The Trouble with 'Travel Boots'

As many of my loading clients will know, I hate travel boots. You know the ones; the big fluffy bulky boots that make your horse walk awkwardly after being put on. The typical human reaction to seeing a horse walk with these boots on is usually met with fits of giggles and laughter from onlookers as the horse picks his legs up high, brings them out wide, and tries to kick them off.

Well, its no secret but some horses seem to hate these boots as much as I do. And yet, their owners continue to use them because the boots are ‘travel’ boots and the owners want to keep their horses as protected as possible...

Not only are these giant boots uncomfortable for horses to move in across a flat surface, they are also restrictive when trying to walk up a ramp into a lorry or trailer. These boots can actually cause horses to refuse to load – Believe me, Ive seen it on several occasions!

These boots restrict the movement of the joints, causing horses to feel pressure when they try to lift their legs. Ive also seen cases of horses tripping over when using travel boots as the boots have slipped down, and the horse can stand on a boot and be unable to step free of it.

Aside from the design faults, I have a problem with the materials these boots are made from. Often padded with foam, or lined with fleece, these boots cause limbs to get hot and sweaty, which can cause stamping, rubbing or the boot slipping down. Many horses dont travel well when wearing these boots - and understanding more about the physiology of horses during transport, I can understand why...

Believe it or not, when a horse is travelling, they are not just ‘standing still’ and they are definately not resting. Contrary to what many people believe, when horses are in a moving vehicle, their body is constantly adjusting to the motion and movement. Muscles in the body have to constantly react - tensing and relaxing in order for the horse to stay on his feet. If he was truly resting, when you go around a corner, he would fall over as his body would not be reacting to the movement quickly enough. The lower leg is also working hard during transportation – tendons and ligaments are also working (stretching and flexing) to stay balanced as the vehicle moves.

All these physical adjustments are tiring – the horse is essentially being exercised in a confined space, and this exercise and muscle/tendon/ligament response produces heat. You will often see the body of the horse steaming (releasing heat), or sweating after a journey, but many people fail to notice the heat underneath and within the travel boots. Due to the materials already mentioned, they can trap heat against the limb and cause the limb to sweat. And limb sweating in horses is bad news…

There has been research conducted that states that if the tendon core exceeds 45 degrees, the cells within the tendon can degenerate and die. This damage is potentially career ending, and yet the risks of overheating can be minimised by using alternative limb protection.

So, knowing all this, what other options are there if we are to avoid ‘travel’ boots I hear you ask…

Some people prefer to bandage limbs in preference to bulky travel boots, but this can have the same consequences. Many bandages are made of fleece, which also insulates heat against the limbs and absorbs sweat – potentially making the bandages heavy and at risk of slipping and tripping.

Other people are happy to travel horses with no boots or bandages on which would keep the limbs cooler, but this has its own risk of knocks and bumps if the horse is unsteady during the loading/travelling experience and injures itself.

What can we do to protect our horses from knocks and bumps, but at the same time, keep the limbs as ventilated, comfortable and cool as possible?

As an IH Trainer, I see a lot of different approaches to limb protection during travel. Until last year I was recommending a well known brand of sports medicine boot that offered a level of protection without the bulk, believing that some limb protection is better than no protection at all…

However, after doing some research, I realised that this particular brand of boot was made of materials that insulated the limb, despite being described at ‘breathable’. Lets just be clear – perforated neoprene (neoprene with holes in) is still neoprene… Neoprene is ideal for wetsuit material for humans – keeping heat against the human body and offering insulating properties, but the same principles apply when it is on the leg of a horse.

Studies have shown that when comparing a neoprene boot vs a non-neoprene boot, even after both sets of the boots have been removed from the limb following exercise, the core of the neoprene boot holds heat, even when removed from the limb for 10mins. Neoprene is not good for limb health, and yet so many companies use it and advertise it as breathable…?! Anyway, that’s another blog post…!

So knowing all this – looking at the design faults of travel boots, and the choices of materials that can have an impact on breathability, I’m pleased that I can now recommend a brand of boot that offers breathability, is comfortable for the horse to wear, and is made from materials that do not insulate limbs. And if you prefer bandaging to travel, I can recommend breathable bandages and breathable bandage liners too.

You may have seen me recommending The HUSK on my facebook page and website – a British company that I have been fortunate to work with for the last 15 months. They have a range of 3D breathable boots, bandages and bandage liners that can truly be called breathable! No neoprene, no foam and certainly no fluff - the technology involved in these products is different to other products currently available and so many riders are now seeing the results of their horses feeling more comfortable.

If boots are your preferred method of leg wear, the ‘La Irenita’ boot would be my choice of limb protection – offering breathability, and constructed from 3D impact dissipating material that does not insulate the limb or absorb water, these boots are the most versatile in the range. Allowing a 3D flow of air these boots allow limbs to perform natural heat exchange - warm air from the skin can be replaced with cooler air. Air can circulate inside the boot, directly in contact with the skin. Tested in Argentinian heat alongside professional polo players and vets, these boots are just brilliant for so many purposes. Here are some of the HUSK Ambassadors - kitted out in the Irenita boots and another with the Irenita boots and thermoregulating rug.

Titan La Irenita boots and Thermoregulating Rug

If you prefer to bandage, HUSK have Air liners and breathable bandages that are also ideal for travel, as well as exercise! Here is a HUSK customer in Dubai, using the HUSK products for a photoshoot launching the new Lamborghini! (Obviously, white is not the most practical colour of bandage and liner for travelling – so there are also a limited number of steel grey liners available, and a range of bandage colours too)

Find out more about the HUSK limb protection range here:

Horses need to feel comfortable, so as owners and horse trainers, we want the horse feels as cool as possible when travelling...

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