For horses in transit, shipping bandages are an essential part of life. But do they really provide the support, compression, and protection they’re purported to for your precious cargo?
The short answer is maybe.
Standing bandages can help reduce any “stocking up” or wind puffs, but the actual “support” provided to the tendons and other leg structures isn’t as much as you may think.
Horses carry 60–65% of their body weight on their forelimbs. For a 1,200-pound horse, that’s almost 400 pounds per forelimb while standing. It’s hardly surprising that a paper in a 1992 issue of the American Journal of Veterinary Research found stable bandages provided little reduction in strain on the sesamoidean ligaments.
While bandages may offer little in the way of support during shipping, they can help prevent or lessen injuries to the lower legs—if used properly.
Do it right
Sounds obvious, right? Proper bandaging technique is worth mentioning because incorrectly applied wraps can do much more damage than they aim to prevent. A wrap that’s too tight, has uneven pressure or slips down and bunches up can compromise the blood supply to the tendons in the back of your horse’s leg, causing potentially irreparable harm. Learn to bandage well before attempting a shipping bandage.
Here’s a how-to video on proper technique for Dominion Veterinary Labs to get you started.
Acclimate the horse first
The same tenet applies to acclimating a horse to bandages prior to shipping. Bandages on a horse that is not accustomed to wearing them can become “a liability instead of an asset,” cautions UC Davis’s CEH Horse Report. Particularly if the horse tries to self-remove them via his teeth or kicking in a moment of panic.
Always wrap both legs
Even if you feel your horse only needs support or protection on a certain leg, make sure to wrap the opposite leg as well. According to SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray, not only does it supply equal support, horses are often less inclined to chew or rub the bandage off if both legs feel the same.
Start with clean legs and bandages
Pillow wraps, fleece, quilts—whatever your bandaging material preference, start with clean wraps in good repair and be sure the horse’s leg is free of dirt, shavings, straw, etc. and moisture before wrapping to prevent irritation. If the bandage has Velcro to hold it in place, make sure it’s free of fuzz and debris so it adheres properly.
Cover the coronary band
Horses in trailers are prone to stepping on their coronary bands, pasterns and heels. “Especially if they’re wearing shoes,” says US equestrian team vet Dr. Michael Ball, “and even more so if the shoes have toe grabs, heel grabs, or other traction devices.”
Injuries to the coronary band can be both particularly painful, causing lameness that might prohibit the horse from work, and may result in a permanently abnormal hoof growth in that area, which could cause long-term problems.
To prevent or lessen the severity of coronary band injuries, shipping bandages should be long enough to cover from just under the knee or hock all the way to the coronary band. Alternatively, bell boots can be used under standard-sized standing wraps. But be sure that they actually cover the pastern, heel and hoof.
Pay heed to the tendons
Dr. Gray advises wrapping “tendons in” to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the tendon. That is, start on the inside of the horse’s leg and wrap in a counterclockwise direction on the left leg and in a clockwise direction on the right.
Others, like Dr.Julie Dechant of the University of California, Davis, feel that the direction of the wrap is less important than technqiue. “I don’t think the tendons care if they’re rolled to the outside or to the inside,” she says. “However, each layer should be rolled the same (direction).”
Whichever direction you prefer, be consistent and don’t pull too tightly across the tendons.
Consider shipping boots for short hauls
For short trips, shipping boots may be a preferable option. Shipping boots that cover the hock and/or have hoof guards can provide better protection than wraps alone. They’re also a safer choice for those who do not know how to bandage properly.
As with wraps, shipping bandages should be applied snugly enough to prevent slippage and the horse should be acclimated to wearing them. The snowsuit sound of walking in shipping boots can startle some horses and cause them to kick trailer walls or worse. No shipping boot is no match for the forces creating by a kicking horse!
The verdict: Used properly, shipping bandages can help get your horse safely from point A to point B. But always consider the individual horse in your bandaging decision.