Probably protective boots are the most obvious in this category of equipment and there is a wide range of boots aimed at protecting the horse’s legs. Boots of all kinds are now available in traditional fabrics such as woollen box cloth, felt or leather, and combinations of these, or in various synthetic materials; the padding may be polyethylene, plastic, nylon or polyester; straps and fastenings may be of synthetic webbing and velcro instead of leather straps and metal buckles; and where there is a shield which covers the inside of the fetlock and inside of the leg as, for example, on brushing or speedicut boots, fibreglass or other such hardened material will be used.
These must be the most widely used sort of boot in circulation and are intended to protect a horse that hits the inside of one leg with the opposite hoof. Usually the damage is low down on the leg; if it is higher up it is called speedicutting, in which case speedicut boots are available these are just like brushing boots, but are longer. Boots for the hind legs are longer than those for the front legs anyway, since the hind cannon bones are longer.
For brushing and speedicut boots, the protective hardened shield may or may not be padded on the inside. The boot itself fastens on the outside of the leg (as does any boot) so there is no risk of the horse’s action breaking or tearng the fastening and causing the boot to be forced off, or to slip down the leg and over the hoof, where it could obviously trip the horse and perhaps bring him down, with potentially disastrous results. The straps may be buckles, or clips on elasticated straps, or velcro, and they always fasten facing backwards; they are then less likely to become caught in undergrowth, or heather, or hedge growth when jumping, and come undone.
A nicely fitting speedicut boot should come just below the fetlock on the inside, and just above it on the outside of the leg, to just under knee or hock; brushing boots should be a little lower. Both these boot types should be wide enough for you to be able to fasten the straps easily without over-stretching or over-tightening them; if they are too long they will not be snug enough to be secure, nor should there be lots of strap left flapping around. The horse has to move very actively in these boots and if they are too tight or too loose they will either cause injurious pressure or they will rub. It is a point of fine discretion to satisfy the demands of fit, safety and comfort but basically the boot should seem firm, but should not be pulled tight on the leg.
Learn how to hold the boot in place on the leg whilst you fasten the bottom strap first, thus stopping the boot from slipping down the leg as you fasten the other straps – if it were to descend right over the hoof it could trip the horse should he move about. For the same reason, when undoing the boot undo the top strap first and work down. Make sure the edges of the boot are smooth and not wrinkled or turned under on themselves as this might create a potentially injurious pressure point, as with any item of tack or clothing.
Fetlock or ankle boots
A shorter version of the brushing boot, and are employed for the same purpose. They may have three straps or sometimes only one, and have the usual hardened shield covering the inside of the joint and a few inches above it.
Some brushing boots fit not only round and over the inside of the fetlock, but also behind and just under it to protect the ergot which is on the point of the fetlock. Heel boots will also protect these parts. They are used on horses doing fast work when the fetlock is often pressed right down to the ground with the force of the speed, and/or when landing from a jump (some show jumpers also wear them) when the ergot and underside of the fetlock may be injured.
A fetlock ring boot
Generally fitted only to the leg which needs protecting. lt is a rubber ring fitted just above the fetlock and acts simply by keeping the opposite, offending leg away from the leg it is on. On some horses it works well, but others may be upset by the way the ring ‘interferes’ with their action; horses have also been known to trip because of this.
A sausage boot
This is not the same thing: it is much thicker, and is fitted round the pasterns to prevent the horse bruising his own elbows on the heels of his shoes when he lies down.
Are very simple, and are effective on horses whose brushing and interference are not too bad. A Yorkshire boot consists of a piece of thick, rectangular cloth, usually felt, with a tape sewn along the middle of its length. The material is straightened out and placed round the leg so that the tape (on the outside) is tied just above the fetlock (only tightly enough to keep it up, not to press on the tendons); then the upper part of the felt is folded down over the tape and the lower part, giving double-thickness protection.
Like heavy-duty brushing boots, but often come right down over the pastern and coronet with a fastening around the pastern to stop them flapping around. They can be fastened with conventional straps, or with bandages which can be sewn on, or secured by means of strong adhesive tape, or both.
