When playing hockey and football, we wear shin pads to play more confidently and safely. Moon boots are used to help people recover from lower leg injuries. You might also wear special socks when flying long distances or on cold nights. In the same way, horses can benefit from tailored leg protection and support.
Horse boots are designed to protect horses’ legs in a variety of settings. They also aid in recovery and rehabilitation, support happy travelling, and promote hoof health. There are over a dozen different types of horse boots and many have similar functions – so it can all be a bit confusing.
In this article, we go boots-and-all into the essentials of horse boots to help you step confidently and knowledgeably toward the right care for your hoofed friend.
Let’s jump right in and unpack the ten important types of horse boots you should know about.
1. Brushing Boots
Brushing boots are amongst the most widely used horse boots. ‘Brushing’, also known as interfering, happens when the horse’s hoof swings to the side and knocks into the lower part of its opposite leg.
- Brushing boots protect against the impact of brushing. They also protect the inner splint bone which tapers down below the knee and is a common injury zone.
Brushing boots are versatile and used to safeguard legs in a range of activities including training, flatwork, hacking, and turnout.
These horse boots are usually made from a soft fabric like neoprene and designed to contour to the horse’s leg. They are often reinforced with PVC on the inside of the leg.
When choosing these boots, look for good quality neoprene that is both durable and breathable. A breathable material is important for comfort.
Brushing boots are worn on both the fore legs and hind legs.
2. Fetlock Boots
Fetlock boots protect your horse’s fetlock joint against brushing and striking. In simple terms, the purpose of these boots is to prevent injury from a clash of legs.
The fetlock is the joint located just above the hoof on the horse’s lower leg (think the human ankle). These boots are also known as ankle boots.
Fetlock boots are designed primarily to protect the fetlock joint from brushing injuries. They can also provide support to the fetlock joint to reduce the risk of strain or ligament damage during intense activities like jumping or hard riding.
In common with brushing boots, fetlocks are made from a variety of versatile and shockproof materials. Ventilated fabrics are a popular feature of modern quality boot tack. These boots will either have a velcro strap or elastic straps to fix them on the limb.
Fetlock boots are worn on the horse’s hind legs. The front of the leg is usually left unguarded.
3. Hoof Boots
Hoof boots protect the hooves of barefoot (shoeless) horses. They are also used to support a horse who has lost a shoe and to help a horse transition from shoes to barefoot.
Hoof boots have a cushioning effect, absorbing shock and reducing impact to avoid possible discomfort and distress. They are particularly useful for horses that have hoof sensitivity, hoof injuries or are undergoing rehab.
If you plan to trail ride a barefoot horse over rough, stony terrain, hoof boots on the forelegs or on all four legs should be considered.
These types of horse boots are typically made of durable materials such as rubber or PVC, with soles that offer traction and support.
Hoof boots are most often worn on the forelegs. The front legs carry 70% of the weight of the horse and most of the unpleasant conditions like laminitis, calcifications, abscessing, and bruising occur on the fronts. However, hoof boots can also be worn on the hind legs if you feel it will benefit your mount.
4. Bell Boots/Overreach Boots
Bell boots wrap around the top of the hoof on your horse’s foreleg. They cover the heel and most of the hoof.
Bell boots protect your horse’s foreleg – the heel area in particular- from injury caused by being struck by the hind hooves
Yes, some horses will injure themselves this way. It’s not their fault. ‘Overeach’ can happen.
When moving at a lively gallop, or in certain gaits, horses may reach too far forward with their hindfoot and in the process strike or ‘grab’ the back of their front heel. This is called ‘overreach’.
Bell boots are also called overreach boots. This safety wear helps prevent the nasty gashing and other injuries that might result from overreach.
Overreach boots are also designed to deter your horse from catching its front shoe with a rear foot and pulling the shoe off. I’ve definitely had cause to use these boots to stop this kind of behaviour from an over-intelligent or sneaky equine aiming to be footloose and fancy-free.
Older versions of overreach boots are made from thick gum rubber. They are not very pretty but they slip on and stay on.
A good modern pair should offer a degree of shock absorption, secure fastening, and the ability to withstand wear and tear. You can find these horse boots made of ballistic nylon which is the material used in bulletproof vests – so pretty strong then.
Bell boots are worn on your horse’s foreleg.
5. Tendon Boots
Tendon boots have a similar function to brushing boots and fetlock boots. These boots protect the horse’s leg when it is accidentally clipped by another leg.
Tendon boots can be considered specialist boots – designed mainly for jumping and eventing activities.
Tendon boots protect the front tendon from injury when it is struck by the hind hoof when jumping. They also protect the inside of the legs from brushing caused during cross-country or showjumping
A knock to a tendon may cause bruising or result in something more severe like a ruptured tendon. Sharp trauma such as a cut can result in a minor but fiddly wound or something serious like a severed tendon.
Tendon boots are usually open in front. For cross-country competition, it’s best to fit a design of tendon boot that covers all sides of the lower leg (front and back). This is a wise precaution considering how tough a competitive course is and the multiple jumps a horse must make.
