As they say, a Lady cannot have too many pairs of shoes. Indeed, this is now the case for horses, as in the expanding market, more and more products are now available to protect your horses precious legs. Such developments are crucial to the competitive sport, but also to the typical owner, whom wants to avoid extortionate vet bills and the horror of box rest. A horse only has one pair of legs; well two if we’re being technical, but it is pivotal to protect them whilst still having fun hopping hedges and the occasional white board, though this tends not to be at the request of the rider.
Nowadays, the market is a minefield. Indeed, this is the case for everything and anything. If you are a seasoned pro and have owned horses for years, you will have inevitably watched in awe as feed bags have multiplied, jodphur draws bulged and tack rooms overflowed as your credit card has taken a major hit to get the best for your four-legged friend. You want a new bit, there are 10,000 to choose from. Need a feed to give your horse some zing, they will all transform your steady Cob into a Badminton winner over night. So let’s do a what’s-what guide to boots…
- The Over-Reach Boot – The perfect boot to prevent the cliché Cinderella moment ruining your fairy-tale ending on the cross country course. We all know shoes are expensive and tricky to find and they ping off with fascinating ease right at the wrong moment. You’re two fences away from the tightest corner on the course, the horse is full of running but the ground is slightly greasy. Pop, he over-reaches, throws a shoe. Sweet dreams, your hopes are over for that day. Even worse, the horse clips his heel or the studs catch his opposing leg and you have a nasty cut on your hands in the delicate pastern area… And we all know what a nightmare applying Sudocrem to a cut! There are so many varieties available though. With fur, without fur, double Velcro, single Velcro, plastic, material… Who’d have thought it would be such a headache? The older generation of rider will surely just stick with a traditional bell boot, or the Westropp, which makes such a soothing clip-clop noise when galloping along. Fur lined boots look beautiful, until you gallop through the water, dying the lovely white fleece a sludgy brown, which then permanently looks like a bedraggled cats tail. Ultimately, it is down to personal preference on the aesthetics of the over-reach boots, but in my eyes, they’re a must!
- The humble Brushing Boot – The primary purpose of this boot is exactly what it says on the tin, to
prevent the horse picking up a brushing injury, which can be pesky mid-season. They tend to be preferred for turn out, light schooling, lunging or warm-up work as they strive to guard against basic knocks associated with light work. Of course there is choice, it wouldn’t be a horse boot if there weren’t a million options with slight variation. Woof Wear are the original makers and how my eyes lit up when my first pony had a pair with purple straps to match our XC colours. Of course, the top riders now would not dream of flying round a cross country course in a simple pair of brushing boots, but back then, I thought they were the real deal.
- Tendon Boots – The foam-soled running shoe of the horse world. If I had a pound for every time I’d seen a pair of tendon boots in the show jumping ring, I would be a millionaire. The fitted boots protect the tendons running down the back of your horses leg and their shock-absorbing qualities are ideal for this phase. Check, suspensory and deep flexor are three phrases that give every horse owner and rider slight palpitations. Tweak, strain or in the worst case, tear one of these bad boys and you’re looking at a lengthy lay-off with injury. We’re talking box rest, walking out in hand and an uncertain future, as it is immensely difficult to salvage ligaments. Most heal with slight scar tissue, which is more prone to damage than normal, flexible tissue. Tendon boots aim to minimalize impact to this crucial area, so that you and your horse can be out and about competing over the coloured poles with less risk of injury.
- Traditional Bandaging – They look pristine, but are out of favour due to level of time taken to apply, which becomes problematic when you have three horses to exercise in a small time frame… And no-one wants a vexed groom! Yes, it is difficult not to be jealous, when you see the horses prancing around the arena at prize giving in their immaculate white bandages, but in practice, they are finicky. Too tight and you risk scaring. Too loose and they may slip. Basically, you have to be the Picasso of bandaging, or Zanie King to master the art of bandaging. That may be a slight exaggeration, but nowadays, with a boot for every occasion, for most horse owners, the ease of fastening two pieces of Velcro, hands down beats the meticulous wrapping and spirit level eye required to bandage, especially for a quick, thirty minute schooling session.
- Air-Cooled Cross Country Boots – When you need to be ice cold under pressure, your horses legs actually need to be ice cold. According to research, tendons are more likely to suffer injury when not warmed up and cooled down properly. Most tend to be water-resistant, which prevent them from becoming an extra weight for your horse to lug around after a splash in the water. The airflow vents allow a constant supply of air to circulate around the horses legs, so that when you are roaring down the gallops, your horses legs are staying cool. Again, for me, these are a must for cross country, as they combine protection and cooling technology.
- Sports Medicine Boots – A supportive hug for your horses legs. If your horse is prone to leg injuries, or little knocks, these boots are ideal. Like brushing boots, they cover the horses inside leg, but also cup their fetlock to give them extra support to prevent strains. The newer, unconventional varieties of these boots tend to be breathable so not to heat up the tendons when working.
As with anything, the boots you use are totally personal preference and whilst you may make a case for one boot, someone else will be it’s harshest critic. Often, your selection varies from horse to horse and is dependant on the intensity of work. Regardless, it is always handy to read up on products before making a purchase, as there is an infinite range available, with many subtle differences. Now, make your boot selection during the closed season and happy hunting!