How to Choose the Right Boots for Your Horse

Updated December 8, 2022
A horse cantering wearing sport boots on all four legs.

No matter what discipline you ride, everyone can agree on one thing: leg protection is important. Whether you have a young horse who doesn’t quite know where his feet are, a horse who interferes with herself, or you want to shield your horse from cuts and blemishes in turnout, choosing the right boots can make all the difference.

Types of Horse Boots

Like so many things in the horse world, there are many options to choose from when it comes to horse boots for riding and training. Here, we’re going to tell you about the different types of boots available to help you find the perfect ones for your type of riding and horse’s needs.

The Versatile Sport Boots

Brown fleece sport boots on a horse's hind legs.

These boots go by many different names – sport boots, splint boots, brushing boots, galloping boots, etc. They are considered to be all-purpose boots because they wrap around the entire cannon of the lower leg and can be used for a variety of different uses. Sport boots cover the tendons, the cannon bone, and the inside of the fetlock, and often have additional padding on the inside of the leg (sometimes called a “strike pad”) to protect the medial splint bone from potential concussions.

The outer shells can be made with materials such as neoprene or leather and are lined with neoprene, fleece, or wool. They are typically secured with Velcro closures. When choosing all-purpose boots, consider that while fleece and wool can be quite comfortable, they tend to hold onto moisture and may require extra maintenance during wet weather. You should also keep in mind that the Velcro closures will need regular cleaning to ensure they fasten properly.

This type of boot can be used on the front legs and/or the hind legs. Brushing boots are commonly used for flatting and light jumping, hence why they’re known as all-purpose boots – they can handle it all! Brushing boots are also often used during turnout to protect the legs from the nicks, cuts, and knocks that can happen when your horse is having fun outside – read our article on choosing boots for turnout.

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Cross Country Boots

premier equine cross country boots

Cross country boots are designed to withstand the demands of a cross country course and protect horses’ legs from interference, underbrush, and scrapes while not holding onto dirt, sand, or water. These protective boots cover the cannon bone as well as the tendons, and they’re typically lightweight, well-ventilated, and easily dried.

They’re commonly made from materials such as mesh, neoprene, leather-like materials, and nylon. Cross country boots come in pairs and will be made specifically for the front legs or the hind legs. And while they’re designed for riders who are out on a cross country course, you’ll still find them handy even when you’re out on the trails or hacking out in a field.

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Sports Medicine Boots

professionals choice sports medicine boots

Sports Medicine Boots (SMBs) wrap around the lower leg and the fetlock joint, providing coverage from below the knee to the top of the pasterns. They have a unique strap that wraps underneath the fetlock and helps to provide some support to the suspensory ligament on both the front and the back legs. They are commonly made from neoprene because that provides some concussion protection as well as a small amount of stretch. This type of boot is perfect for riding sports that require intense work on the flat, such as dressage or barrel racing.

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Open Front Boots

black equifit open front boots

Open front boots focus their protection on the tendons in the front legs while leaving the front of the cannon bone exposed. These boots can be made from a variety of materials, but are typically designed to be both breathable and lightweight. They often feature specially designed cutouts to accommodate flexion of the knee and fetlock while the horse is jumping. This type of boot is most commonly used for jumping because the design allows the horse to feel that they have touched an obstacle while still providing protection from an overreaching hind foot.

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Ankle Boots and Fetlock Boots

black hind ankle boots by eskadron

Ankle boots, which are also called fetlock boots, are designed to provide the hind legs with protection from interference. They come in two designs, both of which have similar functions:

  • One design will wrap around the back of the fetlock joint and leave the front of the boot open, similar to the open front boot.
  • The second design is more comparable to an all-purpose boot, where they provide additional padding on the inside of the fetlock.

No matter the specific design, ankle boots do not provide coverage for any area above the fetlock joints.

Like open front boots, ankle boots can be made from a variety of materials. They are often found in a matching set with a front boot counterpart, so you can provide protection for all four legs. This type of boot is most suited for jumping, flat work, or any time a horse may be experiencing interference behind.

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Skid Boots

skid boots on hind legs

Skid boots are hind boots designed to protect the back of the fetlock joint from friction when a horse stops suddenly. They are often made from a leather-like material and can be used over other boots or polo wraps. They are most commonly seen in Western disciplines where stopping suddenly is common, such as cutting and reining.

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Bell Boots and Overreach Boots

Bell boots, which are also known as overreach boots, are used on the front legs to protect the heels and to prevent a shod horse from pulling his shoes off when overreaching.

purple bell boots

They are commonly made from a durable rubber material, but can also be made of nylon, ballistic nylon, and leather-like materials. Bell boots are a popular choice for turnout as well as during exercise across disciplines.

Bell boots can have a fleece lining around the top portion that sits along the pastern to reduce the chance of rubbing. Look for this feature if you have a horse with sensitive skin. Depending on the style, the boots may need to be pulled on over your horse’s hooves or they may be secured with Velcro.

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Shipping Boots

Shipping boots are tall, protective boots that cover your horse’s legs from knees to heels in the front and from hocks to heels in the back. They tend to be loose-fitting around the tops and bottom, where they need to flex to allow the horses to move.

lavender purple amigo shipping boots

Shipping Boots are designed to protect the horse’s legs while they are in a trailer, airplane, or another mode of transportation, in the event that the horse loses his balance and gets injured. They are most commonly made of a durable nylon material with additional protection at the heels.

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If you need help choosing the right boots for your horse, our experts are here for you! Contact our team by giving us a call, email, or chatting online with us. And don’t forget, we offer free return shipping on all sized items, so if you don’t find the perfect horse boots on the first try, you can exchange them for free!

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The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.

Originally published March 15, 2018