Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Polos, Boots, and Leg Protection

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.

dressage boots
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"*.

polo art!
*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.


  1. I'm with you, some sort of leg protection gets slapped on for EVERY ride. I look at it as an insurance policy: I'd rather take a couple extra minutes to put on boots or polos than be treating an interference injury or bruise or cut from whacking a jump. I do ride with some old-school folks who never use leg protection because of the outdated notion that horses' legs become 'dependent' on wraps or boots and thus more prone to injury. I call BS on that one! I also really like cheap-o neoprene splint boots for trail riding as they provide good coverage, but are soft and flexible and don't hold water. Plus I don't care if they get snagged on a thorn bush, etc.

  2. I use boots/wraps for a slightly different reason. Mainly, Pig has old windpuffs in his fetlocks, and wraps help minimize the fill as well as protect. I use boots in rain or on trail rides. He lives in bell boots 24-7 because he has a tendency to clip his coronet band or step on his own feet and put holes in them (so graceful, much majesty, wow).

  3. Miles only wears bell boots on the flat because he can't wear boots in the show ring. When jumping, he always gets either Climatex polo wraps or open front boots -- just depends on what's clean and how much time i have to boot him up.

  4. i'm with ya on the hairy eyeball towards anything claiming to 'support' the horse. my mare gets splint boots up front bc she has one place (on her splint bone) that she is constantly opening back up again - and sometimes i even wonder if she should be booted there for turnout... there's a spot on her rear fetlock that she occasionally swipes, but mostly i leave her rear legs unbooted unless we're going cross country.

  5. I'm in the "too hot to boot" camp. I never use neoprene (too hot), and polos maybe occasionally in the winter. I've got a pair of the Magyk Equip boots and they're supposed to be ultra breathable... maybe better than some, but Paddy's leg is still much hotter under the boot than without. He's not prone to hitting himself, and we don't jump, so I'd just rather not take the chance with heat buildup. We don't even wear boots to foxhunt - too much of a chance of them getting snagged or slipping. Maybe if we lived in a cooler climate I'd be more likely to boot, and I definitely would if we jumped, but for the most part bare legs are the way we roll.

    1. I take issue with the "heat degrades tendons" thing. Mainly because of my own experience as an athlete. Wearing clothes or shoes doesn't seem to damage my own tendons. Never even heard of such a thing. And the doctor thinks it's totally crazy, too.

      I realize I'm comparing humans with horses, but the systems are very similar. It's going to take more than that study to convince me to abandon protection against far more damaging knocks and scrapes.

    2. Oh interesting!! I demand more science. It's entirely possible that the research I skimmed was more correlations vs causation--a higher workload would produce hotter legs and naturally horses in hard work are going to get injured more than those who do nothing. THAT I had not considered.

      Anyone have science available to obsess over?

  6. I put boots on in the winter and no boots in the summer due to the heat. If I had control over the weather (or my schedule), I'd use boots all the time. Luckily TC doesn't come close to interfering. If he did, I'd probably use them regardless of the heat. I use them on Rico no matter what, he has some breathable cross country boots (that I use for dressage haha) that don't entirely eliminate the heat buildup but they do help.

    I agree that the idea that anything supports the tendons of a 1200lb horse is bullshit. Before I subscribe to that idea, I'd need to see some research on it.

  7. I've always been a proponent of using some kind of protection, and I used to be in the "all polos, all the time" camp. However, after living in Texas and riding in the Texas heat, I became less of a fan of polos and a bigger fan of boots. Aside from the convenience factor, I personally believe that polos do increase heat on the leg, moreso than boots (IMO). Roger is a clumsy 5-year old OTTB, so he gets boots on all 4s for every single ride, as well as bell boots because homeboy loves to throw shoes. I truly believe that wearing 4 boots when we fell and got stuck in the roll top is what saved his legs and possibly his life, so now I'm super anal about his leg protection. IMO, I think polos are kind of a pain to wrap and roll and keep clean, and I prefer open-front boots like Eskadrons with their rinseable neoprene lining for their convenience and better protection.

    But, different strokes for different folks.

  8. I use dressage boots on the front on both horses because they're easy and I'm lazy. And they make me feel like a DQ, which counts for something.

    We had to wrap on the equestrian team for flat and over fences practices, maybe I just got burned out on all the wrapping and rolling and rerolling!

  9. I am one of those who doesn't boot up every time. I *hate* polos with a passion because they just seem like expensive rolls of fabric. In reality, they don't do much for a horse other than protect from minor nicks. If a horse were to really gouge himself with them on, it'd rip the fabric or unroll.

