As the days get warmer and longer, snakes start emerging from their winter burrows to resume their usual daily activities, most of which involve hunting and eating.
Snakes love rodents and will be attracted to places (like barns and stables) where rats and mice commonly hang out. That means they may be in close proximity to you and your horse, increasing the chances of either one of you being at the receiving end of a dangerous bite.
There are 30 different species of venomous snakes in the US, which makes avoiding them virtually impossible unless you live in Alaska! During the winter, snakes don’t move around much, but their activity levels soar in summer, increasing your risk of an encounter. You’ll want to take necessary precautions, like wearing snake-proof boots.
Snakes and Horses: What You Need to Know
Although snakes have little interest in horses, and most horses will bypass an angry snake, incidents do occur. Horses are naturally curious creatures that may approach a snake simply to get a clearer idea of what they’re dealing with.
Unfortunately, when they lower their heads to explore, they put their soft noses in harm’s way. Horses may accidentally step on or near a snake, prompting the snake’s defense mechanism—biting. Noses and legs are most at risk for snakebites.
While snake bites are rarely fatal for horses, they can have long-term complications that compromise your horse’s health for months.
Our top picks for snake-proof footwear
|Chippewa Women’s Snake Boot
|Waterproof AND snake-proof
|Rocky Women’s Waterproof Snake Boot
|Extremely durable for multiple activities
|LaCrosse Women’s Alpha Agility Snake Boot
|Great for barn chores and muddy conditions
|Rocky Men’s Waterproof Snake Boots
|16” uppers for superior protection
|LaCrosse Men’s Country Snake Boot
|Breathable for use in hot, summer months
|Goodville PreMaster Men’s Waterproof Snake Boots
|Puncture-resistant with a 17” shaft
Best Women’s Snake-Proof Boots
Chippewa Women’s Snake Boot
Stylish yet comfortable, these boots won’t look out of place on the high street or in the barn. Made from leather and viper cloth, they protect your legs from the knee down.
A rubber sole and small heel make them ideal for horse riders, but they’re also comfortable and durable enough for hiking or ranch work.
- Good quality materials
- Waterproof and snake proof
- Comfortable enough to wear all day
- Higher price range
- Sizes on the larger side
Where to buy it: Amazon
Runner Up: Rocky Women’s Waterproof Snake Boot
These robust boots feature a 900 denier nylon upper that few snakes can penetrate. Waterproof and durable, they can withstand the roughest treatment, making them suitable for various activities, including hunting and hiking.
Although you could wear them for horse riding, the side zip is on the inside, so it could cause chafing and discomfort in the saddle.
- Nylon provides effective snake protection
- Waterproofing guaranteed for one year
- Good value for money
- Side zip could cause chafing for horse riders
- Snake fangs could penetrate the leather parts
Where to buy it: Amazon
Runner Up: LaCrosse Women’s Alpha Agility Snake Boot
These rubber boots look like stylish gumboots, but in addition to keeping your feet dry, they’ll protect you against snake bites. Although a snake’s fangs could penetrate the rubber on the outside, the neoprene lining ensures they won’t get any further, keeping you safe.
Although they’re a bit more cumbersome than our top choices, they’re more lightweight than a standard pair of rubber boots and provide more flexibility and comfort.
You might not want to do a day’s hiking in them, but they are suitable for working and even heading off on a trail ride.
- Neoprene lining protects against snake bites
- Waterproof and durable
- Adjustable gusset makes fitting easier
- Maybe too hot for summer
- Higher price range
Where to buy it: Amazon
Best Men’s Snake-Proof Boots
Boot Rocky Men’s Waterproof Snake Boots
If you’re looking for the ultimate in snake protection, look no further. These sturdy boots have a 16-inch Cordura upper to provide superior protection against venomous snakes. In addition to snake protection, these boots are waterproof and built to last.
They can be a bit stiff to start with and take a while to break in, but after that, they’re nearly as comfortable as an old pair of slippers!
- Made Cordura for superior snake protection
- Suitable for rugged terrain
- Waterproof yet breathable
- Boots are stiff and take a while to break in
Where to buy it: Amazon
Runner Up: LaCrosse Men’s Country Snake Boot
These snake boots are made with snake-proof material and high-quality leather. The mesh lining makes them breathable, while the lightweight material means they’re comfortable even in hot weather.
They’re comfortable straight out of the box and come with finger holes that make them easier to pull on.
While you may not want to wear them on a 12-hour hike, they’re perfect for most other activities, including horse riding, hunting, and brush removal. Not only will they protect you against venomous snakes, but they’ll also guard against spiders and ticks.
- No breaking-in required
- Lighter and more breathable than other makes, so suitable for summer
- 360° snake protection
- Higher price range
- Not waterproof
Where to buy it: Amazon
Runner Up: Goodville PreyMaster Men’s Waterproof Snake Boots
A more affordable option than our top choice, these boots protect you against sharp rocks, as well as snake bites. These leather boots are also waterproof and have a 17” shaft that offers more protection for taller men.
Although they are leather, which snakes can potentially penetrate, they have been tested and awarded an ASTM F1342 rating, which means they are puncture resistant.
The side zipper means you can spend more time outside and less time struggling to get your boots on. Once outside these boots are waterproof and durable, with tough rubber soles that provide excellent grip on rugged terrain.
- 17” shaft provides more protection for taller men
- Made from puncture-resistant, full-grain leather
- Lower price range
- Boots take time to break in
- May prove too hot for summer activities
Where to buy it: Amazon
Although there are 30 different species of snakes in the US, there are four venomous types: coral snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths (aka water moccasins), and rattlesnakes. Any of these species could deliver a life-threatening bite to a human, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they endanger your horse.
For example, the coral snake doesn’t pose a danger to your horse because its mouth is physically too small to get its teeth into something the size of a horse.
The other three types of snake are potentially dangerous for humans and horses.
Venomous snakes live in every state except for Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Rhode Island.
Rattlesnakes are more common in the Southwestern states, especially Arizona, where 13 different species utilize its desert landscapes.
The coral snake prefers the southeastern portion of the country and has a geographical range that extends from North Carolina to eastern Louisiana.
Cottonmouth snakes are abundant in Florida and Texas but also occur in southeastern Virginia, eastern parts of North and South Carolina, Illinois, and Indiana.
Copperheads have a vast geographical range covering all the eastern, central, and southern states.
Rattlesnakes are worryingly versatile creatures that live in various habitats, from grasslands and swamplands to forests and deserts. They usually spend the winter hibernating in a pile of wood or rock and utilize rodent burrows in the summer.
Coral snakes are more selective and generally prefer areas with dry, sandy soils and tracts of open ground. They particularly like pine and scrub oak habitats and rarely venture into low-lying areas where the soil is wetter. As coral snakes are quite timid, they spend a lot of time hiding under rocks or piles of leaves and mulch.
Cottonmouths are the opposite of coral snakes and commonly seek out wetland areas such as marshes, swamps, and creeks.
The copperhead has a similar approach to habitat as the rattlesnake and will happily live in a diversity of ecosystems, from deserts and woodlands, to forests and wetlands. They often utilize abandoned buildings, seeking shelter in piles of rotting wood and sawdust.
Most venomous snakes in North America hibernate (or brumate) during the winter, only becoming active at the start of spring. This period of activity lasts until October, when the cooler temperatures force them back underground.
While this is true of most snakes, some can tolerate the cold more effectively than others.
For example, the cottonmouth may emerge from their burrows on warmer winter days and laze around soaking up the sun. Regardless, they won’t be particularly active or dangerous if the temperature is 60℉ or below.
Risk to Horses
We already know that coral snakes’ mouths are too small for them to pose a threat to our horses, but that’s not true of the other snake types.
Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths (water moccasins), can all deliver a potentially fatal bite, even to an animal as large as a horse. The severity of the bite depends on the location and how much venom the snake injected.
Snakes most commonly bite horses either on the nose or the legs.
A bite on the nose is far more dangerous as the subsequent inflammation of the nostrils can cause respiratory problems.
When a snake bites a horse, they’ll usually experience pain and swelling at the bite site. One or more puncture wounds may also be visible.
Copperhead bites tend to be less severe than those of the other types of venomous snakes, producing only mild symptoms. Dry bites, where only a minimal amount of venom is injected, are also relatively harmless, causing only mild inflammation.
A more severe bite involving a larger quantity of venom causes more worrying symptoms, starting with localized pain and inflammation. Other signs may develop within minutes or hours, and include shock, lameness, and respiratory distress. Although the symptoms can be distressing, snake bites are not usually fatal for adult horses.
Danger to Humans
Snakes don’t go out of their way to attack humans and will try to avoid contact in most instances. If you startle a snake, however, it may bite in self-defense.
These bites could prove fatal, depending on its severity and location.
Rattlesnakes most commonly bite hands, feet, and ankles, whereas the cottonmouth focuses almost exclusively on the lower extremities (i.e. ankles and feet).
Your chances of being bitten by a coral snake are limited, partly because they’re so reclusive and also because their mouths are so small. You’re more likely to get bitten by a copperhead, which accounts for “the majority of venomous bites in the United States.”
