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On Sport Boots and My Irrational Hatred Thereof

Buckle up, this is going to be kind of petty and pointless, but I’m going there anyway.

Last spring/early summer, I had Tristan flexed by our local lameness vet. I wanted to just get a good read on his soundness by an expert. I honestly half-expected to be doing hock injections. To my surprise, Tris flexed pretty darn sound overall, save for some slight soreness in his hind fetlocks.

Tris hasn’t had clean, tight fetlocks in…um…many years. He’s a big-jointed, thick-boned horse anyway, and his fetlocks are just kind of janky. Functional, but janky. So not a hugely out of sync thing for his hind fetlocks in particular to show a bit of soreness.

The vet recommended riding him in sport-style boots to give support to the fetlocks and so okay, I had just shelled out a good chunk of money for this vet to look at my horse. I dutifully borrowed a barnmate’s Professional’s Choice boots to start getting a read for what size and style he’d need. Then I bought my own version of them from Roma, used.

Reader, I fucking hated them.

Hate is a mild word. I saw red when putting them on. I wanted to swear every single second that I was putting them on. I ground my teeth. Were I a spitting person, I would have spat. A lot. Even thinking about putting them on makes my blood boil.

Thing the first: is there any way to put these fucking things on that doesn’t require a perfectly still horse, the exact right angle, the perfect amount of torque, and the stars to be in some kind of astrologically perfect pattern?

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Cute pony, but look at the awfulness that is that bulge on the side from wrapping the fetlock piece.

Because JFC, there is NO WAY to get them lined up neatly, snugly, and in one go-round. I have been putting sport boots on my horse semi-dutifully for about 9 months now, and it STILL takes me 3-5 tries of adjusting the velcro to get it straight, to get it snug, to get it in the right place, on and on and fucking ON. (Adjust upward for the number of times the velcro gets stuck on something, again and again and again.)

Thing the second: I hate the look of them. I haaaaaaaaaaaaate it. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am pretty darn far from a fashion-conscious or looks-driving horse person. I like things that work, that look neat, and that are (relatively) clean.

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More cute pony. Ugly boots.

I think sport boots look like ass. There. I said it. They make a horse’s legs look thick and blunt and clumsy and UGLY. Doubly so on my already clunky-legged poorly-conformed little mustang.

Thing the third: I loathe the way I have to get them so tight so that they “work.” See exhibit A below: when they are snugged up enough to actually stay in place through a ride and provide some of this mythical fetlock support, they make me a little queasy, and they leave actual indent lines in Tristan’s legs. Even after short rides.

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see that dent?

Thing the fourth, as you may have guessed: do they even work????????? I finally asked the barn manager “how will I tell these are helping my horse as they are intended?” and she shrugged and said it’s a cumulative thing. Okay. So I have to put these on my horse every day for the rest of forever and my only proof will be…his fetlocks are less saggy and sore than they otherwise might be? Compared to…what? Some forever unknowable baseline.

Horse’s legs are complicated and they take a ton of torque and you expect me to believe that 1/8″ thick neoprene (UGH) and some velcro is enough to hold up a fetlock under load? Like. Honestly. How does that work?

(I tried to do some research and one sports boot manufacturer said they “provide more support than polos” like NO FUCKING KIDDING, who in their right mind thinks polo wraps provide support and not just padding and good looks?)

I understand boots that provide some compression around the leg. I understand boots that prevent whacks by injury. I do NOT understand how fetlock support is supposed to be achieved by sheer dint of lining up this one little cradle of neoprene perfectly (which again, see above, IMPOSSIBLE). Walking around, I guess? Okay? But cantering? REALLY?

Actual science and actual vets back me up on this, btw.

Roepstorff is even more skeptical. “In the SDFT, the DDFT, and the suspensory ligament, you have a combined strain force of more than 1000 kg (more than 2,200 pounds) when the horse is just cantering—and much greater when he’s jumping,” he says. “Those are huge forces. You don’t support that by just putting something around it.”

So, here I am, rock and a hard place.

I hate them.

The vet told me to use them. The barn manager agrees with them. (She likes them and a bunch of other horses in the barn go in them.) I know his fetlocks aren’t great. They clearly flexed poorly.

Is there any hope? Is there something I’m doing wrong here? Am I the only outlier in the world that thinks these boots are infuriating garbage? Is there some way I can get over this? I legitimately fantasize about setting them on fire each time I have to put them on his legs.

Are there other boots that might provide some of this vaunted fetlock support? Is there some company that makes a version that is less infuriating and better-fitting? Or am I doomed to either ignore my locally trusted experts and go back to the dressage boots that I quite liked and did offer impact protection, or just suck it up and deal with these things forever?

