There are many reasons for wrapping the legs of your horse. Wounds on the leg, tendon injuries and application of a poultice/liniment for stressed or overworked legs are the main reasons for a wrap. It is critical that these wraps be properly placed or you can do more harm than good – bowed tendons and sloughing skin are common occurrences from wraps that have been placed incorrectly and both of these can be very damaging to the horse as well as labor intensive to heal so best to avoid such.
Supplies to wrap a horse consist of padding, rolled gauze, gauze squares (for wounds) and the wraps themselves. The padding can be sheet or rolled cotton (preferable for wounds as it is disposable) or re-usable quilts. The sheet cotton consists of thin layers that are bonded to minimize shredding. This is very easy to work with but it can bunch up under a wrap if not applied with precision. Rolled cotton, which is basically loose cotton packed tightly and rolled, provides super padding but absorbs a great deal of moisture so can be contra-indicated for turnout.
Quilts are usually cotton but some synthetics are working well too. Pick a quilt size for each horse that sits on the cannon bone just below the knee (if it is too high it will pinch the skin as they try to bend the knee and may lead to sloughing of the skin) and at its lowest point comes to the bottom of the fetlock (lower than the fetlock and your bandaging will most likely be pulled off the leg and pool around the hoof). The quilt should be soft enough to fit the shape of the leg. Stiff quilts will bunch up under your wrap and this can lead to both sloughing of the skin and bowing of the tendons.
Rolled gauze comes in stretch, cling or basic rolls as well as in a variety of sizes. Clingy gauze is the easiest to work with but is the costliest. Pick a size appropriate to the length of your horse’s leg but keep in mind that if it is too short is can bind and if it is too tall it can bunch – 3-4 inches usually works for most. Gauze squares should be sterile if used for covering wounds. The non-sterile gauze squares are great for cleaning wounds with anti-bacterial solutions, as it does not shred like cotton.
Wraps come in a huge variety of materials, sizes, lengths and styles. Choose a size appropriate for your horse’s leg and a length that will easily wrap around the layers below. Standing wraps are made of some sort of slightly stretchy material but too stretchy may lead to a wrap that is too tight – the material should give but not really stretch – these are appropriate to use for poultice/liniment wraps where support is not needed. Wraps such as Co-flex, Flexxus, Vet-Wrap and many others are used when pressure is required. These bandaging materials have a great deal of stretch as well as a high tensile strength that is designed to support the heavy demands put on injured equine limbs. These are the most damaging wraps if applied incorrectly.
Application of your wrap begins with a clean and dry leg. If dealing with a wound this must be attended to and protected with wound cream and a sterile gauze pad prior to beginning the wrap. Once the leg is dry and wound dressed you begin with the padding. Apply everything toward the inside of the leg from front to back. Ensure that the cotton or quilt sits just below the knee and that is does not hit below the fetlock. Form the padding to the contours of the leg as you go with each layer smoothed over the last. Next comes the rolled gauze. Many forgo this step but if you are new to wrapping it adds an extra level of security as it helps hold the padding in place as you wrestle with the wrap itself. Do not pull the gauze at all – keep the roll next to the leg/wrap and unroll it as it sits against the limb – again applying it toward the inside of the horse and from front to back – if you drop it re-roll it to the point where it is once again next to leg and try again. As you roll it on to the leg overlap each layer by half. If you use a cling type gauze-roll it will stay in place without help. If need be you can tuck a corner under the last layer or use adhesive tape to keep it in place until you are ready for the last step.
Applying the wrap will make or break your bandaging efforts. You want to apply the wrap toward the inside of the horse and from front to back. As was mentioned above all materials that you place on your horse’s legs should be applied in this manner. The reason for this is so that as you pull each layer tightly into place you will be pulling against the cannon bone in the front and not the more sensitive tendons that run along the backside of the leg. As you consider the wrap itself this becomes even more imperative, especially with a wrap designed to create pressure as would be the case when trying to prevent swelling from a wound or other sort of injury.
As you consider how tight to pull the wraps around the leg keep in mind that the materials designed to create pressure do so mostly on their own – there is little need to stretch and pull these in any extreme manner. Think of snug but not tight, use a light tension in your arms only – do not put your body weight into it. Begin the wrap in the center of the leg, wrap down, then back up, each layer overlapping the one before it by half. Try to finish the wrap with the Velcro tab on the outside of the leg. As you practice wrapping, and this is definitely recommended, your goal should be a wrap that can stay in place as the horse moves about in the stall. You will learn the best place to begin the wrap so that the tab does, indeed, end up on the outside. Wraps for turnout require some experience so ask for help from your vet, trainer, barn manager/owner or a nice experienced friend.
Wraps should be checked frequently and changed daily unless otherwise instructed by your veterinarian.