    I prefer to use dressage boots and SMBs. I don't use them on hot days because I don't like my mare having hot legs. She does wear bell boots when we ride about 95% of the time, though. SHe's never over-reached or anything, but I'm just neurotic about it.

  10. Mo gets at least his Woof fetlock boots every time, which I actually really love, because he interferes behind and they don't cause much heat buildup at all. Otherwise, I'm fickle--polo wraps, dressage boots, XC boots, open fronts, whatever suits the ride and I have time for. Sometimes he doesn't wear anything up front, if it's hot and we're not jumping. I love boots. I'd have a hundred pairs if I had the budget.

  11. You wrote this so you could use you snazzy polo picture. I'm on to you... ;)

    1. It certainly didn't hurt. ;-) Maybe I took the picture because I'd already written the post.

  12. Not sure if you've ever read the white paper on Equine riding Surfaces, but they go over boots/wraps for protection and point out that support boots were shown to actually support fetlock tendons while wraps did nothing. Of course, they added that more investigation would be needed, etc. If you're ever bored, have a read:

    1. Actually they cite sources that show these results. Misread it at first :)

    2. Fascinating! I'll need to look at this further...

  13. My horse doesn't interfere so we don't wear boots unless we're jumping, in which case, I use open fronts for the very reason you describe. I do also use bell boots, not for the shoes (tho he does have front shoes/pads) but for the over reach he is capable of on landings so he does grab the bulbs of his front heels. I use it for that, not the shoe which he's only lost one once in 4 yrs... and it was in the pasture. I never use polos, but own one pair jic.

  14. Starting in an Arabian show barn with halter horses, babies on up, it is ingrained in my mind from days gone by- ALWAYS PROTECT THE DAMN LEGS!!!! Be it wraps, polo's, or boots of some kind- ALWAYS PROTECT THE DAMN LEGS!!!!! Lunging, turnout, riding, driving or long line work. Say it with me now... And does anyone see the irony in this? Always protect the legs, except when schooling for halter. That's where they whip the horse because it doesn't leave any welts. Less soft tissue to swell up that way. *rolls my eyes*

    I like the look of well wrapped legs with polo's. Boots? Some look nice enough, but they are way more functional. I too have an arsenal of both. I have polo's still new in the package along with matching saddle pads...

    Ponyman has some of the Roma open front boots for driving along with bell boots. He looks like quite the trooper all geared up and ready to go. I just wish I could find another few pairs in white, pony size please. One as spares for the front when these finally bite the dust one as a set for the back and a spare for the backs as well.

    I've also improvised, using splint boots for shipping. Something is better than nothing.

  15. I ride 99% of the time unbooted. But I also ride 100% of the time in open, brushy pasture land. The kind of brush that gets stuck in boots. Plus if I want to ride through the pond I want bare legs.

    When I had Don and rode in an arena... I threw cheap splint boots on most rides I guess, but not because he really needed them. He didn't interfere, I just like the way boots look. I own a pair of cheap splints, a pair of polos, and a pair of cheap leather open fronts with neoprene lining.

    He was shod up front though, when he was unshod I didn't put boots on him come to think of it. I think metal clad hoof is far more dangerous than bare hoof.

  16. I use fuzzy dressage boots every ride, unless we're going for more than an easy hack around the farm, then I change out the hinds to ankle boots. Penn interferes front and back quite badly right now- he likes to cross his legs when going straight.... so until he builds up more strength and education to travel under himself and straight, boots it is.

    I used to use polos- until Mikey interfered so much behind that he wore a hole in them by hooking his shoe nails in the wrap. Ankle boots were easier at that point. Now it's habit to use boots.

    Just from personal experience, I am all for the tendon support boots. Mostly only Professionals Choice SMBs. Mikey had an old bowed tendon from the track that worked fine for years. I swapped him out for a set of open front boots for SJ and Dalmars for XC. He rebowed the tendon within a season (no increase in workload or height). I never, ever jumped him again without his SMBs, and even made sure he wore them any time he wasn't flatting in the sandbox. Never had another problem with them.

    A side note about SMBs- most people can't put them on correctly. It pisses me off because at that point you're just putting sweat boots on their legs. They should NOT be lumpy, loose, uneven falling down boots. The logo should be smack on the front of the cannon bone (NOT on the inside of the leg!), and the 3 short straps should have even and equal pressure/squeeze. The long strap doesn't get wrapped around the pastern (where it doesn't work), it gets pulled up and across the front of the boot. /rant. Sorry, that nails one of my biggest pet peeves!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...