I’ve thought about trying a few different brands but I don’t have endless amounts of spare cash to drop $100-$200 for boots only to hate them just as much as my current ones, over and over again.

HELP.

12 thoughts on “On Sport Boots and My Irrational Hatred Thereof

  1. omg I agree, they’re sorcery to get on. I groom for my trainer and thats the one thing I refuse to do because they’re never right when I do them. She has a pair of back on track ones that work well, but half the time the fetlock strap comes undone mid ride.

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  2. I have a different type of sport boot that I find fits better and you’re welcome to borrow them and see if they work/fit better. I used them on Levi briefly when he was getting wind puffs. I used sport boots on Dijon for YEARS. After he tore his tendons, so I got really used to putting them on. As for wether they work or not, I don’t know, but I’ve used braces on myself for various injuries and I find that they do help. I know a horse is exerting more force than a human, but it seems like the idea might transfer if the product is more substantial than a human version.

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  3. I have also been prompted by my elders and betters to put things on Harry’s legs—not really his fetlocks, but no matter—and I also dislike them. I also doubt they do much, considering the load on his feet, tendons, and joints. I am also suspecting that his feet matter more than his fetlocks, since a healthy frog is the pump that keeps everything
    moving and it also absorbs energy.

    Harry gets a rub from hocks and knees down with Absorbine, both before *and* after a ride, and I use something called Sore No More for his back, hind end, and hocks. It smells nice. Does it actually help? Dunno for sure, but it does no harm and we both enjoy it.

    He will be 23 this spring and he is now on full turnout. His was once prone to stocking up, but his ankles are now slender and downright fetching. He is also very dirty, but that is a different topic.

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  4. I also hate them, because they’re so hot. Even if they do provide a tiny bit of support (which I don’t buy) heating up the soft tissue that much has to negate that. Or so I’ve always imagined, anyway. Boots can perform useful purposes, of course, but wrapping a leg in a tube of material specifically designed for heat retention just does not seem like the way to attempt to support a fetlock.

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  5. Sometimes I think some vets (and trainers, and riders) are working with outdated information, so IMO if you don’t like them and they don’t do anything its definitely more than ok to stop using them!

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  6. I bought a pair of Iconoclast Boots for Harley after receiving a similar recommendation from my vet. They are expensive, still difficult to put on, not much (if any) better looking- but I liked the design better and felt like they had the best chance of maybe actually offering a tiny bit of physical support. I don’t really believe it, though. The only thing I think these boots have a chance of offering is an effect on proprioception- increased awareness of the limb. It’s possible that this somewhat extra “consideration” of the leg could potentially improve the mechanics to some degree… better placement of the foot, different activation of muscle. Merely conjecture at this point, though.

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  7. I was told to use them to help with Bobby’s DDFT injury. I did so for about…oh, five rides and then sold them because they’re the worst. He never had issues with that area again so clearly they weren’t missed.

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  8. I often feel that I am out in the wilderness with my refusal to put boots on my horses. I can see if for jumping or if they tend to hit themselves. This is for protection not support though. It it were me, I would ditch the boots.

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  9. Agree with Amanda above. The only place I’d keep using them (every freaking QH in the barn growing up went in them) is on actual working cow horses/reiners/cutters because I think they’re the best solution available for them right now. Until Tristan starts giving you sliding stops, I think you’re good.
    I will say that they are one thing where name brand > generic though – the non-PC ones don’t seem to go on as well and are kinda lumpy like you’ve found.

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  10. Coming out of the woodwork to support your reasoning: SMB boots don’t work: it’s logistically impossible. They can provide a little compression, and I’ve used them for protection when I’m afraid of the horse nicking themselves in really special ways simply because they cover more surface area of the leg and are more padded than polos…but for fetlock support? Pffffft. No. I hate that everything sticks to the neoprene too: they are impossible to truly keep clean and they take forever to dry after cleaning.

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  11. Also a sport-med boot hater here. For so many reasons. First, they’re so hot. Second, they’re hideous. Third, I used them once in high school on my hunter, and he was literally hobbling lame when I put them on. Took them off, perfectly sound. Did I put them on wrong? Probably. But if that’s the case, and they made him THAT lame, they probably are pretty dangerous in most hands.
    I personally still like polos in certain situations. Especially ones with the elastic for the outside half. I think they give a little more support than a dressage boot and I’d venture a guess not much less than sports boots supposedly provide.
    Will agree with Holly though. These types of boots are probably useful for reiners and similar sport types.

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