Crossing the Country - Eventing and Hunter Pace in Scoot Boots
A story of a girl growing up, a horse transitioning, and how they came to travel the country together.
Like many of us, Heather Fountain was a horse crazy kid. Her first riding experiences were doing trail rides out of the local flea market. At age twelve Heather asked her mom for lessons, but lessons were expensive and the deal mom made was that Heather had to first prove she was serious by reading a selection of horse books. And so she did, devouring every single one. She learned about posting from a book and practiced it on a merry-go-round at the local mall! Mom was convinced that Heather was serious, and gave the go-ahead for lessons.
Heather was generally more nerd than athlete, but horsemanship and riding came naturally to her. She had no problem mastering posting or "heels down" in her lessons. Her instructor was impressed, but a bit dubious that Heather had learned her techniques only from books and the merry-go-round fitness program. Heather continued on with lessons and schooling horses, eventually getting into Hunter Jumper, Eventing and Hunter Pace competitions.
Horse ownership wasn't in the cards for Heather as a teen, but the thought never left her mind. She grew up, went to university, and worked her way through school doing part-time and summer jobs. Her final summer job after graduation was a gig as a wrangler/trail guide at a high-end dude ranch. Wranglers usually get to pick their horse from the not-quite-ready-for-dudes group. Heather had her eye on a grade horse named Diamond that looked to be possibly a baroque/draft blended with a saddleseat or trotter/pacer type, sturdy-built and beautiful coloring.
The first time Heather went to catch him, Diamond ran across the field and then from almost a standstill, jumped a ranch fence that was close to four feet high - cleanly. It was no wonder that Diamond was popular with the European jumper and eventer clientele. Already Heather knew she had made the right choice. Horse and human bonded over that summer and when the season drew to a close, the ranch let Heather purchase Diamond using her season bonus. Then it was time for a "real job"... but that didn't mean settling down.
Heather landed a job as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist, but it was no ordinary lab job. It involved moving almost every 13 weeks, horse in tow. Fortunately Diamond wasn't the herd-bound type and handled the changes of scenery without any issues. Together they hauled to and "pastured" in nine states: Arizona, Boston, Florida, Maryland, Vermont, North Carolina, Montana, Oregon, and now California, a pell-mell scattering of locations that turned Heather into an expert hauler.
All along the way she took lots of schooling lessons, participated in training-level Hunter/Jumper, Cross Country/Eventing, Hunter Pace, and even a 25-mile "limited distance" endurance ride. Committed to a well-rounded horse life, Heather has also participated in learning events such as a four day summer camp for adults that consisted of jumping, dressage, horseback yoga, mounted archery, working equitation, and an intro to equine massage.
Photo Credit: Emma Parkinson Photography
Cross Country and Hunter Pace involve both a physical and mental challenge that drew Heather to the sports. "Training Level" courses can be up to 1.5 miles long with as many as 18 jumps, so horse and rider need to be in shape. There is a lot of variety in the jumps, including fences, ditches, water obstacles, oxers and downbanks.
Photo Credit: Emma Parkinson Photography
There is enough space between jumps to allow one to think, and to worry about the next jump. Unlike arena jumping, there is no trainer to look to for guidance and emotional support. In Eventing the object is to clear the jumps while completing the course in the fastest time. In Hunter Pace it is up to the rider to guess what the organizers have decided is an ideal time for the course, rather than fastest time, determined by sending a test rider out to complete the course before the event. Placement is determined by finishing the course in a time closest to the "ideal pace" without going overtime. The average pace is a moderate canter but will vary across the course depending on the type and height of jumps and obstacles encountered, as well as the terrain.
The day I caught up with Heather to interview her for this article, she was competing in a Hunter Pace event. Her course for the day was "High Beginner Novice" level, .75 miles long, consisting of 16 varied jump efforts up to 2'9" high, with a specified pace of 350/meters per minute, which, even though it is not a "race", requires the horse rider to maintain a canter pace. Heather and Diamond did really well, completing their courses within the allotted time.
Shoeing and Gluing
At the ranch Diamond was shod in metal shoes all around and only re-shod every eight to ten weeks. When Heather took over she first tried composite shoes, but Diamond tended to grow long toe and underrun heel, and with the way his feet were growing, her farrier wasn't able to nail into the proper area. The nail holes were too far forward, causing hot nails. Diamond also had contracted heels.
Heather then tried glue-ons, but was concerned about the long term effects of glue on the hoof wall material. The other problem with either shoes or glue-ons, is that frequent trims were not an option, so keeping on top of hoof growth issues was impossible. And Diamond also had thin soles, so going barefoot wasn't an option. Heather started looking into hoof boots.
In the past, even riders that preferred hoof boots would shoe for jumping. In fact, only in recent years have certain events allowed hoof boots. This was perhaps for good reason - earlier hoof boot designs were not well suited to jumping. Most of the boots Heather investigated seemed too bulky and heavy for the activities she was doing. She did a lot of research and kept coming back to Scoot Boots
"I really wanted a minimalist boot. I wanted to give my horse the support he needed, but not too much. I wanted to maintain a natural compression and expansion of the hoof. Scoot Boots seemed like they'd be the right combination of support and flexibility I was looking for."
Photo Credit: Rob Featonby
Scoot Boots have made booting a viable option in Cross Country, Hunter Pace and other challenging sports. In addition to being a minimalist flexible boot, they have great traction, they don't hold water, and they stay on in tough conditions. Diamond is outfitted in Scoot Boots with mud straps (recommended for extra security for jumping and extreme conditions). Heather and Diamond have competed in Scoot Boots successfully for several years and she finds the boots even have good traction in wet grass.
Cross Country is an intense sport at every level, and Heather did not have 100% success with her Scoot Boots initially. Some "dialing in" was needed. When first tried Scoot Boots Diamond had some light rubbing at the heel. At this point the hooves were still very long-toed and heels were underrun:
As a boot fitter when I see this conformation I am up front with the horse owner and warn them that they could encounter some issues. Shims, EVA foam tape, endurance gaiters, or other tweaks may need to be incorporated to get the boots working while the hoof issues are being addressed. Sometimes it takes a little experimenting to find what works to get a horse through the transition period.
Going barefoot and booted gave Heather and her trimmer the opportunity to do what was needed, when it was needed. Heather's farrier is at the barn frequently so started rasping toes back between full trims. This solved the issues with the boots, but more importantly, helped transform the hooves to proper conformation!
Heather also had some issues early on with clipping and pulling boots off, but then realized she had the mud straps on wrong, so fixed that issue and it has been smooth jumping since then!
Heather says of using Scoot Boots,
"My horse is never sore, has no marks from the boots, he never changes his stride. The ground we ride on is harder than where he is pasture boarded and the boots give him just the right amount of protection. The boots stay on over jumps and through water obstacles, and even have good traction in wet grass. We also trail ride and he is no longer tender over rocks."
Boots are only just starting to gain popularity in the jumping world and Heather deserves credit for being a bit of a trailblazer. You can follow her jumping adventures on instagram: @fenicepianto.
Heather also frequently posts photos and videos of her events to the Facebook Group Scoot Boot Adventures, by Timberline Tack. Follow the group for lots of experiences, tips, tricks and fun stuff from Heather and other Scoot Boot Adventurers. https://m.facebook.com/
- by Karen Cox, owner Timberline Tack
At Timberline tack I help horse owners get the very best fitting boots for their horse. It's my goal to help you achieve success rides in any discipline, and NOT to fill your tack room with more things that don't work! I can mail fit kits anywhere in the US and walk through the entire fitting process with you. Once we choose a size you get to trial your new boots. More information on my fitting and trial program can be found here: https://timberlinetack.com/