Best Way to Wrap a Horse

I always see riders using polo wraps on their horses. I was first told that they provide support to the tendons in the horse’s legs. Then I was told that they are not supportive, but only for protection. Which is correct? How do you properly wrap them? Should I use them? HELP ME!!

SP, Georgia

What is the best type of standing wraps to use and what is the best technique for using them? I see that the 6″ wide outer wraps are available. What is better for the inside wrap? A no-bow or the quilted wrap? My horse has to be on stall rest for 45 days with a small tear in one of the more superficial tendons on his right front. I unwrap and then rewrap 2X per day with a 10-20 minute “break” in-between.

AW, California

Dear AW and SP,

Unfortunately for you guys, there are about as many opinions on wraps (and boots) as there are, well . . . wraps and boots! That’s probably because the purpose of applying wraps and boots varies based on many factors:

  • Age
  • Breed
  • Use
  • Confirmation
  • Level of training
  • Level of conditioning (fitness)
  • Footing / Terrain
  • Rider / Handler
  • Medical issues of the feet and limbs

For example, a 20-year-old grade school horse giving four lessons a day on limited turnout may need a standing wrap overnight in the stall to prevent “stocking up,” harmless swelling of the lower legs due to decreased circulation. This is an example of using wraps to provide pressure support. On the other hand, a three-year-old warmblood being started under saddle may need splint boots and bell boots during training sessions to prevent a hind foot overreaching and striking a front foot or one leg hitting another leg as the young horse develops its balance. This is an example of using boots to protect the legs and feet from injury.

SP, to answer your question, university studies show that both wraps and boots protect horses from interference-type injuries but only sports medicine boots absorb and dissipate the concussive forces of the hoof. That is polo wraps do not restrict sinking of the ankle (fetlock) during the weight-bearing phase of the stride and therefore probably do not help prevent “bowed” tendons or “pulled” suspensories. Because it is possible to cause harm by improperly applying polo wraps, you may want to consider splint boots, open front jumping boots or ankle boots as protection for your horse when you’re exercising him or he’s turned out. However, knowing how to wrap a leg is a very important stable skill (see AW’s question above), so I encourage you to ask your veterinarian or trainer to teach you how to safely put on a variety of wraps: standing, shipping, exercise, wound, etc. Wrapping a horse’s leg is not something I can teach you in a blog but something you need to feel for yourself under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable instructor then practice, practice, practice!

Now to AW’s question. The specific materials to use for a standing wrap really come down to personal preference. The only “rules” you have to follow are to put a layer of padding next to the horse’s leg then cover it with a layer of pressure support, wrapping in the same direction, making sure to leave a little bit (1/4 inch) of padding sticking out at the top and bottom. Nowadays, even these rules don’t always apply, because there are combination wraps that start out as padding and end up as support. Because you’ll be wrapping your horse’s legs every day, twice a day, a product like this may appeal to you because it’s very convenient. If you’re traditional like me though, you’ll stick with a cotton quilt for the first layer and a six-inch standing bandage for the second layer. I advise you to try different materials and choose the combination that your horse seems most comfortable in, that the leg looks the best in when you unwrap it, and that holds up well after washing and washing and washing!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM MA, currently serves as the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other locations. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association and enjoys training and showing her trakehner Newman in her spare time.  Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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