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.
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.
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??