Protective boots, more risk then benefit?

Some of you may have seen an article circulating facebook recently about the pros and cons about protective boots for equine athletes. After a bit of googling, it looks like you can find it several places on-line, including this UK based website. Feel free to skim it for some further context.

Anyway, in my never ending quest to do right by my equine best friend, I have spent a good bit of time reading about protective boots. I know that at many barns, including mine, it is common practice to turn out horses in protective boots to reduce the risk of injury in turnout. When I first moved there I was given the option of providing boots for this purpose, or I could choose to go without. I chose to go without. My concern for turning out horses in boots is mainly based on my fear of overheating the tendons and ligaments, and making them more susceptible to damage from over-stretching and cell death.

Boots: Protecting or harming?

An excerpt from the article I linked, and also from TotalEquineVets.com, says the following about heat:

Boots can also trap a lot of heat beneath them.  This heat can have serious detrimental effect on tissue, especially of the superficial digital flexor tendon.  A study out of Japan showed that exposing tendon cells to temperatures of 48° C (118.4° F) will result in the death of 80% of the cells.  Additional studies have shown that temperatures in the distal limb tissues will reach that high or higher.  If boots are added and prevent heat dissipation or increase the temperature, thermal damage to the flexor tendons can result.  The best way to prevent thermal injury is to remove the boots as soon as they are no longer needed and to ice your horse’s legs immediately.”

Notice I didn’t link to the actual study- because I can’t find it. So take all of this with a grain of salt. I am in no way saying this is 100% scientific, I am basically trying to sift through information that is readily available, and use my noggin to make a somewhat educated opinion on whether I want to use boots or not.

That’s the thing with horses though. Good, credible research is EXPENSIVE, and there just isn’t a ton of scientific data to prove a lot of manufacturers claims. Same goes with supplements and my never-ending internal debate about which supplements are best. It would be easy if we had black and white results that were drawn through the correct scientific process, but unfortunately that isn’t usually possible.

Back to boots. I long ago realized that boots most likely don’t actually provide “support”, but I do think they can protect from traumatic injury (from hitting a jump, or stepping on themselves). I do feel that the risk of traumatic injury while jumping overrides the risk of trapping heat while actually riding. Rio is a gangly boy who doesn’t always have the best control over his long limbs. If he trips/missteps/stumbles in his efforts over fences, I would prefer to have protective boots on then go without. I do not use them in turnout because without the interference of a rider, I feel that he is much less likely to step on himself, and I do not want him wearing boots in the Texas heat for hours at a time that hold heat and sweat. To me, that risk does not outweigh the benefit like it does when we are actively jumping. I often do not flat in boots, but I kind of go back and forth on that one depending on the day.

Tough 1 ice boot- $33 on amazon and does the job well!

In summary, I have basically decided that I need to look for better ventilated boots for practicing to settle my fears about trapping heat, and make better use of my ice boots after strenuous rides. I do not judge anyone that chooses to use boots for turnout as I do not think there is definitive evidence either way- it really comes down to personal choice.

Anyone have any recommendations for well-ventilated boots??

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16 comments

  1. I’m pretty on board the “as little heat as possible” train when it comes to boots, which is something I’ve evolved to over time with personal experience. I do not turn out in boots (aside from bells) and I will not ever put a neoprene lined boot on a leg (like the ever popular Woof boots). Or memory foam (like the ever popular Equifits). I don’t do polo wraps anymore either after I noticed how much heat they trapped compared to my boots. I want a well perforated lining that doesn’t hold heat and allows at least some air flow. I used to hack bootless but Henry is crooked legged and interferes a lot at his ankles, so he has to have boots every ride. I think in the past 5-10 years the boots on the market have gotten a lot better about breathability (well, some anyway, even though the most popular ones seem to be shit when it comes to that). I like all my Majyk Equipe’s specifically because their liner is perforated, lightweight, and not neoprene, but there are several brands out there that have a similar design idea, depending on what type of boot you want.

    1. Yes- my head is where your head is, it just took me a bit to get there lol! Do the Majyk Equipe’s come in open front? I prefer open fronts if possible. I definitely want to check them out if you feel they are breathable. Boots that breath are at the forefront of my “need to buy” list currently.

      1. Yes they have a couple kinds of open fronts – hard shell or leather (and the leather have buckles or studs). I really like their liners, and they have dilatant foam technology built into most of their boots, which is another added bonus IMO.

  2. i honestly am not totally sure where my opinion falls in this regard. mostly ….. i’m actually kinda skeptical about the claims made about the negative effects (ie, cell death) of heat on the soft tissue at a cellular level. like it comes up often enough and plenty of reasonable people believe it as fact. i’m just….. skeptical. idk. i feel like a lot of human athletes wear neoprene or use gear that isn’t fantastically ventilated and it’s not a problem beyond the purposes of comfort. like maybe the surface temperature from ‘heat trapping’ doesn’t specifically correlate to internal core temperatures (even in the extremities)? i also tend to think that way more heat is created under the saddle vs under boots, but that somehow is less of a concern for cell death? really, tho, again: idk.

    mostly you sum it up pretty well with saying that it comes down to personal choice and just trying to do the best we can for our horse’s care.

