There are a huge number of boots and wraps designed to protect your horses’ legs from all sorts of trauma. Wading through the choices can be confusing and hard on the pocket. The following overview may help sort through the seemingly endless lists of available products.
The first consideration in offering protection for your horses’ legs is – can the product actually counter act the forces generated by a beast that weighs a half-ton (or more)? The simple answer here is not directly but many products can offer some assistance in minimizing stress and impact on certain aspects of the leg.
Other considerations will take into account the exact portion of the leg that you are trying to protect or support. Brushing boots are used to prevent one foot from impacting the other. Suspensory support boots help keep the fetlock from moving out of its normal position thereby keeping the stress on the lower insertion points of the suspensory ligaments and tendons to a minimum - these should include a sling-style cross over of strapping that is placed under the fetlock. Splint boots are made to keep the soft-tissue structures of the mid-cannon area in place. Skid boots protect the fetlock from contact with the ground during gymkhana movements. Bell boots help minimize the damage to the forelimb's coronary band from interference form the hind feet.
It matters not what style or brand you prefer but in looking for a product to help protect the structure of the leg a precise fit, the ability to mold to the shape of the leg and a balance between flexibility and form must be met. Any sagging, bulging or wrinkling of the wrap, whether it is a pre-molded wrap or one you wrap around manually, will create more problems than they are designed to fix.
Pre-molded boots and leg wraps are generally made of neoprene. This fabric is water and chemical resistant and meets the needs of being flexible but form fitting. The one drawback of this material is that it does not breathe so neoprene fabrics cannot be left on beyond your workout without some concerns of bacterial and fungal infection – both of which love the warm moist environment created between the animal’s leg and a non-breathable surface. Some newer products have created a method to incorporate minute air holes in the neoprene fabric which does help with air flow but these boots still create a warm moist environment against the horse’s skin and are not recommended for wear beyond your workouts.
Leather is also a popular boot and wrap material. This natural material does breathe better than neoprene but is not water resistant and does not mold to the shape of the leg as well. Some manufacturers place a layer of gel or fleece on the inside of the boot to better fit them to the leg. This is a good idea but the gel can become hard and the fleece tends to clump and rub.
Wraps that you manually wrap around the horse are made mostly from breathable, thin and flexible material. The greatest problem with items such as these is the tendency to wrap incorrectly – either too loose or too tight – even with a padded under layer either incorrect application can create the possibility for a bowed tendon, circulation impairment, rubs and the danger of the wrap coming off at the wrong time and snaring the same or another leg within its snake-like grasp.
In summary leg wraps should be chosen for fit, ease of correct placement and should be used only during schooling or supervised turnout. They cannot replace the proper and timely workouts necessary to build an athlete that can perform to your expectations. They can help prevent bumps and brushing from the other three legs, rocks, stalky vegetation and bruises from hitting jump elements. They can also help prevent these same injuries when turning out in new places until the horse settles. They should not be left on for long periods of time.
Hoof boots are a bit of a different story. Boots such as the Easy Boot, Old Macs, Cavallos (and others) are all great products that do offer the sole and hoof protection from the assault of hard and rocky ground. If your horse pulls a shoe out on the trail or out in the pasture these boots do a great job of keeping the sole off of the ground and the hoof intact until the farrier can come to replace the shoe.
They are also quite valuable for those times when shoes have been frequently pulled off of less than perfect feet and the hoof wall needs time to grow out without the intrusion of nail holes. The Cavallos have adequate ventilation so that they may be left on both out and in the stall without the worry of too much moisture retained within. The Easy Boots and Old Macs don’t seem to provide enough ventilation and I will remove them while the horse is stalled to ensure that the sole does not become too soft.
All of these types of boots are great protection for bruised and abscessed feet. With or without shoes in place they cover the entire hoof and offer great protection against further trauma or shock to the injured foot. This can allow the bruise to heal and the abscess to drain and heal without dirt or mud invading the open wound and can help minimize soaking and wrapping with cotton and duct tape.
The sizes of the hoof boots vary with the brand but all the tack catalogues will provide you with sizing guides for each of those listed above.