Leg Bandages and Leg Wraps
By Don Blazer
The other day a woman called me over and asked, “Would you check this bandage and see if it is right?”
“Why are you bandaging the horse?” I asked.
“She’s kind of sore, and I want to work her.”
I didn’t ask why she wanted to work a sore mare. I looked at the bandage. It was a shipping boot applied over cotton.
“This is not an exercise bandage,” I said. I took off the bandage from the left leg, and my gosh, what a surprise, the mare had a small bow. I took the bandage from the right leg. Same condition. I suggested she call her veterinarian before working the mare.
“There could be a problem here,” I said.
I’ve found that bandages, such as bell boots and splint boots, are often used for no specific reason other than “they look good.”
A professional bandage doesn’t have a “look” unless it’s one of neatness. A professional bandage is not there to be seen; it’s there to prevent bumps, nicks and scrapes, to protect an injury, or help a healing process.
It is not necessary a bandage always be started in a certain place, or that it ends in a certain place. What is necessary is that the bandage stays on and it does the job it was intended to do.
The biggest danger with bandages is that they are misapplied – so tight they cut off circulation, or are not flexible enough to give with the movement of the horse.
Bandages put on by the novice horseman are often quite neat, and just as often serve no function.
The shipping bandage is the most common. The handler usually wraps the bandage neatly, (and, of course it matches the color of the horse’s blanket, the halter and the trailer) but fails to cover the area most frequently injured – the pastern and coronet. Shipping boots are fine if they are pulled down over the pastern and coronet
The best materials for wrapping the leg are heavy cotton sheets and heavy flannel strips. The strips should be about six inches wide. A good knit bandage and quilts can also be used.
The preferred method of wrapping a leg is to always wrap from the inside out. Start by placing the cotton or quilt on the inside of the leg - in the groove between the tendon and cannon bone. Then bring the cotton forward, across the cannon, then around the leg. Do the same with the flannel strips or knit bandage. When pulling the bandage snug, pull across the cannon bone, not across the tendons. Pulling across the tendons can cause a bowed tendon.
Many old-time horseman finished bandages with safety pins. While this has been done for years at race tracks, I’m thoroughly modern and like Velcro. Some horsemen still use tie strings, but there is a danger since they don’t “give” with movement.
If the horse is being bandaged with braces and sweats, the same bandaging materials are normally used. (It is often common to cover the sweat solution with a plastic wrap, and then cover with cotton or a quilt.)
When medications are being applied, it is the wise horseman who checks carefully on the proper use of the paint or ointment, the need for additional protection and the length of time the bandage should be left in place.
I like to remove the bandage both mornings and nights just to make sure circulation is good, and the leg remains clean and is progressing as expected.
An exercise bandage should have some elastic properties so it can be pulled tightly enough not to slip. If cotton is used under the exercise wrap, then it must be thin sheet cotton. If the padding under an exercise wrap is too heavy, it can lump and cause excessive pressure in specific areas. Exercise bandages should not be left on for more than one hour.
There are special bandages for special problems, such as the spider bandage for use on knees. Such bandages have very specialized uses, so be sure you know how and why before applying.
Before applying a bandage, ask yourself – will it protect the leg, prevent against cuts, scrapes and bumps, or help the healing process? If it hasn’t got a specific purpose, it doesn’t look good; it looks “out of place”.
As for the sore horse with the bowed tendon – the vet was called, the horse was treated and the owner was advised to rest the horse.