One of the most commonly used boots for leg protection on horses are bell boots. Bell boots help prevent a horse that over reaches from cutting or bruising the back of a front hoof heel, with the toe of a rear hoof. Bell boots are fairly inexpensive, so if you think you have an over reaching problem, it's not a great outlay to buy a pair. Even so, it's a good idea to find out why the horse is over reaching. For some horses this is a function of conformation and there is nothing that can be done. Older horses that have joint stiffness and do not move as surely and fluidly as they once did may occasionally over reach. If this is your horse, be thankful bell boots are inexpensive.
When Horses Need Bell Boots Temporarily
Some horses over reach when the toes of the back hooves are left too long. Talk to your farrier to see if the trim can be modified. Young horses that lack muscle and are awkward as they begin working can easily clip themselves. Horses that are allowed to work on the forehand may also over reach and clip themselves. These horses need to be worked so that they use their hindquarters without becoming 'strung out'. Some horses stumble and over reach because of back problems. Proper saddle fit, a good riding seat and a chiropractor can help sort out back problems that can often manifest themselves as gait and lameness issues, including over reaching. Bell boots will help prevent injury until these horses muscle up and learn to work in a proper frame.
Bell Boots Protect Performance Horses
Performance horses that drive hard with their hind quarters can over reach. Jumpers, reiners, ropers and other high-performance sports demand that the horse move off powerfully and turn and stop quickly. This can lead to miss-steps and over reaching. You will often see some type of bell boots on these horses
Bell Boots Don't Protect Horses That Forge
Although forging is similar to over reaching, bell boots will not help protect the horse. Forging is when the back hoof hits the sole of the front. Bell boots don't cover far enough down to prevent this.
Types of Bell Boots
The most inexpensive bell boots are simple rubber pull on boots. These are the best type for turn out because they won't hold the damp and dirt. They're also fine for riding, although on some horses, they make an odd flapping noise as the horse travels. Buy the proper size by measuring the circumference of your horse's pastern and add about an inch. This way, they won't be too tight, and won't bind or rub. The softer, stretchier rubber bell boots will be easier to put on than some of the heavier rubber types (unless you have very strong hands). If you have the heavier type, try soaking them in hot water before putting them on.
Some rubber boots have hook and loop fastener, and these are easier to put on than the pull on type. The downside of these boots is that the hook and loop fastener gets filled with hair and dirt, making them hard to secure. They're also more likely to come off when riding or when the horse is wearing them in the pasture or stable.
Both rubber and synthetic bell boots can be designed to conform to the shape of the horse's hoof to prevent turning. This also helps prevent chaffing.
While there are a number of colorful and easy-to-put on choices for riding, the best boots for turnout in the pasture or in the stable are the simple rubber pull on boots. These withstand the rigours of ice and snow, rough ground and horse play with little worry of their coming off. They dry quickly and don't hold grit as synthetic fabric bell boots do. With time, they may wear out and split or tear, but because of their affordability, they're easily replaced. You are not restricted to black boots of course. There are many different colors, including rainbow and sparkled models.
How To Put on Bell Boots
To put one-piece bell boots on, turn each boot inside out. Pick up the horse's hoof as if you are going to clean it out. Put the wide end of the boot over the hoof, as if you were going to put the boot on upside down. Pull hard on the top of the boot until the hoof pulls through. You may have to work your away around the boot to get the small end over the widest part of the hoof. Once the boot is on, it will be upside down and inside out. Just pull the edge of the boot down so that it's right side out and the widest part of the boot is around the widest part of the hoof. If the boot fits properly, you should be able to fit a finger between the top of the boot and the pastern, and the boot should sit just above the ground along its bottom edge.
Whatever type of bell boot you choose, be sure to check that they don't rub or cause irritation when the horse is wearing them. If this is happening, you'll likely need a slightly larger size so there's some room around the pastern. Keep them clean, and replace them when they become worn or torn.