Even if not fatal, snake bites can be extremely painful and expensive to treat. The initial symptoms are the same as those seen in horses, with the bite site becoming sore and inflamed. Nausea, labored breathing, and an increased heart rate are among the most common secondary symptoms.
The average cost of a human hospital visit after a venomous snake bite is over $100,000 according to this 2019 article.
Snakes: The Good, The Bad
Benefits of Having Snakes Around
Snakes aren’t all bad and provide a really useful service—pest control. Nearly all snakes prey on rodents, so they help to reduce the population of rats and mice in your barn or yard. They’ll also eat slugs, insects, and other garden pests and provide food for other predators like hawks and eagles.
Another interesting fact is that having certain types of snakes around will repel others. For example, in Colorado, if you have a bull snake on your property, you’re much less likely to encounter a rattlesnake. Bull snakes and rattlesnakes compete for the same resources, so their territories don’t tend to overlap.
Personally, I’d take the non venomous bull snake over a rattlesnake any day!
Risks of Having Snakes Around
The most significant risk snakes present is that they could bite you or one of your family members. They also pose a danger to any animals you have on the property, including household pets. Most bites occur when people attempt to harass or handle a snake.
Leaving snakes alone is definitely the safest approach.
Why Snakes Bite
Snakes bite their prey to immobilize it and make it easier to digest. They may also bite in self-defense, and are more likely to bite if they feel threatened or have been startled or provoked.
How to Protect Yourself & Your Horse from Snakes
You can’t protect your horse against snakes 24/7, so you’ll have to trust that your horse will use his instincts to avoid the potential danger. The only thing you can really do for your horse is limit the number of potential hiding places a snake could utilize. These include cool, damp spots, like under your water trough or in piles of brush.
You can further protect your horse by asking your veterinarian to administer a rattlesnake vaccine, known as Crotalus Atrox Toxoid, which gives your horse a better chance of making a full recovery after encountering Western diamondback rattlesnake toxin.
Out on the trail, you can take the following 3 precautions:
1. Listen to your Horse
Most horses will spook or shy away from a snake if it sees one on trail, so the first step in protecting your horse is to listen to it. Horses have much better hearing than us and will react to the slightest rustle or movement, so trust his reaction, and give the spot he’s concerned about a wide berth.
2. Avoid Brush
Stay as far away as possible from thick vegetation, grass, or brush. It is difficult to spot a snake in thick grass. Brush piles offer ideal cover for snakes, many of whom specialize in ambush predation.
3. Use Leg Wraps or Boots
Protect your horse’s legs with thick polo wraps or a set of sport boots.
While we’ve covered equine protection—what about humans?
Although leather cowboy boots certainly provide some protection against snake bites, there are some species of snakes with strong enough jaws to penetrate a cowboy boot.
Fortunately, there are specially designed cowboy boots with an extra layer of protection to provide an effective barrier against snake bites.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What boots can snakes not bite through?
Snakes have sharp, long fangs. A large rattlesnake’s fangs can exceed an inch in length and are as sharp as razors, which means they can easily penetrate boots made of either rubber or leather.
The only boots snakes can’t bite through are those made using puncture-proof mattering, like nylon and Cordura.
Q: What types of boots are snake-proof?
Only boots advertised as snake-proof and produced by a reputable company offer protection against snake bites.
Q: Can snake fangs penetrate rubber boots?
Rubber boots offer limited protection and only against snakes with comparatively short fangs. They are no match for the rattlesnake, whose long, sharp fangs can easily penetrate a rubber boot.
Q: Are snake-proof boots necessary?
If you live in a place like Arizona, where venomous snakes are common, a pair of snake-proof boots is an essential piece of safety equipment.
Q: Do snake-proof boots really work?
Few snake-proof boots guarantee 100% protection against bites, but they do provide more protection than a muck boot or cowboy boot. Some manufacturers thoroughly test their boots using real snakes so are more confident about their strength and efficacy.
Q: Is a cottonmouth the same as a water mocassin?
Yes, water mocassin is another name for a cottonmouth snake.
Although most venomous snakes will do their best to avoid contact with humans, they will strike in self-defense if they feel threatened. You can take various precautions to avoid being bitten by a snake, but few are as effective as a pair of snake-proof boots.
As summer approaches, snakes naturally become more active, increasing the chances of you being on the receiving end of a painful bite. The best way to avoid this scenario is to give the snake a wide berth, but wearing a pair of snake-proof boots will give you additional peace of mind as well as another layer of protection.
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