Splint Boots, Cross Country Boots, Open Front Boots, Sports Boots, ALL THE BOOTS! Which Should I Buy?

There are soooo many types of horse boots out there, how do you choose?  “I just pick the ones that come in fun colors!”  Well that’s one way of doing it but much like purchasing a horse for its color, it can go well or very very badly.  I figured I would break down the different types for everyone and give you an idea of where they are most effective.  Before we start, one thing I would like to warn everyone, especially if you are new to boots, some disciplines allow you to show in boots, some don’t.  No boots or wraps are allowed at dressage shows, the same applies for some hunter classes, know the rules before you enter the ring.

Splint Boots – Brushing Boots – Different names but similar idea.  The main purpose of these boots is to protect the inside of the cannon bone from bangs, minor cuts, and as the name says splints.  It’s kind of like wearing knee pads when you were roller skating or roller blading back in the 1990s and early 2000s.  “Only you would bring up roller blading like it was cool.”  Whatever, you know you did it too.  “Yeah I did”.  These do not provide support, just padding.  These are a very universal boot, great for all sports including western sports and are used at many barns as a turn out boot.  They come in many different forms usually with some type of neoprene or sheepskin and extra padding on the part that covers the inside of the leg, made of either plastic, thick neoprene, foam, or sometimes even carbon fiber.  Suggested Uses: Jumpers, Hunters, Equitation, Dressage, Eventing, Cross Country, Western sports, turn-out, Essentially a good boot for any application.

Open Front Boots – You see these a lot in the jumper ring, the point of the open front is that the horse “feels” any rails they hit.  The rest of the boot protects much like a splint boot.  Some of them come with an “impact” guard on the back of the boot to provide extra protection to the tendons.  These guards can be anything from a metal plate (not very common), a gel “pocket”, a thick piece of rubber, hard plastic, or even carbon fiber.  Similar to a splint boot, they do not provide much support.  Some of these boots provide more support to the fetlock joint, it’s all in how the straps are done.  A point for thought, I have heard that sometimes the straps on these can actually pinch the nerve on the front of the leg preventing the horse from “feeling” a pole.  I am not sure how true this is but I would think it would be more likely with leather straps than elastic, but maybe both?  Suggested Uses: Jumpers, Hunters, Equitation, jump schooling with fences that fall down.

Ankle Boots – The hind leg counterpart to open front boots, some look like short open front boots, some look like short splint boots.  They operate similar to what the look like, the ones that have the open front allow the horse to feel a rail while protecting the inside of the fetlock joint, the ones that look like short splint boots protect the fetlock joint.  Suggested Uses: Jumpers, Hunters, Equitation, jump schooling with fences that fall down.

Cross Country Boots – To put it super simply, they took an open front boot and closed it in.  Depending on the boot type you may get a little support from these but mostly you are getting “bang” protection on all 4 sides of the leg.  These days many of these boots are vented or perforated to allow airflow to help cool the tendons as there are studies out now about “cooking” your horse’s tendons.  Not that it will work as well as no boot but anything is better than nothing, and nothing is usually not a great idea.  Suggested Uses: Cross Country, Jumping with a very sensitive horse

Sports Medicine Boots – These are extremely popular with the western riders.  They wrap the entire leg in neoprene similar to the splint boots but without the extra splint protection.  They provide the most support out of all the boots mentioned above.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing, some say it supports too much, some say hogwash.  I think it depends on the horse and the person.  You can also get these with attached bell boots for full leg protection.  I do know that these tend to get sand and dirt up under them in deep footing which annoyed my mare.  Suggested Uses: All Equestrian Sports

Flatwork wraps/boots – Dressage Boots – These were invented to mimic polos, they provide slight “bang” protection and depending on the configuration may provide some support.  Suggested Uses: Dressage, flat work, hacking

Polos – The much debated polo wrap.  First of all, they come in every color and pattern imaginable.  Back when I started riding, this was THE thing to use, especially in the hunter/jumper world.  “Buy 2 different colors and wrap diagonal legs it looks soooo coool!”  Some say the polo is worthless, some say they are great.  Again, I think it depends on the situation.  One thing that is true, they are terrible when they get wet, and if not wrapped correctly, they can do more harm than good.  In order for them to provide any support you have to wrap under the fetlock joint in a supportive fashion and create that nice upside down V, otherwise it’s just thin “bang” and “scuff” protection.  This support cannot be compared to an ACE bandage as they do not have elastic in them that provides support while aiding in restoring the joint to its original position like an ace bandage does.  Admittedly, I am not a fan of polos, I think they are a lot of work for little protection.  Suggested Uses: Dressage, flat work, hacking jump schooling with fences that fall down.  Avoid use in wet conditions.

Saratoga wraps – Your equine “ace bandage”.  They have stretch, they have silicone to prevent slipping, and they have colors!  So if you are looking for support in a light weight wrap, this is the way to go, make sure you get the good under the fetlock wrap like you would for a polo.  They don’t absorb water like polos either.  They are also considerably more expensive than polos but there is a bit more technology involved.  If you sprain your own ankle, you can borrow these to use in place of your ace wrap.  They also sell foam padding that you can put underneath for more protection.  Suggested Uses: Dressage, flat work, hacking jump schooling with fences that fall down, provide support to injury.

