How To Wrap Your Horse’s Legs

wrap-a-horse-legWrapping a horse’s legs is a barn skill every owner should master. From applying polo wraps for exercise to shipping bandages for trailering to standing wraps overnight in the stall (with or without poultice, a sweat or other medication), there are many reasons why the equine limb might need additional support.

The most important things to remember about bandaging are:

  1. Don’t apply the material too loosely because it could fall down and trip or scare the horse
  2. Don’t apply the material too tightly or unevenly because it could cut off circulation or cause what is known as “cording” or a “bandage bow.” This is damage to the tendons on the back of the leg (bowed tendon) from an improperly applied bandage.

Step One: Select the appropriate bandage

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SmartPak Polo Wraps

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For exercise, a stretchy, soft, fleece-like material is popular. Often called a polo wrap, these usually have Velcro fastening at the end and are typically about 5” tall and 9’ long. Standing (stable) or shipping bandages are taller and longer, more like 6” tall and up to 12’ long because they’re used on the outside of a quilt, which is additional padding to protect the leg. They’re also less stretchy, being made of a thinner knit or polyester material. Quilts are made out of cotton and come in several heights (12”, 14”, 16”) to better match the height of front or hind legs in large or small horses.

Step Two: Prepare the horse and materials

There’s nothing more frustrating than finishing a wrap on a wiggly horse only to find the Velcro is on the wrong side. Make sure your outer wrap is rolled correctly before you start! To correctly roll a wrap (especially brand new bandages), start at the Velcro end and place the closure on the INSIDE. Roll snugly and evenly to make unrolling against the leg easier and more uniform. Finally, make sure your horse’s legs are clean and dry, that he’s standing on a level location, and that he’s either tied safely or someone is holding him.

Step Three: Wrap two to four legs (polo wrap version)

  1. The first rule of thumb if you’re going to wrap one front or hind leg–let’s say to cover a wound—is to wrap the other one too. Not only does wrapping both legs provide equal support, especially important in the case of an injury where circulation might be compromised, the horse may be less likely to chew or kick a bandage off if both legs feel the same.
  2. The next rule is “put the roll to the back.” That is, place the end of the bandage in front of the leg and keep the rolled up portion in back of the leg about midway down the cannon on the outside of the limb, The inside of the roll should be facing you. You should have just enough bandage out in front of the leg so that when you wrap it around to the inside of the cannon it ends behind the bone and in front of the tendons, in that little groove. Adjust the length if necessary.
  3. Now hold on to this end while smoothly unrolling the bandage so that the first wrap covers the end. Once the end is secured you can let go of it and head down the leg with the wrap. You’ll notice for the left legs you’re wrapping in a counterclockwise direction but for the right legs the direction is clockwise. Each turn should cover about 50% of the material from the last turn. Try to keep an even tension on the bandage as you wrap, neither tugging in places nor letting it go loose. At the bottom of the leg, make a “sling” under the fetlock then head back up the leg. Go all the way up to where the knee starts then come back down and end midway down the cannon where you started. Fasten the Velcro securely. A correctly applied polo wrap should have a “V” at the front of the fetlock where you changed directions, evenly spaced overlaps, and no wrinkles or bunching.
  4. Applying a standing (stable) bandage
    The same principles apply to wrapping a horse whose movement will be restricted in a stall except that first you have to put on the quilt. Although there’s no Velcro on this padding layer, try to roll it inside-out also and start the same way, with the end wrapped around the front of the cannon bone and tucked in the little groove between the bone and the tendons. Center the quilt between the knee and fetlock. When you unrolled the quilt completely, wherever it stops just tuck the end of your standing bandage an inch or two inside the end of the quilt then wrap like you did for the polo wrap. The main difference here is that you will not form a sling around the fetlock but instead leave an inch of quilt sticking out the top and bottom. Spiral down the leg, up the leg, and end in the middle just like before.

These are the basic instructions for applying an exercise wrap and a standing wrap. With practice you’ll soon learn just where to start, the correct tension and how much to overlap so that you end halfway down the outside of the leg every time. Keep in mind there are lots of variations such as applying a shipping bandage (some prefer to wrap over a bell boot), “sweating” a leg or wet poulticing. A standing wrap can also be used to protect a wound that may have medication, a non-stick pad, and vetrap or brown kling gauze as the first layer. Just remember to put a standing wrap on the other, non-injured leg too!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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15 comments on “How To Wrap Your Horse’s Legs
  1. Alida says:

    Important to remember to always wrap to the
    Inside. Pulling your tendon in.

    • Goodyear says:

      Hm… Careful of this… It might be misconstrued… Never ever wrap so you’re pulling on the tendon. Always wrap so you’re pulling towrd you againsed the canon bone, and therefore never binding or putting uneven pressure on the tendon. It will be supported but not injured this way.

  2. Nancy Wooton says:

    Why not have a video about applying wraps?

  3. Chris Doede says:

    Great article. Would love videos.

  4. Alex Bailey says:

    Thank you for this article. I have been looking for instructions on wrapping legs in my horse mags and have been unsuccessful.

  5. Shawn says:

    A very important thing to note is that when you are wrapping, pull from the front to the back because you want the pull/pressure on the bone (third or large metacarpal) in front of the leg not on the back of leg (where the more delicate sesamoid bone, tendons, more soft tissue, etc are located).

  6. Mary says:

    Can anyone help me with the best way to care for an old injury of a bowed tendon?

  7. BB says:

    Something I see all too often is only ONE leg being wrapped! And I’m talking about professionals. I have always been taught to wrap both front or both hind to equalize circulation pressure. This article reinforces this information, which I’m so glad to see.

  8. JAD says:

    Another suggestion I have been told is to wrap the injured leg in a different color standing wrap than the other legs so you can remember which leg it is. Especially helpful if you have a lot of legs to wrap on several horses.

  9. Janet says:

    It is hard to tell with the black wrap, but the picture above appears to illustrate a wrap being applied the wrong way, tendon out; counter-clockwise on the right leg. Not to nit-pic, but that could be confusing for some people.

    • Mary Steinhardt says:

      It is being applied the wrong way. The tendons go from front to back and you need to wrap the legs that way. The picture is an incorrect wrap.

  10. Paige says:

    Most importantly, if you’re in doubt DON’T WRAP or have an experienced horse person wrap your horse! You can do more harm than good.

  11. Alissa says:

    This is an excellent article and clearly articulates the correct way to wrap a horse with polos or standing wraps. However, I notice that the picture for this article shows the person wrapping “tendons out” which conflicts with the correctly given “tendons in” advice in the article.

    • Hi Alissa, thanks for your feedback. When I first looked at it, the image was playing tricks on my eyes, too! However, if you look closely at the no-bow under the track wrap, you can see that the rider photographed is wrapping in a correct “tendons in” fashion (keep in mind that “tendons in” isn’t the same for all legs – on the left legs, you’re wrapping in a counterclockwise direction but for the right legs the direction is clockwise). We confirmed this on the original hi-res image, by zooming in like crazy :-). Thanks again for checking in and keeping us honest!

  12. Jan Trigg says:

    Possibly the wrapper is left handed ? I’m a lefty and the pic looks correct to me. An easy way to remember which way to go is ( looking from the back of the horse to front)(or sitting on top ) Right is right, left is left. ALSO, I wanted to mention the importance of the 2nd leg wrapped. To be a little more specific… you want to wrap the 2nd leg because the horse will put more weight on the leg that is feeling good and therefore exert more force on that leg then normal. Wrapping the good leg now gives it support so as not to injure this one as well.

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