Leg Protection: Pros and Cons

As a rider, my job is to question any small abnormalities that appear on my best friend. This is true a tenfold over for legs. Horses legs have very little protection considering the sheer amount of important things that make their home underneath that delicate skin… We use support wraps, sport boots, standing bandages, anything we can to swing the odds in our favor, but sometimes there’s just nothing you can do! Horses are big, clumsy creatures balancing on the equivalent of four giant toes. Injuries are bound to happen and we just have to adapt that we’ve chosen this life of inevitable vet bills. Now, it’s likely that if you do any work with your horse, you use some sort of leg protection to stack the cards in your direction, but what really works? Can you do more hard than good with certain types of boots? Let’s discuss:

Bell Boots:

Bell boots, or overreach boots as they’re sometimes called, protect the heel bulb of the hoof and the back of the pastern, encircling the ankle. They protect, traditionally, from the horse causing damage with their hind legs by grabbing the heel or over-tracking too far during work. They come in traditional rubber pull on or petal bell boots, made famous by the early eventers, rubber with Velcro fastenings, and no turn, which have a neoprene inset and Velcro that keep the hell/pastern substantially covered at all times.

Pros: relatively cheap and easy to replace while providing generally the same amount of protection. Fun patterns and colors too!

Cons: The skin of sensitive can be damaged by constant rubbing of basic rubber bells boots or neoprene if worn for extended periods of time, leaving small, uncomfortable wounds in the skin. Incorrect fitting (too small or big) will make bell boots useless for any type of protection.

 

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Personally, I prefer fleece lined rubber or no turn neoprene for arena work, and no turns or basic rubber for exercise days of hill sets and trot/canter work or jumping.

Splint/Brushing/Galloping Boots:

These types of boots are all made to take care generous care of your horse’s legs, no matter the type of strenuous workout. Made of many materials, they can be lined with fleece or some other type of cushioning material, with the cushioning side on the inside of the cannon bone, Velcro or fastenings facing outwards. They protect legs from rocks or sticks thrown up during work or from striking their legs together due to work/conformational problems.

Pros: Normally easy to clean and relatively accessible. Also, normally durable to water work. Difficult to ruin, huge perk with my two beasts!

Cons: Do not offer as much comprehensive protection as I prefer. Easily incorrectly fitted, so please have a trainer help fit them to your horse. Can chafe and cause rubs on the cannon bone while not offering much tendon/ligament support.

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I use these for light work on lunge days or while in a quick warm up before entering the show ring as they are easy to take on and off quickly and allow enough protection for me to feel comfortable. Without real hock support, I cannot be behind them 100% for heavy collection work. 

Open front boots:

Same for the above mentioned boots, but another con is that they can be easily tightened too much and instead of supporting the tendons/ligaments of the lower leg, it can cause extra pressure leading to additional problems.

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Doesn’t mean I don’t let my bestie use them while jumping in a clinic with the fab Lainey Ashker!

Sport Medicine Boots:

A more substantial alternative for leg protection, they offer more energy absorbing neoprene enveloping the leg. Made of neoprene, they guard the cannon bone, tendons, soft tissue, and help limit any lower leg hyperextension. Velcro and lycra help snuggly fit them to the leg. They protect from a wide variety of problems that could cause potential damage.

Pros: Durable, long lasting, patterns and styles galore, and relatively easy to fit. They offer more encompassing protection than the previously mentioned styles of boots and also are very easy to keep clean.

Cons: Some vets have suggested that they don’t breathe enough and that the build up of heat can cause potential break down of tissues within the lower leg. While this hasn’t been proven correct 100%, this is enough of a warning for me to stay away from them as an educated equestrian.

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Thanks for the picture, SmartPak!

They are very common in western sports, and I’m sure they have their purpose, but I won’t jeopardize my mare’s already sort of screwy legs by adding extra heat.

 

Polo Wraps:

Usually made of fleece or of a stretchy material, they vary in length to accommodate the length of cannon bone and protect against a wide variety of swelling, bruising, scrapes, and cuts. The most traditional of all the boots mentioned, they’ve lasted the test of time for the very reason they came into existence – they WORK!

Pros: no problems fitting as they easily customize to each leg through layering and are very breatheable. A more traditional and clean look, they are always in style. If you know your horse’s legs and problem areas very well, you can customize leg support and protection through correct wrapping. They additionally come in millions and millions of colors and patterns, making them wonderful to collect (I’m a polo wrap addict, my friends).

Cons: Not suitable of wet or muddy riding, as they absorb water and begin to sag, causing problems in the support. Time consuming to wash (which must be done frequently), roll correctly, put on, and then unroll. The biggest danger and disadvantage of polo wraps is that they do more harm than good when incorrectly applied. Do not, I repeat do not use experiment with polos. It is an accident waiting to happen.

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Pretty in pink, you see. 

Due to my traditional German training, polo wraps are my personal favorite. I wasn’t allowed on unless polo wraps were correctly affixed to the legs of each and every horse I exercised. I stand by their support and protection, as they have withstood the test of time with flying colors, but by far are the easiest to cause tendon and ligament damage by incorrect application. Please, please, PLEASE educate yourself before making this your protection of choice. Your pony’s legs with thank you! Here’s a good tutorial:

Okay guys, that’s your dose of Bailey opinions for the day. These are just observations and personal beliefs from my 19 years as a rider, so no need to take offense or to heart!

Until next time, my dears…

Bailey

 

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