    1. I absolutely get what you mean! Like, we wear leather boots to ride in and get super freaking hot and sweaty but it doesn’t seem to both my muscles/tendons etc, but at the same time I’m not stressing my legs as much as the horse is? Le sigh. I actually have this Flir thing that can tell you the temp of something, maybe I should do a little test for fun? One leg with a boot, one without, and compare their temps?

      1. ha i’d definitely be curious to see that! tho i think for the study you linked, they were measuring internal core temperatures vs surface temps of the leg – ie: ‘the tendon generates heat but dissipates heat poorly due to less circulation and therefore the heat needs to dissipate through the surface of the leg, which is blocked by boots causing the inner core temperature of the tendon to rise to dangerous levels.’ personally….. that sounds dubious to me haha.

        but what do i know, right? tho if you’re really curious, here’s another study link that references the ones cited in the article you linked to but that specifically warns that “the extrapolation of the in vitro and in vivo data on core temperatures to in vivo tendon injuries should be made with caution, as this has not yet been directly linked.” (http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/7055/1/214625_8474%2520Hopegood%2520Postprint.pdf, and they used IR temp readings in this study too haha, tho it’s somewhat confusingly applied….)

        really tho, i think the thing that piques my skepticism the most is the fact that the heat finding from the original studies was kinda a side note and only one of many findings – and specifically relating to ‘very thick, heavy’ boots. but somehow that’s the piece that has stuck out the most. that’s the part that has stuck around and turned into what feels a little bit like a marketing gimmick. i could be wrong tho. idk. but if you do decide to do a little extra testing i would definitely read about it!

        1. Thank you for that link, and such insightful comments! I also wonder if this “heat is bad” info circulatinf is just a way to get everyone to go buy new boots… because I wouldn’t put that past marketing companies. It’s just so hard to tell what info is good and what isn’t!

  3. I just had a conversation about this with my trainer tonight. In endurance boots are a big no. Pretty much nobody uses them. The thought process is a little about heat being trapped and concern of rubbing over the many miles and hours of use, but also about tendon shielding. If you shield a tendon from stress, it becomes weaker (Wolfs law in regards to bone but similar in tendons). Since we ask a lot out of our horses, we want all the tissues to be at full strength. So, no boots. All the top endurance vets say no to boots.

    Since I don’t know jumping very well, I asked Trainer tonight if I was over looking something by not using them. Her opinion was that specifically at my low level, there is absolutely no need for boots. Gem does not interfere and if she hits a jump then it is a good learning experience. Her 1* horse goes naked for stadium. For cross country, however, with solid obstacles she think I should have boots even at my tiny level to protect the legs against trauma from the jumps.

    Where do I stand? I’m a less is more kind of girl, so if Trainer says I don’t need them I won’t use them. If I ever do cross country, I’ll look into getting something.

    1. I had no idea that endurance horses didn’t use them, that is very interesting! I really appreciate your input, I am loving hearing other people’s opinions of this topic. I am also thinking that for flatting and low level jumps they may be a bit unnecessary at tgis point.

  4. I tend to agree with you along the lines of boots are for riding, but not for turnout. I used to put boots on for turnout a long time ago (although not with the current horse) and I am not sure about what kind of difference it made. I do keep Eli in bell boots 24/7, though. He likes to grab a heel a little too often otherwise. I currently use the Veredus for riding most of the time, definitely if jumping. I think during jumping exercises having a boot with a strike plate shielding the tendon is not a bad idea.

  5. Ad a dressage diva ( just kidding!) I only wear boots to go hacking. For dressage work I use Eskadron quilted wraps and then polos. The protection is good and the Eskadrons help with heat absorption and they seem to work well even in the heat. That is of no help for jumping however. I don’t use turn out boots just bell boots on the two front. Biasini is not shod behind and is pretty well behaved in turnout so that has worked well.

      1. They are not bulky. The squish up nicely. It is a time consuming process to put on the wrap and then the polos relative to the ease of just putting on boots. It is easier than putting on standing bandages but the technique is the same. I like it as it provides support and also protection without trapping heat. But it is a bit of a dressage thing I think I don’t think polos would b e good for jumping.

  6. I have the Majyk Equipe Infinity open front tendon boots for Leo and love them – his legs never once felt hot after a ride, and I’ve definitely noticed that some of the other boots used around my barn seem to trap some heat.
    I recently witnessed the protection-from-interference firsthand; my friend’s horse caught himself in the back of the leg during a lesson so hard that he actually ripped his boot off, completely destroying it. His leg, thankfully, was fine. That incident was enough to really make me believe in boots!

    1. Those are the ones I’ve been eyeing- glad to hear you like them. And wow, glad that horse was ok! My guy is a bit klutzy so I definitely think he needs them to jump when his brain cant keep up with his legs lol!

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