It’s long been a challenge for mule owners to find suitable hoof boots for their mules due to an often upright, narrow and high heeled hoof shape. Robert Eversole, the famous ‘TrailMeister’ of US and Canadian trail riding, has put the new Scoot Enduro hoof boot to the test and has finally found what could just be the perfect fitting hoof boot for his beloved mules.
By Helle Maigaard Erhardsen
When hitting the trail on your horse or mule, you want to feel confident that your equine is comfortable, protected and has secure traction under his feet to suit any unexpected terrain the trail might throw at you. Even though healthy, well-conditioned barefoot hooves can do wonderfully on the trail as they are, most equine hooves require some kind of protection to be comfortable and secure on crushed, sharp rocks or on those slippery rocks lining the river passage.
Mules, the hybrid cross between a female horse and a male donkey, are notorious for their sure-footedness in difficult terrain and are ever-increasing in popularity as trail riding mounts. Of course, all mules have individual personalities, but generally mules are a mix of the best traits from both horses and donkeys - mules are as athletic and trainable as their horse mother, and as sturdy, resilient and intelligent as their donkey father.
Nonetheless, although mules have excellent, natural proprioception and sure-footedness, they still have sensitive hooves like horses and require protection to not damage their internal hoof structures or compromise their biomechanical health when working on harsh or sharp surfaces. However, the shape of most mules’ hooves is different to most horses’ and ponies’ hooves, which the average, protective hoof boots are made to fit.
In the following, we will explore which key features a high-performing hoof boot will need to have in order to fit the often high-heeled, upright hooves of a mule. At the same time, we will treat you with additional tips from the professional trail rider Robert Eversole, to make sure both you and your mule are well equipped and prepared for your next trail ride in the backcountry.
TrailMeister Robert Eversole out on adventures with the handsome Ruger, his main riding mule.
The Challenge of finding Reliable Hoof Protection for Mules
Robert Eversole, his wife Celeste and their family of horses and mules are located in the high desert in the state of Washington US. Robert may be better known as the TrailMeister, who has been sharing his extensive knowledge about horseback trail riding in the US and Canada on his website trailmeister.com for the past 15 years.
Robert travels the country holding clinics about trail riding and giving lectures in map reading and trail and camp skills that are essential for successful multi-day camping with your horse in the wilderness. He also spends a lot of time out on the trails himself exploring new routes and campsites. While doing so, he’s had his mules shod with metal shoes, because as he says; although his mules have hard, tough hooves, nothing is as hard as granite or the volcanic ground they often travel across.
“However, I would prefer not to nail steel shoes onto their hooves when they don’t need shoes for other health reasons. Also, horseshoes are slippery on slick rocks and don’t provide the traction we need on the trail. So, a few years ago I tried multiple different hoof boots - including the regular Scoot Boots that didn’t fit the mules, and other brands of hoof boots that were just too clunky and interfered too much with the gait and agility of the mules. So, I went back to traditional steel shoes,” said Robert.
Then earlier this year, Robert received a call from Scoot Boots telling him about the new Scoot Enduro hoof boot, that is particularly well suited for mules due to their narrow shape and adjustable heel strap to fit high heeled mules. Robert was keen to try them and one of Scoot Boots’ experienced stockists Karen Cox from Timberline Tack came out to do a fitting on Robert’s mules in cooperation with Robert’s trusted farrier Alex.
How to Find the Best Hoof Boots for your Mule
Robert is, however, as he should be, very particular with what he will let his mules wear on their precious hooves, and he will under no circumstances compromise on the comfort or safety of his ‘furry kids’, as he endearingly calls his mules. As such, Robert developed a kind of check list of conditions that had to be met before he would switch from steel shoes to hoof boots. The requirements were that the hoof boots should;
- Improve the comfort of the horse or mule and thereby make the ride more enjoyable for them.
- Be easy and quick to put on and take off.
- Be a perfect fit to not cause any rubbing or risk that the boot would come loose and fall off, and not interfere with the gait and free movement of the horse or mule.
- Work to improve and maintain good hoof health by being non-intrusive and supportive of the natural hoof structures and movements.
- Be a cost-effective alternative to traditional horseshoes.
When Karen had fitted the Scoot Enduro hoof boots on Robert’s main riding mule Ruger, she went with them on a ride to a nearby trail. Initially Robert was rather skeptic about riding out in brand new boots that hadn’t been worn in:
“Before we even hit the actual trail, I stopped and asked Karen if we should check the boots. No, there’s no need to, she said, and we continued. Then a bit further up, I asked again. She said no. Then a little later, Karen looked at me and asked if I would like to check the boots. YES, I said, and jumped off to look for rub marks,” Robert laughed.
