When it comes to preventative measures, bell boots can’t be overlooked or underestimated. A horse that doesn’t overreach can still inadvertently catch himself when playing, and a front shoe that is ripped off can damage the hoof. Although the consistent use of bell boots can certainly reduce the risk of an injury from the horse grabbing himself, they’re not a cure for bad movers or forgers.
The science of bell boots continues to evolve. Manufacturers are spending a great deal of time and money attempting to create the perfect bell boot, with various designs to accommodate almost any horse, footing or weather condition.
For example, the no-turn bell boot, which has been on the market for several years, offers a bulb on the inside of the boot to prevent the boot from turning. Some designs don’t have the bulb, but they do have a shape that contours to the horse’s foot. This style is gaining popularity.
There are advantages to the no-turn bell boot. No turning may mean less friction. If the boots have front hook-and-loop closures (aka Velcro), the horse is less likely to step on the closures, since they stay securely in front of the hoof. But there are disadvantages. Fit is imperative. If the fit isn’t absolutely correct, the boots can cause harm. Additionally, when the boots don’t turn or move on the horse’s hoof, there is a greater chance for dirt buildup underneath.
It’s recommended that the no-turn boot hang one half to one inch off the ground, but each manufacturer gives its own guidelines, and these should be strictly adhered to.
It’s not just design concepts that are being explored. New, rugged materials are being incorporated into the bell boot of the new millennium. Rubber no longer dominates the market. In fact, some of our favorites are made of neoprene.
Some makers combine materials for durability. For example, the Classic Equine Dyno No-Turn Boot, which received excellent reviews from our testers, combines an outer layer of 2520 denier material, a foam center, and a soft nylon lining.
There are so many models from which to choose, it really becomes a question of what works best for your conditions - and the destructive ability of your horse. One gelding we know actually places one foot on top of the other and rips his bell boots off. He had transformed his corral into a virtual bell-boot cemetery. It wasn’t until we witnessed the act in progress that we understood how he was doing it and, consequently, realized rubber bell boots couldn’t withstand his punishment.
As for color, it depends upon your sport. Conservative might be best in most competitions, but we’ve seen sparkly ones that could dazzle your horse’s fieldmates. Of course, the biggest advantage to bright colors, even basic white, is that they’re easier to find if the boots come off in a large field or pasture.
The argument continues regarding pull-ons vs. Velcro. While pull-ons seem to last the longest, they still pose difficulty for some. Stretching the rubber and pulling the boot over the horse’s foot isn’t always the easiest thing to do. If you’re dealing with a nervous horse, or one that doesn’t like to stand still, it can be downright dangerous. Pull-ons work best when used on horses that need to wear them on a constant basis or those that work over challenging terrain, like event horses, that might inadvertently cause a closure to open.
However, if you decide to leave pull-ons in place, make sure you can easily slide two fingers around the inside of the cuff. Another area of caution: Some horses who are ’mouthy’ can actually pull them up and over the ankle. This will restrict blood flow and cause swelling. However, we mostly like pull-ons for pastured horses because they will stay in place. There are crafty horses who learn to step just right on the bell boot to cause it to come off - some are even clever enough to remove pull-ons, of course, but it’s not as easy as with a Velcro closure.
Velcro is often preferred by stables who have a lot of horses to rotate in and out of paddocks. It gets time consuming - and tiresome - to constantly apply and remove pull-ons. You may find your stable offers you no choice in the matter, if your horse must be turned out in bell boots.
Velcro also continues to offer the age-old problem of longevity. Generally speaking, if used daily, the actual hook-and-loop ’tackiness’ starts to lose its grip after about 90 days. Additionally, dampness, mud and water can cause some glues to break down, and even if the hook remains tacky, the patch/loop starts to come loose from the bell-boot wall. Some manufacturers double stitch to help avoid this problem, but thread itself can fall victim to the same ravages.
Vinyl-covered Velcro seems to fare the best, but with the constant pulling, and exposure to the elements, no thread is going to last forever.
If you have bell boots that you absolutely love, they can be taken to a shoe-repair shop to have the Velcro reglued and restitched. Some people have even had the Velcro itself replaced on a favorite boot.
Rolled tops help prevent rubbing. Fleece, while it looks as though it will provide softness and cushioning, can become like sandpaper. The fleece tends to attract dust and dirt, which becomes embedded, and suddenly you have a scratchy surface rubbing against the skin.
For shipping purposes, however, fleece boots can be useful. Just be sure to check for any shavings that may become embedded, and wash off any manure with soap and water as soon as possible.
We field-tested 23 different bell boots in varying conditions, including turnout, jumping, lunging and dressage. Our favorite boots encompass value for money, durability and ease of use. The good news is, even the boots the testers rated lower weren’t bad.
Plain neoprene boots weren’t great in bad weather, becoming water-logged and heavy. The neoprene covered in vinyl or canvas fared better. The rubber bell boots were easier to maintain and worked well in rain and muddy conditions.
Clearly the innovations being made in the industry are starting to pay off for the consumer. Lower prices on the multi-layered/material and no-turn bell boots are a welcome sight, and we are grateful that the manufacturers are investing in this important protective piece of equipment. While we had an odd problem with stitching here and there, overall this was an outstanding group of products.
For most riders, the basic rubber bell boot with a Velcro closure is the way to go. We’d save spending money on no-turns for times you just can’t risk the horse grabbing the closure if it’s twisted toward the back or your horse is bothered by the constant movement of traditional bell boots.
Pull-ons are still your most economical choice - and the only way to go when you absolutely can’t risk a boot coming off - but they remain buggers to apply and remove. They also are often your best bet if you’re frequently working in mud or water.
In pull-ons, we go with the Walsh boots for our top choice and best buy. You can’t beat its price, and the durability is excellent.
With no-turns, our testers loved the $25 Classic Equine CDN 100 Dyno bell boots. They did exactly what they were supposed to do - stay in place - and were durable and easy to maintain. They earn our best buy in no-turns, while the Nunn Finer’s Woof Wear T-Form is easily the overall best no-turn bell boot.
In bell boots with closures, we found an incredible number of good choices. It was also a tough call, with prices ranging from the basic JT International at $12 to the gorgeous La Selleria Italiana leather at $63. We also found an interesting array of styles in this group, including the durable, good-performing J Bar T Western Products Wrap-Around and the weighted Schneiders boot.
However, our testers’ overall favorites were the Nunn Finer Neotek Woof boots, with best buy going to the very durable $28 Toklat Originals.