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There is a myriad of different forms of leg protection for your horse. When should they be used, and do you always need leg boots? Here are some answers.
What are the boots used for? Horses move in different ways, they are trained and used within different disciplines. You simply need to find out what your horse needs. Leg boots can be a cheap form of insurance against avoidable injuries during riding, driving or when the horse is out in the paddock. If you practice jumping, it is a good idea to protect the tendons of the front legs against blows, as these are particularly exposed to a great deal of strain in jumping. Even if the boots may help and protect your horse, training is still important to make it strong and give it stamina. One way of strengthening your horse is to train on varying surfaces.
The most common materials used in leg boots are leather, synthetic leather and neoprene with plastic covering. Most will be fastened with Velcro.
Brushing boots protect the horse's legs when they brush against one another. They may be made from neoprene and will often be reinforced with a harder shell on the inside of the leg. The front-leg boots are somewhat lower than the hind-leg boots.
Tendon boots are primarily used for jumping, but may also be used during regular arena exercises.
The main purpose of the tendon boots is to protect the flexor tendons of the front legs against blows. These boots are fully open in front and the fastenings are often slightly elastic. It is important that the horse does not wear these boots for too long as the elastic fastenings may affect the blood circulation in front of the tibia. Tendon boots are normally lined with shock-absorbing neoprene. There are also boots that are lined with wool, which are extra soft and prevent chafing. The back of the boots, down over the fetlock usually have a hard plastic casing, but there are also Kevlar versions.
Fetlock boots, for the hind legs, are shorter and only protect the fetlock. There is also something called jumping boots, which are slightly higher and intended to make the horse “open up” its hind legs more during jumping. When you compete, it is important to carefully read the competition rules in advance to find out what regulations apply to the use of leg boots.
Splint boots are mainly used in dressage and regular arena exercise to protect against blows. The splint boots are high and soft, and cover the whole lower leg, sometimes including all of the fetlock. The material is most often neoprene with Velcro fastenings.
Overreach boots are used to protect the horse from injuring itself by overreaching. They can be used for all forms of riding, driving and transportation. The overreach boots can be made in rubber, synthetic leather or neoprene. Rubber boots may lead to chafing in some horses. One way to prevent this is to put regular baby powder on the inside of the boots before putting them on.
Leg bandages also provide protection. If the horse is wearing fully elastic bandages, you must put padding underneath, otherwise there is a great risk of bandaging too tightly, which can damage the tendons. There are also combination bandages, or exercise bandages, where the first half of the bandage is fleece (the part that ends up closest to the horse's leg) and the other half is elastic. When you use this type of bandage, no padding is needed.
Bandaging a horse's legs is an art form in itself, which requires a lot of practice. The leg should look completely smooth when the bandage is on, and it should reach all the way down over the fetlock.
Stable bandages should not be used during training, but only when the horse is standing in a stable. They are often made from fleece, and are used in combination with padding. There are also ready-made stable wraps, which consist of thick padding with Velcro fastenings.
Stable bandages can be put on after hard work, or for horses that tend to swell up in the legs overnight.
If a horse has injured a leg, and needs bandaging for that reason, you should always bandage the other leg as well. This is done to support the healthy leg, which is otherwise easily overstrained as the horse tries to keep off the injured leg.