Candy was lame. He noticed a limp when he brought her in for dinner and wanted to know what he should do. I suspected an abscess, and sent him some instructions on how to soak the hoof. Johnny is good-natured and Candy is his favorite horse, so he told me he’d do as I asked. Half an hour later, I received an update: “Candle kept her foot in the tub for a couple of minutes, then she walked out of her stall. Now she is avoiding me. :(“ Johnny fed her dinner, stuck her foot in the tub to soak, and neglected to shut the stall door or halter her. I couldn’t stop laughing.

After I returned home, I checked out Candy’s hoof and found what I thought looked like a blown abscess or old cut on her heel. It seemed to be healing, but recent rain made our paddock a muddy mess. I poulticed the heel, swathed it in diapers and duct tape, and cringed when Candy squelched away through the mud. Duct tape boots are my least favorite thing to construct, and I was afraid the deep mud would suck them right off her hoof.

I bought a Woof Wear medical hoof boot at work the next day. Work had brought in a couple when they became available, but they weren’t great sellers. They languished in the store’s first-aid section, and I’d almost forgotten about them. The boot seemed like the answer to the concerns I had, which were keeping Candy’s wound clean and dry in the mud and keeping the wrap on the hoof. The boot is designed to keep wounds, poultices, and dressings clean. It’s lightweight and flexible and has an asymmetric zipper to ensure a close fit. The boot completely covers the hoof and pastern, which helps keep out debris like bedding.

The size chart for the boot is right on the box and is available online. A snug fit is essential, so I definitely recommend measuring your horse’s hoof before purchasing. Candy is an average sized Thoroughbred whose hooves are very normal in shape. She’s also barefoot. She wears a size 6 in this boot.

The boot is made from flexible neoprene. It’s bright blue, so it should be easy to spot if your horse pulls it off. The bottom of the boot is very tough and the tread on the sole feels substantial. The zipper is heavy and durable; it slides up and down easily and isn’t hard to grip.

Candy cooperated when I removed her duct tape and diaper getup and applied a fresh diaper. I wrapped a strip of Vetwrap around the diaper to make sure it stayed in place, and wrestled the medical boot onto her hoof. This actually wasn’t too difficult; I unzipped it and stuck Candy’s toe in the front and pulled the boot towards the back of her foot. When she put her hoof down, her weight helped the boot slide on all the way. I had to pick up her hoof and swivel the boot a little to straighten it, but no other adjustment was required. I zipped up the boot and turned Candy out.

After I applied the boot, I didn’t touch it until the next day. It stayed in place without any trouble, and Candy’s hoof was clean and dry when I removed the boot and diaper. I rinsed the boot with water to remove the mud and used my glove dryer to dry it off while Candy finished breakfast and grazed in the yard. Reapplying the boot was easy. I continued to keep Candy booted for about a week until the mud dried up. I removed the boot once a day to inspect the wound and apply topical ointments.

Toward the end of the week, I noticed a tear in the boot. It was only in the boot’s outer neoprene layer; the inside layer of Kevlar was still intact. I left it on for another day, then removed it for good. Candy’s wound was closed and the mud was dry, so she didn’t need it any more. I haven’t needed to use the boot since, and I’m not sure how much longer it would last before the inner layer tore.

Woof Wear states the boot is suitable for use in the stable and can be used on sensible horses in a paddock. Their expectation is that the boot will last 2-3 weeks under normal circumstances. I think it’s fair to assume the boot would hold up for two weeks; it might hold up for three if your horse is on stall rest and is quiet about it. Horses will sometimes step on the boot- I think that’s what caused the tear in Candy’s boot.

The boot retails for $59.95, and I don’t think it’s worth the cost. The boot is easy to use and extremely convenient. If you’re inexperienced at wrapping or very very short on time, I can see this boot being a good solution. You won’t have to worry about it coming off, and it’s easy and quick for even a novice horseman to apply. But even if the boot lasts for the full three weeks it’s supposed to, the cost is still $3/day. For me, that’s just too much.

Practical bitting advice

There are lots of things I like about working at a tack store, but one of my favorite things about working here is my boss. She’s been in the business for decades and is an excellent mentor. She’s also incredibly knowledgeable about tack and apparel. (The best party trick she has is eyeing a stranger for about ten seconds and finding a pair of boots or breeches that fit perfectly on the first try.) In the last couple of years, my boss has become very interested in bits and bit fitting, particularly as they pertain to dressage horses. She has some practical advice that applies to any rider in any discipline, though.

