To boot or not to boot?!
Below are some points to consider when contemplating whether or not to use leg protection on your horse when you are transporting him in your float.
Anatomy of the Equine lower leg:
The equine lower limb is an unbelievably strong but very vulnerable structure. The lower leg has very little muscle tissue and whilst tendons are able to withstand incredible forces longitudinally when under load (such as merely standing) however if blunt force is applied vertically the results can be catastrophic and injuries can be potentially career or life ending.
The picture below clearly illustrates the complex structure of the ligaments and tendons. Most commonly injured are the superficial digital flexor tendon and the deep digital flexor tendon. These are often the result of over reaching or striking from other horses.
Types of leg protection:
The first consideration is whether or not your horse is accustomed to having all four legs bandaged. There is no point in creating a problem if your horse is likely to get irritated from having unfamiliar pressure on its legs.
Bandages and padding offers some advantages over transport boots but used incorrectly, can have nasty effects on the limb. Applied too tightly, bandages can create heat , pressure and inflammation, causing tendonitis like symptoms. Applied too loosely, they can become undone during transit.
Applied correctly, bandages do provide a more uniform degree of pressure around the leg, particularly the joints. Bandages should always be used with additional foam padding and should cover from just below the knee right down to the coronet band.
Bandages can assist in the reduction of fluid pooling around the fetlock joint, however they also represent a potential risk of injury if they become loose during travel or are put on too tight. Bandages that are applied too tightly can result in tendon damage, so make sure you get lots of practice before travelling, or have an experienced person apply the bandages for you. On long-haul trips, they should be checked regularly and re-applied at each stop (every 3 – 4 hours).
Travel boots have an advantage in that they are easy to put on and the risk of over-tightening is minimized. They are however quite bulky which some horses object to. Again, preparation is key, so ensure your horse is de-sensitized to the boots before travelling.
Make sure the boots are the correct size and don’t slip down over the entire hoof. They should sit low enough that they cover the coronet band.
Is your horse travelling on his own or with another? Travel boots may offer protection to your horse’s legs should his travel companion step on him or become agitated.
On particularly hot days, travel boots may overheat your horse’s legs. This can cause him to become anxious, creating more problems for you than they solved.
So which option?
It is recommended that you try each different option to establish what works for your horse. A good indication of your horse’s acceptance of boots and/or bandages is to determine their reaction whilst at the walk. Most horses will lift their legs higher (particularly the hind leg) with boots as they adjust to the sensation; but their reaction should remain reasonably calm.
Another good test is to tie your horse and then ask him to move sideways from behind. This will give you a good indication of the amount of balance he has whilst booted when transferring his weight (similar to cornering whilst driving)
Most importantly, each horse is different. Both methods are effective in protecting your horse’s legs when applied correctly. Of course, some horses can’t travel with boots or bandages, and therefore you have to take extra care whilst driving.