|so fancy in white polos|
As you may have noticed from literally every picture ever taken of my horse, I am a big fan of leg protection and rarely ride without it. What might surprise you is how much thought actually goes in to the whole process for me.
First off, I use leg protection on Courage for two primary reasons. The biggest one is that conformationally, Courage is VERY narrow behind. I tell people that his back legs pretty much come out of the same hole, and I'm actually not joking. Because of how close his hind legs are, interference is a fact of life for us. I think letting my horse interfere and hurt himself is a shitty thing to do, so he wears leg protection.
|dressage: the bootless sport!|
However, the second reason I use leg protection is a bit more universal--whether jumping or doing dressage, I'm asking him to do things with his legs that he wouldn't normally do on his own and the last thing I want to have happen is for him to sting himself and learn that obedience hurts.
Bear in mind--some noted professionals (Lucinda Green comes to mind) absolutely refuse to use leg protection and there are studies indicating that hear buildup is the number one indicator surrounding lower-limb injuries in horses. To those objections I say:
'1) If I could ride like Lucinda Green, especially on the caliber of horses that LG rides, HAHA well I can't. Just remember that far more noted pros boot up than do not.
2) This is a very valid concern, especially if you live in a hot place. I avoid riding in the heat of the day (flexible job ftw) and make my own value judgments. Your mileage may vary.
|contrasting color polos for sportsball|
You'll notice I haven't touched on leg support at all. That is for a very specific reason: I call BS on any and all claims that a few strips of leather or fabric or foam is capable of supporting ANYTHING on a 1200 pound animal. No. The physics literally do not make any sense. Stable bandages can help reduce fill in legs if wrapped correctly, but that isn't supporting the horse as much as just moving some fluid around.
Ok, so if we've covered why we use protection, next we need to cover HOW. There are two primary types of leg protection on the market: boots and wraps. There is a huge variety. Jumping horses primarily use boots--open fronts for jumping over things that fall down and closed front for things that do not. Dressage horses occasionally wear boots, but are most frequently seen in wraps. Let's talk about why.
|open front jumping boots|
When a horse is jumping a stadium fence (with rails that fall down), we want that horse to be hyper-aware that touching a pole is no bueno. Whether it's your 2' stadium round at a schooling show or the Olympics, your score is dependent on rails staying up. The configuration of an open front boot in this scenario allows the horse to feel the rail on his legs if he hits it, but still protects him from an interference injury on the soft tissue of his leg if he were to overreach or stumble.
|sometimes you have to use fluffy boots|
So if we want the horse to feel stadium rails, why do we cover his legs for cross country? Simple. If your horse hits a stadium rail, it falls. If he clips an XC fence, he's very likely losing hair. It hurts. We don't want jumping to hurt. Horses do tend to respect solid fences more, but the higher consequence of hitting a fixed obstacle needs to be minimized. There are a lot of technical things that go into XC boots--air vents are becoming common and hydro-phobic boots are great innovations for a sport that guarantees encounters with water. I'll leave those descriptions to someone who actually events, though.
|black BOT polos|
And that brings us around to wraps. You rarely see wraps on jumping horses in the arena and should never see them on XC. Wraps are simply not as stable as boots. Fleece polos especially stretch when wet and tighten as they dry, which translates simply to the potential to slide down and trip the horse (bad) or tighten and injure a tendon (worse). Plus they don't have a hard shell like a boot to disperse the impact of a flying hoof. So what's the appeal?
Aside from being the classiest-looking option, polo wraps provide the most customized and flexible level of protection. They are my favorite for dressage for this reason. They're soft, which never impedes movement, they lay nicely around cuts and scrapes that might be aggravated by a boot, and they provide simple coverage to cushion incidental interference. Quite honestly, for dressage, they are my favorite. Especially with my narrow-behind horse, I love that they are almost flush with the leg and don't contribute to him tripping himself.
That said, polos take longer to roll and wrap and are a pain to wash. They take some skill to put on, though it's not rocket science.
There are also dressage boots, which are generally fleece-lined and have a softer shell. I do have a couple sets of these for busy days, but nothing beats the all-around protection of a polo wrap that covers the horse from just below the knee to just above the ankle.
And that's my basic philosophy of leg protection. Boots and wraps have a very specific function. If we're going to use (or omit) a piece of gear on a horse, I think we need to have a systematic reason for it beyond "they're trendy"*.
*Unless we're talking about half pads, which I'm convinced are about 99% trendy anyways. Yes I have three.
PS I haven't covered bell boots at all. In my mind, they are shoe protection, not leg protection, and if you don't have a good understand of what I'm talking about, count yourself very lucky.
PPS As per the usual, I refer to all horses as he because I have a gelding and dislike mares. If that offends you, remember that mares offend me.