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By Larkin Greene
When gearing up for endurance and trail riding season, there is a lot of training and preparation that go into it for the rider and horse. Both have to be conditioned to face the 25, 50 or 100-mile race that lies ahead of them. Because a horse will be on its feet in rocky terrain for long periods of time, it’s important that hooves are properly protected, supported and prepared for any possibilities, such as uneven, loose footing, stepping on sharps, cuts and hoof impacts.
Endurance Racing Conditions
When racking up miles on difficult terrain, horses and riders endure challenging conditions. For safety and concern for rider and mount, participants must check in at various points along the course where veterinarians and farriers make sure the team is in good enough condition to keep going. It’s usually about finishing an event, more than winning. The saying “To Finish Is to Win” is well known. While there is certainly a first-place finisher, an equally impressive award is winning “Best Condition.” This award means that the vital stats, fitness and condition of the horse are best among the top ten participants who finished the race. In other words, is the horse fit enough to continue.
The ability to connect with the horse and keep it healthy, calm, and focused are immense accomplishments for riders and support crews during exhausting events like these. Many riders discover that the mental demands can be as challenging as the physical ones. Riders often must ride at night and sometimes find themselves alone on a trail, or their horse might want to go faster than they do to keep up with other horses. It’s a full-body, full-mind experience.
In correlation with a horse’s well-being during an endurance competition, the hooves are the foundation upon which it all rests. If a horse’s feet are not properly protected and it steps on a sharp rock along the course, the horse can become immediately lame, or the lameness can show up a few miles down the trail. With shoes, pads, pour-in urethane pads or boots for protection, a horse will be better prepared to face the difficult conditions of an endurance or trail riding competition.
Protecting Hooves for an Endurance Competition
Most horses in the endurance world are shod with steel or urethane shoes; however, recent improvements in both glue-on and strap-on hoof boots provide riders another option for hoof protection.
One of the limitations of hoof boots has always been fit, especially the short length in the heels, and gaps in the fit that allow the boot to shift and possibly come off. Vettec adhesives can be used in three different ways to improve the performance of a boot: adding adhesive externally to add support where it’s needed, adding a soft urethane comfort layer to the inside floor of the boot, and filling gaps to create a truly custom fit.
For a shod horse, products like Equi-Pak and Sole-Guard are also useful. Sole-Guard is a popular pick among pour-in pad products for endurance horses because of its durability and ease of application. Sole Guard is commonly used as a fairly thin, protective layer and should last through the toughest conditions. Equi-Pak is best when added support is needed; it can be injected under a pad, or used as a pad itself since it bonds well to the sole and frog.
When training and preparing a horse for an endurance race, it’s important to have a hoof-care plan and regimen in place that is consistent and reliable for the conditions found on endurance courses. Whether a horse is shod, unshod or booted, solar support and pour-in pad materials can provide the support, comfort and durable protection needed for these kinds of events. More than ever, veterinarians and farriers have the ability to use materials that will not only help maintain hoof function and integrity, but also give the horse and rider confidence that the hoof’s sensitive structures will not be compromised; one less thing to worry about.