Turning Out: To Boot or Not to Boot?

horse turnout boots

Hey Dr. Gray…I have an eight year old Oldenburg who is going through a phase of wanting to cut up his legs in the pasture. They’re not bad, but I don’t want my horse going around with cuts up and down his legs. I’ve been wanting to get him turnout boots, but I wasn’t sure what kind. Any recommendations? The only thing is I don’t want fleece lined ones because of our crazy Southern summers. Price isn’t a big issue, this is my horse we’re talking about, not something easy to replace. Thankfully, our grooms are really good with horses and I trust them to put on boots that are more complicated. I’ve been turning him out in Eskadron open fronts and ankle boots, but they’re not very protective. What are some things to keep in mind while shopping? Do you have any personal favorites? Thank you so much! I really appreciate it!

-MW, Georgia

Dear MW,

Since you asked me this question and not one of our Product Specialists, I’m first going to approach it from a medical perspective and then from a management perspective. As a veterinarian, I started asking myself: why has an 8yo warmblood gelding suddenly begun injuring himself on turnout? Answers range from he’s developed a medical issue that is affecting his way of going, balance or perception, to something about the turnout has changed (new horse, new field, new hours), to something about the way he is kept in general has changed (different diet, different workload, different barn or trainer). I’ll let you dwell on these questions while I move on to the next issue.

A recent study measured horse behavior between three groups: two hours of turnout before training (TBT), two hours of turnout after training (TAT), and training without turnout (NT). While there were notable differences in under saddle performance and stalled behavior between the no turnout vs. turnout groups, researchers also observed that horses in the TBT group were significantly more active during turnout than horses in the TAT group. The take-home message for you—unless your horse is already on full turnout—is to try to work him before he gets turned out so he’s less rambunctious during free exercise, as long as he will be safe to ride when he’s “fresh.”

Another method for reducing injury during turnout is either turn him out alone (but where he can still see other horses) or limit his partners to horses that don’t play rough or encourage him to run. You can also restrict him to a smaller paddock rather than a larger pasture so he can’t actually gallop. Does he wear shoes? Bare feet may inflict less trauma than shod hooves.

Now to actual protective wear, with the understanding that many times the decision regarding equine turnout protection is based on personal preference and trial-and-error. So starting at the bottom, many people like the safety that bell boots provide to coronary bands, heel bulbs and other fragile structures on the limb. This isn’t something you mentioned but a very popular turnout boot choice nonetheless. Next, I think we can agree that polo wraps are not appropriate leg protection for turnout because of the possibility of loosening, unrolling or catching on objects. Therefore an actual boot with closures is probably the best choice for free exercise but which one?

Not only will a closed-front splint/brushing/galloping boot offer more protection than an open-front boot, the sports medicine-type models seem to cover the most exposed skin. However, they’re also the trickiest to put on correctly, can get waterlogged, and have a tendency to trap heat. Since each type of boot has its own pros and cons (material, washability, breathability, etc) I’ll leave it to you to experiment with what meets the needs of your horse and his human handlers best. The good news is there’s a wide variety of boots available to select from! The bad news is there’s a wide variety of boots available to select from. I encourage you first to try and figure out why your horse is suddenly injuring himself on turnout, then make an effort to reduce his rambunctiousness during play time, and finally contact our Product Specialists for boot suggestions. They’re a team of real riders that may have some ideas based on what has worked for their own horses.


Lydia F. Gray, DVM MA, currently serves as the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other locations. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association and enjoys training and showing her trakehner Newman in her spare time.  Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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