Look in any tack catalogue and the variety of splint boots, skid boots, interference boots, ankle boots and bell boots -- not to mention the various combinations available -- causes the mind to boggle. How do you decide? The first step is figuring out what you want the boot to do.
For instance, shipping boots are designed for maximum protection while a horse is standing on a shifting surface for long periods of time. The best ones cover from the knee or hock to the ground, but they are just as the name says--for shipping or standing only.
If you need a boot for work, select one made for motion. Splint boots, which reach from just below the knee down to cover the ankle on the inside of the leg, are designed primarily to protect the inside of a horse's legs from blows from the other leg. They are useful in protecting the lower legs from cuts and scrapes on cross-country rides or when jumping. An open-front boot is available for those horses that need to feel a rub when jumping.
Skid boots are the best choice for protecting a horse's fetlocks in those disciplines that require repeated sliding stops. Ankle and interference boots protect the ankle and fetlock areas while leaving the lower leg otherwise bare.
Bell and overreach boots protect the lower pastern and the bulb of the heel, and can sometimes help prevent sprung or lost shoes. The pull-on type of bell boots can be used for riding, but if you decide to turn your horse out in bell boots, use the kind with Velcro® closures so they will come off easily if they become entangled while your horse is unsupervised.
Boots are available in a wide range of materials, from the ever-dependable leather to space-age plastic, with linings made of everything from fleece to nylon, and fastenings that range from buckles to Velcro. Your choice of materials may be dictated by cost, but also consider how much daily maintenance you're willing to exert in keeping your horse's boots in good shape--and how much time you're willing to spend strapping them on and taking them off.
For your horse's comfort, boot linings must be kept clean, smooth and free of grit. A pair of fleece-lined leather splint boots with buckles can take longer to apply and remove; they can also be extremely high-maintenance after a muddy cross-country ride. A pair of neoprene splint boots with Velcro fasteners can be pulled off in seconds and hosed down right alongside your horse.
To use your carefully selected boots effectively, it's important to understand how to apply them. An incorrectly applied boot, like an incorrectly applied bandage, can do more harm than good. A boot that's too tight can cut off circulation, while one that's too loose can slip. Pressure from fasteners should be applied evenly down the length of the leg.
If you're not sure what size you need or how it should fit, ask a professional who's familiar with that type of boot to help you size it and correctly put it on. Practice until you're confident that you can do it correctly. Application instructions may be included with the product. Reading them may save you the embarrassment of wrapping the suspensory strap on your horse's new Sports Medicine BootsTM around its pastern.
(P.S.: The suspensory strap should be pulled up under the fetlock and attached as directed at an angle along the side of the boot.)