Horse boots buying guide

horse boot buying guide

A horse’s lower leg is vulnerable to injury from blunt, self-inflicted trauma. So, protecting and supporting them with horse boots as the horse undergoes strenuous activity make the difference between a healthy and a hobbled horse.

You need to consider the type of work your horse is doing and identify the issues he has while doing it. Our buying guide will help you determine what type of boots will work best for your horse depending on his job.

Table of Contents
Function Protect What? Materials
Fit Manufacturing Cleaning
Types of Boot
Tendon Brushing Fetlock Over Reach

Function

A boot’s primary purpose is to protect the horse’s lower leg or hoof from impact. This can either be self-inflicted or sustained during exercise, i.e. when a horse knocks a pole while jumping.

Protect what?

If your horse “interferes” with himself when he moves, you should routinely apply boots. Examples of this are, if you finish a ride and notice that he has scuff or dirt marks on the inside of his legs, or you always hear a click-click when you walk or trot, or forging as it is commonly known, your horse “interferes”. Simply put, he's hitting himself with his own hooves, and that's not a good thing.

As you may imagine, a horse's hoof can cause a lot of damage when it strikes flesh and bone. It's even more worrisome if the horse wears shoes. Some horses interfere so badly that they're also turned out in protective boots. My own horse must be turned out in Over Reach boots otherwise he invariably pulls off a shoe.

Materials

Protection comes in models that are lighter than ever and are designed to keep a horse’s legs as cool as possible with breathable materials and features such as perforated neoprene and airflow grids. And while the boots don’t actively cool a horse’s legs, anything that can be done to minimize heat build-up in legs and tendons is important. Cooling the leg down is beneficial as a means of reducing inflammation. 

Decades ago, most leg-protection boots were leather. But leather has become relatively expensive,

requires a great deal of care, and also becomes stiff and dry after it's been wet. The stitching can eventually rot and deteriorate, even under the best care.

Enter neoprene. This modern, inexpensive, easy-care material dominates the boot market. Neoprene is lightweight, can be rinsed clean, and offers a more forgiving fit. It's also the best choice if you know your horse is going to get wet or muddy because it doesn't soak up water or debris.

However, it's not perfect. Most neoprene doesn't "breathe". This means that your horse may sweat underneath it. This isn't a problem for a normal riding session, but don't leave the boots on for extended periods of time, such as overnight.

Neoprene and leather boots alike can also be found with softer linings, like sheepskin, wool or synthetic fleece. These linings add comfort and extra padding to the boot, but they can also be debris magnets, making clean-up more of a chore. Only choose a boot with this type of lining if absolutely necessary for our horse's comfort.

Boots made of PVC and similarly hard materials offer more protection than neoprene or even leather and are easy to clean. However, since they're usually moulded to fit the horse's anatomy, they may be more difficult to find in exactly the right size and shape.

In today’s “horse-boot” market, there’s a lot more technology in boots. Some boots offer added protection at the points the horse is most likely to strike himself. These are actually called "strike pads" and are usually made of leather, vinyl, rubber or a bullet-proof material, such as Kevlar. Neoprene itself is rarely used as a strike pad, as it can tear.

Leather boots tend to have straps and buckles to fasten them whereas the synthetic equivalent is usually fixed with several Velcro fastenings which fasten around the horse's leg or which pass through a ring and fasten back on themselves. Some have double Velcro straps that overlap, and these are more secure than single Velcro straps. Velcro fastenings make putting on and taking the boots off quick and easy, plus they’re more adjustable than straps and buckles.

Boots should have a soft lining to prevent any soreness occurring and it is important that the boots fit the horse comfortably to avoid any rubbing. Many boots are available with fleece or sheepskin lining for extra comfort and these linings may be removable for easy cleaning.

Fit

Most boots are sold as small, medium and large. While boots vary in size by manufacturer as much as women's jeans do, a ballpark sizing strategy is to start with a small boot for a horse that's 14-15 hh, medium for 15-16 hh and large for horses 16.1hh and over.

Obviously, much of this depends upon the circumference of the horse's leg, also known as "bone." A large-boned horse that’s 14.3 hh may wear a medium size, while a fine thoroughbred at 15.2 might be better in a small boot.

When you place the boot on the horse's leg, the ends of a correctly sized boot should just meet or overlap slightly. If they overlap a lot, causing bunches or wrinkles, they aren't going to stay in place well and may rub. If you're in doubt as to which way to go, go with the smaller size. Leather eventually stretches, and neoprene is a forgiving fabric.

It’s worth bearing in mind that boots made of leather and many of their new plastic-based counterpart are capable of moulding to each horse’s leg, helpful for proper fit and to eliminate pressure points. This is a good reason for each horse to have its own boots.

Boots are also definitely right or left, just like your own shoes. An increasing number of manufacturers place a handy "L" and "R" on the boots to help you properly place the boots, but if there's no indication, remember that the closure straps should always point toward the back of the horse.

Note: The closure straps are the ones that hold the boot itself in place. These exert "force" on the horse's leg and are used to fit the boot to the leg. If the boot also has outer straps, or a "double-lock system," to stop the true closures from opening accidentally, the outer straps may point toward the front of the boot.

Use even pressure when you put the boot on. The boot should fit snugly, but not tightly. It shouldn't turn around the horse's leg, but you should still be able to get a finger beneath it.

