#MasterclassMonday is a collaboration between Horse Network and NOELLEFLOYD.com to empower equestrians. Every Monday we’ll bring you a new lesson from a leading trainer or professional to help you troubleshoot your training, master your mindset and up your game. This month’s instructor: Olympic groom Max Corcoran.

If you’ve been following along with #MasterclassMonday, you know we’ve discussed boots and polos briefly so far (to get way more detail, check out my Equestrian Masterclasses on Horse Care for All Seasons, and Leg Protection 101). 

By now, you know how important it is to protect our horses’ legs; there are tons of tendons and ligaments ,including the superficial deep flexor tendons, deep digital flexor tendon, and the suspensory ligaments, that must be protected. If not, long term injuries are on the line (and we all know just how much fun dealing with those are). 

But, what about our horses’ heels? We constantly hear about how important it is to protect our horses legs, but isn’t protecting our horses’ heels just as important? The answer is yes! 

A horse’s heel is the foundation for the entire hoof. If you’ve ever heard the saying “no hoof, no horse,” you get why protecting the heel would be so important. One of the most common issues we run into is when horses overreach with their back hooves and in turn, step on the back of their front heel or heel bulb.

While this may not seem like a huge deal, what might seem like a minor issue can certainly turn into a larger one (fairly quickly too). In most cases, this will leave a small cut or bruise on the back of the front heel, but in others, the horse can actually rip their entire front shoe off or a large chunk of their heel. This can especially become dangerous if you’re in a high pressure situation such as a show. 

Want more? Max goes into depth in her Equestrian Masterclass courses.

Luckily, there are tons of ways to prevent this including these three types of heel protection: 

  • Everyday Bell Boots
  • Classic Bell Boots or Overreach Boots
  • Heel Cuffs

Everyday bell boots are typically a softer, yet durable material making them most comfortable for your horse to wear on an everyday basis. These bell boots also come in rubber, which are a great ‘all weather’ alternative. When fitting your bell boots, the bigger or wider part of the boots always goes on the back of the hoof so that it can protect the bulb of the heel. 

Classic bell boots, also called overreach boots, usually come in rubber to suit all weather conditions, but are available in other materials as well, depending on your horse’s needs. These bell boots are used for your everyday riding, training, and even sometimes in competition to keep the horse from catching themselves.

An important thing to remember when fitting bell boots is that you want them to cover the hoof almost down to the floor, but not to the floor. If they’re too big, the horse can step on it and trip themselves. Always make sure there’s at least a little bit of room between the bell boot and the floor before riding with them. 

Heel cuffs are most popular in the jumper world and are exactly what they sound like—a cuff that protects the heel. These are great to use if you don’t want to use bell boots or simply because your horse is more comfortable in a cuff.

Unfortunately heel cuffs don’t usually work too well for cross-country because they slide up due to the intense galloping and jumping. To prevent this from happening, some people will get a thick cloth tape to help keep it in place. This is sometimes a smart idea to do regardless of your discipline just in case they were to slide up unexpectedly.  

Check out Olympic groom Max Corcoran’s Equestrian Masterclasses: Horse Care for All Seasons, and Leg Protection 101.