What sort of leg protection should I use for my horse?
You have a million choices, and then when you add in the color selection, your job of picking boots for your horse just got harder (or more fun, or gave you one more reason to go shopping!) Before we get crazy in depth with a boot discussion - it’s important to know that there is no regulation of horse boots out there. So, it’s likely going to be up to your best judgement about what works for you, your horse, and your discipline.
Let’s first chat about some things that most of us think about when using boots for our horses - protection and support. When I say protection, I mean protection from interference from the opposite leg or from a hind leg swinging up (concussion). I also mean protection from punctures and pokes (penetration). Support typically means the tendons and ligaments (like the suspensory) have some extra fabric helping them do their job. Some boots have all sorts of protection, some don't. Your horse's movement and terrain and riding conditions will determine if you need to focus more on concussion and over-reaching protection, or protection from brush and punctures.
Fuzzy sport boots are great for easy on - easy off use. With loads of colors, too!
You also need to consider the fabric of the boot or wrap. Does it breathe? (Studies have shown that horses in exercise without boots can have the temperature of their delicate soft tissues reach damaging temperatures. Now imagine that leg with a wrap - it will likely become hotter!). This also speaks to the need to cool of the legs properly. In the summer especially, most horses will sweat under their boots. Time for a cold rinse and some cold ice therapy - to clean the sweat away, and to reduce the temperature of those tendons and ligaments. My experience has been that more “natural” fabrics, like sheepskin and fleeces, will not make the legs as hot as neoprene or other wetsuit like materials. Something to consider depending on your climate and how long your horse is wearing them.
Cool off your horse's legs after work, regardless of the weather and what type of leg protection he wears.
Don’t forget to take into account the stiffness of the boot - some boots that are “formed” from harder materials can create soft tissue damage by rubbing, pinching, etc. if they are not the exact fit.
Just for grins - try this experiment at the barn. Wrap your lower leg in a polo or use a brushing boot on your lower leg. Apply it the same tightness as you would to your horse. Spend some time moving around. It’s amazing what the extra weight and pressure does to your leg. Don’t forget to consider the extra weight of boots as you select a pair. If they get wet, they will really be heavy. (Which is one good reason to go for a waterproof pair, any chance of rain, puddles, or swimming.) And, consider that you are asking your horse to exercise with these on, not just lollygag around.
Sport boots are great all around.
Now let’s dive into some of the options - polo wraps, fetlock boots, support boots, and brushing or athletic boots. All have their pros and cons, so let’s just go down the list.
- Polo wraps are awesome in that you can get a custom application. You have a zillion color choices, and they are machine washable. Easy closure! The downsides are that it’s time consuming to wrap, they should not get wet, they can be incorrectly applied, and their fabric tends to attract burrs, foxtails, and stickers.
Polos also come in all colors and patterns.
- Basic brushing boots are very popular! I see tons of folks from all disciplines using them. They are typically lined the whole way around with fleece of some sort, either synthetic or sheepskin. (Those sheepskin ones are harder to care for and typically more expensive.) The outer portion of these types of boots is typically a synthetic fabric, some are harder and stiffer than others. I have also seen these in leather, and let me tell you cleaning those leather buggers is a pain. But they sure are pretty!!
These are leather boots - still easy on and easy off, but a bit tricky to care for the leather shell.
- These sport boot types are super easy to use, with elastic closures that are easy on, easy off. It’s important to know which ones go on which leg (closure wraps from the inside to the outside around the front). They are easy to clean (washer/dryer), and they can last a long time. I don’t care for lower quality boots where the elastic stretches and warps, or the fuzzy lining compacts and looses some of it’s cushion. You should also be weary of these types of boots where the exterior is quite stiff, this can make fitting them a problem.
- You may have also seen open front boots, these are typical for jumpers. These are usually leather with fleece or sheepskin lining with buckle closures, or they are formed plastic with a neoprene type lining and elastic closures. The leather types are high maintenance in terms of care, you need to clean them like you would a bridle or other leather tack. The formed neoprene boots are easy to clean - wash rack!! However, proper fit is so critical, you may not be able to use these for your horse if they are not perfect.
These open fronts are discipline specific for the jumpers.
- There are also the support type boots on the market, which include a lower strap attached to a sort of sling that goes under the fetlock. Many are advertised as supporting the suspensory apparatus and other soft tissues. The jury is out on this one! My personal feeling is that these can be great boots - if they are applied correctly and the fabric is breathable. They are typically neoprene - which we know doesn’t breathe too well, and the outside of them is usually a sticker burr’s best friend (at least the older types were). I have also found that they are typically shorter than other boots, so for longer cannon bones, they may not work. My experience with these also tells me that because the boot goes down further, more dirt and debris from the trail and arena gets stuck in the boots. Add a good layer of sweat, and you have a recipe for some sores. The jury is also still out of the actual effectiveness of the support, so if you have a horse with tendon issues your first call should be to your Veterinarian to discuss proper wrapping techniques. I do like the supportive tendon boots for horses that may be going through lots of brush, the extra covering can help protect the skin. Again, fit is key.
There are tons of variations and brands within each of these types of boots, too! Please work with your trainer on what type is best for you and your horse.