1. Correctly size your bit.

This bit looks okay at rest, but it was obviously too big when I picked up the contact.

Most riders, in an effort to make their horses comfortable, are using a bit that’s too big. We’ve all been taught about the horrors of lip-pinching, right? It’s certainly something to avoid, but having a too-large bit that’s sliding across the bars of your horse’s mouth is also a problem. Think about where the bit rests. It’s on the bars of the mouth. Where are the bars of the mouth? They (like a horse’s teeth) are part of the jaw. Feel the underside of your horse’s head- your horse’s jaws aren’t very far apart! It’s important to assess the bit both at rest and with contact- taking up contact moves the bit. In a fixed cheek, most horses wear a 4.75″-5.00″ bit. In a loose ring, most horses wear a 5.00″-5.25″ bit. This was a revelation to me (and to lots of dressage riders we work with), but the feedback from riders and trainers is that their horses often respond positively to a smaller bit.

2. Buy a bit made from a reputable company with quality materials.

High-quality bits are expensive, and it’s easy to convince yourself you don’t need to spend $150+ on one. But a reputable bit manufacturer spends money on research, design, and engineering. They listen to feedback and make changes. Neue Schule is one such company- they’ve introduced several innovative bit designs to the market and recently withdrew one bit in order to retool the design. Materials also add to the cost of a bit. Bits should be at least 70% copper; it warms to body temperature quickly and can encourage salivation. Sprenger has a line of copper blend bits that retail around $50, which is a great price for a quality bit.

3. Use the right type of bit for the type of rider you are and the type of horse you ride.

Dressage riders often leap right to loose ring snaffles- they’re ultra-popular in dressage circles on both snaffle and double bridles. A loose ring snaffle is a double-edged sword. It allows a lot of information to be transmitted down the reins to the horse; that can be good or bad, depending on the horse and rider. A green horse is often overwhelmed by the amount of input it receives from a loose ring snaffle. A green rider who lacks steady hands can irritate even a steady schoolmaster. Fixed cheek bits can help soften the signals by staying quieter in the horse’s mouth and blunting the rider’s input. And eggbutt bradoons exist- just because your horse is moving to the double doesn’t mean it has to switch to a loose ring bradoon.

I tried a loose ring on Candy for a while, but it made her even more anxious. We switched to a fixed cheek, which she seems to like a lot better!

4. Throw out (some) pieces of conventional wisdom and (possibly) your old bits.

Two persistent bitting myths are that thick bits are gentler than thin ones and that hollow-mouth bits are are gentler than heavy bits. The thickness of your horse’s bit should be determined by the thickness of your horse’s tongue and shape of its palate. Horses with shallow palates or thick tongues might be more comfortable in a thinner bit; horses need to be able to keep their mouths closed to keep the bit comfortably wet. Hollow-mouth bits are problematic for the reason they’re touted as preferable: they’re lightweight. When you take up contact, the bit moves up and back in the horse’s mouth in a “on” position. When you release the contact, the bit moves into the “off” position. Hollow-mouth bits lack enough weight to do this properly.

If you haven’t paid much attention to the bit you’re using, starting checking it every time you rinse it off. Last year at US Dressage Finals, a woman stopped by our booth to ask about bits. She brought the bit she’d been using, a stainless steel loose ring snaffle. The hole where the ring slides through the bit was so worn that it had become sharp enough to cut a horse’s lips. This sort of thing can happen in the joints on the bit’s mouthpiece, too.

Moe and I are reasonably competent, but he’s made his preference for the single-joint D-ring known!

No two horses are the same, so it’s important to listen to the feedback your horse gives you. Moe, for example, prefers single-joint fixed cheek bits. Over the years, I tried him in loose rings and in double-jointed bits, thinking that they’d be gentler or better than the trusty single-joint D-ring he’d gone in for years. He never did anything truly naughty, but he shook his head and chewed on the bit restlessly. He’s quiet and attentive in the D-ring, so the D-ring it is!

What’s your best advice for bitting? Have you ever received some truly excellent (or extremely terrible) recommendations?

