To Bandage Or Not To Bandage: Decoding Thoroughbred Leg Wrappings - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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To Bandage Or Not To Bandage: Decoding Thoroughbred Leg Wrappings

No matter when you head to the track, you're bound to see a variety of equipment on horses at work. While it's easy to understand why some horses use different bits or nosebands, it can be more difficult to understand what type of bandages the horses are wearing on their legs—and why some horses are wearing none at all.

Bandages are used on a horse's legs to do two things: provide support or protect from injury. Bandages are typically three to six inches wide and can be made from a variety of materials, usually elastic or cotton. Legs are always wrapped in pairs, either both hind legs or both front legs.

“Rundown bandages” are the type of bandage most racing fans are familiar with. These bandages are generally used on a horse's hind legs, and they typically have a pad under the horse's fetlock to help prevent abrasions when the fetlocks sink toward the ground during weight bearing. The leg and pad are then wrapped with Vet Wrap, a stretchy, self-adherent bandage.

Tara Murty is a rider at Blackwood Stables, a Thoroughbred farm in Versailles, Ky., owned by Matt Hogan and Guinness McFadden. She also rides at Keeneland for trainers Vicki and Phil Oliver; she exercises about 15 horses a day. Not all of the horses she rides are bandaged. Those that have bandages are not all wrapped in the same way. In fact, their wraps often depend on the type of work they will do that day.

When a horse breezes, or works at a moderate speed, he will usually have all four legs wrapped with trace bandages, which are similar to a human Ace bandage.

“These wraps are not as bulky as polo wraps,” Murty said. Polos are made of a thicker cotton material. “No one will breeze in a polo or when it's wet out because the wraps can get heavy.”

Once wraps are heavy, they might slip down and come loose, creating a safety hazard for horse and jockey.

Polo wraps are used if a horse is jogging or galloping. They are typically worn on horses in training. They can also be worn if the horse is tack walking to prevent scrapes or other injury.

Racehorses wear almost exclusively back bandages. Horses are more likely to “run down” or accumulate scrapes on the ankles from track contact in back than in front, so precautions are taken to make sure no abrasions occur. Horses running in wraps up front can also raise suspicion if they are in a claiming race, Murty said. Prospective owners may be concerned the wrap is supporting a tendon that may be damaged, potentially influencing his future racing career.

This, however, is an unfounded idea. Wrapping a horse's legs will not prevent a bow if the horse already has a partial tear, according to Dr. Rhonda Rathgeber of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. Rathgeber also notes that some horses are more sensitive to having bandages on, which could prevent them from running their best race.

The most critical aspect when bandaging a horse is to have a skilled person applying the bandage.

“Pressure has to be distributed around the fetlock and up the tendon properly to ensure even pressure,” Murty said.

Uneven pressure from improperly applied bandages can increase the chance of a bandage coming off or down, potentially causing an accident or harm to other horses and riders working at the same time.

The leg also needs to be completely clean and dry before the bandage is applied.

“Sometimes if the leg is not clean and dry, you can get swelling or infection even though the bandage is applied properly,” said Rathgeber.

Rathgeber notes a few reasons why a horse should not be bandaged. These include:
– an injury that has not yet been treated properly
– topical or caustic ointments or medications on the leg
– the wraps don't fit well

Wrapping an old injury isn't always necessary; if a horse has a bowed tendon that has been allowed to heal completely, many trainers will not wrap as the horse doesn't need the support a bandage provides.

“There is no scientific evidence that removing that support will cause an injury,” Rathgeber said.

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