Bell Boots- let’s not forget this treasure.  The main purpose of these is to protect the coronet band and the heels.  There are horses that live their entire lives in these, some have old injuries, some are overreachers, some are just plain klutzes.  Many eventers use them because overreaching can happen in water and deep footing, western riders use them to keep a misplaced hoof from hitting another at high speeds with fast turns.  Everyone knows the old adage, “No hoof, no horse.”  Bell boots are a cheap way to protect those valuable feet.  There are so many different types, neoprene, ballistic nylon, vinyl, rubber, and even petal bell boots.  Petal bell boots  were all the rage when I started eventing, you would just listen for that flap-flap-flap sound as a horse galloped by, they were quite expensive, I couldn’t find any new for sale though.  The old tried and true rubber pull on boots seem to be the best if your horse “lives” in them, they are very hard to pull on, but conversely very hard to pull off and are the cheapest.  Ones with velcro, a well-placed hoof and the velcro gets ripped off with the boot, but the velcro is a life saver if you have a horse with an injury that needs protecting.  The neoprene ones hold water, so if you are planning on eventing or turning out in a wet pasture, those are not recommended.  And yes, the water is where you will find the most torn off boots on cross country courses.  One of the more recent “technologies” is the no turn bell boot, it has a little padded spot on the back of the bell boot that helps keep the velcro in front which can help prevent a tear off.  I have these for shipping long distances, they haven’t turned on me yet but I haven’t put them through water, but they do get heavy when wet.  Suggested Uses:  Any and all horse sports as well as Turn out.

Shipping Boots – Although this is not a boot you ride in, it is still a horse boot.  These protect the horse’s legs in shipping, they cover the heels all the way up to the knee/hock, and the good ones cover the knee/hock as well.  Those of you who are extremely old school or got stuck in years of Pony Club will know that a shipping wrap if done correctly covers the balls of the heels all the way up to the knee/hock.  I haven’t seen an actual shipping bandage since my years in Pony Club.  Shipping boots do not provide the support that a shipping wrap does, they only provide “bang” protection.  I will warn you, try these on your horse before you get to loading time, some horses freak out in them, the last thing you want is to attempt to put a pissed-off or scared horse into a trailer.  Also, consider the weather when shipping, these tend to hold in heat and get hot, mesh linings help but not much.  Suggested Uses: Shipping and Hauling

So what do the Engineering ponies use?  Well, Lily has Woof Brushing boots, and Emma uses cheap Roma open front boots.  Now that Lily is climbing the eventing levels, she may get a pair of XC boots but through novice I think she will be ok in her brushing boots.  Emma has come down from the 3’6″-3’9″ competition levels and settled nicely at the 3′-3’6″ heights and will stay there so no need for any major protection.  I will tell you, she does not like the hind boots that are like short splint boots, I had to get her the short open front hind boots because the others interfered too much.  To be completely honest, my guys only wear boots competitions and XC schooling and get bell boots for trailer travel over 4 hours.  When practicing at home and for lessons, they go bare legged.  It’s all about knowing your horse though, I have gone through every type of boot listed above and tried them all at one point or another, especially on Emma, to find what worked best.

There are other boots out there that are a lot more situation or sport specific including Boil Boots, Run-down Boots, Skid Boots, hock boots, ice boots, soaking boots, etc.  I may cover those in a future update but for now I have covered the main stream and english geared horse boots.

This is a picture of boots that I keep around as a reminder.  These were from my old mare Cheyenne the day she didn’t see a ditch while we were schooling XC, I looked down just in time to see her front legs go down into the ditch, I flipped off on the other side of the ditch and that good old girl sat on her rump so she wouldn’t run me over.  We did eventually get over that ditch but only after she jumped down into it and turned out the side a few times, it was at most a 3′ wide ditch and at least 2′ deep.  Because of this, I tend to opt for thicker neoprene in my boots, and yes, those are my fingers sticking through the tear, and those are deep rips on the other boot as well.

Note: I don’t work for a company that sells horse boots.  If you order from one of the Amazon links, I may get a little kickback to help support the site.

2 thoughts on “Splint Boots, Cross Country Boots, Open Front Boots, Sports Boots, ALL THE BOOTS! Which Should I Buy?”

  1. If you decide to upgrade to XC boots, I can’t recommend Majyk Equipe enough. They use dilatant foam in their strike guards to allow for flexibility (the material only goes rigid when they actually sustain a blow) and the lining is a soft antifungal foam so they’re much cooler and more breathable than neoprene. I love all my boots from them, and they’re just the nicest people! Their whole line is just fantastic, the design is second to none.

    1. Ooo good to know! I have been seeing a lot of them lately, I will have to hunt you down after your travels and come see them along with the titanium stirrups.

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