Equine Bandaging Do’s and Don’ts

Learn about bandaging materials, proper technique, and tips and tricks for managing fresh wounds and swollen limbs.

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wrapping horse
In general, bandages are useful for keeping wounds clean, reducing swelling, and providing support and offering protection from trauma during training, transport, or turnout. | Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

Tips and tricks for managing fresh wounds and swollen limbs properly

Every horse owner has been there: You walk out to the pasture to catch your horse, you peek into his stall, or maybe you open the trailer door upon arrival and see it immediately—a fresh wound, a swollen leg, or other evidence your horse has injured himself.

As you begin to investigate the injured area more closely, you might wonder if it requires a protective bandage. You might also wonder whether it’s serious enough to call your veterinarian.

Here, we’ll give you a few tips when it comes to bandaging your horse. Of course, you should call for professional assistance in any kind of emergency, but this overview will prepare you for when your vet says it’s time to apply or replace a wrap, or when you simply want to protect and support the legs of an uninjured horse. 

When Should You Use a Bandage?

How to Help Horse Wounds Heal

Not every situation requires a bandage, and bandaging can cause more harm than good in some cases. In general, bandages or wraps are useful for:

  • Keeping a wound clean and contamination-free.
  • Reducing swelling.
  • Providing support and offering protection from trauma during training, transport, or turnout.
  • Promoting a healing environment.
  • Stabilizing an area.
  • Triaging hemorrhage.

Before you find yourself in this situation, familiarize yourself with the materials required to bandage a horse properly.

Bandaging Materials

The materials you use to bandage your horse vary based on the wrap’s purpose. Bandages that cover a wound typically include three layers: gauze and gauze bandage, following by cotton roll or quilt, then standing wrap, cohesive bandage (Vetrap or CoFlex), or porous elastic adhesive cloth tape (Elastikon).

If you’re wrapping your horse’s legs for support, protection, and/or to reduce swelling during stabling or transport, you’ll likely use a standing wrap. For training, you might consider polo wraps (see sidebar on page 12).

Common materials you might encounter or use when you’re bandaging a wound include:

  • Antibiotic and/or topical ointments Apply products such as Neosporin or silver sulfadiazine directly to wounds to help prevent infection, soothe inflamed skin, and keep the area moist and clean.
  • Sterile gauze pad This is used to cover a wound after applying a dressing or ointment and held in place by gauze bandage.
  • Gauze bandage Typically, a gauze bandage is part of the first bandage layer, used to cover the pad and the underlying wound dressing. Whatever material you use, ensure it’s not sticky so it does not irritate the wound or sensitive area. The gauze lies beneath the rest of the bandage.
  • Cotton roll or quilt This second layer provides padding and protection. If you are not dealing with a wound and are merely applying standing wraps for stabling or transport, this will be the first material you grab. Typically, cotton rolls come in a 12-inch width to fit the front legs (front cannon bones are shorter) and a 14-inch width for the hind legs. Alternately, you might use washable quilts, pillow wraps, or no-bows. These rolls/wraps are typically 39-42 inches long.
  • Vetrap or CoFlex Elastic material that sticks only to itself, cohesive bandage can be used as the third layer of a bandage to help keep everything secure and snug. It is often covered at the top and bottom by a layer of Elastikon to ensure it does not slip and to discourage the patient from chewing on it.
  • Elastikon This material is often used as the outer layer of a bandage to keep the whole wrap in place. It adheres well to the horse’s leg to keep shavings, dirt, and other debris from getting between bandage layers.
  • Standing bandage These are typically 6 inches wide and 9 or 12 feet long and made of a knit material with some stretch or flannel. They’re applied over a cotton roll, quilt, pillow wrap, or no-bow.

Proper Bandaging Technique

Again, if a wound or an injury is involved, always seek veterinary direction on treatment and bandaging technique.

“If you are unsure about how something looks, it is always safest to call your vet,” says Aileen Rowland, DVM, PhD, who studied equine orthopedics and regenerative medicine at Texas A&M University and currently acts as study director at Labcorp Drug Development, in Madison, Wisconsin. “Building a good working relationship with your vet is important so that in uncertain circumstances like this, you can, at the very least, send a quick phone photo to help determine the severity of the situation.”

