Equine Leg Bandaging
At some point, nearly every horse will need a leg wrap or bandage. However, an inappropriate bandage application can cause as many problems as a well-applied bandage can prevent. The key to successful bandaging begins with the proper materials and application. So, before you reach for the nearest roll of Vetrap, review some basic principles behind bandaging and wrapping legs:
1. Evaluate Need
First, it is important to evaluate what and why you are bandaging. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners1, several situations in which leg bandages are beneficial to your horse include:
· Providing support for tendons and ligaments during strenuous workouts
· Preventing or reducing swelling after exercise or injury
· Protecting legs from impact
· Shielding wounds from contamination and assisting in healing1
A proper leg bandage generally has two or more layers; an ample amount of padding secured by a support bandage and sometimes a protective outer layer. If a wound is involved, gauze pads or a sterile, absorbent dressing may be required as well.
Padding is essential for protecting limbs. At least an inch or more of soft, cushioning material should be placed between the limb and the bandage to help disperse the pressure evenly and prevent blood flow from being restricted. Roll cotton, sheet cotton or leg quilts work well and are lightweight and comfortable. Generally, the longer a bandage is to remain in place, the greater is the amount of padding needed.
There are many choices of bandaging materials, including track or polo wraps, cotton flannels, roll gauze or bandaging tapes, Elastikon and similar products.
The bandaging material should be at least two inches wide to avoid a tourniquet-like effect and allow for sufficient overlap as the leg is wrapped. Using stretch fabric makes joint bandaging easier, allows for movement, and is less apt to cut off circulation as long as it is not pulled too tightly.
3. General Guidelines
If you have never bandaged a horse’s legs before, ask your veterinarian or an experienced equine professional, such as a polo groom, or knowledgeable Pony Clubber to demonstrate the proper techniques. Practice under his or her supervision before doing it on your own. A well-applied bandage will look neat, even and finished.
4. Focus on the Details
Proper technique includes using the correct materials and wrapping the leg evenly with consistent pressure.
“It is best if the leg is clean and dry prior to applying the bandage,” said Jeff Hall, DVM, senior equine technical services veterinarian at Zoetis. “Also, moderate pressure should be used while bandaging to avoid over tightening. The key is to apply the bandage firmly but not too tightly.”
Other details to take note of include:
· Keep it clean. Shavings, straw, dirt and moisture can irritate the skin and increase the risk of a wound becoming infected. Start with clean, dry materials and check the bandage frequently for damage, dirt or moisture. Use uniform pressure, as you want an even distribution of compression along the leg. Uneven tension in a bandage’s securing layers can potentially cause tendon damage.
· Avoid incorporating frayed bits of padding that contain wrinkles or bunches. These can cause pressure points under a bandage.
· Overlap layers of bandage by 50 percent to avoid having edges of the wrap material dig into the leg.
· Ensure the bandage is smooth against the horse’s leg to avoid uneven pressure.
· For safety, the person applying the bandage should avoid kneeling or sitting on the ground, and should instead crouch, ready to move out of the way if necessary. Some horses initially resent wraps on their hind legs, especially over the hocks, so it’s best to apply these while in a safe position in case the horse kicks out.
5. Basic guidelines:
- Remove dirt, debris, soap residue or moisture to prevent skin irritation and dermatitis.
- Start with clean, dry legs and bandages.
- If there is a wound, make sure it has been properly cleaned, rinsed and dressed according to your veterinarian’s recommendations.
- Use a thickness of an inch or more of soft, clean padding to protect the leg beneath the bandage.
- Apply padding so it lies flat and wrinkle-free against the skin.
- Start the wrap at the inside of the cannon bone above the fetlock joint. Do not begin or end over joints - as movement will tend to loosen the bandage and cause it to come unwrapped.
- Wrap the leg from front to back, outside to inside (counterclockwise in left legs, clockwise in right legs).
- Wrap in a spiral pattern, working down the leg and up again, overlapping the preceding layer by 50 percent.
- Use smooth, uniform pressure on the support bandage to compress the padding. Make sure no lumps or ridges form beneath the bandage.
- Be careful not to wrap the legs too tightly, creating pressure points.
- Avoid applying bandages too loosely. If loose bandages slip, they will not provide proper support and may endanger the horse.
- Leg padding and bandages should extend below the coronet band of the hoof to protect the area (especially important when trailering).
- Extend the bandages to within one half inch of the padding at the top and bottom.
- Check bandages daily to make sure they are securely in place and not cutting off circulation.
- If there is a potential problem with bedding or debris getting into the bandage, seal the openings with a loose wrap of flexible adhesive bandage such as Elastikon adhesive tape.
- Rewrap the legs every 1-2 days to minimize the chance of circulation problems caused by slippage, or skin irritation due to dirt or debris entering the bandages.
- Before rewrapping take a few minutes to examine the legs for any signs of heat, swelling or irritation. Problem areas are usually wet with perspiration.
- Allow the horse ample time to become accustomed to leg bandages before trailering, riding or leaving alone in a stall.
Talk With Your Veterinarian
If you have any further questions or concerns about bandaging techniques, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian. As your animal health care partner, your equine practitioner has your horse’s well being at heart. He or she is always happy to explain and demonstrate sound health care practices.
There are also videos available on YouTube demonstrating proper leg bandaging and U.S. Pony Club has a manual explaining bandaging, by Susan Harris.
1 American Association of Equine Practitioners. Leg Bandages – Bandaging Your Horse’s Legs. 2017. https://aaep.org/horsehealth/leg-bandages-bandaging-your-horses-legs. Accessed August 23, 2017.
(Bandaging photo courtesy of Horse Journals)
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