Each like a rubber bell in shape, these fit round the pastern and protect the heels and coronets. However, fitting them is not as easy as the experienced make it look! Hold the horse’s front hoof between your knees as a farrier does, turn the boot inside out and, with the bottom edge towards you, and gripping hard to this all the while, haul it on over the hoof. Once its top is around the pastern, turn the boot down the right way, making sure the turning is smooth and even to reduce the chances of rubbing. Even so, these boots can rub sensitive horses round the pastern.
There is another type which is easier to put on, where each boot is split down one side and then secured round the pastern with a leather strap.
A continuing problem with over-reach boots is that they frequently turn upwards and inside out duringwork in this instance they become not only useless but irritating, and sometimes a positive danger as occasionally they can cause a horse to change his action so much in his efforts to avoid the boot, that he comes down. To obviate this, there is a type of boot which consists of a number of overlapping leaves, or ‘petals’ of tough synthetic material, threaded on to a plastic strap which then fastens round the pastern. Extra petals can be bought in a pack separately, to make up size or to replace any petals that are damaged. These boots are more expensive but are much superior to the ‘ordinary’ sort.
Over-reach boots are a wise precaution when travelling, since the horse may adopt all sorts of unnatural and weird actions and postures in an effort to keep his balance; some people put them on the hind feet, too, to help avoid treads. Strictly speaking, horses should be travelled with proper partitions between them but some are not, and are then in danger of treads from their companion as well as from themselves. Coronet boots can be worn instead of over-reach boots for travelling. These are usually of semi-circular leather and strap round the pastern, but they are not really as effective as over-reach boots.
These sometimes cause misunderstanding. They do not, and cannot in any way support the tendons: what they are for, is to stop the horse hitting into the back of his lower front legs with his hind hooves. For this reason they have a thick pad which fits down the back of the tendons, often with a leather-covered bar-shaped pad on the inside running down both sides of the tendons which helps keep the boot in place. They strap on like brushing boots, and some designs combine brushing and tendon boots in one article.
Padded down the front rather than the back, to protect the front of the cannon bones against knocks when jumping.
These are a boon on busy travelling days. Instead of having to fit knee pads, hock boots and over-reach boots on maybe all four feet, and stable bandages over thick padding – which is all quite a palaver! – travelling boots do the whole job in one easy-to-apply operation. They provide full lowerleg protection, and are made of padded material, usually synthetic these days, because this has a degree of flexibility thus allowing the leg to move, particularly as each boot extends from above the knee or hock right down over the coronets and heels; generally they fasten with velcro. These boots enable you to do in five minutes what could take half an hour for a novice at least! However, choose carefully, as some of the cheaper ones are not too effective, being rather light on padding and of not very tough material.
These come in two types, one intended for travelling, the other for exercise and called skeleton knee pads. Obviously they come in pairs, each pad consisting of a padded upper band to which leather straps are attached, usually with a strong elastic insert. From this pad a hard leather shield extends downwards; the travelling sort. is surrounded by woollen cloth and is bound with braid, usually in colours to match the day/travelling rug. The top strap fastens securely, but not tightly, above the knee and there is a bottom strap which you should fasten as loosely as possible, so it does not interfere with the horse’s leg action. The skeleton exercise pads have no woollen cloth and are lighter.
When travelling, knee pads provide some security against the horse banging his knee joints, usually when loading or unloading, or injuring them should he come down. The skeleton pads protect the knees should the horse slip and fall when exercising. Some people like to use knee pads as a protection when jumping, but for this their use is controversial: those against maintain that they are dangerous as they are likely to slip down the leg during such athletic activity, unless the top strap is fastened really tightly in which case the horse will not be working in comfort, and if this strap is too tight it can actually injure the leg.
Protect the point of the hock against knocks when travelling or, in some cases, in the stable. Generally, however, it is not a good idea to leave them on for any length of time: for example, for horses which scrape their bedding to one side and lie on the hard floor as a few perverse individuals insist on doing, the boots would have to be fastened tight enough to stay on all night and the pressure could injure the leg; and if they were to slip down the leg they could certainly annoy, frighten and trip the horse. Hock boots are made of wool or synthetic cloth, bound and with a blocked leather cap for the point of the hock; they fasten by means of two straps across the front of the hock, top and bottom.