Basic Horse Bandages
By Eleanor Blazer
In your role as a stable manager or horse owner you may have to apply leg-wound bandages, exercise bandages or leg protection for shipping.
Protection is the number one reason for putting a bandage or leg wrap on a horse. If it doesn't protect, it doesn't matter how good it looks.
There are four types of leg protection - (1) wound bandages (2) standing wraps, (3) exercise wraps and (4) shipping boots or wraps.
You can make wound bandages from almost any clean, soft material in an emergency. For normal day-to-day scrapes and cuts, you should have several sizes of gauze pads, and gauze wraps in your first aid box. (You can purchase all sizes, shapes and lengths at most drug stores. Keep them in their boxes before and after each use; once contaminated they can cause trouble rather than prevent it.)
For leg wounds, use the gauze pad or gauze wrapping, then leg quilts or sheet cotton, topped by a self-adhesive crepe bandage (most common brand name Vetrap) or a standing bandage. Use a short piece of adhesive tape or masking tape to secure the "bandage" tie.
With wound bandages the purpose is to medicate and protect.
Standing bandages are just that; bandages applied to give the legs mild support or to cover a mild leg brace or in use with a "sweat" while the horse is standing in his stall or pen. Horses should not be turned out or exercised while wearing standing bandages.
The most practical standing wrap is the machine washable quilt and the polyester knit wrap.
There are all kinds of quilts-some made with foam, some pillow, some plush-but the best are simple cotton as they are easy to use and easy to wrap. Quilts that are too thick, too spongy or too slippery are difficult to handle and increase the chance of mistakes and eventual injury.
If you feel that a single quilt is not thick enough to afford protection against a bandage bow, use two quilts together for double thickness.
Quilts come in sizes by height: 10 to 12 inches, good for front legs; 12 to 14 inches, good for hind legs. Anything over 14 inches is generally considered a "shipping quilt." When purchasing quilts, buy good quality. Cheap, thin quilts will gather or bunch and will "wear out" after several washings.
When buying outer wrap knit bandages, again look for quality. Cheap bandages don't last.
Even though most knit bandages come with Velcro fasteners, always use a wrap or two of masking tape over the Velcro fastener. (Plastic tape is used only on exercise wrap.) Masking tape breaks easily and will not tighten or stretch, as will plastic tape.)
Exercise wraps are very tricky and should not be attempted the first time without an experienced supervisor watching. Exercise wraps are most often seen on race horses, sometimes jumpers and sometimes cross country eventers.
Exercise wraps do not give protection to the leg, nor do they help hold tendons. A well-done exercise wrap simply slows down the descent of the fetlock joint, helping to avoid serious pulls or tears to tendons or ripping of joint ligaments.
The exercise wrap is stretchy and is meant to be on tight. Adhesive elastic bandage is used frequently (such as Vetwrap).
It is never a good idea to have an exercise bandage on longer than one hour.
With the many good exercise boots on the market it should not be necessary to use exercise wraps. The danger of causing a serious problem due to improper application of the wrap is great. If using wraps there is also the possibility of it becoming loose and tripping or frightening the horse.
SHIPPING BOOTS OR WRAPS
Those who want to protect a horse's legs during shipping usually use commercially produced shipping boots. The use of quilts and knit bandages for protecting legs during shipping is an option.
Shipping boots are generally fleece-lined, well padded and fasten with Velcro strips, so they are easy to put on and take off. The best boots, from the horse's point of view, have a flap across the back of the heel which protects the bulbs of the heel when the boot is in place-- extending below the coronet band. There are shipping boots for front legs and shipping boots for hind legs.
Shipping wraps are usually made of a thick quilt about 14 to 16 inches in height. The quilt must be wide enough that it extends below the coronet band and the bulbs of the heel. The top of the wrap should be just below the knee. (This is one of those cases where it isn't always pretty, but must always protect.)
The quilt is held in place by a long knit bandage, the same type used for standing bandages. Again, the key is protection.
The wrap must cover the coronary band and the bulbs of the heels or it isn't worth the time to put it on. Most trailer injuries come from the horse stepping on himself as he tries to maintain balance during a turn or during stops, or from slipping off the side of a trailer ramp. Most of the injuries are therefore scrapes and cuts to the coronary band, the bulbs of the heels or the pastern.
If you plan on hiring a commercial hauler to transport a horse check their policy about leg protection. Some companies prefer the horse's legs not be wrapped, as the driver will not reapply the bandages or boots. The driver may remove the loose leg protection…or not.
If you decide to protect legs with boots or wraps get the horse used to wearing them before the day of shipping. Allowing the horse to wear the chosen leg protection in the stall will give you time to see how they fit, if they stay on and how the horse reacts to having something on his legs. Poorly made or poorly fitted commercial shipping boots can become loose, allowing them to slip and slide off.
Many people who transport horses will only protect the front legs. It is possible if the horse urinates in the trailer the wraps or boots can become soaked in urine. This could lead to scalding of the skin, kicking or stomping because of irritation.
As with all equipment used on horses - if it is poor fitting or causes irritation discontinue use.
Never put a full bandage on one leg without putting a full bandage on the opposite leg. This applies to hind legs as well as front legs.
* For information about how to wrap legs take the online course "Stable Management" taught by Eleanor Blazer. Earn certification or work toward a Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies.