MS-MR-1-Leg boots8by Marilyn Munzert
Does your horse need boots?
Absolutely. Even if your horse is a light-working weekend warrior with straight legs and no soundness problems, there’s always a chance he’ll stumble, step on himself, or get tangled up in something that could lead to an injury. By outfitting him in some kind of leg protection you can prevent potential injuries from such incidents. It’s a simple step that can prevent a lot of not-so-simple problems. The focus in this article is on the boots that protect or support the cannon bone and fetlock area.
Two general types of boots are available to protect your horse’s lower legs. Protective boots are those that simply provide physical protection against blows or other trauma; support boots are those that provide support for the fetlock, flexor tendons, and suspensory ligament, in addition to protection.
Each boot type can be used on both the front and hind legs. Typically, protective boots have the same design features for both front and hind; most manufacturers simply suggest a larger size in back if needed. Support boots may have special design features for the hind limbs, depending on the manufacturer. If there are no front/hind design differences, you’ll usually need a larger size in back.
Before you purchase leg boots for your horse, determine his special needs in his particular situation. By answering the questions below, you can determine which of the two boot-type options would best meet your horse’s needs. Additionally, some of your answers will help you decide whether you should look for certain special features in the boots you select.
Question 1: Does your horse have any existing soundness problems or history of a previous injury to the fetlock, flexor tendons or suspensory ligaments?
YES: You should probably consider a support boot.
NO: Support boots may not be necessary for your horse. Protective boots may be all he needs.
Question 2: Does your horse have low heels, long sloping pasterns, or extremely angled fetlocks’?
YES: Your horse’s conformation may predispose him to injuries because his excessive angulation places additional stress on these structures. Support boots would be a good idea for him.
NO: Heavy support boots may not be necessary for him. Look for a protective boot that’s primarily designed to guard against direct-blow trauma.
Question 3: Does your horse toe in or toe out, or move in such a way (padding, winging, etc.) that he’s likely to interfere and cause trauma to his own legs?
YES: Solid protection is very important for your horse. He’s at risk for self-induced trauma that can cause serious injuries.  Although a support boot may not be necessary, look for a protective boot that’s heavy-duty, with an extended leather patch to protect his cannon bone and fetlock region. And don’t go a day without boots!
NO: A lightweight protective boot may be all you need to keep your horse’s legs safe and sound.
Question 4: What type of footing does your horse usually work in?
Deep or inconsistent footing: He may be at risk for injury to his lower legs, including flexor-tendon or suspensory-ligament strains, because he could take a bad step that could stress those structures. In this situation, a support boot will help protect him from such injuries.
Well-maintained arena footing: He’ll be less at risk for taking a misstep that might lead to injury. Protective boots may be all he needs.
Question 5: What’s your typical training and conditioning schedule?
Consistent work (5 or 6 days a week, with a careful conditioning program that includes a lot of long walks and trots for strengthening his lower legs.): Support boots may be unnecessary because your horse’s good conditioning helps keep him strong and protects him from injury. Basic protective boots should be all he requires, unless you’ve answered “yes” to questions 1 and 2.
Inconsistent work that’s hard and fast: Support boots would be a recommended precaution. In some cases, you may want to have a pair of each type of boot on hand. Protective boots can guard your horse’s legs during conditioning days when risk of injury is low, and you can switch to support boots on hard-working days. This strategy allows your horse to strengthen the structures of his lower legs when risks are low yet still provides support when risks are high — and can be especially valuable if you participate in a discipline where boots aren’t allowed in competition, because it gives your horse a chance to get used to performing without heavy support.
Question 6: What does your horse do for a living?
Reining, barrel racing, endurance riding, cutting, or another sport that places a lot of stress and strain to his lower legs: Chances are a pair of support boots would be a valuable addition to your tack room — even if you don’t use them every time you ride.
Nothing more than take the kids for weekend rides: Protective boots probably are the only protection your horse will need.
Once you’ve purchased the proper boots for your horse, it’s still critical that you use them properly to avoid potential problems. These tips will help:
• Make sure your horse’s legs are clean before you put on boots. Sand or dirt underneath the boots can cause skin irritation or abrasions.
• Take the time to fit boots carefully every time you put them on. You may need to tighten and readjust the straps several times to get them snug.
• Leave boots on your horse for only 1 to 2 hours while you’re working him. Remove them between rides if you’ll be working several times a day. Boots left on too long can result in an unwanted buildup of sweat and dirt, an may irritate your horse’s skin.
• Wash your horse’s legs after removing boots. An alcohol rub will help remove accumulated sweat and grime. Again, this will help protect your horse’s skin against irritation.
• Clean your boots after every use. A good brushing to remove sand and dirt may be adequate, but if your boots are very dirty, hose them off. Most boots are washable and should be washed regularly, depending on the frequency and conditions of use.