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Bandaging Legs

by Merrydale

Wrapping legs is a bit of an art, and a science, too. I learned how while working at WSU Vet School during my undergrad years.

A standing wrap is the most commonly used, and I use it every day with my horses. The best standing wrap is a machine washable pad (also known and sold as a "quilt") underneath with a cotton or poly knit bandage over. Pads like the No Bow pad, which as I described has a Beany-baby like material on the outside and thin foam on inside (about 1/8-in. thickness) is best. Anything more pillowy and I find them very hard to wrap around the leg without a wrinkle - and that is what you definitely want to avoid. A wrinkle wrapped tight will bow a tendon by creating a blood bubble. That is the first reason wraps must be wrapped with even tension from bottom to top, and that the pad must be smooth against the leg, and that even the best person at wrapping needs to reset every 10-12 hours or so. A thinner pad, such as those cheap quilted pads or leg quilts (similar to a bed pad material) don't last and aren't thick enough as they have cotton sheeting material over batting. Batting tends to "pill" (bunch up) and the stitches in the quilting tear out or bind the leg. So look for wraps from places like Jack's, or Dover Saddlery. Stateline Tack doesn't have the kind I usually use. However, the wraps can be of polyester knit, with velcro, or cotton knit. Poly lasts longer but they are bigger. Pads come in several sizes, all about the same length but height - 10" to 12" is about right for the front legs and 12" to 14" about right for hinds. 16" Is a shipping wrap. Those pillow wraps are ok for that but I've never seen a horse come off the van without having them slip, you just can't wrap them tight enough. A shipping wrap should cover the coronary band on up to the knee or hock, so it's quite a large wrap. Often flannel bandages are used, with a bandage pin or tape to secure them. This is rather old fashioned today as there are excellent shipping boots with velcro available that give more protection and easier to use!

A standing wrap should be wrapped starting at the middle, take your bandage in one hand and hold the pad on the leg with the other. Wrap down around the ankle and on up to finish just under the knee or hock. It takes practice to learn how much bandage you have left so you end up at the top; I like to cover the white pad completely to keep busy lips from grabbing it and pulling it out from under the bandage and creating a bunchy disaster. Some people like to see that little 1/4-in. of white on top and bottom for looks. However you manage, make sure the bandage is smooth against the leg; when you start your pad or quilt, the front edge should fall over the front side of the cannon bone, rather than the soft side of the tendon at the back. Once you have completely circled the leg with the pad, or quilt, then take your rolled bandage in one hand while you hold the wrap in the other. Start the bandage about in the middle. Wrap down first, to the bottom of the ankle, then work your way up. Wrap each loop about halfway up the next loop and it will remain even in tension. You should end at the top with the velcro fastener on the outside, but if you're inside a little, it's ok. A tip: keep your thumbs on bandage and it will stay even.

How tight should it be? Each loop should be snug against the next, so that if you wanted to stick a piece of straw in the loop you would have to work at it. The pad should be comfortable, however, so that 1-2 fingers easily fit down the top and up the bottom. (You'll want to wrap much tighter for a schooling wrap or brace bandage) I wrap clockwise around the leg, as this was how we were taught at vet school. But you can wrap any direction as long as it's snug and smooth. Practice, practice, practice - on table legs and your own arm, too!

