You may see a horse wearing a leg protector at a televised show and wonder exactly what it is for or if your horse needs this type of protection. Although they are called « boots, » they do not serve the same purpose as « hoof boots. » Hoof boots protect the delicate structures of the foot from obstacles or the horse’s hooves. They also help support the tendons and ligaments of the legs, as performance horses tend to strain these tissues. Horses do not have the cushioning of the lower leg muscles, so boots can help prevent potentially debilitating injuries.
Most recreational horses do not need leg protection unless there is a pre-existing condition that requires protection. However, no matter how lightly loaded, some horses tend to overexert, overwork, or become disruptive and injure themselves. Poor conformation often causes them to knock themselves over, especially when they are tired, such as tripping over their own feet. Young horses starting to ride can strike because they are not balanced. And, of course, performance horses – hunting, jumping, endurance, barrel racing, and many others – can benefit from the support and protection of a gaiter.
Depending on your horse’s problem or sport, there are many different hoof boots to choose from. Manufacturers do not always use the same name for all boots. Some boots combine several functions, such as a boot that is both a medical sports boot and an anti-slip boot.
Leg protection should fit well, be kept clean, and be checked regularly in case the boots chafe. Accumulated sweat, sand, and dust can make the boots uncomfortable, so regular cleaning is essential. Below are the most commonly used leg guards or leg warmers.
These boots enclose the fetlock and the bell shape covers the entire hoof. They can be made of rubber, heavy synthetic material, or fleece-lined leather. Bell boots are worn in the barn, in the paddock, or while riding. In either case, they prevent the horse from bumping itself, especially if the ground is rough or muddy, and when a horse is negotiating obstacles such as jumps, they provide some protection from impact on a hard surface. Bell boots can be worn in the front or back.
To prevent a horse from injuring its rear fetlocks, a simple rubber ring called a fetlock ring can be used when grazing or riding. This ring extends over the hoof and sits on the underside of the fetlock, although you will need strong hands to do this.
Before there were all kinds of special leg shoes, leg wraps were used. Polo wraps are most commonly used for riding, while foot wraps are used in the barn.
Brushing, planning, and splinting boots.
Brush or splint rubbers are usually worn on the front legs and prevent the horse from bumping itself during hard work. Brush rubbers can also be worn on the hind legs. They are often used in lunge work (especially cantering), but also in jumping, reining, and other fast sports where a horse’s foot may strike a hoof. These boots are placed at or above the fetlock joint and protect the lower bones and soft tissues of the lower leg. These boots are not really for support, but protection, like the shin guards used in many human sports. The thicker padding of the boot protects the delicate bone of the splint on the inside of the long bone. When putting on a boot, the straps should be pulled up so that the back ends are facing backward. This way, the strap is less likely to snag on branches or other obstacles.
Shin guards are the most commonly used by jumpers to prevent injury to the front of the leg in case of impact with a jumping rail.
Ankle and fetlock boots
Fetlock boots are used to protect the horse when it is struck. They cover the fetlock joint and the fetlock area of the legs. They are not intended to support the horse. They are usually made of leather or synthetic materials and are lined with sheepskin or other soft material.
Boots open at the front
Many boots are open in the front because sometimes the rider wants to feel how the horse hits a jump. Some horses become complacent and rub the rails of the jumps. An open boot in the front may encourage the horse to tuck his knees in and go over the obstacle but still provide some protection. They also allow for better air circulation around the lower leg.
It is a little difficult to put boots or bandages around a horse’s knees, but sometimes it is necessary to protect them. Barrel racers are sometimes seen wearing knee-high boots. These boots are not supportive, but provide extra padding for horses if they bump their knees against something, such as a barrel in a barrel race.
Runner boots protect the horse’s hindquarters and fetlock joints, giving them support and protecting them from contact with the saddle floor during quick stops and turns. These boots are most commonly seen on riders who do sliding stops and cutting horses. But English riders, such as jumpers, may also need them. Closures are usually buckles or Velcro.
Sports Medecine Boots
Sports boots provide both protection and support. They cover the lower leg, front or back, from the ankle to below the knee. They are not as padded as splint boots but provide more support for tendons and ligaments. They are more common in endurance horses, jumpers, and other horses that have to move over difficult terrain. They can be made of synthetic materials or leather. Some materials are designed to retain heat, which promotes blood flow in the leg. Others are more cooling.