Leg Protection for Performance Horses
Leg Protection Basics
From sliding stops on reining horses, to lateral dressage moves, to rubs while jumping and unexpected encounters with fences in the field, horse's legs experience a lot of wear and tear. Applying boots or bandages to your horse's legs can help prevent trauma and provide lower leg support. However, booting or wrapping up your horse is no substitute for keeping your horse in good condition for his chosen discipline.Just because you put fancy boots on, doesn't mean your out of shape horse is ready to conquer tasks he hasn't prepared for.
Leg Protection Types
Each type of leg protection has its own pros and cons. Likewise some are better suited for one discipline over another. The most common types of leg protection are polo wraps, brushing boots, open front boots, ankle boots, skid boots, bell boots and sports medicine boots.
Polo Wraps - First used to protect polo ponies from mallets and other horses' hooves during matches, these stretchy fleece-like wraps are popular across disciplines. Relatively inexpensive compared to other leg protection choices, polos can be a good option to protect your horse from bumps and abrasions if he is sensitive to neoprene or other synthetic materials.
Brushing Boots - These closed-front boots are generally worn on the front legs to protect the horse from hitting itself during exercise and turnout. Typically brushing boots are lined with sheepskin or another shock absorbing material. Brushing boots are most popular amongst eventers, dressage and endurance riders.
Open Front Boots - A popular choice among hunter and jumper exhibitors, open front boots protect the tendon on the outside, inside and back. However they are intentionally left open in the front to allow horses to feel when they hit a rail jumping so they are encouraged to not hitit again.
Ankle Boots - Typically worn in combination with brushing or open front boots. Ankle boots are worn on the back legs to protect a horse from abrasions and rubbing of his fetlock and pasterns if he travels too close behind.
Skid Boots - Unique to the cutting and reining disciplines, skid boots have a shallow cup that protects the fetlock from coming into contact with the footing in the arena as the horse performs fast turns and stops. These boots are placed on the hind fetlocks and also protect the pasterns.
Bell Boots - Bell boots protect horses who overreach from both damaging their coronary band and pulling off shoes. The bell shaped boot covers the entire hoof and can be worn during exercise, turnout or simply standing in the stall. Bell boots are typically only worn on the front, however they can be put on the back hooves when shipping for extra protection. Bell boots are also a good option in muddy conditions to help prevent shoe loss.
Sports Medicine Boots - Made of neoprene, these boots work to absorb shock as the horse moves across the ground while also providing protection from bumps the leg may take from other legs and jumps. Sports Medicine boots cover the entire lower leg from the pastern to below the knee.These boots can be used during rehabilitation for soft tissue injuries and during daily work.
Words of Caution
Use care when wrapping your horse with polos, wrapping too tight can cause soft tissue damage and wrapping too loose can cause the wraps to slip and fall off.
If traversing through water on your ride or during turnout avoid using polo wraps. Polos are highly absorbent and will get heavy on your horse's legs when wet.
A poorly applied wrap or ill fitting boot can provide more harm than good. Make sure to ensure a proper fit when wrapping or booting up your horse. Remember one size doesn't fit all.
Routinely clean your boots and wraps. Dirty equipment can help fungus spread from horse to horse. Likewise, dirt buildup on the inside of boots can potentially cause rubs and irritation to your horse's legs.
Before stepping into the show ring or competition arena, check with show management or your sport's governing body to ensure your leg protection is permitted. For example, jumpers and equitation horses can wear boots during competition, while hunters cannot.
Not sure if your boots fit, or what's best for your horse? Ask your trainer for help or visit your local Southern States. We will be happy to point you in the right direction.