On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Do sport boots hurt horses more than they help?
It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Do sport boots hurt horses more than they help? What is the time limit to keep them on? Do they cause damage to the horse’s legs? Read further to find out!
Myth: Sport boots hurt more than they help
Myth or Fact: Both
Sport boots, also known as splint boots, are a performance option that protects the horse’s cannon bone and the anatomy surrounding that area. These boots can safeguard the horse’s lower legs from bumps, bruising, and soreness.
The most common injury site for a horse across every discipline is the lower legs. This is because of the lack of muscle and soft tissue in the area. The injury may be immediate such as jumping over and hitting a fence, or it may be more gradual from repetitive movement and the demands of flexion and framing.
So wrap them, right?
Dr. David Marlin, in an interview with 224 Equestrian, states that it’s not that simple. Sport boots can cause just as many issues as they may solve. In this interview, Dr. David Marlin summarizes the research. He first touches on protection and support. He states there is no research proving that sport boots actually provide support. He also notes that if applied too tight, they limit blood flow, create pressure points, reduce range of motion, and transfer strain and load from one area to another. These issues also increase the risk of injury.
Other points of discussion Dr. David Marlin brings up are the weight, wetness, and heat of sport boots. The added weight of the boots in an area that already has no musculature changes the energy and force required to move the lower leg. If the boots are wet, they weigh twice as much. Not to mention that if they’re wet that can increase the risk of rubs, abrasions and infections.
The last important point that is made in this interview is that heat hurts. Multiple studies have shown an increased level of heat with sport boots that reaches a temperature that will kill a majority of tendon cells. As early as 1994, research was showing that the heat created from sport boots can create tendon injury. Research suggests that sport boots should not be worn during rigorous exercise work outs or in hot climates.
Horse and Rider put out an article stating that most riders are utilizing sport boots more for fashion than functionality. They state that sport boots have many instances where they have “gone wrong.” In their article, Horse and Rider point out that new research is showing that boots can have detrimental effects on tendons and ligaments. This article breaks down the pros and cons of sport boots.
One positive impact of sport boots includes protecting the legs from trauma created from the horse itself. This may be due to overreaching or conformational issues. Another pro is protection against external factors such as a jump rail, bushes, or rocks. Lastly, there is research showing that sport boots can provide proprioceptive feedback to your horse. The sport boots promote better coordination by stimulating messages to your horse’s brain about where his feet and legs are. One research study showed that musculoskeletal imbalance that created lameness was improved by applying a single boot to the weakest leg.
One con of sport boots included in this article is that they easily cause trauma to the skin, which can cause bigger complications such as cellulitis or proud flesh. Another negative effect is that the increased temperature can cause damage to the underlying tendons and ligaments. Research showed that boots with fleece lining and polo wraps were the options that created the highest risk for tendon injury from boots.
Veterinarian and Equine Dentist, Vikki Fowler, wrote an article discussing her experience with sport boots as a veterinarian. The experience she uses is one dealing with equine lameness in a research setting. She was in a lab where a cadaver horse was skinned to show the musculature, tendons, and ligaments of the horse. They stimulated the horse to walk, trot, and canter. When heat was applied, it was easy to see the deterioration to the tendons and ligaments since the horse’s skin had been removed. Dr. Fowler states the the only reason a horse needs to be placed in boots is if they have a great chance of trauma from a jumping rail or something of that nature. Otherwise, leave them off.
Overall, there are pros and cons to using sport boots. If the risk of trauma to the leg is high and you want to utilize sport boots, find a boot made with mesh rather than fleece. Do not use the boots on days the temperature is high. Cool down the legs after each use by hosing or icing. Do not leave the boots on for extended periods of time while waiting for your next turn in the ring.
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