So Necessary: The Value of the FEI Boot Check

Passing back and forth through the ingate, every rider in FEI competition knows the drill: a required pause as hands quickly run up and down their mount’s legs, boots come off, boots go back on. From show to show, the boot check area changes slightly, but the procedure is in place for the same reason: to provide fair and equal competition to all involved, and act in the best interest of horse welfare.

Last fall we talked with FEI Judge, Show Manager & Organizer David Distler about the boot check ins and outs, and as FEI 5* competition heats up around the world once again this week, we thought it timely to share a refresher course on the all-important boot check: 

First and foremost, it’s important to understand why we perform both the hind boot check before the horse and rider goes into the ring, and the all around boot/welfare check when horse and rider exit the arena.

The hind boot check was implemented by the FEI in 2014. So it’s still a fairly new procedure. It was added because there started to be a tendency to have the hind boot fit rather snugly, or maybe more than snug in order to make the horse sharper behind. So in performing the hind boot check before the horse jumps, we’re trying to get away from that tendency, and ensure that the hind boots are put on the way they’re meant to be used.

We also want to make sure that dodo boots are not being used. Those boots are illegal to use in FEI competition because they have hard rubber pieces that go between the tendon, so when the horse’s leg flexes, they cause the foot to go up from the uncomfortable pressure on the tendon.

About 90% of people reset their hind boots anyway before they go into the ring, so for them, the hind boot check is not a big deal.

The all-around boot-bandage check when the horse exits the ring, that’s been around since at least the ‘90s. Right around 20 years. The purpose of it is that you’re preventing someone from doing something to their horse’s legs to make them jump. It’s stopping people from cheating. In the past, people have tended to be improper, putting things under the boots or bandages, so that when the horse jumps it feels the boot or the object and jumps higher.

The boot check after the round is more of a thorough check of all four legs, the front boots, the hind boots, the bell boots, and includes checking to see if there’s any sensitivity of the legs, any abrasions on the horse, such as any whip or spur marks. If the steward sees anything, they obviously respond to it.

Now, you can’t do a thorough kind of check like that before you go in the ring because most horses won’t stand for it and it breaks the concentration of both horse and rider.

If you come out of the arena and you have a hot or nervous horse, you are allowed to walk in the schooling area before the overall boot/welfare check, so long as you stay within eyesight, and don’t take anything off the horse’s legs.

I don’t know of any stewards that don’t permit that, because no steward wants to get under a horse that’s acting crazy, and if it takes a couple of minutes for the horse to walk, that’s fine. Sometimes it can be ignorance on the rider’s part, where they don’t even know that they can ask to have a couple minutes to cool the horse out and walk around the schooling area before the boot check. I would never say no to that request from a rider. And if the horse won’t stand on the mat, which happens every once in a while, you go to them. If the rider wants to stay on or dismount, either way, it’s no problem. You try to work with everybody.

“The two boot checks are two totally separate things. If someone is saying otherwise, they either don’t understand what’s happening or they’ve been around someone who is doing it wrong.”

The two boot checks are two totally separate things. If someone is saying otherwise, they either don’t understand what’s happening or they’ve been around someone who is doing it wrong.

And you don’t catch everything, as there are always things that people will do to try to get around the rule. But for sure, since boot checks were implemented, the things that people try to do to their horses’ legs have drastically decreased.

You’ll always get some rider who’s going to smirk and say ‘oh yeah, they can’t catch me,’ or whatever. But at the end of the day, it’s a good thing. It stops a lot of cheating and it puts everyone on an even playing field.

It’s a lot like when the FEI implemented secure stabling. The original reason why they started secure stabling almost doesn’t matter. With all the horses stabled in the same area, there was no longer any way to slip out early in the morning or at night to give their horse a little school.

But when we first started implementing secure stabling control, a lot of riders were complaining about it. Horses were now stabled in different places and we got a lot of complaints that it was not right, not fair because they had to go between their two sets of horses.

But after a year, maybe two years at most, people started to realize that this wasn’t so bad, because everyone had the same shot, and everyone was under the same conditions.

Just as with the boot check, it benefits the horses, and it benefits the riders. A rider with an average horse can’t go out and make that horse perform better through artificial means.

Like I say, you could do the thorough boot check before the horse goes in the ring, but it takes too much time and the riders aren’t going to stand for it. I wouldn’t stand for it either—imagine having to pull all four boots off before you go into the ring.

With anybody who complains about stewards checking the horses to make sure they’re ok, something’s wrong there. I don’t know any good rider that would complain about their horse being checked.

I’ve been an FEI judge forever, I’ve never had a rider complain to me about boot check, or question the hind boot check. And if they don’t understand the whys, well, shame on them, and I hope reading this helps.

-FEI Judge, Show Manager & Organizer David Distler, as told to

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