Dr. David Marlin, a highly respected veterinary researcher from England, made a thought-provoking presentation about equine boots at the U.S. Eventing Association?s convention last December. He said that boots aren?t created equally, that some do their jobs better than others and some do a surprisingly poor job.
He didn't identify any of the brands that he ? and other researchers around the world ? have tested, but the point of this research has been to determine the strengths and shortcomings of more than a dozen different types of tendon boots available in this country. So his work offered no specific insight into the models in our field trial.
?No Other Reason?
Dr. Marlin believes that the primary function of equine boots is to provide protection ? from brushing (interfering), over-reaching, puncture and concussion. ?In fact,? he said, ?there really is no other reason to put boots on horses.?
Dr. Marlin warned against ?support boots,? because he said that they restrict the leg?s natural range of movement. He said that studies have shown the lower leg needs to be able to hyper-extend in order to load efficiently for the next stride. If it cannot, the result is usually fatigue, which often leads to injury of the digital flexor tendon or the suspensory ligament.
?We always think we can improve the horse, but we often find that we make things worse, rather than better,? he said, referring to boots that lack flexibility or restrict movement. Dr. Marlin also warned that He's seen many more injuries caused by boots adjusted too tightly than by boots adjusted too loosely.
Erin Gross, marketing coordinator at Professional?s Choice, the most popular manufacturer of support boots, takes issue with Dr. Marlin?s assertion. She said that their VenTech SMB Elite boots ?help prevent injuries by supporting the entire suspensory apparatus of the limb. The VenTech Elite SMBs absorb a portion of the shock as the horse hits the ground, therefore lessening the stress on the ligaments,? citing a research study.
She sent Horse Journal a copy of the study, done at Oklahoma State University in 1998, on which they base their claim. The study was done in a laboratory using fresh cadaver limbs, at forces that the researchers noted were significantly less than what they estimate to be the force with which the limb of a live horse galloping or jumping hits the ground. Their results did show that the Professional?s Choice SMB boots absorbed the negative energy approximately 10% to 26%.
But these researchers wondered why there was such a large range, using the same cadaver limb with boots applied by the same researcher. They noted in their conclusion that studying these effects in the field is extremely difficult, but they concluded their study with this caution: ?Experimentation with live horses at speed, on the surfaces where horses compete, will be necessary to confirm that sport boots do, indeed, reduce fetlock hyperextension and subsequent flexor and suspensory strain.?
The tendency of the boots to restrict movement is one of four factors Marlin suggested riders should use when choosing appropriate tendon boots.
The second consideration is weight. His most recent study of boots showed a variation of 5 oz. among different brands, an important consideration because heavier boots require horses to work harder, leading to earlier fatigue and potential injury. That doesn't sound like much, but it's about the same as the difference in shoe weights, and everyone knows the effect that can have on stride length and height. He noted too that some boots absorb water (from water jumps, puddles, rain or wet grass), and that water can more than double the weight of the boots. (Think of trying to run if your shoes are wet.)
A third consideration is whether the boots dispel heat or insulate the leg. Dr. Marlin said unequivocally that boots should dispel heat. A study in Japan showed that half of tendon cells heated to approximately 107?° for five minutes died. Since a horse's body temperature can easily reach 102?°-plus working in a ring on a 90?° summer day, the potential for injury from overheating tendons encased in a black boot should be obvious.
Fourthly, boots that absorb water or don't dissipate heat can also cause discomfort and make the thin skin on a horse's leg soft and prone to infection and abrasion.
Some of the boots in our field trial did become markedly heavier when wet. Several of the manufacturers touted their products? ability to dispel heat, but none have any third-party tests to prove it.
That's one reason why Dr. Marlin, other researchers, and even some manufacturers are calling for tendon boots to be subject to standardized testing or some kind of a rating system for these factors, much like helmets and crash vests. So far, though, that's only a suggestion.
For everyday training, Dover Saddlery makes two similar products that are nicely designed and perfectly priced ? the Pro Sports Boots with white fleece lining and the
Pro Sport Boots with neoprene lining. Both sell for the bargain price of $39.99.
With two hook-and-loop straps, they?re extremely easy to put on and take off, and the fleece boots can be hosed clean, brushed clean or machine-washed. it's just a question of lining and if you need four boots, as Dover doesn't make hind boots in these models.
We've been a fan of Woof boots for years, and their Brushing Boots didn't disappoint us. At $59.95, they?re durable and easy to safely put on and take off. They?re also machine-washable.
EquiFit's All-Purpose T-Boots ($98) are a quality product. The T-Foam molds nicely to the horses? legs, and the boo
t seems well-designed to provide every day protection. We also liked that the T-Foam liner separates from the outer lining to allow machine-washing.
The ThinLine Sports Boots ($99/$105) aren?t as flexible and soft-feeling as the EquiFit boots, but horses appeared to wear them comfortably. We don't care for the raised strike panel on the ThinLine boots, both for appearance and for functionality, but some people will like that very much.
The R.E.S. Sport Boots ($46) disappointed us. We found minimal allowances for dispelling heat, and we worry that the four straps (one of which lies below the fetlock joint) could easily be adjusted too tightly. However, you can replace the original straps with $5 replacement straps, in a variety of colors.
Like the Professional?s Choice VenTech SMB Elite boots, the R.E.S. Sport Boots envelop the leg, from just below the
knee/hock to below the fetlock joint, and feature a sling strap that fits underneath the fetlock joint, to provide joint support, says the manufacturer.
Both the Woof Ultra and the EcoGold boots are geared toward upper-level competition.
We very much like the front Woof
Ultra Boots and the hind EcoGold boots. But the hind Woof Ultra Boots and the front EcoGold boots e
ach have design fe
atures that we
didn't care for.
The front Woof Ultra Boots close easily and effectively. The hind boots, however, have an elastic attachment between each of the three closures and the outer lining. This elastic junction, combined with the stiffness of the Kevlar outer fabric, makes them difficult to adjust tightly enough. We found the hind boots slipped on two different horses while cross-country schooling and in competition. The front Woof boots didn't slip at all.
The EcoGold front boots have extra-long front straps, which close around the inside of the leg (attaching on the strike pad). The straps encircle about
three-quarters of the leg, with the ends wrapping around toward the front and not sticking as tightly to the closures as we?d like.
John da Silva of EcoGold said that they designed the front boots with extra-long straps to allow for greater flexibility within the sizes, adding that they have had no complaints about the long straps coming loose.
The EcoGold hind boots have more customary length straps, and we really liked that the padding wraps around to the front of the hind leg, protecting the shins.
Remember that riders tend to overuse tendon boots, often putting them on their horses every day in the worthy name of protection. Also, be dubious of manufacturers that claim their boots offer joint support, as studies by Dr. Marlin and others give evidence that is not likely the case.
We give Best Buy to the Dover Sport Boots. We prefer the neoprene lining unless your horse is allergic to it, in which case You'll be fine with fleece.
The Woof SL Brushing Boots, the EquiFit All-Purpose T-Boots and the ThinLine Sports Boots are each suitable for lower-level competition, primarily eventing or show jumping, but the Woof Brushing boots are our favorites overall.
For upper level competitions, the top choice is EcoGold by a nose.