Disclaimer: Dr. Henry P. McCoy, aka The Beast, is the property of Marvel Comics and was created by Stan Lee.
Summary: The X-Men's Dr. Henry P. McCoy, aka The Beast, explains the numerous varieties of protective leg wear for horses.
A/N: The Mary Sue used here is the property of MsBeast. This 'fic' was originally written as part of a ploy to get her to read a certain non-fiction article that had been laying on her desk ignored for weeks. The result is technically my first fanfic, and it isn't all that good. I've posted it to participate in the group humiliation project at Launching Pad, where veteran fic writers post their first attempts at fanfiction for the dubious benefit of newbies.
Sarah, a shameless Mary Sue character that we rather like, has just returned from riding at the local stables, and the Beast has asked her about her afternoon.
"Well, there was some debate about what type of boots to use on one of the horses. I must admit that I felt rather uneducated on the subject, since we never used any leg gear at home. I never thought it was necessary."
"Often it isn't, but sometimes it's of great importance. I had a friend back in Dunfee who had a truly tragic tale about unused boots. She had worked for years with a beautiful quarter horse gelding, and the pair was known throughout the state for their success in Reining." Henry paused and rubbed his furry blue chin, reminiscing. "The trademark maneuver in that western class is the sliding stop, and Doc's Ima Bar Impressive Leo could outslide any horse in the state. Sheila was working towards showing at Quarter Horse Congress when the catastrophe struck. Her younger brother, Tyler, was showing off, and performed the sliding stop without skid boots. The poor horse never recovered."
"You mean he was hurt that badly?" Sarah cried, stunned.
"Oh no. Physically, he was healed within days. But after that, he held back on his slides, bouncing to a stop rather than truly sliding. He was ruined as a reining horse."
"What exactly does a skid boot do?" Sarah asked. "I've never even seen a pair. After all, they didn't have western classes in Scotland."
"They protect the back of the fetlock joint on the hind leg. Without them, the fetlock rubs against the ground when the horse slides. At speed, this is very likely to cause an abrasion."
"There's a horse at the barn that wears boots on his fetlock area, but he definitely doesn't do a sliding stop."
"They might be rundown boots. Those cover the same area, but for different reasons. Some horses, notably thoroughbred racehorses, overflex the fetlock joint severely at high speeds, actually striking the ground with the back of the fetlock joint. The other possibility is that they are ankle boots, protecting the inside of the joint from interference."
"The debate today was about splint boots versus tendon boots. What's the difference between the two?"
"A splint boot if fairly straightforward. It protects the second metacarpal, or splint bone, a small, useless bone on the inside of the cannon bone. An injured splint bone creates an unattractive calcification, but is of little actual consequence. Splint boots offer little or no tendon protection and support."
"So why bother? What are the odds of injuring the splint bone?"
"Under ordinary circumstances, too slim to bother with the boots. But some horses possess conformation faults which cause them to strike themselves at certain gaits, and a "splint" will advertise that fact for the rest of the horse's life. Also, some activities can make interference likely, especially those which involve sharp, quick turns."
"But what about Samantha. Her horse Second Mortgage has straight, clean legs and doesn't interfere at all. And I've never seen her take a quick turn!"
"Some people are just paranoid. And since splint boots are easy to use and relatively inexpensive, she might as well use them if it gives her peace of mind. Of course, one shouldn't use a boot without learning to adjust it properly. Although its unlikely, an excessively tight splint boot can cause a bowed tendon by restricting the flow of blood in the area."
"I know that a bowed tendon is a very slow healing injury with many possible causes. Would a tendon boot help to prevent that kind of career threatening injury?"
"Well, there's a loaded question. There are two basic kinds of tendon boots. One is the open front jumping boot, and the other is a galloping or event boot. The latter spreads out into even more categories, but all are designed to provide some level of tendon support or protection. Galloping boots protect the entire lower leg, with an emphasis on the tendon. They usually provide support as well as protection from impacts."
"Galloping boots sound worthwhile. But what on earth is an open front boot for? They seem very silly."
