I love the look of polos, but hate the fuss, so I use boots. Easy on/off, can toss them in the laundry and not wind up with a tangled mess. But I wonder whether I’m missing out on some advantage that polos have over boots.
I tend to use polos when my horse comes in with a random non painful cold swollen leg. I have a pair of Back on Track polos but even regular fleece polos allow for an even compression over the area and often bring the swelling right down when combined with some exercise.
I tend to use boots if I’m protecting against knocks and scrapes. I used sports medicine boots for a long time after my horse’s suspensory injury, and use them for winter hacking when there’s a crust on the snow or layers of thin ice in the snow as the ice can cut the horse.
I used to use boots, but I quit because I don’t like how hot my horse’s legs can get while wearing them. Maybe for a clinic, I’ll throw on my LeMieux boots which seem to be pretty well-ventilated, but that’s it. Once upon a time, I used polo wraps, but they’re such a pain to deal with, are so easy to get wrong, and just don’t seem to have much benefit, so I ditched those years ago.
Bandages are a big hassle to apply and to look after, overheat the tendons, may cause permanent damage if done incorrectly (e.g. too tight), do provide some protection. Boots are far easier to apply and to look after, possibly harder to fit incorrectly, may overheat the tendons, do provide some protection if your horse strikes into himself. Boots if needed, otherwise nothing.
Essentially, it confirmed what I’ve always thought - fleece polos make legs really hot. Boots also heat up the legs, but not as much.
That being said, I do a lot of upper-level lateral work, so I use leg protection to minimize the risk of topical knocks and bumps. To this end, I primarily use real sheepskin boots (the sheepskin helps dissipate heat, supposedly), or, if hacking out, well-vented splint boots (we go through a lot of water if we go out, and the sheepskin would just hold it). As far as I know, there is no evidence to the old thinking that polos “support” the tendons. So all you’re getting from either wraps or boots is a layer to prevent physical concussions of the lower limb. Which has it’s utility.
The only time I use polos is if my horse has a topical cut and I want to wrap it, in which case I put some salve on it, then put a gauze on it, then wrap the polo over it to ride. But the legs are always way sweatier than if I had just used (the right material) boots. (I say “right material” because I mistakenly bought some synthetic fleece boots over the winter and they made the legs quite sweaty also. So I don’t use those anymore )
Edited to add: Apparently naked vs. polos vs. boots is a touchy subject for a lot of people. I think the bottom line is to do what is right for you and your horse. Some choices will be hotter than other choices, and sometimes a little heat is the lesser of the two evils when compared to leaving a horses legs naked on a known interferer. Either way, I didn’t design the study, or write the abstract (which you can find online and has more details), so I don’t have any answers for those questioning the methodology or conclusions. For those of you that don’t like mysteries, you could probably email the corresponding author and ask them directly. There are lots of other published studies about heat under boots and wraps if you want to read up on it
On my older horse, I use nothing. Did boots early after buying, but in Fla it seemed like his legs were more included to get “scurffy”. On my younger horse he works in boots as he travels a bit close behind, and also because still building strength and balance in lateral work. I like the Equilibrium Stretch and Flex.
Polos, never as I’m lazy and they are too much work.
I have generally never felt that boots did much unless the horse interferes, but as I got more into the training and showing where “everyone” seemed to be using boots, I began to feel like a derelict for leaving my horse unprotected. I’ve outgrown that now!!
I use Arma Air Motion Brushing boots. They aren’t so hot and dry quickly. When I use polos my horses legs are noticeably more hot and sweaty. If I feel like being cute, I might use a set, but that’s really their only purpose for me. The boots are far more practical and have an actual strike pad.
I use polos over a thin pad, which would insulate more than the simple polos used in the study.
I have several questions about the study that would need to be answered before I took it seriously.
The study design compared wrapped vs unwrapped limbs over 20 minutes of exercise and THREE HOURS of standing recovery. The way the protocol is described, the wrapped limb is kept wrapped during the THREE HOURS post exercise.
A more useful design would be to analyze 45 minutes of work, followed by 3 hours unwrapped recovery. During the 20 minutes of work, the temperature of the wrapped limb rises gradually, and the temperature of the bare limb initially falls, then rises rapidly during the 15 to 20 minute interval. If exercise had not been stopped at 20 minutes, would the temperatures of wrapped and bare have continued to converge?
Why would you study the temperature for 3 hours after exercise leaving the limb wrapped?
Perhaps most crucially, the graph indicates the potential cellular tendon damage occurs at a temperature of 34.6 C. That is 94 F. The horses normal body temperature is 100 F.
When the horse’s normal internal temperature is 100 F, the article is claiming that an external temperature between skin and boot of 94 F is going to cause cellular nerve damage?
At the time that the study stopped the exercise phase, the temperature of the wrapped and bare limbs was converging rapidly, and therefore probably would have converged further if the exercise had continue to 30 or 40 minutes. If the study had unwrapped the wrapped limb after exercise, the temperature would have fallen.
Given these design issues, and especially the claim that cell damage occurs when the external temperature of the limb is at 94 F, I place zero faith in the study.
To protect tendons and muscles from damage, we walk the horse for ideally 15 minutes to “warm up” the soft tissues. Indeed the unwrapped limb was only starting to warm up after 15 minutes. The wrapped leg modestly starts warming up at 5 minutes.
Yes, using the thin foam pad under the polo wrap would retain heat even more than in the study.
The article claimed that cellular damage to the tendons occurred at 34.6 C or 94 F. How can that be possible when normal body temperature in a horse is 100F?
I googled “cellular damage to tendons in horses due to heat” and what came up was an article describing a study by a vet/PhD who was studying “contrast” therapy in which the horse’s limb was deliberately heated to above 40 C with a heating pad then cooled to below 15 C as a method of treating soft tissue injuries. The heat was said to increase metabolism and relax collagen. Contrast therapy in which the limb is alternately heated then cooled (heated to 40 C) is used as a therapy to rehab soft tissues in humans.
I am not taking the other study seriously until I see some reasonably scientific evidence that external temperatures of merely 94F cause “cellular damage”. I pointed out several other reasons the study seemed poorly designed.
If the horse is not shoed and moves correctly … for a shoed horse that acts like a clown or needs support for lateral work: light brushing boots (those for the lazy riders who don’t want to wash them daily and don’t want to buy new ones monthly). And when the horses run and play in the pasture like crazy, where they have no leg protection, I just turn around and pray. I used both boots and polo wraps - but over the years I had to accept, that all the injuries my horses had, were not preventable with leg protection.
My horse is shod and tends to move narrow, plus we do a lot of lateral work. He could easily knock the opposing limb with a shod hoof.
I use polos for work and boots for turnout or trail rides. If I used nothing, I would be shamed by the trainers and other riders for failing to take care of my horse. And not subtly; multiple people would come up to me saying “What, you are not protecting your horse’s legs?”
To which I would say “I’m protecting the health of his tendons”.
Everyone has to make the right decision for their horse. I’ve ben heeding the concerns about retained heat being harmful to tendons for years. For my horses, it makes more sense to let the increase in their body temperature dissipate naturally to the degree it can via circulation in the distal limbs. YMMV