Covering your horse’s legs with some kind of applied protection is common practice and—we would argue—a prudent one. Applying boots or bandages is a personal choice depending on the horse and the discipline. That same conversation can also quickly turn to the efficacy of such measures. No one argues that such precautions are bad (except as relates to heat build-up, discussed later). The only question is when such equipment is necessary.
Lower leg wounds, or open wounds that can be bandaged, should be covered where possible until a protective layer has formed over the wound. This protects it from further harm, mitigates the risk of infection, and promotes healing. Adding a bit of padding to the injury absorbs excess fluids and distributes pressure from the wrap. Change it as often as required based on the severity of the wound.
Likewise, travel boots are advised. Even if your horse is not a nervous traveller, they tend to fidget in their compartment. Hoof strikes of adjacent legs can easily occur. Travel boots prevent such behaviour from resulting in injuries. Even the smallest wound is an opportunity for infection that can turn into a much bigger problem.
For longer trips, bandages may be preferable. In addition to protecting the legs, when properly applied, they help prevent fluid build-up in the lower extremities.
This is a perfect entrée into a discussion about heat build-up. Boots or bandages can trap heat that, if not properly managed, can cause Injury to the lower limb. For that reason, an essential part of transporting horses is applying leg protection before departure, and removing it promptly upon arrival. If you notice signs of soreness, consider applying ice boots or electronic stimulation to promote healing.
Turnout boots are also common In winter months, especially if multiple horses are going to be out together. Their play and exercise can result in inadvertent injuries to the legs that turnout boots can help avoid, as well as reducing the risk of mud related infections.
Boots and bandages are common accessories when training or at shows. Some riders will confess that the they wrap their horse’s legs as much for looks as for protection. A clean jumper is not likely to injure itself but accidents can happen at any time.
A rail or hoof strike can be painful, or quickly turn into a more serious injury. This is why you are likelier than not to see boots or wraps at shows—both during schooling and in competition. While wraps do provide a more traditional look, boots are easier to apply and are less likely to cause injury due to incorrect application.
There are a variety of boots available for these purposes. Brushing boots guard cannon bones from knocks from adjacent legs where the legs “brush” against each other. Brushing strikes can happen often depending on the horse’s conformation, if it is tired, or if you’re training on uneven ground. These boots wrap around the cannon bone, guarding against strikes from the side or rear and, in the process, protecting against rail strikes. Most popular ones are closed with Velcro, which should be applied with the straps pointing to the rear to allow the tendons to sit in the correct position under the boot.
Fetlock boots protect the lower hind legs from brushing injuries where the bulge of the fetlock is susceptible to strikes from the adjacent hoof. The most popular varieties of these boots have a hard moulded shell and close with easy to apply and adjustable Velcro straps. The shell can be impact-resistant plastic or lightweight carbon fibre.
Fetlock boots are often used with tendon boots and popular with show jumpers for providing protection where needed the most. Tendon boots cover the back of the horse’s front lower legs. Their name comes from their role of protecting those tendons from strikes from the rear hooves, as well as cover the process above the hoof from adjacent hoof strikes. It’s recommended that fetlock boots have a soft lining to avoid repetitive motion abrasions. The combination of fetlock and tendon boots is preferred by some since it represents minimal but adequate leg protection.
Lastly, we come to overreach or “bell” boots. These cover the hooves to prevent overreach injuries at the source: covering the hoof with an impact absorbing material. Like fetlock boots, it’s recommended these be lined around the cuff to avoid chafing the skin above the hoof.
In every case, boots or bandages should be removed as soon as they are no longer required for the intended purpose. As mentioned earlier, enclosing a horse’s legs can raise the temperature of the lower limb, as much as 30%. The boots should be kept clean, just like every other bit of equestrian kit, and stored in a way that will assure they are ready for use when required; i.e. not damp, nor overly stiff or misshapen.
With that, you should be good to go.