Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fitting Open-Front Boots

Your horse's boots might not strike you as a very complicated piece of tack, and because of that their fit is often overlooked. We use boots to protect the horse's legs, but using them improperly can result in damage from the boots themselves, injuries from areas not covered by the ill-fitting boot or discomfort for the horse.

I have written previously about the different types of open-front boots (see post here) and this post will outline how to fit a pair of boots as well as the common mistakes that riders make when putting them on.

A correctly-fitted boot should be just shorter than the length of the horse's leg from the bottom of the knee to the bottom of the fetlock. The boot should cup the fetlock (if you are using a moulded plastic boot, ensuring that the fetlock area fits is especially important to prevent rubs), fit snugly up the cannon bone and then finish below the bony projections at the side of the knee. This keeps the boot from rubbing against the knee while at the same time giving the knee room to bend, which you'll need over the jumps!

The straps should be tightened so that they are just snug. You should still be able to squeeze a finger between the strap and the boot (your horse's leg will change shape slightly during each movement so you want to allow some give, and also let the blood circulate through the skin).

This is how a front boot should fit:

This is an example of the same boot (therefore the correct size for this horse) placed too high on the leg (unfortunately the knee and fetlock are not very clear because the legs are black):

This photo illustrates why there should be room left at the top behind the knee. Even with the cut-out section at the back, the boot pinches the skin at the back of the knee when it's partially bent:

Short open-front back boots are easier to fit since the length isn't a problem, but fastening the straps so close to a joint can be tricky because it's more difficult to hold the boot together with one hand while you do up the straps with the other. For that reason, the easiest way to put on a pair of back boots is by fastening them first over the cannon bone (loosely) and then sliding them down into place. 

You'll get a feel for how tightly to fasten the boots after a few tries. Because you aren't fastening the boots in their proper location, it's extremely important to check the final tightness every time you apply them because it's very easy with this method to over-tighten a boot by making it snug around the cannon bone. Always slide the boot in the direction of the hair growth; there's no need to slide them upwards before taking them off.

Common Mistakes
  • Boots that are too big: If the boot is so long that it runs up into the knee and extends past the bottom of the fetlock, it is simply too big and you need to try a different size or brand of boot. Nothing you do will make it fit properly.
  • Straps that are too tight: I see this more with boots that use buckle or stud closures because sometimes they need to be overtightened to reach a hole, which is one of the reasons why my personal preference is for velcro closures. Velcro can, however, also be over-tightened. If an indent is left on the leg after you remove the boot, or if you cannot squeeze your little finger under the strap, it's too tight. Open-front boots shouldn't need to be over-tightened to prevent them from slipping down the leg because the shape of the leg should prevent the boot from slipping if the straps are comfortably snug.
  • Boots placed too high: As seen above, boots that are too high can rub and prevent the knee from bending without pinching. Some boots might slide into place during the ride while others might stay too high, depending the the particular boot, leg and tightness of straps.
  • Boots placed too low: Putting the boots too low on the leg leaves the back of the leg with less protection from the back hooves and runs the risk of rubbing the fetlock if the narrow part of the boot meant for the cannon bone is placed there. The straps can also lie over the fetlock joint if they are too low. 
  • Boots falling off: This can be a problem with velcro boots on horses that have a lot of knee action. An easy solution if you wish to continue using velcro fastenings is to apply a layer of Vetrap around the boot over the closed velcro. Use Vetrap that matches the colour of the boot and wrap it no tighter than the fastenings on the boot; it can even be a bit looser because it is just there to keep the two sides of velcro from separating to the point of fully detaching.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Show Ring Ready's New Facebook Page

I'm pleased to announce that Show Ring Ready is now on Facebook! 

The blog will continue here as usual, but if you "like" the Facebook page, you'll get updates on posts I'm working on and when they're posted, easy-to-find diagrams and photos from the blog, as well as shared links to useful showing information. It's also yet another way to suggest future topics or to give feedback on the types of posts that you'd like to see.

