By Kathy Carter
Equine boots are an essential part of any serious horse owner’s kit. Protective boots help to preserve the delicate structures of the equine lower limb from bumps, scrapes or from hitting obstacles such as jumps, or the horse’s own hooves. Limb boots are also documented to help provide support to the tendons and ligaments of the limb; especially important in performance horses, where the risk of straining these tissues is higher.
Some horses, no matter how light their workload is, are prone to over-reaching (hitting the back of a front pastern with a rear toe) or forging (hitting the bottom of a fore hoof with a rear toe). Often, poor conformation can cause horses to strike themselves, especially when they become tired. Young horses may damage their limbs as a result of being unbalanced, and of course, performance horses including Show Jumpers, Hunt horses, Eventers and Dressage horses benefit from the support and protection of boots as a preventative measure.
Types of boot
There are a variety of different equine boots on the market serving a variety of different purposes.
Brushing Boots are most typically used for everyday riding. The term brushing describes when the opposite leg ‘brushes’ against the inside of the other leg. Unprotected brushing can cause bruising to the bone from repeated concussion, and cuts and abrasions from the horse shoe, if the animal is shod.
Brushing Boots usually have a plastic panel or metal splint which fits on the inside of the limb, incased in the boot structure which wraps around the leg to attach via velcro on the outside of the limb.
Tendon boots – Photo Attic Photographic
Tendon Boots are most commonly used in show-jumping, when the horse needs to be protected without its coordination being affected. Tendon boots support the tendons and ligaments in a horse’s lower foreleg, but are open at the front, allowing the horse to feel any contact with the poles.
It is common to see hybrid boots that are designed to give maximum all-round protection and support. Usually the back of the fetlock and tendon area are protected, and many have ‘cupped’ areas at the back of the fetlock, to help prevent over-reach injuries. Some may be marked as ‘cross country boots’.
Over-Reach Boots are commonly used for cross-country jumping, galloping, show-jumping and Dressage when riding an expressively-moving horse, to prevent over-reaching (see above definition).
The Over Reach Boot sits on the bottom of the horse’s foreleg, around the coronary band at the top of the hoof. They are designed to fit the contours of the pastern and heel area used on the front hooves, and they help protect the front heels from getting cut of scraped by the back hooves. A good fit is essential for these important boots as they should not come down too low so that they interfere with a horse’s way of going, or in the worst case scenario, cause the horse to trip by standing on them!
Knee Boots and Hock Boots
Knee and Hock boots protect horses’ knees and hocks against knocks and abrasions. Knee boots are not as commonly used as some other boots on the market, but these innovative boots are highly useful for horses involved in activities where their knees and hocks may be at risk, such as endurance riding, western disciplines and of course, whilst hacking, should they fall. It can be very wise to use knee and hock boots on both youngsters and older horses, which are more likely to lose balance and slip on the roads whilst hacking, as well as when travelling in a trailer or lorry.
Alongside offering protection, it is important that equine boots are breathable, preventing the limb from heating up which heightens the risk of injury. Various studies have been conducted indicating this is a vital factor, hence the equestrian market has seen an increase in technical fabrics being developed for boots, including neoprene or ingrained air-flow holes and vents.
Four year-old ruling
In 2012, British ShowJumping adopted the FEI’s ruling that only a total maximum weight of 500g may be added to any given horse leg, in ‘production classes’, and age classes for youngsters. These classes include Talent Seekers, Newcomers, Foxhunter and all Age Classes. All hind leg protections (e.g. boots) must have a maximum interior length of 16cm and a minimum exterior width of 5cm; the inside protection must be smooth, and the fixations made of non-elastic, Velcro type fasteners with no hooks or straps; the rounded, rigid part of the protection must be placed around the inside of the fetlock. The key point is that weighted and elasticated boots are not allowed.