Do you have a nibbler? A horse that MUST wear a bandage but takes it off, or pulls on the cloth? First of all, a horse like this is in extreme danger of bandage bowing himself, and only in the most extreme cases should he be wearing a bandage. The risk is far too great to have a bandage on a nibbler just for "looks" or to keep him clean before a show. You can't wash off a bow! But if he must wear one, here's a few tips. Wrap that bandage so evenly it'll be had to get teeth on a loose piece of the cloth. Cover the pad with the bandage. Carefully use one or two wraps of electrical tape over the velcro fasterner. Spray the bandage with a product called, "Raplast". This stuff is the best available anti-chew substance in my opinion. It's nuclear waste/tear gas mixed, I swear - don't get ready to use it until you're absolutely all done with your horse and won't need to go in the stall again. Don't use a lot of it, either - a couple squirts will do, on the top and bottom and on the velcro, places on the wrap that a confirmed nibbler will grab with his lips. And don't wipe your eyes with a hand you use to take the bandage off either. (Been there, done that, lived to tell about it.) A bib can be buckled to the halter, also - this is a plastic molded piece that looks like a bite out of a bucket that straps on to the three rings of the halter under this chin. People do make bibs out of bleach bottles, too, that work. As a last resort, a neck cradle can be used but this is indicated where a cast might be under the bandage or drain inserted that would harm the horse if he pulled out.

Exercise bandaging requires a few more tricks, as now the ankle joints will be bending and flexing, a lot more than when the horse is just standing in the stall. We use an underpad while using a brace bandage, again, to spread the tension evenly against the leg. This is polyester batting about 1/8 to 1/4 in. thick, in white. In comes in long pieces we usually cut back to only 12 to 14 in. in length (they come about 10 in. high). The reason is we want as little interference as possible and need that sheeting smooth and tight. It has to form fit around the ankle so we can get those figure-8 wraps smooth. This is a racehorse product but you can find similar at a yard goods store.

A brace bandage, such as the Saratoga product bandage, is rubbery and very stretchy and meant to be on tight! Be careful leaving these on for more than one hour. In fact, we often warm up in conventional wraps or boots and put them only on to race. A brace bandage should always be taped in addition to the velcro on the end for safety. Nothing more dangerous than a trailing wrap around the hind legs! A brace bandage should go down under the sesamoids and this is done by angling the loop slightly as you go down so that it criss-crosses, almost in a figure 8 pattern, with the cross part in the front. Don't overdo - you still have to wrap up to the top. Vetrap or Coflex bandage is often utilized in wet or deep going to do the same thing, and many people do not use the pad underneath but wrap directly onto the legs with these products - which is ok if you know how to do it. You must pull on the wrap and stretch it as you go for it to go on smoothly - it does need to be tight to work right. Tape for security. (Don't pull on your tape to cut it off - tear it, to avoid a too-tight restriction.)

Polo bandages too work nicely for mild protection; people make lots of mistakes, however, with polos, by not getting them down far enough to cover the ankles ( at least over the ergot at the back), or not getting them tight enough (they fall down like big socks). It's tough to get that polar fleece type material snug; in my opinion, polos are really more for show than protection, and should not be used anywhere other than an arena, as they gather dirt and hold it against the leg.

As far as exercise bandages go, remember the old horseman's rule: When in doubt, leave it OUT! There are excellent splint boots, etc. available today and they are much better at providing protection in my opinion. Polo wraps look nice but I've seen a horse slice a tendon right thru a polo wrap, where if he had a leather or plastic protective boot there would not have been an injury.

Splint boots, brushing boots, bell boots and the like should be in every horseman's tack box. Anyone with a big striding Thoroughbred should definitely have a pair of soft rubber bell boots, either the pull-on kind or the velcro-opening kind. These are used most often on the front legs, and protect the bulbs of the heels from overreaching from behind. Size your bell boots to your horse's feet. A large sloppy bell boot on a small footed horse can trip him, or work up and down on the back of the pastern and cause a rub. Use the smallest bell boot that will still turn a little. Open style bell boots unless fit snugly will rub sometimes as they turn - the pull-on's do give you hernias but they are best for the horse. Turn them inside out to get on, that way you can pull on the larger side and it give you some leverage over the toe. There are many, many different styles of tendon boots, splint boots, etc. made today, many are inexpensive, provide great protection, are made of lightweight, washable material, and look super. No one style fits every horse, shop around for the best price, and buy the correct size for your horse and you should be ok. Merrydale