You can find the Facebook page here:

On a separate note, it has come to my attention that the Blogger search box is not returning all of the results that it should be showing. If you're looking for information but can't find it through the search, try Googling showringready followed by your search terms.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Style Advice

As the summer approaches, some of you might be wondering about trends for the show ring in 2013. Frequent readers might have noticed that I try to stay away from mentioning particular brands or giving fashion advice outside of staying neat and within the rules. To be quite honest, I am hardly qualified to give fashion advice and I want to avoid giving anyone who stumbles onto any particular blog post here the impression that trends will matter to the judge once you step into the show ring.

If you are interested in show ring fashion and trends, I do have a recommendation for a fantastic site that is very on-trend but still worth a visit even if you don't care about fashion, because Carley is hilarious:

On a similar note, remember as the show season gets closer that you can send me photos for a turnout critique to make sure that you're presented at your best for that first show. You can send a photo (or more) of your horse and yourself in horse show attire to showringreadyblog@gmail.com

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Field Boot Quality

I was recently asked in an e-mail what makes a particular field boot suitable for local showing but not for 'A' circuit showing. With the wide variety of field boots available, I'm sure that there are others wondering the same thing and so I will offer my opinion here for anyone interested.

Keep in mind that I am only one person and as such, I have not had the opportunity to try out every brand of field boot, but I do listen and watch and can therefore give a few pointers.

There are roughly three levels of field boots out there: the really cheap ones (say $200 and under), the mid-range ($300 to $500) and the high end ($800+). There seem to be a lot of boots clustered within these price points and there can be quite a difference in quality within a single price point. This means that there is no clear answer on which boot will work best for you; you need to weigh the pros and cons of what each boot can offer you in terms of quality and features for your particular budget.

Low-quality boots tend to use low-quality leather. This leather is usually comparatively stiff and the comfort level may or may not be decent. If your boots can stand up on their own without boot trees, the leather is extremely stiff. The reason, besides comfort, why we don't want stiff leather for a field boot is because we want an extra-tall boot that will settle and form wrinkles in the ankle following the breaking-in period in order to give the ankle lots of room to flex. With very stiff leather, the boot might have trouble settling and therefore might be uncomfortable behind your knee or the stiff wrinkles might rub your ankles. The wrinkles also might not form very smoothly, one of the reasons why a boot might not look 'A' circuit quality.

Another problem with the lower-end boots is that the leather might be of a rougher texture and therefore not take a shine very well, even after a good polishing. If there are lots of tiny crevices in the leather, it simply can't reflect light the same way a smooth surface can. Additionally, a manufacturer might make their boots more cheaply by sacrificing height, making it very important to try the boots on and imagine what the height will be after the breaking-in period (expect at least a 1 1/2" drop). In cutting costs, a boot that is marked as "tall" might be the equivalent of a regular height in another brand. You want the back of the boot (don't look at the outside of the boot since they are made with a curved top that should cover part of your knee) to finish just below the back of your knee after the breaking-in period, which means that you need that extra height extending up past the back of your knee when you buy them. Too-short boots look very sloppy in the show ring.

Additional manufacturing details like the quality of the dye used or the quality of zippers, etc., cannot necessarily be judged at the tack shop and so it is important to do research to learn how a particular model of boots has fared for others over time if you want the boot to last. After all, there's no point in spending extra money replacing a cheap pair of boots if you could have spent a little bit more in the first place for boots that could have lasted twice as long.

Mid-range boots can definitely be acceptable for 'A' circuit showing, provided you're careful to choose boots that fit and are of good quality. The leather should be more supple than that of a lower-end boot, have a smoother finish and overall more refined styling. You can also get some nice features like gussets to make the boots more comfortable and a bit more forgiving as far as what you're wearing or how long you've been on your feet.

I'd say that the mid-range is probably one of the most important areas for which to do your homework because the price point allows for a wide range of qualities.