"Some jumpers will learn to get lazy and brush rails if they can't feel it when they knock a jump. The open front boot protects the tendon while still allowing the horse to feel the consequences of a sloppy effort."
"So why not leave the boots off altogether? The horse isn't likely to bow a tendon jumping unless he hasn't been conditioned properly or the footing is deep and muddy."
"That's true, but a bruised tendon from a falling rail will take almost as long to heal as the bowed tendon. Also, many jumpers wear studs on their shoes for traction, and if the horse hits himself with those, some real damage could result. In fact, it's the studs that make ankle boots necessary on the hind legs."
"That makes sense, I guess. But why are open front boots so much more expensive than splint boots?"
"That isn't a question that can be answered with science or logic. For some reason, jumper riders like Italian leather boots with sheepskin lining. They don't protect any better than a well designed boot constructed from synthetic materials. It must be a fashion thing. But have you read your Practical Horseman this month? I was flipping through it and noticed that Stuart Young-Black, the Canadian event rider, just designed an open front boot that's about the same price as the average neoprene splint boot. You should show that around the barn, it would probably earn you some points."
"You read Practical Horseman? I wouldn't think that you'd have time, with all those scientific and medical journals in your office."
"I often pick up equine related magazines. I enjoy them, but more importantly, many medical breakthroughs make it to the horse world years before they are approved by the FDA. Lasix and equiblock, for instance. Another example; Professional's Choice Sports Medicine Boots were designed to absorb the kinetic energy created when a horse's hoof strikes the ground. It is that kinetic energy that is responsible for many stress induced injuries. This technology has many applications apart from protecting equine athletes."
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Bobby winked as he entered the room, "but Scott is waiting to start the meeting."
"Duty calls, but why don't you read this article. The author seems to know a great deal about boots." With that, the blue furred Beast handed Sarah a magazine and bounced from the room.
When shopping for protective leg gear, the seemingly endless variations of styles, materials, and brand names can be overwhelming, even for the experienced horseman. To simplify the selection process, follow these simple guidelines:
FIRST determine what needs to be protected, and why. What part of the leg is in jeopardy, and what is the source of the danger. For example, if the inside of the cannon needs to be protected because the horse is striking himself, then choose a splint boot or brushing boot. (Galloping boots and sports boots will also cover that area, while also protecting tendons). The potential injury may not result from a blow to the leg, but from the energy created by the hoof striking the ground. Sports boots absorb that energy, reducing the strain on your horse's legs. Reining horse riders need to protect the back of the fetlock joint from heel burn, and should therefore use skid boots.
SECONDLY, determine where the boots will be used. The type of footing will determine the practicality of different materials and linings.
Your THIRD step is to determine how often your horse will wear the boots. This factor will affect decisions as to durability and application time. You don't want to use a cheaply made boot every day, or it will need frequent replacing, but you also might not want to use Italian leather for schooling. Also, be honest with yourself about whether you're going to be willing to struggle with buckles or pull on bell boots on an everyday basis. They won't prevent injury sitting in a tack box, which is where they might be if application is an unwelcome ordeal. If finances allow, get separate boots for everyday use and competition.
Another factor is maintenance. Some boots require nothing more than to be dunked in a bucket, while others require the same care as your saddle. Keep this in mind when making your decision.
Finally, does appearance matter in your situation, and if so, what are your tastes? If you are competing, boots need to be correctly styled for your discipline, and you might want to follow current fashion trends within your circuit. DO NOT COMPROMISE FUNCTION FOR FASHION, but there is no harm in buying a trendy item if it does its job.
One of the big boot debates is velcro verses buckles. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but if you have thought about what, why, where, and how often this should be an easier choice. Velcro is quicker to put on and take off, and buckles are usually more attractive, although this is not always the case. Many people use buckles on show and event equipment, but school in velcro. If you choose velcro, make sure it doubles over itself. This will greatly reduce the chance of losing a boot while working. When buying boots with buckles, look for roller buckles. They aren't always available, but they do make application a bit easier, especially when your hands are cold.
