A few weeks ago, when I wrote the blog I mentioned that I was going to blog about some of the stories that helped define who Professional's Choice is today as a company--how and why we got here, what shaped our philosophies, and what helps us provide our equine partners with the best, scientifically tested, and most comfortable products available.
When going through our archives, I found a really neat story that I had forgotten about from 1991. It was printed in the April 1991 issue of EQUUS. I decided to reprint it here. Hope you enjoy!
After waiting more than a year for one of his best show jumpers to recover from a suspensory-ligament injury, world-class rider and trainer Ian Millar was losing hope that his horse might ever be sound. "Our veterinarian gave us a guarded prognosis," he says. "He didn't think the horse could compete again."
So, when a distributor offered him a pair of Professional's Choice Sports Boots, Millar figured he had nothing to lose. He covered the horse's legs with the specially padded "shin and ankle" boots and began light training. Today, he reports, after a few months of working in the boots, the horse is returning to his old form and is resuming rigorous show-jumping training.
A coincidence? Perhaps. But upon hearing several similar reports from veterinarians and trainers who have used the boots on horses with bowed tendons and suspensory injuries, Professional's Choice enlisted two independent scientific researchers to conduct special studies of the new product. "We wanted to state facts and not make claims," says the company's president, Dal Scott. "We wanted to have answers." He adds that before being marketed in 1989, the Sports Medicine Boots had undergone extensive testing and field trial analysis, but the new projects would provide clinical evidence of how the boots work.
Initially developed at the requests of several reining-horse trainers, Sports Medicine Boots are designed to provide support without restricting flexibility. Covered by neoprene fabric, each boot features dense, foam rubber padding similar to that used in protective football equipment. To facilitate ease of application and provide a snug fit, four Velcro-brand straps, one of which hooks up under the fetlock for a "sling-effect," hold the boot in place on the horse's leg.
To conduct the additional scientific studies, Professional's Choice called on William Crawford, DMV, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Calvin Kobluk, DMV, of the University of Minnesota. Crawford determined the boots' ability to absorb the energy produced when a horse's hoof hits the ground-a quality known as the bandage effectiveness- while Kobluk analyzed the product's effect on the equine gait.
Through a series of tests preformed under laboratory conditions and trial usage, Crawford determined that Sports Medicine Boots have a bandage effectiveness of 21.25 percent when they are brand new. (In contrast, standard galloping or polo wraps have bandage effectiveness of only six to ten percent.) Interestingly, after the boots had been worn through 20 hours of exercise, their energy-absorption rose to 24.56 percent. According to Crawford, the increase is likely due to the fact that the boot gradually conforms to the shape of the horse's leg, allowing it to more efficiently absorb energy.
Based on the results of his study, Crawford says that Sports Medicine Boots "provide very high levels of energy absorption which will help to prevent injuries associated with hyperextension of the fetlock." He adds that horses recovering from bowed tendons and suspensory-ligament injuries "will benefit from the high ability of these boots to absorb high levels of energy if they are worn during their exercise and training activities."
Meanwhile, in neighboring Minnesota, researcher Kobluk used a videotape system designed for motion analysis to film five horses galloping at racing speeds on a high-speed treadmill. During their first trial, they ran bare-legged; for their second effort, they were outfitted with boots.
"We were looking at exactly what the leg was doing in three dimensions," Kobluk says. "Was it flexing more or less? Was there reduced range of motion? Those kinds of things." He found that the Sports Medicine Boots caused minimal gait alteration, but some horses exhibited a slightly reduced range of motion in the fetlock.
Perhaps Kobluk's most interesting observation, however, was that the horses invariably shifted their weight forward, onto their front legs, when exercised in the boots. This is not difficult to gauge, the researcher explains, because the hoof lands on the ground, the knee can be expected to be at a certain height. But, he reports, when the boots were applied, "the knee went just a little bit lower, indicating more weight in front. Now, if that happened at the end of the workout when they got tired, you could say the tendons are stretching excessively or the horses are getting fatigued. But these horses shifted their weight as soon as they started exercising. A horse will always put more weight on the limbs he feels more comfortable on. I'm assuming that the boot gives them such a level of comfort such that they'll put more weight up front."
Even with Crawford's and Kobluk's findings in hand, Scott says analysis of the Sports Medicine Boots will continue. In particular, he hopes that controlled studies at various racetracks across the country will yield solid data on the product's ability to prevent career ending injuries.
But at least one user has evidence enough. "I'm a dubious type, very doubting," Ian Miller says. " But I've got to say I'm a believer."