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It’s normal for most of us to put boots or wraps on our horses when working them as protection. But what if boots and wraps could cause more damage than good? We are going to look at the different types of horse boots, and if they are worth putting on your horse’s legs. There was a study done at the virtual Equine Symposium 2021, and some shocking results were released from a team from the Middle Tennessee State University.
In this study, they measured the temperature increases over the horse’s limbs and legs during exercise. They looked at different types of common leg protection like polo wraps and boots; this is interesting because most people use some sort of protective gear on their horse’s legs during exercise. This brings up the question of what should you be using, and is it worth what you are doing to the horse’s legs?
For me with my horses, I have always been worried about overheating my horse’s legs and their tendons because you can essentially “cook” your horse’s legs if you are not careful. When I am shipping my horses, I do not tend to wrap my horse’s legs because of that heat factor, they could be standing in the trailer for several hours at a time, and “cooking” themselves as they are standing there. Now the one time that I use wraps or shipping boots is in the wintertime because then the risk of them overheating is a lot lower. It also tends to be more slippery in the wintertime, they might slip on the ground as they are getting off or getting on which causes more risk in terms of them damaging themselves. Riding, for the most part, I do not wrap my horse’s legs; the only time that I advocate for wrapping your horse’s legs is if you are going to be working with different obstacles like bridges and other obstacles, and your horse is not used to it. You do not want your horse to accidentally ding their leg on something and then have an issue where they lose their confidence because they have gotten hurt. Another example is when I am doing my extreme cowboy racing, and we are doing the fast obstacles. I will usually put wraps on when doing that because, now we are going high speed and going over bridges, jumping, lots of turns and different things. It is very intense on the horses, and then we are usually pretty quick to take them off.
The type of boot that I use is the Pegasus air boot In my opinion, they are one of the best boots that you can use. When I take off my Pegasus air boots my horse’s legs are not sweaty like when you remove other types of boots or wraps. The horses can be quite sweaty underneath the wrap; whereas the Pegasus air boots, I have found them not to cause that issue. Unfortunately, they did not use Pegasus air boots in this study, but I would have been very interested to see the results with that.
After reviewing this particular study, I was surprised by some of the information they shared. A horse’s legs lack muscle below the horse’s knee or their hock depending on if it is the front leg or back leg. The leg cools itself, similarly to how a fan cools our skin and takes the heat away from the skin’s surface. When you put a boot or a bandage on the leg, it creates a different environment where you are blocking the horse’s skin from being able to remove that heat. Essentially, you are insulating that leg and giving it that wrapping effect. The heat cannot dissipate, meaning the heat cannot leave and get away, so there is a lot of things that go into the different wraps and how they affect them.
One factor is how breathable they are. You are comparing what do you need in terms of protecting your horse’s leg versus its breathability. Depending on the type of exercise the horse is doing depends on how hot the legs are getting, the general temperature, the humidity, and the general air exchange of where you are. That is all going to affect what is going on with the legs, and what we know is that when you insulate a horse’s leg, this can be bad for the tendons that are underneath, specifically the superficial digital flexor tendon. If that has a higher core temperature than the skin, then it loses very little heat via the bloodstream, then you basically “cook” the tendon and cooling will be hard if you have different boots on top of it.
There were 6 different types of boots that they used in this study. They used a traditional neoprene boot, a perforated neoprene boot, and a plant-based neoprene boot, a cross country boot, an elastic track bandage and a fleece Polo wrap. In the study, they rotated the horses through each of the different leg protection methods and over six different exercises. They wore the boot or the bandage only on one leg, and the opposite leg was what is called the control. That means that they were comparing against to see how hot the leg would normally get and exercise if it was just left bare. That way they are comparing apples to apples, so to speak, a front leg to a front leg and a back leg to a back leg on the same horse. It is important to have that consistency.
