Whether you hack out, compete or enjoy any equestrian discipline, it is essential that you ensure that your horse’s legs are protected with the correct boots. However, with the enormous number of horse boots available on the market, it can be difficult to know which to use and when.
When choosing which boots to use on your horse, you will need to consider the level of protection your horse needs, which will be dependent upon what activity you’re are partaking in, his conformation and any previous injuries. For example if your horse has a tendency to over stretch with his hind legs, this can cause over-reach injuries, where the horse will clip the back of his front leg with his rear hoof. Equally if he has suffered a tendon injury previously, you will want to ensure that this area is protected.
However, whilst it is essential that boots protect the horse, it is also necessary for them to support the horse’s legs and be comfortable. Buying correctly fitting boots is essential to ensure that the boots do not restrict the horse’s movements. As all horses’ legs will vary in shape, boots which fit one horse may not fit another. Boots which do not fit can cause chafing and may slip.
Brushing boots are often used for schooling, hacking and general riding. As the name suggests, they are designed to protect the horse’s legs from ‘brushing’ injuries, caused when one leg is hit by the opposite leg or hoof. However they are also ideal for offering general protection against general bumps and knocks. These boots can be used on both the front at the back legs; however you may require a larger size on the hind legs.
Over-reach boots are bell shaped boots that cover the coronet and hoof; they are used to prevent injury caused by a rear hoof striking a front leg, which can result in cuts or even a lost shoe. This most commonly occurs when jumping or doing fast work, however over reach boots are often used in everyday riding, as prevention is better than cure.
There is a great variety of over reach boots available, the main difference between them being material (usually rubber or neoprene), colour and fastening method. The simplest over reach boots to use will feature Velcro attachments, whilst others have to be pulled over the hoof – this can be made easier by softening the rubber in hot water prior to putting the boots on. Pull on boots offer the advantage of being much less likely to come off, whereas Velcro does not offer this security.
Tendon boots are most commonly seen in show jumping classes. They are open fronted boots that are used on forelegs and feature a hard ‘strike pad’ that covers the horse’s fetlock and tendon. This prevents injury to these areas from the hind hooves. They leave the front of the leg unprotected, ensuring that the horse will ‘feel’ if he knocks any poles. This ensures that he does not become lazy with his legs and instead continues to jump cleanly over the fences.
Fetlock boots are designed to be used on hind legs. They are shorter boots that are often worn in conjunction with tendon or brushing boots on the forelegs. As with brushing boots, these boots offer protection against damage to the fetlocks caused by the two hind legs knocking together
Travel boots are used to prevent injury when the horse is in transit in a trailer or horsebox. Most commonly made from a tough outer synthetic material and lined with fleece or cotton, fastened with Velcro and featuring protective padding. Some are designed to cover the horse’s leg from hoof to above the knee or hock, shaped to fit the horse’s legs, whilst others are shorter, offering protection between fetlock and knee or hock. Travel boots are recommended for use with all horses, bar perhaps broodmares and foals.
Cross country boots are the ideal choice for riders and horses who partake in hunter trials or eventing. Usually made from lightweight, impact-resistant materials these boots can be essential to protecting your horse in this demanding sport. Look for boots that do not absorb water, as boots that become water logged can become heavy through water jumps.
Knee boots, as suggested by the name, protect the horse’s knees if they were to be knocked or if the horse was to fall onto them. This type of fall is quite common when out hacking and the horse trips, especially with young or spooky horses. It is very important to protect against this injury as it can cause lasting damage to the knee joints.
Hock boots offer the same protection as knee boots, only to the hock joints on the rear legs instead. This area is prone to injury when travelling. It is equally important to protect this area as injury can cause the hock to become chronically swollen or ‘capped’, which may result in pain and lameness.
As important as choosing the right boots is ensuring they are correctly fitted. For example, whenever fitting boots to the tendon area of the leg, for example when using brushing or tendon boots, ensure that any Velcro straps are done up from front to back.
When using knee or hock boots, ensure that the top strap is done up securely and the lower strap is fastened loosely to allow the knee and hock joints full freedom of movement. If you are unsure of how to fit boots, it is advisable to seek the help of a professional.
Whatever type of boots you choose, you will be afforded the choice of many different colours, materials and styles. Traditionally boots where often made in leather, which offers an impeccable appearance, however they can be more difficult to care for. In comparison, modern materials including plastics, neoprene and rubber are more user friendly and often offer greater protection.
Brands of horse boots to look out for include Roma, Norton, Caldene, Equilibrium and JHL; all producing a range of protective boots suited to many uses and budgets. Traditionally manufacturers of horse rugs, Masta, Saxon and Weatherbeeta also produce great travel boots, whilst Mark Todd cross country boots are designed and endorsed by their namesake; Olympic New Zealand rider Mark Todd.