If you've been riding for a while, you've probably noticed that some horses wear boots or bandages on their lower legs. These boots and bandages are for protection.
Sometimes a horse needs to be protected from himself. Because of his conformation (the way he is built), he may kick himself or brush his legs with his other hooves. Sometimes a horse needs to wear boots or bandages because of the work he is doing. If a horse does strenuous work that involves jumping or galloping, boots or bandages may help protect the delicate tendons in his legs.
But, just because everyone else down in the barn puts boots or bandages on their horses, it doesn't mean you have to put protective gear on your horse. If you don't work your horse hard and he doesn't cut or scrape himself when you ride him, he may not needs boots or bandages at all.
If you don't know if you should put protective gear on your horse's legs, ask a knowledgeable instructor what she thinks. Explain the sort of work you do with your horse and let her take a look at his conformation. An experienced instructor will be able to tell if your horse needs boots or bandages.
Here are three types of boots and bandages you might spot around the barn.
Splint Boots (Brushing Boots)
Mainly used for show-jumping, fast work, cross-country jumping, western reining, gymkhana games.
Splint boots have a thick and/or hard plate that covers the inside of a horse's lower leg. The plate protects a horse when he hits the inside of one leg with the opposite hoof. When a horse hits himself with the other hoof, it can cause nasty cuts on the inside of the leg. These cuts may take a long time to heal. Splint boots are probably the most widely used boots by horse people.
When putting a splint boot on, fit it slightly higher around the leg, then slide it down so the leg hair doesn't get ruffled up and cause rubs. Many people fasten the bottom strap first so the boot doesn't slip while you are securing it.
Bell Boots (Over-Reach Boots)
Mainly used for cross-country jumping, galloping, show-jumping, traveling in a trailer.
Bell boots sit on the bottom of the horse's foreleg, around the coronary band at the top of the hoof. They are designed to fit the contours of the pastern and heel area. Bell boots are used on the front hooves and they help protect the front heels from getting nicked by the back hooves. Bell boots are made of rubber or stretchy material. Some have to be pulled on over the hoof and others have Velcro fastenings. They should not be so long that they interfere with a horse's way of going — he should not trip over them!
Mainly used for cross-country jumping, galloping, strenuous dressage work.
Exercise bandages are stretchy wraps that give support to the tendons in a horse's lower legs. They tend to be used when a horse is in strenuous work, or if he has suffered from tendon problems in the past. They are wrapped around the lower leg, and are usually secured with a Velcro strap.
Putting on a bandage properly is a skill that takes time to learn. If the bandage is not stretched out properly with the right tension or if it is wrapped incorrectly, it could hurt your horse's leg instead of supporting it. Ask an instructor to show you how to wrap a leg and then practice, practice, practice until you get it right.