Product Review: Acavallo gel and elastic wraps

When Country & Stable approached me about reviewing a product, I hesitated. I work at a tack store that carries all sorts of brands and products, including some little-known European ones. But after browsing Country & Stable’s website, I found a wide variety of brands that were new to me!

I chose to review a pair of Acavallo gel and elastic wraps. These are an intriguing product: essentially, a layer of gel is bonded to an elastic wrap. The gel provides shock absorption and support without the risk of slippage. The gel wraps can be chilled, too, making them unique among other wraps on the market.

Acavallo Gel & Elastic Wraps
Neatly wrapped and ready to go!

 

I typically use boots on my horses because they’re quick and easy to apply. While Moe and Gina don’t mind wearing boots, Candy dislikes them. She often stops to rub her face on them while we’re riding; sometimes she rubs so hard she causes the boot to move! I thought wraps might be more comfortable for Candy, and I thought the gel might provided more protection than a normal fleece wrap.

Country & Stable shipped the wraps promptly, and they arrived just a few days later. The wraps felt durable and looked like they were made from quality materials. I was a little concerned the gel would rip when I initially unrolled them. It’s thin and very stretchy and feels as though it’s stuck to itself. The gel didn’t rip, though- it stretched as I unrolled it and reverted back to its usual thickness and length when I finished.

Avacallo Gel & Elastic Wraps
The gel and elastic parts are bonded without seams.

There’s not much information available about how to apply the wraps. I assumed I would apply them like typical polo wraps, but there were no instructions on the product’s box or on Acavallo’s website.  I settled on applying them as shown on the box- wrapping the gel part of the bandage around the leg and covering it with the elastic part of the bandage. It took a couple of tries to get them wrapped exactly how I wanted. I haven’t used wraps in years, so I’m out of practice!

Acavallo Gel & Elastic Wraps
My wrapping skills are rusty!

I had two primary concerns about the wraps: I worried that I’d get the wraps too tight and damage Candy’s legs, and I worried the gel would make Candy’s legs hot. The first few times I used them, I wrapped them too loosely. I noticed the elastic part of the wrap had shifted during my ride. Fortunately, the gel part stayed put and the wrap stayed in place. Once I became more comfortable with applying them, I had no problems with the elastic shifting. I experimented with freezing the wraps before riding, too. They were easier to handle when cold- the gel part didn’t stick to itself as much. They could be a useful tool to reduce swelling, either from an injury or a chronic condition.

Removing the wraps is easy. The gel doesn’t stick to the the horse’s hair or skin. While it does sort of stick to itself, it peels away without a problem. Candy’s legs are never hot after riding with these; I think her legs feel cooler than they do under boots. Candy seems to prefer these wraps to boots, and she doesn’t rub on them. The gel doesn’t add bulk, and I had no trouble getting the wraps smooth and even.

Cleaning the wraps is easy, too. After a few weeks of use, my wraps were looking a little grimy from the sandy footing in the indoor arena. I tossed them in a lingerie bag, put them in the washing machine on the gentle cycle with Tide Free & Gentle detergent, and let them air dry. They came out looking brand new and ready to go back to the barn.

Overall, I like these wraps a lot. They’re holding up well and are as easy to use as regular polo wraps. At $84.95, they’re in the same price range as quality dressage boots. They’re an innovative alternative to boots for riders or horses who prefer a wrap.

Country & Stable offers dozens of brands in addition to Acavallo that can be difficult to find in the US. They offer free shipping to the US and Canada on orders over $100, making them a great choice for hard-to-find products your local tack shop can’t source.

Are you a wrap person or a boot person? Does your horse seem to prefer one over the other?

Bit talk

I spent the weekend at a dressage show in Tulsa, which was both fun and exhausting. I was working at the tack shop’s mobile unit, and the most popular items by far were bits.

It seems like there are lots of opinions and ideas about which bits to use, how they should fit, and what brands are best. I’m not the be-all, end-all of bitting advice, but I do have some general tips for finding a good bit for your horse.

Gina
Gina models a loose ring.

