Weighted boots make a horse work harder to lift its hooves. Therefore, trainers use them mainly to build up a horse's muscle, alter its gait or encourage it to clear fences more cleanly in show jumping or eventing. Buy bell boots that protect the coronary band and hoof, or brushing boots that look like padded splints or bandages and protect the tendons, fetlock or pastern. Some are made of heavy-duty polyurethane or leather, while many brands are styled like lightweight boots but with pockets where you can add weights, which can range from a few ounces to about 2.27 Kilogram.
Weighted boots on the hind legs make the horse try harder to lift its feet higher over jumps. Some riders use them in training and warm-up sessions, then remove them before entering the show ring so that the horse feels lighter and springier. Others fit weights just for the competition to make the horse more aware of having to leap higher. However, some horse-show regulations ban the use of weights over about a 1/2 pound, and some ban weights altogether.
Weighted boots change the horse's footfall. In dressage, they can teach the horse to use a higher-stepping gait. In trail riding, weighted boots can help a horse cope with rough or stony ground by encouraging it to lift its feet higher, and all-terrain types, which cover the whole hoof, can help a horse that normally goes barefoot by protecting the sole and wall of the hoof. With gaited horses (which amble in a four-step rhythm rather than trot), weighted boots can make the pace smoother. Horse shoes can weigh as much as boots and have the same effect, but boots are easier to put on and take off quickly.
Weighted boots help strengthen the muscles of the back, shoulders and hindquarters and can increase flexibility. Like non-weighted boots, they also protect from cuts and bruises, especially when jumping, and from overreach or brushing (when a hind foot strikes the foreleg), which can be a problem in dressage or for gaited horses.
Some horse trainers think weighted boots give an unfair, artificial advantage in the jumping ring and can cause muscle or tendon strain in the long term. Trying to change the gait in gaited horses can seem particularly unnatural. A 2009 study at University College, Dublin, has found that although weighted boots definitely made horses lift their hind feet higher when jumping, they could also strain the muscles of the back. Weighting the front limbs may cause knee problems and excessive jerking on the shoulder and lower neck muscles.
Take care that the boots or straps do not rub, constrict the blood supply or cause overheating, which can damage the tendons. Remove the boots frequently to check that the skin stays dry and free of fungal infection or abrasion.
- "The Veterinary Journal;" Weighted Boots Influence Performance in Showjumping Horses; Jack Murphy; July 2009
- "Cambridge Journals Online;" Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology, Josefine Wennerstrand, et al; March 2007
- "Horse and Hound;" Protective Boots: Are They a Help or a Hindrance? Sian Lawson, February 2011