The higher-end boots will have the most supple leather and the most sophisticated styling. Some say that the leather used by some manufacturers is actually too thin and soft and therefore will wear through quickly on the inside of the calf, so that's something to consider as well. Manufacturers at this level should be eager to please their customers, however, so you might get better customer service than you would for a lower-priced boot.

In a nutshell, it will vary from brand to brand and there's nothing to say that you can't find a suitable boot for the 'A' circuit on a budget if you do your research and are willing to look at a few different brands. If you're lucky, you might find a high-end pair in your size in a used tack store or on clearance. If you can, try to get out to the tack shops in person to feel the quality of the boots, because it's easy for the companies to make a boot look nice and shiny in a photo online or in a catalogue, and a photo doesn't tell you how supple the leather actually is or how comfortable the boots will be to wear.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ideal Weight for Jumping Horses

The ideal weight for competition horses can be a tricky subject because there exists an ideal of a happy fat hunter. Overweight horses are not, however, healthy horses, and extra weight is an especially bad thing when jumping is involved because the force exerted on a single leg can be several times the weight of the horse. Managing the weight not only keeps the horse more comfortable and able to do its job properly, but it also helps to prevent injuries.

Most riders will look down upon a horse presented at a show that is too thin, but we're still in the midst of altering the general mentality towards overweight horses. In this post, we'll look at both sides as well as what I would consider to be an ideal weight, and why we aim for it.

Underweight horses

An underweight horse naturally elicits a negative reaction because we associate it with starvation. In addition, protruding ribs and hips are not attractive, and it could be very difficult to find tack that fits.

Not only is there an aesthetic problem with showing an underweight horse, but the horse is also likely to lack the energy to perform, especially over repeated classes throughout the day or across a week or more of showing.

Overweight horses

While overweight horses might be more aesthetically appealing to some, well-fed does not equal healthy. Excess fat cover can make it very difficult for a horse to stay cool while competing in the summer (all of that fat acts as insulation to keep the heat in), while at the same time making saddle fit difficult and increasing the chances of the saddle slipping from side to side. Overweight horses simply do not have the same stamina as a horse of ideal weight, even when ridden daily.

The biggest problem with an overweight jumping horse is that one front leg must withstand a force several times the horse's weight when landing from a fence. Any extra weight therefore puts extra strain on the bones, tendons, ligaments, etc., increasing the chances of injury.

Ideal weight

At an ideal weight, the horse both looks aesthetically pleasing and has the energy to compete, without exhausting itself carrying around extra pounds and the horsey equivalent of an extra layer of clothing in the summertime. The stresses on the legs and body are minimized by keeping the horse trim,

Evaluating weight

There are two systems of equine body scoring: the six-point Carroll system and the nine-point Henneke system. My preference is for the Henneke system, which is what we'll look at in this post.

The system uses six parts of the body, and an average is taken to come up with an overall score for that horse. Some aspects are visual while others require feeling that part of the body (for example, the ribs, which provide an easy indicator of when your horse is definitely overweight if you can barely feel them).

Here are a few resources to help you determine your horse's body condition score (BCS):

No research has been done, to my knowledge, to scientifically pinpoint the ideal body condition score for a hunter or jumper, but common sense can give us a good approximation. In my opinion, a jumper should be in the range of 4.5 to 5.5 since there is a lot of stamina required and the fence heights tend to be higher, putting more stress on the limbs. The vast majority of high-level jumpers fall into this range, and they are maintained there for a very good reason. For a hunter, because the fence heights are lower and the ability to maintain speed is not a factor, a BCS of 5 to a maximum of 6 should be acceptable.

Horses who are overweight should have their food cut back, preferably by providing smaller portions rather than feeding less frequently in order to maintain gut health and reduce the chance of ulcers forming. Good exercise is also important. Underweight horses (excluding extremely thin horses who need a special slow feeding program) might benefit from having constant access to hay, along with the addition of oil, alfalfa cubes and/or beet pulp to the feeding program.