Horse boots protect some of the most important parts of our equine friend’s body: its legs (and sometimes, even its hooves). As mentioned in our previous article, a horse’s legs are what keeps them moving, what keeps them active, and what keeps them a happy horse.
As owners or caretakers, it is our duty to look after their legs, which is why we highly recommend that you invest in horse boots. Not just any old-fashioned, leather horse boots—equine footwear today has significantly evolved and includes a variety of features that make it stand out from the rest. There are even different types of horse boots for every kind of practice and we’re here to help you learn more about them.
In this article, we will talk about:
- The advantages of using horse boots
- Importance of horse leg conformation
- Quick Recap: Horse boots types
- What you should let your horse wear depending on the practice
- Remedies for lower limb injuries in horses
- Best practices in wearing tack for your horse
The advantages of horse boots
Horse boots don't exclusively benefit your horse. If you think about it, protecting your horse’s legs and hooves from all kinds of injuries will also save you a ton of vet bills and other expenses from months of rehab. Having your horse wear boots will improve and lengthen their performance, especially if they will be competing with you in events such as show-jumping or dressage.
Even if your horse won’t be involved in any sort of competition, your horse could still benefit from the boots as some types can protect their hooves from rough terrain, or specific parts of their legs, such as their fetlocks or tendons, from sore muscles.
Lastly, horse boots can help them stay comfortable and relaxed throughout the ride. After all, a horse at ease is keener to do work, more willing to learn, and most importantly, more likely to be happy.
Horse leg conformation: why is it important?
A horse’s leg conformation can drastically affect its movements as well as its range of motion.
The ideal leg conformation of a horse would comprise straight, correct legs. A horse’s legs should also be at a proper angle at certain points when viewed from the side. Horses with straight and correct legs are less likely to suffer from injuries like interference and enjoy a maximum range of motion. Any deviations from this may limit their range of motion and make them more prone to certain injuries.
One example of a deviation, or more accurately, a leg conformational defect, is toeing out, or a splayed foot. A horse with this defect has toes that are turned outward and may experience stress on the inside of its knee with every stride. Their feet tend to wing in while running, so horses with his conformation are at risk of interference injuries.
Conversely, there is also a defect known as toeing in, otherwise known as pigeon-toed. As the name suggests, the horse’s toes point inward. A horse also swings its legs in a paddling motion regardless of its gait. Horses with either toe-in or toe-out conformation suffer from extra stress on their fetlocks, the only difference being the former experiences stress on the outside of their joints, while the latter experiences stress on the inside of their joints.
A horse with base-wide conformation has their hooves wider at the ground than the point of their legs at their chest. This causes more weight to be distributed on the inside of their hooves and causes them to move with a wider gap between their feet. This parallels a horse with base-narrow conformation, who stands closer at their hooves or at the ground than the point of their legs at the chest. A base-narrow horse will move with their hooves quite near to each other, and tend to land on the outside of their hoof walls. Both types are prone to certain conditions like ringbone and sidebone.
Quick Recap: Horse boots types
Let’s recap the different types of horse boots, and in what type of protection they specialize in.
Dressage boots protect your horse from injuries such as overreaching and interference, making sure your horse won’t clip themselves with their hooves. These injuries are common in flatwork and dressage.
As their name suggests, support boots offer support to your horse’s tendons and ligaments, which both happen to be crucial components of their leg health. The boots enclose the leg and include a strap that cradles the horse’s fetlock in order to prevent hyperextension. Horses with awkward conformation can greatly benefit from these boots as they can help correct or alleviate the problems they have caused by their defects.
Fetlock boots and tendon boots protect their respective namesakes—the former protects the hind legs, while the latter protects the forelegs. Bell boots cover your horse’s entire hooves, protecting them from injuries like overreaching and rough terrain alike.
Check out this handy guide, too!
Type of horse boots
Recommended riding practice
Jumping, hunting, eventing
The proper way to choose footwear for your horse
Consider your horse’s needs first and foremost when deciding which horse boots to buy. Does your horse’s conformation cause them to move awkwardly, and perhaps even injure themselves? You may want to get them support boots to give them the backbone they need.
Next, consider the practice you will be partaking in. The table we provided above will guide you on which horse boots are best for every riding practice.
Lastly, make sure to get the perfect fit for your horse! Size is extremely important; boots that are too big may slip off, and your horse might catch onto them, while boots that are too small or tight will cause skin irritation and discomfort. Our other article goes into detail on how to measure your horse’s legs properly for boots and how to make sure that the shoe fits!
Remedies for lower limb injuries
A bit about horse leg anatomy: the tendons attach the muscles to their bones, while the ligaments attach bones with other bones. Some tendons are also responsible for flexing limbs, such as the superficial digital flexor tendon, which enables the horse to flex their lower limb. Both the tendons and ligaments support the lower limb as well as the joints around it. Given their capabilities, it is absolutely vital that you look after these parts of their legs. One way to do so, of course, is to provide them with protective horse boots. Prevention will always be better than a cure. Give your horse lots of time to exercise as well so their tendons and ligaments can be strengthened and less likely to sustain injuries.
However, in case the damage has already been done, of course we would want to know what we can do to make our equine friends feel better when they undergo a lower limb injury.
One to three weeks after the injury, a horse recommends giving your horse time to rest as well as doing anything you can to halt inflammation. This may include icing the injury, bandaging, and/or administering anti-inflammatory medication (only as prescribed and directed by a vet). Total icing time should not exceed 30 minutes.
A bandage wrap can also control swelling and provide some support to a leg, but if the damage is quite severe, you may need to use a splint. In any case, when bandaging your horse’s leg, be sure to provide clean, dry, and sufficient padding, and to keep the pressure of the bandage even. Apply enough tension to remove at least 80% of the wrap’s wrinkles. Overlap layers of the bandage by 50% so the edges won’t dig into your horse’s leg.
Look after your horse’s hooves, too. The hoof wall—which is the hard covering of their feet, acting as the supporting weight of the horse and responsible for absorbing shock—does not have any nerves or blood vessels. It will continuously grow, so it should be trimmed regularly every six to eight weeks.
An example of a common hoof injury is thrush, which is an anaerobic bacterial infection of the frog of the hoof and commissure groove. This is caused by an unsanitary environment and poor hoof care. What you can do is trim away the infected parts of their hoof, irrigate with a 7% iodine or bleach and water combination, and clean the hoof and paddock daily. They should also have a current tetanus shot.
Best practices you can do to get your horse used to wearing tack
Generally speaking, the best way you can get your horse used to their tack is through time. Just make sure that they’re comfortable in their boots. You can easily check if the boots are a perfect fit by sliding a finger between the boot and the horse’s leg. It shouldn’t be too loose nor too tight.
You can start by just practicing your flatwork using the new boots so they can warm up to them. Once you feel that your horse is ready for more, you can try the Hangbahn exercise, which is just a simple change of scenery. Basically, you want to take them to various terrains or surfaces so their legs and hooves can learn to adapt. Hopefully, they’ll realize that the boots help.
Interval training is also another good option, as this exercise involves short bursts of high intensity that deliver more blood to their muscles, which allows them to develop their leg strength. You can try sprint drills: galloping or fast trotting between cones at approximately 50 feet apart, followed by a slow jog about 50 feet apart as well, and then sprint. Your horse will begin to anticipate the sprint, motivating them to go even further.
Indeed, the wide selection of horse boots out there may be overwhelming but it’s for good reason. This just shows the industry has already evolved enough to provide the best care and comfort for our equine friends for almost every activity. Master the tips and tricks listed here and you can get a good grasp on the best pair for your horse.