You will find them in almost every branch of equestrian sport: tendon boots. The goal in itself is clear; is to protect the tendons. Yet not all tendon boots appear to perform their task well and sometimes they cause damage instead of protection. How is this possible? What should you pay attention to when using tendon boots?
A horse’s tendons consist of a bundle of fibres made up of robust collagen (protein). The more fibres there are and the closer they are to each other, the stronger a tendon is. As soon as a tendon is damaged, for example by overheating, injury, or overloading, this causes inflammation. The leg may become swollen, warm and painful, which can cause lameness in the horse. The annoying thing about tendon injuries is that the recovery takes a very long time. This is due to poor circulation in the tendons.
While practicing equestrian sports, whatever the discipline, the tendons in the horse’s lower leg are at high risk of injury. It is therefore not surprising we want to protect these parts of the horse’s body. But according to researcher David Marlin, tendon boots do not offer that much protection at all and in many cases they can even cause damage (source: thehorse.com). The material of the tendon boot plays a major role in this. Some tendon boots absorb a lot of sweat and moisture. This increases the weight on the leg and it takes more energy to move the leg. The material may also ensure that the horse cannot lose the heat it produces, causing the lower legs to become very warm. Overheating can lead to tissue damage or even cell degradation. On the left you can see how a tendon boot retains heat and on the right how a tendon boot transmits heat.
The number one selling tendon boots consist of plastic or leather with a lining of neoprene or wool. Neoprene (or polychloroprene) is synthetic rubber made from chloroprene. It is a soft, flexible and durable material. It is water resistant, making it an ideal material for outdoor activities. It is also elastic and can absorb shocks well. Ideal properties for tendon boots, but there is a major risk factor. Neoprene is a good insulation material and this is actually a disadvantageous property when used as a tendon boot because it can cause overheating.
Lamb or sheep’s wool is often used for the lining of the tendon boots. The natural structure of wool ensures that water is not immediately absorbed, so it is water-repellent. It has a natural elasticity and can form well around a leg. In addition, it is dirt-repellent and moisture-absorbent. Moisture-absorbing is a risk because the tendon boots become heavier due to the sweat produced. Wool also has the property that it insulates well, which is detrimental to the heat dissipation in the legs.
The outside often consists of plastic or leather. Leather is a durable material. It is elastic and resists sagging, tearing and cracking. An important property when using leather in tendon boots is that leather breathes and ventilates and thus adapts to the environment. Overheating will therefore take place less quickly. In addition, it is a flexible material, so the tendon boots will also be able to form to the leg, which is conducive to the mobility of the leg. Plastic, on the other hand, is less suitable, the material cannot dissipate the heat from the leg and increases the temperature in the leg even more. Often plastic is still chosen because they are cheaper than leather tendon boots and they are easy to maintain.
To prevent tendon injuries in your horse, it is therefore important to know which type of tendon protection you are using. Incorrect use or materials can cause your horse’s tendons to become damaged rather than protected. When using neoprene, wool and plastic, the possibility of dissipating heat must be carefully considered in order to prevent overheating in the leg.