Sunday, July 19, 2009

Leg Protection

Leg protection can be used for one of two reasons: protection or support.

Now I am of the personal belief that a horse should not wear leg protection for support on a regular basis. Providing constant support to a horse's legs gives the leg no reason to develop strength of its own. Instead, developing a horse (and thus its legs) slowly and gradually over time allows for the horse itself to build up the strength necessary for its given career.

Protection, however, is another matter. When doing lateral work in dressage, spins in reining, or engaging in activities such as jumping, a horse may be prone to injuring itself, and in those cases protective leg wear may be necessary. A young horse may be particularly at risk of injury since they are still learning to balance themselves and handle their feet as well as the added weight of the rider (nevermind their own weight). On the other hand however, personally I will not put protective leg wear on a horse right away. I want them to learn to pick up their feet over a jump, to learn to negotiate their feet over rough terrain, or to move their feet efficiently while doing dressage. That is only accomplished through experience - a few bumps and bruises included. On that note though, all our horses are barefoot, and so their risk of injury is substantially lower than a horse who is shod. Also, I will add protective wear if/once I feel a horse has learned how to handle his feet sufficiently. As I said though, this is all just my personal opinion based on my own research and experience.

I will also add that I feel some over-protect their horses, just as we as a society seem to have the tendency to even over-protect our children or even ourselves. We are well-intentioned, however it is not always in our horses' best interests.

SO, a quick look at the (countless) varieties of leg wear available for purchase for our horses. There are so many it can be confusing to know what is used for what, why, and how. This is just a brief outline of the boots available on the market. Additional info is provided at the bottom. Do your research!

Bell Boots (protective)
Protect the front corronet band and heel should your horse overreach naturally, through collection, or other. Shoes (and studs!) can especially do extensive damage to a horse's heel or coronet band, so bell boots can be particularly useful in this case.

Skid Boots (protective)
These cup the hind fetlocks so as to prevent the fetlocks from burning against the ground in a sliding stop in a reining pattern or such (they can also be used on some racehorses who hyperflex and when they work in the mud, though most trainers prefer to simply wrap).

Knee Boots (protective)
Protect a horse's knees during activities where both front knees could come in contact with one another, such as during a reining spin. Where were these this spring, when our Thoroughbred was banging his knees on the roundbale feeder? ;)

Hock Boots (protective)
These are used for protecting a horse's hocks from things such as bed sores or injury in the case that he kicks in the trailer. (Bonus: the ones in the above photo are magnetic!)

Open-Fronted Boots (protection)
These are, as the name suggests, open-fronted - they protect the back of the cannon bone on the front leg, where the major ligaments and tendons lie. They are particularly used in jumping. The open front allows the horse to feel a rub on a rail, and the closed back allows for protection against a hind hoof hitting the front cannon upon landing.

Shipping Boots/Wraps (protection)
These may consist of polo wraps, exercise wraps over cotton quilts, or the specially manufactured boots that are ready to go with velcro straps - on all four lower legs. They protect your horse in the event he has to shift around (or the horse next to him does), and his legs get banged up. To be quite honest, I don't really know how useful these really are or how much protection they will actually warrant. If you've done your prior and proper preparation, your horse is standing calm in the trailer rather than fussing about. Shifting in the trailer during transport, even stumbling, does not typically involve a horse lifting one leg up and somehow clipping said leg on another leg (or another horse). If you're in enough of an accident that your horses really have to scramble (or worse, are overturned), a little cotton and nylon really is not all that effective. Don't forget these can also insulate the horse's leg and thus keep the leg fairly warm or even hot, which could potentially be hazardous to the health of your horse's legs, especially during long hauls.

Polo Wraps (protection)
Thick, plush, fleecy wraps that are used over a horse's front cannon bone and fetlock joint for protection against bumps and bruises, particularly with lateral work. In addition, they also provide added heat to the leg during work - which can potentially be harmful to your horse's legs. Some people use polos under the false illusion that they provide support - they don't. Care should be taken with any wraps that they are done correctly - else you run the risk of a bowed tendon (I've seen it!).
(Bonus: you even get a glimpse of how to wrap correctly, courtesy of the photo above - booya!)

Ankle Boots (protection)
Ankle boots cup the...well, the ankle (sort of obvious, I would think), which protects the sesamoid bones during interference of the legs, particularly at faster gaits and during jumping.

Sports Medicine Boots (protection/support)
These guys are designed to protect and support the structures of the lower front legs, cannon bone down to, and including, fetlock. These actually absorb impact (26 percent!), provide added comfort to the horse during works, and provide interference protection, thus reducing lower limb injury. I swear by these - we've got two pairs of ancient SMB's that have lasted years of use and abuse - they have always stood up well to anything and everything, and they are scientifically proven to benefit your horse. One downfall is that they do get pretty hot inside during a work, particularly on a hotter day. As excellent as these are, I still (personally) do not believe they should be worn every day, but they certainly should be thrown on if your horse is to work extra-hard some days. They can be used on both fronts (where most injuries occur and where most of the weight is borne) or on all four lower limbs.

Splint/Brush Boots (protection)
These protect the splint bones, as well as other structures, of the horse's front leg during interference.

Training Wraps (protection/support)
We used these on the track on specific horses - they were used as support on the front lower limbs and were wrapped over the cannon bone and fetlock joint. They consisted of a type of nylon-cotton material, though vet wrap was used in races. They may also be used (on both fronts and hinds) during training that is more intensive than usual.

Care should be taken when using any wraps or boots that they are used correctly. In fact, it is better they not be used at all than they be used incorrectly - under any circumstance. It is absolutely vital that a wrap is not done up too loose or too tight (too loose can allow dirt to get in between wrap and leg = bowed tendon), and that the wraps are spaced evenly. I have seen wraps done up incorrectly and thus manage to cut of circulation to the limb. Not pretty either. Boot straps need to be done up snugly, but not too tightly and neither too loosely. Have someone who has extensive experience wrapping correctly (and has had little to no incidence of injuries due to wraps) teach you how to wrap or put on boots.

Personally I keep my "bootage" down to a minimal - the absolute essentials, depending on the type of work I am doing with a particular horse. However, you have to make your own decision based upon your own research on the matter. Hope this helped you out though in figuring what is out there (I know I have certainly been confused in the past) - now it is up to you to do your research into which is best, if any, for your horse. In the mean time, here are a few sites from whom I collected some of the above information and/or whom may offer you further insight:

Hoof Boot Options - Barb Crabbe, DVM

Using Leg Wraps or Boots - Galadriel Billington
A quick synopsis of the why's and what's; her p.o.v. parallels mine as well and you will see she covers more thoroughly what I referred to at the commencement of this blog, as far as leg strength (etc) goes.

Now I have to disagree that your horse should be booted up every time he goes out for a spin - all our horses live out on pasture. Accidents happen, though in the 40+ years or so that my family or I have owned horses, I cannot recall a single incident where a horse of ours injured itself playing in the pasture. Not that it cannot happen, but is this a case of "an ounce of prevention", or is it more of a case of overdoing it?

Good luck and happy riding!

1 comment:

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