Saturday, February 13, 2010

To boot....or not to boot?

Gabe's little pasture mishap got me thinking about protecting those beasts from themselves and making their self-destruct button a little harder for them to find.

I've worked for stables that all had very different methods of turnout for the horses. They all had very different philosophies about booting and wrapping for rides, too.

One barn required every horse to be booted or wrapped all around with bells on for turnout. Each horse was turned out alone for an hour a day in a small paddock that was not large enough to allow any kind of all-out cantering/galloping. Most went out in stable sheets and if they were likely to be bucking, farting, leaping silly first, longeing was required before turn-out. These horses were ridden by a trainer or an owner daily, booted and wrapped to the nines for the ride and often wrapped again in standing wraps and poultice after a workout.

It always seemed to me that about 1/4 of those horses spent a significant amount of time on stall rest recovering from some leg/joint injury or another.

At another barn, once the morning feed was done and everyone cleaned up their hay, stall doors were slid open and 35 horses released to race down the aisle into the connecting field. No boots, no wraps. Evening meal was the same routine reversed - the field gate opened and everyone raced in to find their stalls and dig in to dinner. Two horses trying to occupy one stall was not uncommon.

If injuries were going to happen at that barn, it was usually out in the field and usually caused by a tussle between horses. From time to time we'd have one go down in the aisle during the madcap race to get in or out of the barn. This was definitely NOT my favorite method of turnout, but I wasn't the barn owner, only the help.

A smaller show barn I managed for a time had several sizable pastures where horses were turned out in pairs or threes all day long. Herd partners were carefully selected and bells only went on those who were apt to pull a shoe or catch a heel. It was thoughtful booting instead of just booting everyone for the heck of it.

Injuries here were rare. We had one older show horse go through the board fence and sink a rather large splinter of shattered wood into his chest about 7 inches deep. I could fit my fist in the wound, had to clean and pack it twice a day and it took forever to heal. He also developed an allergy to no-see-ums, lost all his hair due to the allergy and eventually was retired to a home in a colder, northern clime due to the bizarre allergy.

But leg/joint injuries were rare. It was here the horses seemed most content and none had neurotic stall behavior.

My horses live outside 24/7: Gabe in his own paddock with a run-in shed, Chief and Calypso in another paddock with a run-in shed. Gabe would be a rack of bones if he lived with the other two...all they have to do is give him a dirty look and he moves away from his feed/hay and lets them have it.

They don't live in boots or wraps. When the big pastures are dry or frozen hard, they all get turned out together from sun up to sun down.

I don't always boot or wrap when I ride. When I worked at the big show barn where horses were wrapped all the time, I booted and wrapped my horse for every ride.

Then, I started thinking about it: Am I really doing my horses a favor by wrapping them for EVERY ride? If they are interfering, how can they feel it and adjust their movement to stop or lessen the interference? Was I enabling them to be lazy by protecting them from themselves? Was I making them dependent on the padding on their legs instead of trusting themselves and self-correcting?

So I stopped wrapping and booting for each ride and I haven't had a single workout-induced leg injury. (Knock on wood!) Now, I only wrap or boot if I know I'm going to be jumping, riding harder than usual (galloping, long, hard trails, etc.) or seriously concentrating on lateral work.

Then Gabe goes and breaks himself playing in the pasture and now I'm wondering if I should rethink my booting philosophy. Should I just go ahead and boot/wrap him if he's going out to play in the big field? But he's out there for hours at time...sometimes 12 hours or more, and again I'm having a conundrum. I risk damaging those tendons from heat held in by the boots and I could make him dependent on them, which I don't want to do. I like to have thinking horses who think about where they put their legs instead of just going around with those legs all akimbo.

But I also really want to protect them from themselves!



  1. I used to boot our horses all the time, in the field, in the trailer, for every ride, but now my boots are gathering dust and full of mouse nibbles! lol.

    A horse with a good action will hardly ever strike themselves, and there is a (wise I think) school of thought that says if you boot all the time they will never learn to be careful.
    My TB mare I had years ago was a great jumper but sooooo careless with her front legs until I stopped putting boots on. Well the first time she hitthe rail with an unprotected shin wa the last lol.

    Mine are all barefoot as well so the chances of them seriously hurting themselves with an over reach are very very slim.

    So TOUCH WOOD no leg nasties for the past 10 years!!

    I think some boots are sensible if your turning out a shod horse for a couple of hours and he's likely to act a fool, but if he's out all the time you could do way more harm than good by leaving them on.

    Oh its great having to make these choices eh ? ;)

  2. The only time I've ever put boots on my horse was for a cross country event. I used rear brushing boots on my tb for showjumping because he occasionally caught a fetlock, but that's all. Never for turnout.

  3. We don't wrap legs or boot for anything except injuries that require it. (once in 5 years) Mine go out even when there's mud b/c I can't bear to keep them in.

    We actually have a huge bin full of wrapping materials, brush boots, bell boots, etc. because daughter is in Pony Club and they require her to know how to wrap and boot - but most of it is in like new condition b/c it only gets used when she rates up!