You've heard the expression "No hoof, no horse." Like so many sayings from a more agricultural epoch, this one has endured even where so few people use horses. It's meaning is simple: if a horse's feet are ruined, the horse cannot be used. How could he, if he can't walk comfortably?
For a journey of 14,000 miles, that's a lot of steps a horse must take. I wouldn't do it in poor fitting or unsuitable shoes, and I only have two feet (and am not carrying much of anything!)
For the horse, then, shoes become crucial to the success or failure of the long ride, perhaps more than any other factor. And so few other factors are so controversial among horsefolk.
I cannot even begin to guess how many people have told me what I need to put on Apollo's feet for this ride. When it comes to hooves, everyone's an expert (or so they'd have you believe!). The problem is, most people giving opinions don't have experience in the nature of the long ride.
The Difference of Long RidingLong Rides are unique in so many ways, and especially in the matter of horse footwear. Unlike arena horses, trail horses, or even endurance horses, the long ride horse must use their shoes day after day after day over long distances and varied terrain.
The long ride is not limited to dirt trails, rocky trails, muddy trails, snowy trails, blacktop, cement, grass, etc. It will cover all of these. Sometimes all in one day!
The long ride is not limited to a bunch of miles in a weekend. Even the elite endurance riders give their horses' shoes a major challenge only on weekends. Training rides are hard too, of course, but even factoring in training, endurance riders are not slogging day in and day out. They can shoe on a normal schedule.
Long rider horse shoes wear out quickly. For normal metal horse shoes, the workload is more than they can handle. The metal gets worn paper-thin before the hoof has time to grow enough for a new pair. In other words, the hoof would be worn to a nub well before the journey was complete.
Most long riders, and certainly not this one, are not professional farriers. And even riding on my route, where a farrier is usually just a short 'farm call' drive away, not all farriers would understand or be able to deal with the special shoeing needs of a long ride horse.
A Natural SolutionFurther, the hoof is not a solid, static bone. It is actually a toenail, and like our nails they bend and flex under pressure. They also change shape and size on the base as they grow out. With shoes, the metal nailed into the hoof prevents some of this natural movement from occurring. While this is not normally an issue, it is not ideal... and with so many miles to cover on this ride, I want Apollo's feet to have as ideal conditions as I can possibly give him.
The solution for our long ride is hoof boots. These slide on like human hiking boots, and Velcro around the hoof to keep them in place. The hoof can enjoy its natural movements within the boot. Further, Apollo will only require a farrier competent in trimming - not shoeing. And if the farrier messes up, it will not be so disastrous as a bad shoeing job.