Horse Boots: To Boot or Not To Boot?
By Rachel Ratini BEqSc, EA NCAS Intro Coach.
As a keen pony clubber in my youth, I would instinctively put my neoprene boots on my horse before every ride. It wasn’t until I was studying equine science at university that I actually put some thought into what those horse boots could possibly be doing to my horse’s legs. Some activities do not require any horse boots, and some may need specialised boots with ventilation and protection. Does your horse need boots, and if so, which type?
Questions to ask:
- Will the horse be likely to hurt itself during exercise?
- How strenuous will the training session be?
- Type of horse boot
If you are going for a hack out or a light dressage session, horse boots are likely not necessary. The exception would be if your horse has a gait abnormality where they may easily knock themselves (dishing, paddling, overreaching). For example, one of my school horses brushes his hind pasterns together, so I will always put protective boots on his hind legs. The other end of the spectrum is cross country riding where there is a high possibility of sustaining an injury through a knock.
The next thing to consider is how strenuous the activity will be, and therefore, how much the internal temperature of the horse and therefore tendon will increase. There have been numerous studies performed in this area of study, and after reading through many of them the main information to take from them is that:
- Internal temperatures increase with exercise (Marlin & Nankervis, 2002).
- The more strenuous the exercise, the more the temperature increases (Marlin & Nankervis, 2002).
- Core temperatures of the Superficial Digital Flexor Tendon (SDFT) of the unbooted horse may increase to 45 degrees with exercise (Snively et al, 2015).
- Fibroblast (cell) damage and death will occur at temperatures between 42-45 (Snively et al, 2015).
- Horse boots have been shown to exacerbate temperature increases in exercise (Westermann et al, 2014).
An interesting study I found was the effect of the wind on the temperature of the forelimbs of the horse. This was performed without boots however they found that barely noticeable speeds of wind could decrease forelimb temperature thermographically (Westermann et al, 2013).
We are spoilt for choice when it comes to horse boot options on the market, and some manufacturing companies are clearly up to date with the latest studies.
Hacking Out/ Light flatwork session: If you need some protection from knocks and scrapes but you aren’t going to be increasing the horses temperature much, a good option may be polo wraps, or sheepskin/ wool (real, not synthetic) lined boot with a breathable outer, such as the Equinenz Breathable wool dressage boots. Sheepskin and wool are well known as breathable and thermoregulating materials. Neoprene boots are hard wearing and cost effective, however, they should not be used for extended periods of time or in any sort of strenuous activity, as they are far too insulating and will not let any heat escape.
Showjumping: Open front boots are generally the horse boot of choice for showjumpers, which provide tendon protection at the rear of the forelimb, and open fronts which will allow the horse to feel if he touches a rail. Now we are starting to step up in how strenuous the activity is, we should start thinking about ventilation. Veredus, Eskadron and PEI manufacture open front boots which also have ventilation.
Dressage: Protection in dressage becomes more important in higher levels where lateral work begins and knocks may occur. Dressage is physically straining for the horse, and internal temperatures will begin to rise. Sheepskin boots will become unsuitable for the higher level dressage horse, as if the horse sweats excessively and the sheepskin becomes saturated, it will then act as an insulator (the same way that washing a horse without scraping the water off will). Excellent choices here are perforated boots such as the Veredus Piaffe boots, or bandages with a breathable wicking liner such as Eskadron Climatex Training Bandages.
Cross Country: Maximum protection is needed, however at the same time the horse’s internal temperature will be increased greatly. The tendon is going to heat up, so we have to manage this the best we can. Equine, Veredus, Dalmar and PEI all make cross country boots with protective strike zones in the front and rear of the boots, and also have air vent technology incorporated.
Management is just as important as the type of horse boot, so before you get a drink and cool yourself down, take the boots off and decrease your horse’s internal temperature, whether it is by cool hosing or cryotherapy. Now you will hopefully have a good idea of which horse boots will suit the activity you perform, so time to get shopping!
Hopegood, L., L. Sander, L., Ellis, A.D. (2013) The influence of boot design on exercise associated surface temperature of tendons in horses. Comparative Exercise Physiology. 9:3-4, 147-152
Marlin, D., Nankervis, K. (2002). Equine Exercise Physiology. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
Snively, B.C., Bowser, J.E., Nabors, B., Linford, R.L. (2015). The thermal effects of protective sports boots on the forelimb of Thoroughbred and Argentinian polo ponies. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Volume 35 , Issue 5 , 393 – 394
Westermann, S., Stanek, C., Schramel, J. P., Ion, A. and Buchner, H. H. F. (2013), The effect of airflow on thermographically determined temperature of the distal forelimb of the horse. Equine Vet Journal
Westermann, S. Windsteig, V. Schramel, J.P., Peham, C. (2014). Effect of a bandage or tendon boots on skin temperature of the metacarpus at rest and after exercise in horses. American Journal of Veterinary Research. Vol 75, No. 4, Pages 375-379.
For more interesting articles written by Rachel, visit: The Equine Athlete