Researchers call for industry standards and testing of horse boots because some don’t protect legs, and some can even be harmful.

Equine legs are at the mercy of a lot of potential blows–the strike of an opposite leg’s powerful overreaching stride, the impact of contacting a solid fence, the unexpected encounter with a sharp object in the field. If you’re like many conscientious owners, you’ll do just about anything to protect those precious lower legs from injury, and you’ve recruited everything from traditional polo wraps to fancy “support boots” to help. But according to equine researchers, many boots and bandages provide inadequate protection at best, or increased damage at worst.

“Some materials offer protection against concussion, but are ineffective against penetration, and other materials have the opposite problem in that they protect against penetration, but do not reduce concussion damage,” says David Marlin, PhD, associate dean for research at Hartpury College, in the U.K., who focuses his research on equine exercise physiology and biochemistry and is the author of more than 200 research papers and book chapters. “It’s almost impossible to predict which boots will do what until you either test them and/or take a knife and open them up.”

Currently the International Chairman of the International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology (ICEEP), Marlin’s high-profile research projects have included the studies of heat and humidity’s effects on horses in advance of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Among his concerns about boots: the effects of their weight on gait biomechanics, and their ability to trap potentially harmful heat against the animal’s leg. But first, there’s the issue of support, which he discussed along with Rachel Murray, MA, VetMB, MS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, ECVS, head of the Centre for Equine Studies a