Three closures are just about perfect on most boots, however four and two work well too. The important thing is to be certain that the closures are grippy enough to hold the boot in place.

Manufacturing

Quality does not necessarily correspond to price. What matters is that the inner material is not scratchy or bumpy. The stitching throughout the boot should be even and secure, with no loose edges or threads. Choose linings that pick up the least amount of debris as this will make them easier and quicker to clean unless you have a particular need for fleece.

Closures should be secure enough to withstand the movement of the horse and the elements around it, such as brush and mud. Traditional buckles and similar fasteners are seen less often nowadays but are fine if that's what you want but most riders find straps with Velcro closures the simplest and quickest to use.

The closure should be grabby and take just a bit of effort to open. Remember, though, that hook-and-loop closures can lose grip if they're wet and/or muddy. If you know you're going to go through a great deal of bog, you may want to opt for a traditional buckle fastener.

Cleaning

Few of us want to spend hours after our ride labouring over our equipment, so an easy-to-clean boot material is a real plus.

Leather requires routine cleaning and oiling, just like your saddle and bridle only it's tougher since the boots tend to get dirtier than your tack. Plain neoprene can be hosed off right along with your horse. It also is quick-drying. However, if the boot is lined, it's going to take longer to dry. Increasingly popular high-tech synthetics often have the advantage of being easy to care for and clean. Some feature antibacterial properties so they can be used on different horses without fear of spreading germs.

You can clean boots that need more than a hosing with soap and water and a soft brush. Be certain that you rinse every bit of soap out because soap can be irritating. Dry the boots in the air but not in the sun, which may harm the materials.

Never use a damp, wet or dirty boot on your horse. At best, it will irritate his skin. At worst, it will cause abrasions and scrapes that will require daily attention, so they don't become infected.

If you're working primarily in a dry arena, you may not have to wash your boots every day, but always take a brush and swipe off the inside of the boot before applying it to your horse's leg.

Machine-washable boots are a bonus, although not all boots qualify. Though pricey, even some leather boots can be tossed in the machine. Pay strict attention to the label for cleaning instructions. If it does not say "machine wash," don't do it.

Types

Tendon Boots are used on the front legs for protecting the tendon area of the horse's front leg from strikes from the hind hooves that can occur when the hind leg extends forward towards the front leg such as when cantering or on landing whilst jumping. They also offer protection to the inside of the legs from brushing injuries.

Open-fronted tendon boots are popular with show jumpers as they provide protection to the tendons whilst still allowing the horse to feel a pole if it brushes or knocks it whilst jumping so that is encouraged to be more careful next time.

Closed tendon boots however should be used when eventing as in addition to the risk of tendon injury there is also a high risk of injury to the front the legs from the solid fences.

Tendon boots often have a hard-moulded plastic outer shell but may also be made of leather or other material and should be placed high enough to protect the tendon and extend low enough to protect the fetlock joint.

Brushing Boots, also known as splint boots, are used to protect the inside of a horse's lower leg from the opposite leg or hoof brushing against or striking the leg.

Brushing is when the opposite leg 'brushes' against the inside of the other leg. Unprotected brushing can cause bruising to the bone from repeated concussion and cuts and abrasions from the horseshoe.

Brushing injuries are commonly due to the conformation of the horse and occur mostly on horses whose hooves swing inwards although brushing injuries can also occur in young, tired, lazy horses, or from working on uneven ground and can be severe particularly if the horse is shod.

Brushing boots are mostly used during exercise, although they can also be used on horses turned out in the field, particularly if the horse is excitable, the ground uneven or slippery, etc to prevent injury.

Brushing boots are most commonly made of neoprene or some other synthetic material, and have a protective padded area known as a “strike pad” on one side to protect the inside of the canon bone and fetlock.

Brushing boots are available in different sizes and the size chosen should be of sufficient size to cover the canon bone to the bottom of the fetlock and be fastened securely in place so as not to slip down when the horse is working.

Fetlock Boots are used on the hind legs to protect brushing injuries to the inside of a horse's lower leg from the opposite leg or hoof brushing against or striking the leg.

Fetlock boots are often used with Tendon Boots and are popular with show jumpers as they provide protection to the sides of the fetlock area whilst still allowing the horse to feel a pole if it brushes or knocks it with its leg whilst jumping so that is encouraged to be more careful next time.

Fetlock boots often have a hard-moulded plastic outer shell but may also be made of leather or other material.

Hind-Leg Boots: Ankle boots cover just the fetlock area and are often paired with open-front boots and worn in the jumper ring. Tall hind boots protect more of the cannon bone and are used most frequently while schooling dressage horses and on eventers.

Over Reach Boots, also known as Bell Boots, encircle the hoof. Designed to protect the horse's heel and hoof from forging, which is where the horse's hind leg comes up farther under himself and faster than the front leg moves forward, causing him to grab the front leg heel with his hind hoof. This can result in cut heels and pulled shoes.

A pull-on style is considered the most secure, although they can be tough to get on and off. Open Over Reach boots are easier to put on thanks to hook-and-loop fasteners or buckled closures but the downside is that these can get clogged with dirt and can be more prone to wear and tear. Features often include fleece-lined cuffs that prevent rubbing at the heel and coronary band and a variety of cuff heights. A no-turn style is fastened high above the coronary band, protecting some of the pastern, and stays in place.

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Author

Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.

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