Traditionally we have been led to believe that thick padded boots and bandages are the optimal way to protect our horse’s legs during work. However, in recent years, the research has actually suggested that the most dangerous factor for the horse’s legs is in fact heat.
Tendons generate a huge amount of heat. With each step they expand and contract, and because there is a low blood supply to this area, they struggle to lose the heat they have created. A study by the University of Bristol showed that even without boots a horse’s tendons can reach 45 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, after just 10 minutes, 10% of tendon cells in a test tube begin to die off. When that temperature was increased by just another three degrees, 80% of the tendon cells in the test tube died.
Another study conducted in Japan, showed that tendon cells begin to generate inflammatory mediators as they get hot. These inflammatory mediators result in tissue damage and swelling.
Therefore, the conclusion drawn from this research is that leg protection that prevents heat loss from the lower limb could in reality be increasing the chance of injury.
The tricky thing is to know where this leaves us with boots and bandages. Experts generally feel that smart use of boots and bandages can still be beneficial. You need to pay attention to your horse’s tendency to trip and knock. If he is pretty reliable in flat work then you could consider schooling him with bare legs for this part of the session, or at least removing the hind boots.
You also need to make sure you remove the boots promptly after a session, and then cool the legs using hosing or ice boots.
It is also important to look at the different boots on the market, and find ones that are well ventilated to allow for cooling airflow.
REMEMBER: Another essential point to consider when discussing boots and bandages is fit. Over-tight boots or bandages, can cause a redistribution of the load on the leg – meaning that another part of the horse’s body has to compensate for the restricted motion. This can result in pain and stiffness in other areas.