When schooling, I prefer these boots open-fronted because this allows the horse to ‘feel’ the pole in a jump (hopefully it’s more of a brush than an outright clatter). This impact is all part of the learning experience and teaches the horse to correct its leg position over future jumps.
Tendon boots are worn on the horse’s front legs.
6. Travel Boots
Travel boots are used to protect the horse’s legs during transportation and protect from the knee, or just below, down to the hock, and over the hooves.
The front boots will cover the knee down to the hoof. Back travel boots are shaped to cover the hock and down to the hoof.
Good travel boots should have robust outer padding with soft inside material to ensure comfort. You want shockproof but lightweight materials. To fit the boots you typically wrap them around the legs and fasten them in place with velcro or similar.
We are talking knee-length boots here. Not all gentlemen, or ladies, take easily to having large parts of their legs ‘swaddled’ in strange material. Therefore it’s always a good idea to ease them into the experience.
Avoid just slapping on the boots for the first time before loading them into the horsebox. Help them familiarise themselves with the tack for a week or two prior to travel.
Travel boots are used to support both fore and hind legs.
7. Cross Country Boots
Cross-country boots are specifically designed for eventing or cross-country jumping. Consider them a more protective brushing boot.
Cross-country boots protect from impact and brushing injuries while the animal is moving at speed, and executing jumps and sharp turns over rough terrain and obstacles.
If your mount hits his leg hard against a fence or obstacle it’s going to hurt.
Cross-country boots are meant to minimise the ‘oww!’ They also reduce overreach injuries and help prevent a stretched tendon/ligament from occurring in the heat of competition.
Your ideal boots are lightweight and shaped to the horse’s legs. They mustn’t restrict the natural flow of movement.
Boots made from breathable material will provide stellar protection while limiting sweat and irritation. Breathable materials stay drier when you negotiate water obstacles.
Cross-country boots are worn on both fore and hind legs.
8. Turnout Boots
Turnout is when you take your horse from the stables to the field to let it gambol, play, exercise, and socialise. It’s a great outing and very important for your buddy’s overall health and well-being.
Turnout boots protect the horse’s legs during this happy outdoor occasion.
Quality boots should be breathable, with a durable outer shell to shield the legs from impacts and abrasions. The insides should be cushioned or padded for comfort.
Overall, turnout boots are intended to reduce the risk of injuries to particularly a young horse’s growing legs while allowing it to enjoy its turnout time with all the excited cantering and galloping, playful friskiness, and natural curiosity this may involve.
Turnout boots are typically worn on both the hind and forelegs and cover the whole of the fetlock area.
9. Therapeutic Boots
Therapy and medical boots are types of horse boots intended to help a horse heal from injuries or recover from strenuous activity.
Common therapeutic boots include:
- Magnetic boots. Magnetic boots have magnets sewn into them that help to reduce inflammation and swelling. They increase blood flow to the animal’s legs and ease pain. Magnetic boots are often used to aid in the recovery and management of leg injuries
- Ice boots. Ice boots, as the name suggests, are used for cold therapy on the horse’s legs. They can help reduce inflammation, provide relief, and promote recovery after intense exercise or injury
Advanced therapeutic boots incorporate technology that directs the horse’s body heat back into the body to increase blood circulation and expand blood vessels to aid faster recovery – the same principle which is used when we get heat treatment from a physiotherapist.
10. Stable Boots
Stable boots are used to provide support and protection to the horse’s legs while stabled or during resting periods. They are usually made of quilted or padded material.
Bandages are still popularly used to keep the horse’s lower legs clean, dry, warm, and protected whilst in stable.
Many horse owners today prefer boots as they are easier to take on and off, and modern boots offer technological benefits that bandages can’t match.
Stable boots can be used for most horses, but are particularly suited for older animals and for those with arthritis. I also use them when a horse is rehabbing from an injury or recovering from competition.
Stable boots may be worn on all four legs and this is common.
Finding The Right Size Horse Boots For Your Horse
You will find the various types of horse boots available in:
To choose the right fit, you want to measure the circumference of your horse’s leg. Your horse’s height, weight, and breed also influence boot size measurements.
An adult Clydesdale will probably require a bigger boot than a refined thoroughbred for instance.
A small horse with light bones that weighs comfortably below 1,000 lbs will tend towards small-sized boots.
Breeds of average bone density that are approaching 15.5 to 16 hands may be candidates for medium wear.
While bigger warmbloods and draught horses are looking in the large lads section, even X-large for the really big boys.
Use the manufacturer’s sizing charts to help you with your size selections.
What are splint boots for horses?
Splint boots are also called brushing boots. These types of horse boots protect the horse’s lower leg from injuries that may occur if one leg or hoof strikes the opposite leg.
What are fly boots for horses?
Fly boots are protective boots made from lightweight materials that protect the horse’s legs from biting insects such as flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. They also reduce the potential injury that could result when a horse tries to scuff away an irritating insect.
What are knee boots for horses?
Horse knee boots protect the horse’s knees from scrapes, scratches, and impact injuries. They fasten around the back of the horse’s knee and contain a tough protective shell in the front designed to deflect knocks and cushion the blow if the horse stumbles on a slippery surface and hits its knees on the ground.