But there was no rubbing from the Enduro hoof boots and Robert felt safe to continue what turned into a 5-6 mile ride. Up to date Robert has now gone about 50 miles in the Enduros and he’s very optimistic about the future:
“So far, the Enduros have proven to meet all my requirements. I have yet to try them in water and on very big rides, but up till now I’m basically super excited to finally have a real alternative to steel shoes that actually fits and works for my dear critters [mules],” said Robert.
Practice makes perfect: Robert in the proud moment of getting an Enduro hoof boot put on in only 23 seconds - it took him 60 the first time.
Successful Trail Riding requires Good Sense of Judgment
Robert initially started his horseback riding adventures with horses, but it only took one ride on a mule for him to be completely converted. What it is about mules, that made Robert fall so deeply in love, is difficult for him to pinpoint but he does have an idea:
“It’s a feeling of knowing it’s just right, it’s hard to explain. But I just love those long, beautiful ears! And I think mules have a much more refined sense of self preservation than horses. They think about things. Like, you can make a horse do something it doesn’t feel safe doing, but you can’t with a mule. And in most cases, you are right to trust their judgment,” said Robert.
And being able to perform good judgment of a situation is perhaps the most important skill you can have according to Robert, if you’re looking to do multi-day trail riding and camping with your equine. Apart from Robert’s list of 10 essentials things to bring on every trail ride, it is just as important to know when and how to use the items you’ve brought, Robert emphasizes:
‘I’m more of a ‘use what you’ve got’ kind of person, rather than buying a lot of fancy gimmicks. But how much help is it really to bring a first aid kit, if you don’t know what’s in it and when and how to use it? Please take the time to practice and learn first aid! If not for yourself, then think of it as being able to help your beloved equine or your friend who went with you on the trail. If you’re out in the wilderness with poor access, it could take hours or even days before help arrives, so you need to be prepared for every scenario,” said Robert.
Got Rescued by Helicopter and Flown to Hospital
In 2021 at early springtime, Robert and his wife Celeste went to Montana to go on a camping trail ride and they were following a route they had been on before. Robert was in front riding Ruger and had his pack-string behind him made up of Ellie at the end, who’s Robert’s main pack mule, and little Cocoa in the middle, who’s a cross between an Icelandic horse and a donkey. Behind them followed Celeste.
“We had to cross a river that turned out to have much more water in it and a much stronger current than last time we were there. As we got into it, I realized that little Cocoa would have had to swim to make it across, so I decided to turn around. As I did, Ruger slipped and fell, and I ended up in the water and broke my ankle,” said Robert.
Luckily, Celeste, who was still safe on the riverbank, managed to get Robert and the rest of the pack-string back out of the roaring river and used her PLB (personal locator beacon) to call for assistance. Robert then got picked up by a helicopter and flown to hospital, whilst Celeste rode home by herself with the entire pack-string.
“You see, it’s not enough that one person in a group of trail riders knows how to operate a satellite device, how to determine your exact location and how to read a map and use a compass to make your way home on your own if you need to. Celeste was certainly the hero in this story if any,” Robert said.
You definitely don’t want slippery or clunky footwear on trails like these! Robert in front on Ruger followed by Cocoa and Ellie at the end.
At the moment the soaring summer temperatures in the Washington desert is limiting Robert’s time on the trails. He is, nonetheless, keen to get out and about in Ruger’s new Enduro hoof boots at every chance he gets, and he’s much looking forward to trying them in the snow when winter arrives.
Don’t ever compromise on the comfort of your equine’s feet on the trail and make sure you’re prepared for every scenario when you’re venturing out into the wonderful wilderness. Stay safe, and happy trail Scooting!
Read more about Getting your Horse Fit for Trail Riding
Read more about Transitioning your Horse from Shod to Barefoot
Read more about Scoot Enduros for High Heeled Equines
About the author
Helle Maigaard Erhardsen is an investigative journalist specialising in environmental issues. Her devotion to the outdoors includes a life long passion for horses of which she has three: An off-the-track Thoroughbred, a paint horse and a Shetland pony, who are all bitless and barefoot. Helle is born in Denmark, where she graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2015. Her work is characterised by comprehensive research and she was nominated for the special media award Bording Prisen for her investigative reporting with the newspaper Ing.dk. She later obtained a Master’s degree in Journalism, Media and Communication from UTAS, when she relocated to Tasmania.