While a horse can injure his abdomen, face, or hooves, these steps detailed by Rowland and Brett Robinson, DVM, ­associate veterinarian at San Dieguito Equine Group, in San Marcos, California, apply to the legs, which owners bandage most commonly:

  1. Clean the wound and dress it appropriately, according to your veterinarian’s recommendations. Dry the area as much as possible and bandage dry legs, because wet bandages are heavy and might not stay in place. *Skip ahead to Step 3 if you are wrapping your horse’s legs simply for protection or support with a standing wrap.
  2. Cover the wound dressing and gauze pad with your gauze bandage.
  3. Take your cotton roll or quilt and place the starting edges at the inside of the horse’s cannon bone so the top of the wrap falls below the knee and the bottom just below the fetlock. Watch closely that the cotton lies flat without wrinkles or folds.
  4. Wrap from front to back, inside to outside (i.e., counterclockwise on left legs and clockwise on the right legs).
  5. Follow the same direction with your standing bandage or Vetrap. In general, start the bandage on the inside of the horse’s cannon bone near the middle of the cotton roll/pillow wrap/no-bow. Wrap down first, incorporating the fetlock, and then back up, to end the wrap at the top of the cotton quilt. A general rule of thumb is wrap evenly, overlapping each bandage layer by about 50%, but you might have to experiment with the length of your particular bandages. Use gentle but firm pressure that is neither too tight nor too loose. The tightness should be uniform throughout the entire wrap. “Even pressure throughout the wrap is critical,” says Robinson. “Bandage bows are not due to the bandage itself being too tight but, rather, too tight in one particular spot.”

A Note on Direction and Pressure

There are different schools of thought on the correct direction to bandage a horse’s leg. Some people believe it’s more important for the direction to be consistent, regardless of the one you choose.

If you work for a veterinarian, ask if he or she has a preferred bandaging method. If you do not, stick with the traditional method, which is to wrap from front to back, inside to outside.

How To Avoid Problems

If your horse needs to be bandaged overnight in his stall or for a long recovery period, you will no doubt encounter some challenges. Here are a few issues to watch for and how to avoid them:

Your horse starts chewing his bandage. This can be one of the most frequent and frustrating problems to overcome, especially when an injury is present and the bandage is critical to protect it from contamination (if it’s a wound) and further insult. You might have to experiment with different types of tape or offer enrichment opportunities in the horse’s stall as a distraction. If nothing seems to help, apply a deterrent spray or cayenne pepper to dissuade your horse from chewing. 

Wrapping too tightly or too loosely. As you apply bandages more frequently, the appropriate level of tightness will become clearer. Again, wrapping too tightly can cause pressure points and potentially damage the underlying connective tissue, resulting in the bandage bows to tendons described earlier. “If you have enough padding, such as in the case of a standing wrap, it is usually difficult to tighten the wrap too much,” says Rowland. “Issues with wraps being too tight often occur because of insufficient or uneven padding.”

On the other hand, wrapping too loosely will not give the horse the proper support and could be dangerous if it starts to sink down around the leg. Work with your vet to find the happy medium.

Wrinkles, folds, or lumps in the bandage. Think about how it feels when you wear layers of clothing, and one of the layers is bunched up, folded over, or still has the care instructions tag on it. Best-case scenario, you will be annoyed. Worst-case, your skin might get irritated. Be aware of the entire bandage’s placement and the padding beneath, and remove any wrinkles, lumps, or folds to avoid irregular pressure on your horse’s legs.

The reason you always start a wrap on the inside of the horse’s leg, rather than the front or back on a bone or tissue structure, is because starting the wrap on the bony structures is analogous to having a pencil wrapped to your shinbone—annoying and uncomfortable!

Failing to check the wrap and rewrap daily. Over time (especially overnight), wraps inherently get looser and dirtier. Change the wrap daily (unless your vet advises otherwise) to check the damaged site and clean out any dirt, hair, or other debris that made its way into the bandage. Your vet can provide you with instructions and the correct topical solution for wounds or injuries that require more thorough care. If the wrap gets wet, it is very important to remove it and reapply a dry one. Rewrapping daily also helps ensure the pressure is correct and the bandage isn’t slipping.

“Another benefit of checking the wrap daily is to see if there is strikethrough, which is fluid (any combination of blood, serum, or pus) coming from a wound saturating the layers of the wrap,” says Robinson. “If an owner notices ­strikethrough present in more layers of the bandage with each daily check/rewrap, it is an indication to call a veterinarian.”

Take-Home Message

If your horse needs frequent bandaging, the good news is you’ll be perfecting your skills because of all that practice! Pay attention to your technique with oversight from your veterinarian to ensure proper healing and support for your horse.


Written by:

Emily Dickson, MS, is a writer, creator, marketer, and lifelong equestrian passionate about optimizing whole-body health at the cellular level for both horses and humans. She lives outside of Boise, Idaho, with her horse and dog.

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