Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jumper Boots

The seemingly wide variety of boots worn by jumpers can make choosing a set for your horse a daunting task. Luckily, the basic boot is essentially always the same, with the styling, materials and colours varying.

Because jumpers need to be careful, we don't want the horse to have a lot of padding on the front of any of the legs. If the front of the boot is padded, the horse will not be able to "feel" any rubs and might become careless. For this reason, we almost always use open-front boots. Open front boots protect the tendons at the back of the legs from the horse over-reaching and protect the inside of each leg from the horse hitting itself.

While we are focusing on boots for the front legs, open-front boots are also available for the hind legs should your horse need protection there, too.

Here you can see the difference between an open-front boot (on the right) and a closed splint boot (on the left).  The open-front boot leaves the front of the leg exposed except for the leather straps while the splint boot has neoprene wrapped around the entire leg to cover the front as well. Note that this horse is also wearing bell boots. These are not often used on jumpers unless they are absolutely needed because, again, the horse might not feel rubs with them on.

There are many different styles of open front boots available depending on your preferences and your budget. The most expensive, and nicest-looking for the show ring, are usually the leather ones while those with hard plastic outer shells and neoprene lining are usually the cheapest.

Here are the standard materials used for the boot itself:

Leather - While leather boots look very nice, keep in mind that the narrow leather straps can dig into the legs of some sensitive horses. They do tend to require a thorough cleaning after each ride because the inside of the boot will acquire a coating of grit and sweat. There should be elastic incorporated into the straps to allow some give. Leather boots are also available with sheepskin linings, which, while gentle on the horse's legs, can be difficult to keep clean.

Plastic Polymer With Neoprene - These boots have a semi-rigid plastic shell with a neoprene lining. The hard shell protects against cuts and knocks. Since the shape of these boots is not adjustable, they can rub some horses' legs. Certain horses react poorly to the neoprene, in which case these boots can be used with a sheepskin lining instead. While they are available in almost all of the colours of the rainbow, they really should be black, brown or white for the show ring.

Plastic Polymer With Memory Foam - These boots have a similar semi-rigid plastic shell for protection but conform to the legs better than neoprene due to the memory foam lining. They are also an option for horses that are allergic to neoprene.

Another factor in choosing the right set of boots for your horse is the type of closures. Here are the basics:

Buckle - Buckle closures stay done up very well but some horses can't tolerate those narrow straps. If the straps have many tightly-spaced holes, the boots will fit better than a pair with fewer, widely-spaced holes that might not correspond exactly to your horse's leg circumference.

Tab/Stud closures - These boots have tabs with keyhole-shaped holes that hook over metal studs on the boot. While these closures tend to stay on very well, I have found them not to fit most horses as well as I would like. There are usually only two or three different tightness options and the boots will be too tight or too loose if your horse is not one of those three sizes!

Velcro - Velcro on elastic is, in my option, the best in terms of fitting because there are no set sizes. The downside to using velcro is that it can come undone more easily than the other closures, especially in muddy conditions or on horses with a lot of knee action. If your horse tends to lose boots, sometimes wrapping Vetrap or tape once fairly loosely around the boot is enough to keep the velcro secure. Velcro straps come in different widths; the elastic is thin enough that it really doesn't matter how much of the leg they cover.

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