There are any number of reasons to bandage a horse’s leg. Bandaging can provide both protection and support for the horse while working, traveling, resting, or recovering from injury. Regardless of the reason a bandage is being applied, it is essential that the proper technique be used. Applied incorrectly, bandages will fail to perform correctly, which may cause discomfort and restrict blood flow as well as damage tendons and other tissues. A bandage that slips so that it bunches and creates a pressure point on the back of the tendon can cause tendon damage and create a “bandage bow.” A bandage bow can also be caused by a bandage that is too tight.
It is often better to leave a horse’s leg unwrapped than to bandage it incorrectly. Fortunately, there is nothing difficult about bandaging a horse’s leg. It generally just takes time and practice.
In most cases, bandages are applied too loosely rather than too tightly. A good rule for bandage tightness is to thump the bandage. A properly applied leg bandage, if you flick it hard with your finger, should resonate a sound similar to that obtained when thumping a ripe melon. The sound of the thump can differ depending on the material used, but the general idea is that the bandage should be uniformly tight.
Follow these basic guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners when bandaging a horse’s leg:
- 1. Start with clean, dry legs and bandages. If there is a wound, make sure it has been cleaned, rinsed, and dressed according to your veterinarian’s recommendations.
- 2. 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.
- 3. Start the wrap on the inside of the cannon bone above the fetlock joint. Do not begin or end over a joint, as movement will tend to loosen the bandage and cause it to unwrap.
- 4. Wrap the leg from front to back, outside to inside (counterclockwise on left legs, clockwise on right legs).
- 5. Wrap in a spiral pattern, working down the leg and up again, overlapping the preceding layer by 50 percent.
- 6. Use smooth, uniform pressure on the support bandage to compress the padding. Make sure no lumps or ridges form beneath the bandage.
- 7. Do not to wrap the legs too tightly, creating pressure points.
- 8. Avoid applying bandages too loosely. If loose bandages slip, they will not provide proper support and may endanger the horse.
- 9. Leg padding and bandages should extend below the coronet band of the hoof to protect that area (this is especially important when trailering).
- 10. Extend the bandages to within one-half inch of the padding at the top and bottom. 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.
Craig Wood, University of Kentucky