Type
In dressage, many people choose loose ring snaffles. This isn’t necessarily a bad choice, but remember that a loose ring snaffle allows for a lot of input. If your horse is green, it might be overwhelmed by the cues transmitted by your hands. If you’re a rider with unsteady or inexperienced hands, you may be inadvertently sending mixed signals to your horse. A fixed cheek snaffle like an eggbutt or full cheek might be a better choice. A fixed cheek bit moves less and can aid you in giving clearer signals to your horse.

Fit
Fit is by far the thing that people struggle with the most. It seems like most riders are deeply concerned about finding a bit that isn’t too small; in reality, a bit that’s too large can be just as painful as a bit that’s too small. A too-large bit will slide across the bars of the horse’s mouth every time you move the reins to turn. Don’t be fooled into thinking your horse needs a bigger bit because his lips are squished against the bit rings- on fixed cheek bits you want a snug fit! (This goes for curb bits on a double bridle, snaffles, and everything else!) Bits are designed to sit on the bars of a horse’s mouth; your horse’s jawbones are narrower than you think. Loose ring snaffles need some clearance (about 1/8″ on each side) to prevent pinching.

Brand
High quality bits are expensive, and that sucks. Most quality bits are made by manufacturers who use expensive materials like copper and spend money on things like research and development. Copper blends are a popular bit material because horses seem to like them; a copper bit will warm to the temperature of the horse’s mouth quickly and will maintain that temperature. Stainless steel bits stay cool. Herm Sprenger and Neue Schule are two quality brands that make a variety of sizes and styles.

Here’s what I use on my own horses:

  • Moe has a thick, single-jointed, stainless steel 5″ D-ring snaffle that I use for dressage. He has a slightly thinner, single-jointed, copper roller 5″ D-ring snaffle for jumping. A 5″ fixed cheek bit fits Moe really well.
  • Gina has 5.5″ French-link eggbutt snaffle for hunting and hacking. I alternate between a 6″ single-jointed copper baucher and a 6″ stainless steel, French-link loose ring snaffle for dressage. Both 6″ bits are too big for Gina, and I’m looking to replace them with something a little smaller.

What bitting advice do you have? Are there bits your horse really likes or really hates?

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone’s 2016 has started off with a bang! Moe and I had a pleasant ride on New Year’s Day with our friends Holly and Roscoe. We spent most of our ride at a walk, practicing halts and trot transitions with an eye toward getting decent scores on our dressage tests this year. Moe still thinks the medium walk is a waste of his time , but he’s at least getting better about halting with less llama-like head and neck movements.

Majestic horse creature wandering loose in the barn aisle.
Majestic horse creature wandering loose in the barn aisle.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a D-ring for Moe on ebay for a whopping $17. This is normally the sort of thing I’d buy at work, but it’s nigh on impossible to find a small ringed D-ring; all the inexpensive brands are making these bits with enormous 4″ Ds! I wasn’t keen on paying $60+ for a new bit when I knew Moe wouldn’t care one way or the other so long as it was a single-jointed D. I found a fat Courbette, bought it, and finally got to try it on Friday. I thought it was a little fat for his mouth, but Moe really seemed to like it. He was much quieter in the bridle than he is with the French link eggbutt or any loose ring.

On Friday, I checked Gina’s heel for signs of soreness; she flinched when I squeezed her heel really hard, but seemed fine otherwise. Johnny and I headed out yesterday, and I planned to see how Gina felt under saddle at a walk.

When we got to the barn, Gina was trotting up and down the fence line, desperately whinnying for horses in the neighboring paddock. Gina’s usual pasture-mate, a Quarter Horse mare named Dee, moved to a new barn over the weekend and I guess Gina’s kind of upset about it. She seems uninterested in new pasture-mate Roscoe and has instead focused all her energy on calling to the herd of geldings next door. When I saw her trotting with nary a limp or head bob, I felt pretty good about my plan to ride her!

"My New Year's resolution is to keep hating you."
“My New Year’s resolution is to keep hating you.”

We stuck to a walk, and Gina felt great! I let her amble on a loose rein for a few minutes, then asked her to put herself together. She did, and she was steady and pleasant for the whole ride. We worked on leg yields and shoulder-ins as well as halts. Poor Gina’s so out of shape after 3 weeks off that she was huffing and puffing after half an hour. I plan to keep her on fairly light work for the next couple of weeks, then begin building up her endurance again for the back half of the hunt season.

I hope your new year started out as well as mine has!