What they essentially did was 20 minutes of exercise and 180 minutes of standing and recovery, which is a long time. If you think about it, that’s two and a half hours of recovery time. Also, they were measuring the temperature of the limb, and the humidity of every minute throughout. So, what was interesting is that they always found that the bare limb’s temperature was always the lowest. All treatment temperatures, like all bandages, and wraps, were greater than the bare limb at all times. This was not super surprising because you are covering the leg and its ability to get rid of the heat. What is interesting is that the fleece polo wrap had the highest temperature and the highest humidity. And none of the treated limbs returned to the normal baseline temperature and humidity after the 180-minute recovery period. So, none of the legs after wearing a boot or a bandage for the 20 minutes of exercise, were able to return to normal body temperature and normal humidity. When comparing it to the bare leg and after two and a half hours they were still not back to normal temperature.
The worst part was the legs that were treated are wrapped with these bandages and leg wraps, all of them with the 20 minutes of exercise, reached temperatures that would negatively affect the tendon cells. The tendon cells are what we are really worried about. That is shocking information that just 20 minutes of exercise can reach negative temperatures for the tendon cells where they essentially start to “cook” and fry themselves. Polo wraps are probably one of the most common wraps that people use with horses. That was the worst of everything that they checked, which is, bad. Hypothermic effect boots and bandages cause chronic micro-damage to the tendon; that is the official statement. And that is because the convection cooling system is impaired by the boots or the wraps during exercise. So, the way that the leg typically cools itself down is interrupted and blocked by these wraps in these boots. It is causing that chronic micro-damage to the tendon, which is scary stuff if you are consistently wrapping your horse’s legs.
There were some other interesting findings in this study that are worth noting. For example, the sports medicine boot that was made from Stoma Tex material had a bubble design which made it cooler than the other boots, but it was also a looser fitting boot. So, they are not sure if it is because of the material or if it is because it just was not as tight as the other ones. They also noted that there was no difference between the perforated sports boots and just the traditional sports boots. If you think you are getting more air because of the preparation, it’s not actually helping. They also talked about how the cross-country boots, which had a lot of exterior padding was good for trauma and impact protection but because of all that heavy padding, and how it was layered inside that is adding to the heat retention of the boot. But even still, the polo wraps were numerically the hottest treatment in the study that they did, meaning that it had the highest temperature, the highest humidity out of the whole study, which is interesting that polo wraps are essentially the worst. You can bet that now I am going to be getting rid of a bunch of polo wraps. I do have sports boots, and I love to use my Pegasus air boots because I have found that they do not make the horse’s legs sweaty after exercise. So essentially, what the study summed up is that you must look at leg protection as risk versus reward kind of situation. You must consider, are you are doing a sport or activity where your horses might get injured, then you may want to still boot your horse. But if you are booting or bandaging for the sake of it, then maybe it is not worth it. It also depends on the intensity of the workload that you are doing. if you are not working your horse into a sweat, you are not doing a lot of intense work, and it’s not super-hot out, then maybe it’s not going to be an issue. So, all those things come into play for sure.
As well, if you are worried about your horse hitting their legs, you must think about all these different things. But no matter what you choose to boot or not to boot, the end recommendation was to put them on when you need them and then remove them as soon as possible when you no longer need them. And then ideally, do some cold hosing of those limbs to help them cool down, which was another study that we will talk about on the podcast about cooling down your horse and realizing that cold water hosing is the fastest way to cool down your horse.
Lots of interesting things stood out for me, but the most shocking for me is that even after two and a half hours after 20 minutes of exercise that the legs were not returning to normal temperature. And all these options were at a heat that was causing microdamage, which is pretty shocking. Lots of interesting information to come out of this article. I am curious if people are going to start changing their practices of wrapping and booting based on this information because it is clear what the results are. And it is statistically significant and worthy of checking things out and considering making some changes. I wish they looked at the Pegasus boots as part of that study as well. Nonetheless, I am happy to have learned some new information. And polos are not going to be my go-to.
I would love to know if this has changed anything for you and how you are going to care for your horse. And what you were doing before and what you are going to do differently now.
So, I leave you with those thoughts for today. Hope you guys enjoyed today’s blog post. And as always, thanks for reading.
Thanks so much, bye for now.