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Horse Equipment - Bell Boots
What Are Bell Boots?
Bell boots (called overreach boots in the UK) are rubber or leather boots that wrap around a horse's front fetlocks and cover the heels and hoof.
Bell boots are used to prevent an overreach injury. This is caused when the horse steps on the back of its own front foot with a hind toe.
The injury tends to create a 'pocket' of skin on the back of the fetlocks or the heels. Such injuries are hard to keep clean and prone to infection. They also often leave 'hard' scars, where the fur does not grow back at all. Overreach scars are seldom noticeable from a distance, but any horse that has one should be assumed to be prone to overreaching.
Overreaching can also cause tendon injuries (rarely), bruising of the heel or the sole of the foot and thrown shoes.
Causes of Overreaching
1. Conformation. Some horses, because of the way they move and are put together, are simply prone to overreaching, especially under saddle. (Although some horses do need to be turned out in bell boots). To establish whether your horse overreaches, check the heel and back of the fetlock for scars and have somebody watch you ride him. Overreaching is normally easily visible.
2. Jumping high fences. Many horses overreach when jumping, and the higher the fence the greater the likelihood of injury. Because of this, a good number of high end stadium jumpers compete in bell boots. Bell boots are also often seen in the cross country phase of eventing.
3. Soft or muddy going. In soft going, especially when cantering or galloping, a horse may find it harder to move his front feet in time and may overreach. If your circumstances are such that trail riding in the rain is sometimes unavoidable, it may be advisable to put bell boots on when the going is particularly 'bad'.
4. Fatigue. A tired horse that is out of condition is more likely to overreach.
5. Lack of balance. Green horses that are not used to carrying a rider are also more likely to overreach. (I would personally put bell boots on every young horse for backing and the first thirty days or so...they're cheaper than an injury).
6. Poor quality shoeing.
All of these can also cause 'forging', where the back toe strikes the sole of the front hoof or the shoe, which is clearly audible and can cause a horse to throw a shoe.
Types of Bell Boot
Bell boots are distinguished by two different things.
The first is the material of the boots. Cheap bell boots are generally rubber. More expensive ones are leather or ballistic nylon, the same stuff they use to make bulletproof vests. Rubber boots are cheaper, but ballistic nylon boots only cost about $25-30. Leather boots can be a lot more expensive.
The second is whether the bell boots are strap on or pull on. Strap on boots generally have a two-sided velcro strap which is placed against velcro on the boot, then further secured with an outside strap. Some boots may buckle or strap on. Pull on boots are a lot cheaper and come in rubber or leather. They are made of stretch material and designed to be pulled over the hoof.
Based off of my personal experience, I would always buy the strap on boots. The pull on boots are cheaper, but I always ended up wanting to throw the things on the muck heap...they are hard to get on and become even harder if you don't have a very cooperative horse. Strap on boots do not require that the horse lift its hoof while you struggle to put them on and I feel they are worth the extra cost.
Bell boots come in all kinds of colors, not just plain white or black, and the rubber ones will come in shades that will coordinate with any saddle blanket or outfit.