You will also need to choose a material. Leather is traditional and attractive, synthetic materials such as PVC plastic and neoprene are lower maintenance. If you are trail riding where you might pick up burdocks and their relatives, PVC is wonderful. But if in weighing the pros and cons a different boot wins out in your situation, remember that you can always buy boot covers. Neoprene boots come in many forms, some of which are ideal for wet conditions while others soak up water like a sponge, becoming heavy and waterlogged.
Lining materials also vary widely, including different kinds of neoprene, rubber and plastic, leather, sheepskin, and synthetic fleece. Potential footing conditions should be considered when making this decision. Sheepskin tends to do poorly in mud, yet is excellent in dry arenas. When kept clean, sheepskin will prevent rubbing, whereas some other materials need to be powdered. Many of the more expensive boots have interchangeable liners, allowing the rider to alter the liner to match the footing.
SPLINT BOOTS are designed to protect the splint bone, a small, useless bone on the inside of the cannon bone. These boots offer little or no tendon protection and support. They are fairly simple to apply, but, like any boot, they can cause a bowed tendon if tightened excessively. If your horse strikes himself at the trot or canter, or is involved in an activity which increases the likelihood of that occurrence, splint boots are a good idea.
BRUSHING BOOTS are basically the same as splint boots, but may vary slightly in appearance or design, depending on brand.
GALLOPING BOOTS protect the entire lower leg, with an emphasis on the tendon. Event boots and closed front tendon boots fall into the same category, and SPORT BOOTS are simply galloping boots with increased energy absorption abilities and increased tendon support. The drawback with any of these boots is that a jumper can hit a fence without feeling it, and a lazy horse will learn to take advantage of that situation.
The OPEN FRONT JUMP BOOT is the solution to that problem. It protects the sensitive (and slow healing) tendon, yet allows the horse to feel it if he hits a rail. An absolute must if your jumper wears studs.
ANKLE BOOTS are most often seen in company of the open front boot. They protect the fetlock joint from injury when jumping, and more importantly, from hind leg brushing on event and show jumping horses which commonly wear studs on their shoes for traction. One should never use horseshoe studs without adequate leg protection.
BELL BOOTS protect the coronet band, which, if cut deeply, can take as long as a year to heal. The most common cause of injury to this area is a horse that forges, or catches the back of a forefoot with a hind toe at the trot, but the result is the same regardless of which foot is responsible. A horse can also injure the coronet by hitting a jump or even a ground pole.
SKID BOOTS are an absolute necessity for the reining horse. Teaching and perfecting the sliding stop takes many hours in the saddle, but all that work can be undone in seconds if a horse is asked to slide without protection and burns the back of his fetlock joint.
RUNDOWN BOOTS are sometimes confused with skid boots, since they protect the same area, although for a different reason. Some horses, notably thoroughbred racehorses, overflex the fetlock joint severely at high speeds, actually striking the ground with the back of the fetlock joint.
There are at least three different uses for KNEE BOOTS, and they require different variations. A fairly tough boot is required to protect the event horse when training on the road. The reining horse trainer, however, may use a very thin knee boot. The theory is that when a horse is spinning, it hesitates slightly when the hair on the back of one knee brushes against the front of the opposite knee. The thin boot would, in theory, eliminate that sensitivity. Before implementing this piece of equipment, the trainer should make sure that the horse is coordinated enough that it is not relying on that sixth sense to avoid an accident. Finally, a knee boot may also be used for shipping or in the treatment of an injury.
HOCK BOOTS are not used for riding, but for protection in shipping, or to cover an existing injury. Occasionally, a hock boot might be worn by a show horse to prevent manure stains from appearing immediately before a halter class. Obviously, they cover the hock.
SHIPPING BOOTS are exactly as the name implies, they are worn in the horse trailer. They protect the cannon bone area, the coronet band, and they may or may not also cover the knees and hocks.
Sarah had never read such a thrilling article in her life, and immediately fell in love with the Beast for providing such great reading material. They lived happily ever after, and had many adorable babies, only one of which had blue hair.
This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. X-Men™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of Marvel Comics. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, Winter 1997.