If you mention equine leg protection, you are almost certain to start a heated debate! Almost everyone has a view and if they do subscribe to protective legwear then a preference about which is the best to use is likely to cause disagreement.
Horses wear protection on their legs in certain circumstances such as travelling and for faster work and jumping. There are endless permutations and types of boot and bandage available. Read our handy list to help you make the best choice for your horse.
Most people agree that protective boots are a must for travelling. However, if you are travelling horses for long periods, many professional horse operators will discourage the use of any boots as they can overheat the horse. If you do use travel boots, they must fit securely as slippage in transit can cause stumbling, trip the horse as it moves or even induces panic. Some people use travel bandages for this reason as they are more fitted and if applied correctly, can be more secure.
Boots all round are usually recommended for lungeing which some horses can find very exciting and use as an opportunity to exhibit some naughty behaviour. Young horses, in particular, are prone to excitable and explosive outbursts on the lunge.
For this discipline, most people use either brushing boots which protect the inside of the leg, similarly fetlock boots which offer padding over that particular joint. The other alternative is tendon boots in front which specifically protect the crucial soft tissue structures running down the back of the front leg from strike injuries from the hind leg. Most horses will wear leg protection on all four legs but not always.
Cross country as a discipline requires a tougher all –round protective boot as the horse can not only strike into himself due to the higher speeds and varying terrain but is also jumping fixed and unyielding timber fences which can cause a blow or bang if the horse makes a mistake. The two main concerns with protective legwear for cross country are first, the security of the boot and secondly, the potential to overheat the soft tissues within the leg, the very structures they are designed to protect.
Anything that is attached to the horse for the cross country phase must remain securely in place.For this reason, most riders apply a layer of tape bands over their horse’s protective boots in addition to the securing buckle or Velcro. A sticky electrician’s tape does the job very well. A slipping or half loose boot is highly dangerous when the horse is travelling at speed and can cause serious accidents.
The principal concerns over boots on galloping horses are the time they spend on the horse’s legs and the increased temperature caused by the horse galloping which is then exacerbated by the protective boots. Research shows that overheating the tendons and ligaments repeatedly causes them to soften making them potentially more prone to injury. Consequently, manufacturers have produced lightweight and air-cooled boots designed to keep the temperature of the horse’s leg as low as possible whilst he is galloping and jumping. Boots that do not allow sweat to evaporate will become significantly heavier than those that do. The horse does not have muscle below the knee and hock specifically so he can move his leg quickly whilst cantering, galloping and jumping. To add a heavy boot to this structure is self-defeating and there is a huge variety of weights in boots currently available on the market.
Most dressage riders opt for fleece bandages during dressage training rather than boots.These are perceived to offer more support to the limb and are more flexible than a boot. The horse clearly requires minimal protection from knocks and bangs due to the absence of fast work and jumping. In dressage competition at any level, horses are not allowed to wear any form of boot or bandage.
Choice of protective legwear very much depends on the horse’s age, temperament and the terrain.A slow quiet hack may differ considerably from a group of horses going out to enjoy a good canter and pop some fences.
Overreach boots usually invoke quite a defined reaction from most riders who are either definitely for or against. Overreach boots fit onto the front leg and sit just above the hoof on the coronary band.They are designed to prevent the back of the front hooves from strike injuries also called ‘an overreach’.Many riders deem them to be trip hazards and won’t use them, other riders will trim the boot down so it is shorter. The boot should sit above the level of the ground but if you watch the horse walk, the back of the boot will move down momentarily to protect the vulnerable heel area as the horse moves.
Generally only seen on eventers, a speedy cut is an injury caused by a hind leg catching the opposing hind leg towards the top of the lower limb whilst the horse is galloping. The boot is similar to a brushing boot and usually has an additional padded protective section as an extension to the main boot.
The preferred option for many riders when schooling or doing flatwork, bandages should be applied over a padded layer such as Gamgee or Fibregee to distribute the tension.Putting on bandages is a skill and any vet will tell you that a poorly applied bandage is significantly worse than no bandage at all. Pressure points on vital soft tissue structures can cause real problems leading to rubs and inflammation.
Whatever protective legwear you choose for your horse, try and follow the golden rules of security – it must stay in place – and use the minimum amount. It is instinctive to want to protect the horse as much as possible but overuse of boots and bandages can create other problems sometimes equally as serious as an injury incurred in training or competition.