Wrapping 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:
- Don’t apply the material too loosely because it could fall down and trip or scare the horse
- 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 bandageFor 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!