Study: Boots, Wraps Increase Leg Heat During Exercise

Tendon boots help protect horses’ front legs from injuries such as hoof strikes or collisions with jumps. Wraps protect this sensitive area during travel or flat work. But Austrian researchers have determined that boots and wraps have definite effects on skin and tendon temperature as well—and those effects are probably not without health consequences for the horse.

During exercise skin temperature under boots or wraps increases significantly—in a recent study sometimes more than 30%, according to Simone Westermann, DrMedVet, a researcher in the Units of Large Animal Surgery and Orthopedics at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

Whether that leg temperature increase is good or bad, though, remains to be determined, Westermann said. Especially on cold days, keeping tendons warm might be a good thing, since cooler temperatures can constrict the blood vessels in the tendons. However, too much heat can damage tendon cells, as well, she said. High heat can prevent sufficient oxygen from reaching tendon cells, which can lead to insufficient cell metabolism and overuse injuries.

Westermann and her fellow researchers investigated 10 riding horses worked on the longe line, with or without wraps or boots. They measured leg temperature using local sensors and thermography at rest and during trotting. On the first day, without wraps or boot, horses' leg temperatures remained essentially the same between resting and trotting. On the second day of testing, horses wore a fleece wrap on one front leg and a neoprene boot on the other. The wrapped and booted legs' resting temperatures were only slightly higher than those of the bare legs. But when the horses were exercised at the trot, the covered legs' temperatures were significantly higher than the bare legs'.

Bare legs did not heat up much during trotting exercise, Westermann said. This is likely because the air flow allows the heat to evaporate, whereas boots and wraps keep the heat trapped inside, she said.

“It cannot be excluded that heat development under a tendon boot during strenuous exercise could be detrimental to the tendon cells,” she said.

Still, that’s not necessarily a reason to abandon tendon boots and wraps, she added. “I think using tendon boots for normal training is not a problem,” she said. “And boots and bandages protect the tendons mechanically from trauma of hoofs or bars, etc. It also helps to keep the foot warm.” A warm foot has good blood flow to it, which is important for the foot's health.

Although Westermann's study results confirm a heat increase, it’s too early to make practical recommendations, she said. The team didn’t compare open and closed boots, different kinds of materials, or varying outdoor temperatures. Their research is ongoing.

The study, "Effect of a bandage or tendon boot on skin temperature of the metacarpus at rest and after exercise in horses," was published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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