MULE CROSSING: The Ins and Outs of Leg Supports

By Meredith Hodges

There are so many equine-related products on the market today that it is difficult to decide which ones you really need and which ones you don’t. For instance, the subject of splint boots and leg wraps can be very confusing. How do you know when to use them? What types of leg wraps or splint boots are best? Do they really help? In what ways do they help? What type of material should they be made from? And the list of questions goes on.

Splint boots and leg wraps vary as much as their uses. The easiest and most obvious use of a leg wrap comes when traveling with your equine. If you are taking your animal any real distance, it is always advisable to use full cover, padded shipping boots on all four legs. The shipping wraps help prevent your animal from injuring himself due to his own movements, on objects inside the trailer or because of other animals that are traveling with him.

If you have an animal that is fidgety and has difficulty standing still, applying leg wraps is the perfect opportunity to teach him to stand quietly while you handle his legs. You can begin training for leg wraps by putting them on your equine while he is outside the trailer in your grooming station, and then removing them in the trailer before unloading. Make sure he is standing quietly while you put the leg wraps on him. Also, get in the habit of always removing the leg wraps while he is still in the trailer. This makes him learn to “wait” for you before he departs the trailer. If he expects to have his wraps removed while he is still in the trailer, he is less likely to become excited and possibly bump or step on you while waiting to exit the trailer.

The best shipping boots are the ones that are full-leg, quilted on the inside and attached with Velcro straps. Some materials can collect bedding or debris and cause discomfort or pressure sores (the fleece-lined wraps are notorious for this). The best shipping boots are made from a quilted nylon material and most cover the entire leg and hoof.

You can also use quilted cotton pads and leg wraps, but they are primarily for use while your animal is stalled, in order to prevent cuts and abrasions at shows and events. Polo wraps (a soft pliable cotton wrap with no quilted pads) are also used for support during training. These types of wraps generally cover only the cannon bones and not the fetlocks and pasterns. If you do use Polo wraps or quilted cotton pads and wraps, learn to wrap them correctly to avoid pressure points that could cause problems. Consult with a professional to learn the proper wrapping technique.

There is a wide variety of splint boots available on the market and each of them is designed for a particular use. When doing light work in the arena or for trail riding, you might want to use a “front and back” set that are designed for minimal support, while providing the legs with greater protection from injury. In beginning training, you might use splint boots only on the front legs, since your animal will not likely be using his hindquarters efficiently enough to cause a problem. But once you have begun activities such as Reining or lateral work, the rear boots become important.

When making a decision about which type of protection to use, it is important to first assess your animal’s physical development and the types of activity he will be doing. Boots that are designed primarily for protection do not always lend much support to the muscles and tendons.

They do, however, protect the animal from cuts, bumps and bruises and are advisable for use during hard work, gymkhana events, trail rides in mountainous areas and other more stressful workouts. If you do use splint boots while trail riding and they get wet, do not leave them on the animal for very long or they will lose their ability to support and can cause sores from rubbing. In order to prevent this from happening, boots should be removed, cleaned and dried out immediately after use.

Since, in beginning training, the goal is to condition your animal’s muscles and tendons, “light support” splint boots are a good thing to have on-hand. At this early stage, if a boot gives too much support, the animal does not necessarily develop correctly and the areas under the boots can become weak. Muscles and tendons above and below the boot will gain too much strength and cause possible knotting of the muscles, compromising the function of that entire leg due to uneven conditioning.

After basic training, when your equine is participating in more stressful activities such as jumping, endurance and racing (or in the case of an injury), it may become necessary to use a more supportive boot to lightly support already-conditioned muscles and tendons. Support boots are designed to provide equal support over the entire area they cover. Be careful that they are neither too tight nor too loose. You don’t want the boots so tight that they cut off the blood supply to the area covered or are not flexible enough to allow the joints to move freely. However, you don’t want them so loose that they ride down on the legs.

Although the hooves look tough, they, too, can be adversely affected, particularly in gymkhana events and jumping. This is why “bell boots” may be needed for hoof and coronet band protection. The coronet is a very sensitive area and can cause severe lameness if damaged even by a small, seemingly insignificant, cut or bump. If a hoof is unusually dry, severe cracks can occur, and so it is also advisable to routinely use a hoof dressing in addition to the bell boots, in order to make sure a trauma to the hoof will not cause cracking.

When trying to decide which splint boots, leg wraps or other devices to use assess your plan for the day. Leg wraps and splint boots can change from time to time, depending on the conditions of the day. Most shows do not allow splint boots or leg wraps in certain classes. If an animal is in good physical condition, he should not need splint boots or leg wraps for the short time of the performance unless it is extended, as in gymkhana events. In this case, your animal should be conditioned well enough to forgo the actual support-type boots and would only need boots that would primarily offer protection from injury.

You may be asking yourself, “How can I tell a minimal support boot from a fully functional medical support boot?” This can be very confusing, considering all the different kinds of leg wraps and splint boots out there. Some even look identical, as in the case of the high quality Pro Choice splint boot versus an off-brand. Although the off-brand may look identical, it is often made from inferior-quality materials that do not afford the degree of flexibility needed for successful therapy. Although these off-brands are designed for support and do cover the joints, should be considered as more of a protective boot. Splint boots are strictly for protection of the cannon bones, because they do not cover the joints and offer very little support.

In the case of leg wraps, there are those that stretch and are used for support (as in the Polo wraps used for Dressage schooling), and those that do not stretch and are used over padded quilt squares for traveling and while in the stable. When researching which product will best suit your needs and the needs of your animal, equine professionals, your local tack shop or feed store, shows and expos, and the internet can all be valuable sources of information.

To learn more about Meredith Hodges and her comprehensive all-breed equine training program, visit LuckyThreeRanch.com or call 1-800-816-7566. Check out her children’s website at JasperTheMule.com. Also, find Meredith on FacebookYouTube and Twitter.

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